Rev. George Miller
“Possessed by Possessions”
Oct 14, 2012
Once there were 3 ministers who despite their theological differences enjoyed spending their time together. One was a Missouri Senate Lutheran, one was Pentecostal and the other was a United Church of Christ pastor.
They decided that before they entered Winter’s busy season of church bazaars and Advent services, they would treat themselves to a vacation to the Caribbean.
Believing that the journey was more important then the destination, they opted to go by boat and take their time.
They loaded the ship with everything they could possibly want; food, music, beverages, fishing gear, board games and TV shows on DVD.
Their boat trip was going fine. They were relaxed, energized, getting along. Until one day they discovered that the cabin was filling with water and they were in danger of sinking.
There was no one around; their radio didn’t work and their cell phones were out of range. So they each turned to the one thing they knew.
"Oh, Lord our Father," said the Missouri Senate Lutheran minister with great conviction, "if you would let us walk on water as you did your Son, we could make it to that island and be saved."
With great faith he steps off the stern of the boat and there’s a loud “splash!”
"Jesus!" said the Pentecostal pastor with fiery passion "if you would part the seas for us, as you once did for Moses, we could make it to that island over there and be saved."
With great faith he too stepped off the stern of the boat and there is a large “splash!”
"Oh, God," said the UCC minister, more as a quiet aside to himself. He walked to the hull and said "Did you say to turn the handle on the valve to the right or to the left?"…
I started with a joke in honor of Rev. Lawrence being back but also because today’s scripture is a difficult one for people to hear. It comes from Mark, a gospel known for making people uncomfortable.
Mark is not a writer who cares about pleasing people or making things sound like smooth sailing. He likes to stir things up, to trouble the water, even if it means making us feel as if we are drowning in thought.
We experience this in today’s reading. Here Mark tells us that Jesus is setting out on a journey when a man runs up and asks “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus rattles off a list of commandments, which the man claims to have followed. Then looking at the man with great love, Jesus says “You lack one thing. Go and sell all you have and give your money away, then you will have treasure in heaven; then follow me.”
Shocked and full of gloom, the man sulked away, for he had many things.
The reading for today goes on, but for sake of time and the denseness of the scripture, we are going to stop right here.
There are two things to share with you. First, this notion of eternal life, because chances are it did not originally mean what our modern ears hear.
We hear the word “eternal” we think of heaven or what happens after we die. However, this is not what the word actually means.
The original Greek word is aion (or aionis), which can also be translated as “everlasting.”
It does not literally mean infinity; it is not a measured, uniform concept of time.
It’s more about a period of time viewed in a more emotional way.
More specifically, eternal is the experience and intensity of time. For example, ever notice how when you spend time with someone you really like time seems to fly by, but when you are with someone you dread it just seems to last forever?
Or, when you are on vacation it seems like you are able to do more things in 24 hours then you can on a regular day?
Eternal is the time newlyweds experience on their honeymoon; eternal is the time experienced by a widower mourning the death of his wife.
So in this context, the man is not so much asking how he can inherit life after death. He is asking how he can get the most out of time right now, how he can experience God’s Kingdom here on earth.
But he is unable to do so because he has become possessed by his possessions.
The story seems almost helpless, but I believe there is hope. I find it in how the story starts. It says “As Jesus was setting out on a journey.”
Jesus was a man who journeyed a lot; he was always going somewhere. In order to journey, he traveled light, learning to trust upon the Lord.
But just as eternal refers to the experience of time, the same can be said for the word journey. That is wasn’t just about the destination, but it was about the experience this journey would create.
This journey was not a 3 hour cruise, but a lifetime experience that would touch lives, change communities, inspire and heal.
A journey which would bring about the Good News.
Though it sounds as if the man is excited about this, he wants to do so his way, by bringing his stuff with him.
He wants to hold onto all he has and all the meaning that’s attached to it: the power, the prestige, the comfort.
It’s as if Jesus is ready to get onto the S.S. Good News and he sees all the luggage the man plans on bringing with him and realizes that it could all very well capsize the boat.
But here is what I think is the cool part. Jesus doesn’t say the man can never go on the journey. He says “get rid of what’s enslaving you and then come follow me.”
Thus, Jesus is making it possible for the guy to get on the boat when he is ready, which means the man has an unending series of moments to join Jesus.
If not right now, tomorrow; if not tomorrow, then next week; if not next week, then next month and so on.
Jesus has given this man a grace-filled opportunity to get on the boat whenever he can.
And so can we…This story is not just about one man. It is a story about all of us.
It is about how we all have joined Jesus on his journey but we each try to smuggle things on board that may capsize the boat.
For this particular man, it was his possessions, how he allowed them to define him and to prevent him from what he could become.
Same way we each hold onto things that prevent us from our own transformation.
We each have our own things which we must part with if we are to truly follow Jesus and experience life in its fullest.
We all have things to get rid of, to purge, if we are to be truly rescued, transformed and renewed.
For some it is the physical things. Items that are held onto because they give fake happiness; objects that create false comfort; idols that take up so much space on the boat that we find ourselves sinking.
For others its behaviors. Things we do that we wish not. Thing we do that hurt others, that hurt ourselves. Behaviors that exist for but a moment but have nothing to do with the experience of eternal life.
For others its emotional/relational things. The feelings we are trapped by. The thoughts we replay again and again.
The grievances we hold against another; the anger, the regret, the judgments we stow away that weigh down the ship.
When we try so hard to hold onto these things, when we try so hard to smuggle them aboard, we find ourselves stuck in place, sinking in the past as opposed to sailing into the eternal.
But here is the Good News: just as that man was invited to join Jesus on the journey, so are we, each and every day.
I believe that our Lord and Savior is patient and trusting and that he is there for us regardless if we have let go of 10 bags or let go of none.
It is a life long process, a process that we play a part in, but we do not play alone.
For just as the disciples worry that no one can ever step into full life, Jesus reminds them of this very important fact:
“For mortals it will be impossible for us to save ourselves, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
What this means is that we not going this journey alone. What this means is the times when we are weak, our God is strong.
When we are afraid of loosening our grip, God speaks an encouraging word.
When we think happiness only comes from what we got, God assures us that happiness comes from knowing whose we are.
When we think we don’t have plenty, God assures us that we have enough.
What we try to smuggle onto the boat may threaten to capsize us, but God’s grace lifts us up and carries us through.
In conclusion, Mark is teaching us is that in Jesus we are invited to go on a journey in which all things are new.
A journey in which eternal life is something we can experience in the now; eternal life is something we experience every time we let go of that which we’ve tried so hard to hold onto.
What Jesus is offering us is greater then any possession we can have: life in its fullest in which there is justice and mercy, peace and joy and we get to humbly walk with our Lord.
Amen and amen.