Readings from the Scriptures (CEB) Mark 10:17-31
17 As Jesus continued down the road, a man ran up, knelt before him, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to obtain eternal life?” 18 Jesus replied, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except the one God. 19 You know the commandments: Don’t commit murder. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t steal. Don’t give false testimony. Don’t cheat. Honor your father and mother.”
20 “Teacher,” he responded, “I’ve kept all of these things since I was a boy.” 21 Jesus looked at him carefully and loved him. He said, “You are lacking one thing. Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.” 22 But the man was dismayed at this statement and went away saddened, because he had many possessions. 23 Looking around, Jesus said to his disciples, “It will be very hard for the wealthy to enter God’s kingdom!” 24 His words startled the disciples, so Jesus told them again, “Children, it’s difficult to enter God’s kingdom!
25 It’s easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom.”
26 They were shocked even more and said to each other, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them carefully and said, “It’s impossible with human beings, but not with God. All things are possible for God.” 28 Peter said to him, “Look, we’ve left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “I assure you that anyone who has left house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, or farms because of me and because of the good news 30 will receive one hundred times as much now in this life—houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and farms (with harassment)—and in the coming age, eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last. And many who are last will be first.”
Gratitude… invalidates the false narrative that (the awful experiences of life: pain, suffering, and injustice) are the sum total of human existence, that despair is the last word. Gratitude gives us a new story.
We all share in the ultimate gift—life itself. Together. Right now.
If we share in this ultimate gift of life, then why does Jesus say things like “whoever loves their life will lose it…” (John 12:25) or scripture like today’s reading…
21Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.”… “It will be very hard for the wealthy to enter God’s kingdom!” 24 His words startled the disciples, so Jesus told them again, “Children, it’s difficult to enter God’s kingdom! 25 It’s easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom.” 26 They were shocked even more and said to each other, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them carefully and said, “It’s impossible with human beings, but not with God. All things are possible for God.”
Life together is the gift. But when we cling to life so desperately that we protest outside hospitals, we miss the point of life itself. When we avoid vaccinations because of perceived risks, worrying about only our individualistic lives, then who can be saved? We had this very discussion this around our house, that if we were to develop lifelong complications because of the vaccine, so be it, so long as the majority of people are safe and protected.
When we try to cling to things, be they houses or cars or people or camels or clothes – when we hide away our treasures in offshore accounts like those released recently in the Pandora papers link, life is sadder, not better. There’s been studies linking the increase of wealth and the decrease in empathy, contradicting the decades old “trickle down” economic theory that has only managed to tighten the fists of the rich. And I don’t mean those who have a comfortable home or even to retire on, I mean Jeff Bezos, former CEO of Amazon and people like him – for if you made $180,000 a day, since Jesus’ birth, earning every day until now, you would not reach his net worth. This isn’t me angling for a pay raise. The inequality for some has spiraled in cataclysmic ways. Taxation can’t fix this problem. We’re at the sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Because this individual coming to Jesus has everything he needs. Jesus can tell by the way he’s dressed he’s got more than enough. Jesus may be judging a book by the cover, but listen to the language the rich person uses in speaking. He wants to obtain eternal life (or other versions, inherit) just as everything else he’s obtained: to put it on a shelf and marvel at it, to count it amongst his wealth, and admire it for afar.
And Jesus says (something like this) when we put our faith in ourselves, our worth, our value that can instantly disappear, is it truly wealth? When you drive a beautiful new car off the lot, what happens to it? The second it travels into the street, it depreciates. The same thing happens to your body some point after thirty. Or your mind. Or your houses. It’s depressing when you only focus on the loss. But Paul Bane reframes it for us:
Much of our suffering in the world is the result of trying to cling and hold onto life that is passing away. Jesus knew when we try and hang onto this life there is little hope of finding peace. He taught we must let go of our life to find life in him, for nothing in this life is permanent and lasting. Jesus is the hope of life.
For life together is the gift…and the gift is not undermined even if it comes with an expiry date.
Jesus said, “I assure you that anyone who has left house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, or farms because of me and because of the good news 30 will receive one hundred times as much now in this life—houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and farms (with harassment)—and in the coming age, eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last. And many who are last will be first.”
I really love this idea of a “return” of investment, a hundred times as much…now AND in the coming age, eternal life…This isn’t about death as much as it is about living.
When we first moved back to Ontario after being out west for the first three years of ministry and my wife’s education, we were coming back homeless. The church to which I was called didn’t have a manse and we had to buy our first home. When one of the congregation members heard this, they immediately offered their home for us to stay in – which I’m sure you can all immediately imagine the difficulties and struggles related to that gift – but what an amazing offer. A hundred more houses…not just because of the person I was, but because of who they were, and how the presence of Jesus had changed their lives in order to open their home to a stranger. And their wife and newborn. And the night feedings and screamings and diapers to boot.
I’ve seen many ways that churches have gone out of their way to open their homes, to become brothers and sisters, mothers and children to one another. It happens secularly to just not as often – usually as a response to a tragedy and using ‘gofundme’s or collections organized for those in need. When we cling to one another rather than the things of this life, we receive back a hundredfold.
I’ve witnessed people (who just happen to show up to the same building one hour a week) invest deeply in the relationships within those walls, to not just ‘do church’ together but be the church, transforming people’s lives. Life together is the gift.
If we choose rather to walk away from one another, like this individual walking away from Jesus, like those who have squirreled away riches that lose their worth by being hidden away, life is sadder.
And gratitude – for all that we have, through the relationships of this life, leads to joy. Brené Brown author of The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are reminds us that
“We’re … hungry for more joy: Because we’re starving from a lack of gratitude.”
This man walking away is hungry for more, starving because his possessions cannot feed his soul. The rich of our days want more, because that emptiness of life isn’t satiated with one more boat. We’re starving from a lack of gratitude.
We’re kicking off our spiritual practice of gratitude today. You may have seen (or even filled) one of these jars before, but let’s start again this is mindfulness practice of taking time each day to ground your life in gratitude.
All you need is a jar – big one, small one, decorated or not – every day find a small piece of paper and write something you’re grateful for. Or finish the following sentence…Today was a good day because…I appreciate someone because…Write something you’re thankful for. And on the difficult days, you can write “I’m glad that even the difficult days have an end to them.” That one comes from Jan Omand who introduced this practice to our Faith Study. Shifting your focus away from what you’re losing, away from the things that disappear, and instead focussing on the presence of all that is, is a deeply spiritual thing. Gratitude gives us a new story. And while this has been a most difficult year, even the difficult years have an end to them. I wasn’t sure this day of being back in the church building would ever come.
But thanks be to our God, for in whom all things are possible.
 Butler Bass, Diana, Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks
 Bane, Paul, MindfulChristianitytoday.com