November 21, 2021

“Treasure”

 

Mark 10:17-31

 

This morning’s sermon has to do with treasure. The story from scripture is about a man who has a lot of treasure. He is described in all 3 versions of this story in the Gospels as having many possessions. He is described in Matthew as young, (Matthew 19:16-30) and as a ruler in Luke (Luke 18:18-30). So, most people who preach on this story describe him as a rich young ruler. Whoever he was, he had a lot of treasure.

 

I remember a time I THOUGHT I suddenly had a lot of treasure, and it was during a time when my family didn’t have a lot of treasure to go around. I was around 9 or 10, and my father had just been laid off from the Aerospace industry. During that time, we ate a lot of stew and soy burgers for dinner, scrimped and saved, while my father looked for work.

 

During those days, I used to love to watch a specific TV show which was popular in Sacramento in the 1960’s - The Cap’n Mitch show. The show consisted of the host dressed in a sailor captain outfit and a group of about 10-12 kids each day. Mitch would play games with the kids in the show, then play cartoons. Then the show would go back to the studio for the last 10 minutes or so. At the end of each show, one of the kids on the show would win the coveted Treasure Trove- a bunch of great prizes any kid would die for! I had always wanted to be on the show so that maybe, one day I could win the coveted treasure trove.  I saw the commercial asking for audience members, sent my name in, and after a couple of weeks, got a letter saying I could be on the show.

 

 When I arrived at the TV studio, we were instructed to sit down in the Captain’s Galley. Then the theme music started, Cap’n Mitch came out and welcomed each of us. We played some games together, then watched cartoons.  Then the show went live again. Cap’n Mitch asked each of us some questions, and the TV cameras began moving around, going from kid to kid. We answered the questions, then heard a loud drumroll. A red light began flashing in the studio and a siren blared, while the camera would pan around to each kid in the chairs, with a life preserver around the screen with the words, “Treasure Trove” printed upon it. We were all looking at the live feed on-screen, wondering who would win the coveted prize. After what seemed like an eternity, the noise stopped. I looked at the screen and realized that the picture on the screen framed by the life preserver had my face! I had won! When Cap’n Mitch shook my hand and said, “Danny Fowler, you are the winner of the Treasure Trove,!” It was a bucket list moment for any elementary-aged school kid in the Sacramento area. I was on top of the world, especially since we were going through some lean financial times! I imagined I had won diamonds, gold, and rare coins, thinking I could help feed our family a bit, buy a new bike and a new glove for baseball, some model kits, etc. I couldn’t wait to get my treasure!

 

When Cap’n Mitch signed off and the cameras turned off, someone with a clipboard came over, got my contact information, and told me to come back to the studio the following week to pick up the Treasure Trove.

 

A few days later, Mom and I did so. We walked into the lobby of the station one afternoon. I was expecting to receive an actual wooden treasure chest. Instead, the woman behind the counter handed my mother…2 grocery bags full of stuff. We got to the car and I looked inside. There were some cereal boxes, some candy, and probably the best thing was a View master with 4 sets of Peanuts pictures. That was it! No diamonds. No gold, or rare coins. No helping our family out. No pirate treasure chest. I was really hoping to do some good things with my treasure.  Although I do admit I got a lot of mileage out of that View-Master, for the most part, I didn’t get any lasting happiness from the rest of that treasure.

 

In today’s passage from Mark, a young ruler with a lot of treasure enthusiastically ran up to Jesus, showed reverence and respect for this Rabbi by kneeling in front of him, and asked him, “Good Rabbi, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Apparently, he had heard some of Jesus’ teachings on this subject and was intrigued. It is important to note that this phrase is also a synonym for the kindom of God- making it on earth as it is in heaven, He called Jesus a “Good” Rabbi, a moniker used primarily for God at the time.  If he used the term, “Rabbi” it is likely he was also Jewish, rather than Roman. Jesus then listed some commandments for him to follow, and altered only one of them, “You shall not defraud.” I wonder if perhaps Jesus was questioning how the young man had acquired his treasure.  The young man said, “Rabbi, I have kept all of these since my youth.” So considering that he asked about “inheriting” eternal life, and told Jesus he hadn’t gotten his treasure by defrauding, it is likely he inherited his wealth.  This enthusiastic wealthy young leader wondered if there was anything else he needed to do in order to inherit his place in the kindom of God.

 

Then Jesus did something that he rarely did if ever to someone who came up to him. Jesus looked at him and loved him (Verse 21). He valued this man and his enthusiasm about following Jesus and being part of the kindom. In loving him, however, he saw something deep down in his soul which would keep him from becoming another disciple. His treasure was an issue, a stumbling block. Jesus told him to go and sell everything he had, and give the proceeds to the poor around him. By doing this radical act, he would demonstrate the kindom of heaven on earth, and inherit treasure in heaven of eternal life.

 

How would this act have impacted the world around him?  Theologian Luis Menendez-Antunua says, “Jesus’ request to donate the ensuing earnings to the poor would positively impact the lower ranks of the social order where many slaves resided.”  It would’ve flipped the script- As Jesus mentioned at the end of the passage, “The first shall be last and the last first.” (V. 31) Those who had lived lives of enslavement, who were on the bottom rung f the working class would find status and freedom from the chains of poverty.

 

Jesus’ response to this man suggests the identity of owning someone as a servant, and of having so much treasure was incompatible with following him as a disciple. The young man’s reaction is rare and unprecedented. For this is a call story, where Jesus calls someone to follow him. It is the ONLY story in the gospels where instead of following Jesus’ call, the one called walks away. Instead of following the call, he went into shock. He went away grieving. He believed as many others did at the time that those who were wealthy were favored by God. Consider that many of the characters in the Hebrew scriptures that were heroes of the faith were wealthy: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Boaz, Job, David, and of course his son, Solomon. The belief was that their faith in God was tied to God’s blessing upon them and their wealth. Now Jesus had said that the wealth he thought he had received from God was the one thing getting in the way of truly following God!  His enslavement of others, his many possessions, his status- all of these things were important to him. He just could not let his treasure go.

 

As the man walked away, Jesus told the disciples how hard it was for anyone of wealth to enter into the kindom. This perplexed the disciples, who also held onto the belief that wealth was equated to God’s favor. Then Jesus used a very direct analogy. It would be easier for a big camel to fit through the eye of a needle than for someone to enter into God’s kindom.

 

Theologians over the centuries have tried to soften this analogy, suggesting that perhaps the word “Camel” was actually somehow mistranslated. By switching one letter, you could change the word from camel to rope! So, maybe if you took a lot of time, unraveled the rope, and put fibers through the eye of the needle, it wasn’t so difficult? Others have suggested that this was really about a small door called the “Needle’s Eye,” which was possibly located in the city gate of Jerusalem, but not even spoken of until the 9th century A.D. If one ducked down on the saddle for the camel and had the camel crawl through the small door on its knees, then perhaps…?

 

From this plain teaching, the disciples move from perplexed to the next level - ASTOUNDED! They asked Jesus, “Who then can enter into God’s kindom?” Then Jesus responds that God can change a human’s priorities. “With God, all things are possible.” Perhaps, even for the rich young ruler, who was loved by and called by Jesus, God could change his heart.

 

Peter then considered his plight and those who chose to follow Jesus. “Wait a minute! We left EVERYTHING to follow you! What’s in it for us?” Jesus responded that Christians will share in abundance and blessing with others, and yet will also know persecution in this life. This certainly was true for the early Christian community, as they shared their material possessions with each other, yet also faced persecution from those around them. He then ended his teaching with the inheritance to come when this life is over, God’s kindom and eternal life.

 

What then do we learn from this call story?

 

First, I would like to say that in one sense, many of us who live in this country have won the treasure trove, and far more than cereal boxes or a View master. We have more wealth than so many of the world’s population. We learn from this story not to love our treasure trove so much that it impedes us from following Jesus and helping to establish the kindom. Theologian Lamar Williamson Jr writes, “Entrance to the kindom of God, or eternal life, or salvation, so far from being easy, demands our best obedience and all we have.”

 

You know there has been an awful lot of stories recently about the supply chain, of ships lining up in harbors, waiting to unload their supplies so that people can get much-needed goods for daily living. One particular news source (I bet you can figure out which one) has suggested that President Biden is fully at fault for this mess, and is trying to take away Christmas! There will be nothing under the tree this year and it is all his fault! Christmas is canceled!

 

A LARGE part of the reality in causing this mess, however, has to do with Americans wanting more and more, of this nation being possessed by possessions. Yahoo News recently published an article on this issue. Reporter Emma Cosgrove writes, “Those shortages seem so ubiquitous that the term "everything shortage" is now being used liberally to describe consumers' frustration as they try to get goods of all sorts: paper towels, milk, toys, and more. Yet claims that the country is running short on everything misses a key point. America has, in fact, imported an immense amount of stuff in the past eight months. And that's part of the reason we're in the midst of an epic supply-chain congestion.” We have literally clogged up the supply chain by purchasing more and more goods, more than we truly need. America is running out of possessions BECAUSE we are buying so many possessions!

 

So as you go home today, or as you turn off your computers at home, consider your own possessions, your treasure. Do your possessions possess you or do you use them to help establish the kindom of God, helping to flip the script so that the last will be first and the first last?  Jesus wants us to use our treasure for purposes of the kindom- to support the church and its ministry to those in need, to look for other nonprofits doing that same work so that there might be more glimpses of the kindom-“On earth as it is in heaven.” For after trying our best to make this text say something it doesn’t, something that is less upsetting to our system of wealth and what we value, Jesus looks intently at each of us, loves us, and affirms that true life is to be found not in the accumulation of things, but rather by unencumbering ourselves from our possessions. Then, we can truly follow. Alleluia. Amen.

 

Closing Prayer
Lord of abundant riches, when asked to give everything to follow Jesus, a rich man faltered. Give us the courage to give everything that we have to you, knowing that what you offer is more valuable than all the riches in the world. Amen.

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