October 11, Proper 23:
Draft text of the homily, please do not cite without permission.
I met Jesus the other day. As I was walking the bustling streets of Harvard Square, I looked up and there he was. Standing at the corner of Church and Brattle. This sighting caught me off guard. Was I daydreaming? As I drew closer, I stared – skeptical, unsure whether to trust my own eyes. But, there he was, Jesus, offering a friendly greeting to all who passed by. When I reached him, I paused. ‘Good Teacher,’ I said, ‘how can I achieve eternal life?’
At first, he looked at me confused. ‘Why do you call me good?’ he asked, ‘God is good!’
‘All the time!’ I quickly responded. Apparently, my Lutheran upbringing prepared me well for this moment.
Slowly, he began to answer my question, quoting some of the Commandments. ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honour your parents.’
‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know.’ I replied, cutting him off. ‘Treat all people with respect and love. I got that. I already do those things! Well, most of the time, anyways. Unless they’re terrible drivers, then I’m gonna let them know. But, I’m pretty sure the Commandments don’t have anything to say about that…’
And, just as I was beginning to ramble on, I stopped, suddenly speechless. The look on his face is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life. He stood there quietly gazing at me, with a look of pure love on his face and the most minute trace of a smile evident at the corners of his mouth.
After a brief moment of silence. One that stretched out between us like an eternity and flew by at the speed of light – you know the kind I mean. He began to speak.
‘There is one more thing. Go, sell your laptop and tablet, your designer suits and shoes, your smartphone and game console and flat screen t.v. Cancel your cable and wifi and Netflix. Give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’
When I heard this I was taken aback. ‘But, I already give 10% of my income to the Church! I donate money to a bunch of worthy charities! I give non-perishables to the food pantry! Sometimes I even help cook and serve meals to the homeless! Isn’t that enough?! Can’t I just ‘like’ you on FaceBook? How ‘bout I follow you on Twitter and Instagram?’
Jesus stood before me, quiet for a moment, watching the many people as they streamed around us, hurrying about there lives. I, too, watched them for a moment, awaiting his answer. Many turned their faces away and quickened their pace, obviously trying not to meet him in the eye.
Slowly, he returned his attention to me. ‘Sarah,’ he began, ‘I know you don’t consider yourself to be rich. You are not part of the 1%. You have enough, sometimes even a little extra, but not excessive wealth. Yet, compared to many of my people you possess treasure beyond imagination.’
‘Still, I have not asked you to give it all up. You have family and friends who love and support you, a comfortable home that is warm, and healthy food to nourish your body.
Wealth is not evil. On the contrary, it is necessary to the mission of God. I didn’t ask my disciples to leave everything behind so that they would suffer. I trusted that wherever we travelled there would be people of means to provide for us. We were offered food and shelter by the poor and rich alike. I know that money is often required to get things done!’
‘But, these things I’ve asked you to give up, you are attached to them. Your reluctance and resistance reveal as much. These things, all this technology, keep you from experiencing the beauty around you – in nature, in people, in all the little moments. They get in the way of your faith. You are too distracted by reading the stories of Syrian refugees to reach out to the homeless or displaced people in Boston. ! Instead of praying, you spend hours reading status updates on Facebook. You would have so much more time to sit and eat with the hungry, if you weren’t so busy binge watching Master Chef and instagramming your own dinners. How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’
I must have looked completely depressed and distraught. I sure was feeling hopeless.
‘I work hard, I thought to myself, don’t I deserve these few luxuries?Haven’t I earned them? How on earth am I going to find the strength to give these things up? If Jesus thinks I’m rich, is there any chance for me? Will I be able to enter the Kingdom?’
Just as I felt the last glimmer of hope flutter away, Jesus continued. ‘Don’t give up,’ he said, ‘all hope is not lost. For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible. With God, you can do this. You can let go of your attachments. Maybe not all at once. But a little at a time is ok, too. And, if you let go of your attachment to these things, who knows, someday they might not get in your way. Someday you might need them in your ministry. Look at all the things you already sacrifice for me. Your Sunday mornings, for example. That isn’t easy either.’
I felt some of my apprehension begin to melt away, just a little. I looked at him, knowing he was right, but not wanting to admit it, to myself or to Jesus. He probably sensed my hesitation. But, he waited patiently, giving me a chance to absorb some of my shock and grief. He lovingly held my gaze as I searched my depths for some response.
Tentatively, I muttered, ‘I don’t know. It sounds really hard. What if I can’t do it? What if I’m not ready?’
‘For you, this is just another step,’ he replied. ‘A step we can take together. Everyone who follows me must first take up their cross. And, if you choose to take the next step, if you choose to follow me, you’ll receive far more than you ever sacrifice. Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age and in the age to come eternal life.’
As inspiring as his encouragement was, my own fear settled heavily over me. All at once I reverted to my comfort zone of obstinance and cynicism. Who was he to tell me what I was attached to anyways?! And, even if I believe him, how on earth can I give up all that technology and still stay relevant and connected? I needed to get away. To find a place to think and, maybe, pray. To process everything he was telling me.
Jesus continued, ‘The trouble is, you base your identity on your wealth and possessions – having the newest iPhone, keeping up with the latest fashion trends.
And, that’s how you judge the value of others. Does she have a better computer?
Does he have the latest designer jeans? You see people who have more stuff and avoid or ignore the ones who have little. But, that’s not who you really are. That’s not who anyone really is. People are not just an accumulation of cool stuff. You are a beloved child of God. You are loved. You love. Every person is a beloved child of God. Every person loves and is loved. That’s where your value is. The trouble with people is, you’re quick to give your attention and love and power to the wealthy and avoid or ignore the poor.’
I realized he is right. I do often determine the value and importance of the people I meet based on what they own. Perhaps he was right to ask me to give up some of my own wealth. Maybe then, it would be easier to see Christ in all the people I meet.
I thanked him for answering my question and said ‘Peace out, yo!’ As I began to walk away, contemplating this new challenge, he humbly replied, ‘Would you like a Spare Change News? It’s only a dollar.’
In that instant my heart broke open.
About Today’s Preacher
Sarah Brock is a former high school chemistry teacher with a B.S in Chemistry. After a few years in the field, she left her teaching career in Upstate New York to pursue her call to ministry. Upon completing a Master of Divinity at Bexley Hall Episcopal Seminary in Columbus, OH, Sarah came to Boston as a member of the Episcopal Service Corps. She lived, worked, and prayed for nine months as a monastic intern at the Society of Saint John the Evangelist in Cambridge. She hopes to pursue formal discernment for ordination in the Diocese of Massachusetts.