Sunday, October 11, 2015
Jesus tells the rich man, “You lack one thing.” It’s an ironic thing to say, in a way. What can a rich person lack, really? Wouldn’t we all love to be in that man’s position – a faithful man of God who keeps the commandments and has enough wealth to be considered rich. It might be hard from our perspective, or from the disciples’ perspective, to see anything lacking in this guy. So, what is Jesus talking about, that he lacks one thing?
We could ask the same question of ourselves. What is that one thing we might be lacking? For most of us, the first response very well could be some kind of material thing – we lack enough money for retirement, or we have a nice place to live, but wouldn’t it be nice to have a little bit bigger kitchen, or one more bathroom? A nicer car, the latest Iphone, and updated new fall wardrobe. I shared with many of you last week at our baby shower, and I’m sure part of it is that nesting instinct I’m having these days, but I was seriously laying awake at night worrying about what we still needed to get for the baby, especially if I went into labor early – we didn’t have any diapers, we had just a handful of clothes, and no bath/infant care stuff. It was hard for me to focus on what we DID have – a roof over baby’s head, a furnace that works, a crib & carseat, a steady salary to buy whatever we still needed. A colleague who had spent time in Africa recently reminded me: in some parts of Africa, women who have next to nothing have babies and those babies grow up healthy and fine! Babies really don’t need much, he said. Under my breath I was muttering that Nebraska winters were a bit harsher and I should at least plan to have some blankets for this kid, but it was a good reminder to me to look at all that I did have instead of focusing on what we lacked. Most of us in the United States have a lot more than we need – and when you get down to it, there’s not a whole lot we lack in the material possession department.
So, if Jesus were to tell US, “You lack one thing,” what might that one thing be? Jesus would probably not be suggesting that we lack any material possessions. For this rich man, Jesus could be suggesting a few things: perhaps the rich man lacks a sense of generosity. He is not able to give away all he has to the poor. Or perhaps Jesus is pointing out the man’s need to depend more on God instead of on himself – he asks what he can DO to inherit eternal life, as if he can somehow control God by his actions. Jesus asks him to trust in God and not in what he does, saying “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” Or maybe, the man simply lacks a closer relationship with Jesus. Jesus asks him to “come, follow me,” but the man goes the other way shocked and grieving. He appears to be looking for a straightforward solution to inheriting eternal life – do this and you’re in, no more worries. He doesn’t seem to like the answer Jesus gives – which is Jesus asking him to invest in a journey of following Jesus, a more long-term commitment with potential dangers and challenges ahead.
What might Jesus say we are lacking? That’s a hard question to answer. It could be any of those things, right – a closer relationship with him, a willingness to give of our time, talents and treasures more generously, or strengthening our dependence on God instead of on what we DO. Or for you, maybe it’s something else. If we examine ourselves closely enough with this question, the reality is that none of us will measure up to Jesus’ standards for us. We all lack something. We all need Jesus. It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for us to enter the kingdom of God, Jesus reminds us today. But Jesus also gives us a powerful promise – “For mortals it is impossible, but for God, all things are possible.” God has the power to make up for anything we lack. And through Jesus Christ, God declares that who we are and what we have to give is enough – there is nothing else lacking.
Today, we are overjoyed to welcome Max Miller into our church through the rite of Holy Baptism. Baptism is God’s answer to any inadequacies or insufficiencies we might have. When we think to ourselves that it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for us to be saved because of what we’ve done or NOT done, because of what we want to do but don’t do (like giving away all of our possessions to the poor), God reminds us in baptism that for God, all things are possible. Our baptism reminds us that as children of God, there is nothing we lack. We are sufficient enough, because we have been named, claimed, and saved through Jesus Christ.
It is so easy for us to focus on what we lack – on what we don’t have rather than what we do have. If only I were a little bit richer, or a little bit smarter, or a little less hot-tempered, or a little bit thinner…the list can go on and on. Here at Bethel, it can be easy to look at our budget and offerings and worry about the little money we have, even though giving is up and people give very generously of their time and gifts, as we celebrate today. In remembering and celebrating baptism today, Jesus turns our focus to what we do have – a loving and supportive church family, a gathering of individuals who have all been uniquely created and gifted by God to serve in different ways. And we have a God who makes the impossible possible, getting camels through eyes of needles and saving people like us who would never measure up in our own harsh standards of perfection, much less God’s. Thanks be to God, who makes all things possible, so that we lack nothing. Amen.