This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Nov. 8, 2020. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC
The texts were:
Deuteronomy 15: 1-11
Matthew 19: 16-22
This week has been a struggle. A struggle to focus, a struggle to wait, a struggle to understand. It’s struggle that isn’t new or unique but seems to be on high boil for the past several months (or years depending on one’s perspective). It’s the struggle of how we are to live together. I’m writing this on Saturday morning, Nov. 7, and we still don’t have a clear presidential election outcome, as well as uncertainty in other governmental positions. Opposing political factions are protesting, threatening, and arguing. COVID19 is spreading exponentially throughout our community and nation. Opposing voices are protesting, threatening and arguing about how not only to best mitigate the disease but even if we should. And while these two situations alone are enough of a struggle, we all can name several other areas of our life together that are less than smooth.
We are struggling on how to live together. In this country, we have deep divisions, metastasized racism, rampant fear and unchecked self-interest. I caught myself this week in the simplistic thinking that a certain election outcome will fix everything and if I just held on to that hope and belief, then all will be well. But Wednesday morning, I woke up, literally and figuratively, to what was the real struggle. I woke up to my own lack of understanding, my vision of the world only through my chosen lens, and my deeply held biases. I was saddened as I realized everything I am holding on to, contributes to the struggle that only brings more division. I have to let go, and release what I might consider important for the sake of releasing others from this destructive struggle too.
I think this is the crux of the gospel story today and the place in history in which we find ourselves at this moment. The young man in our Matthew passage comes to Jesus in his own full-blown struggle. This young man seems to be genuinely trying, he knows that there is more than what he knows, that is why he comes to Jesus. He’s literally having a come to Jesus moment. He’s rich, he has all the worldly wealth, power and status that one can attain in the ancient or modern world. But he’s still struggling. All that worldly success didn’t end his struggle. He asks Jesus how to enter eternal life, and Jesus tells him to keep the commandments. “Which ones?” the young man asks, and Jesus responds with the five commandments that focus on how we live together as a people and adds from Leviticus, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man claims to follow those commandments and asks “what am I still missing?” Jesus recognizes that this young man is at a crossroads, a struggle that goes beyond simply keeping the law and being a good person, this young man is looking for truth. True meaning, true value, and true life.
Jesus tells him to be perfect, to go and sell everything, give the money away to the poor and follow him. To be perfect in this passage doesn’t mean to be without fault, it means to be whole. If you want to be whole, release everything from the world that defines you and find your value in me, Jesus says. The young man walked away sad, as he thought Jesus would end his struggles, and it turned out Jesus only laid it bare. His real struggle is that he’s struggling only for himself, his real struggle is that he didn’t understand what it meant to truly live in community. He couldn’t see that releasing himself from the ways the world that defined his value and worth also released his neighbor who was defined by the same death-dealing concepts. He couldn’t grasp that his liberation, freedom and wholeness is bound up in the liberation, freedom and wholeness of the people in his community. His struggle was that he couldn’t see the true struggle, that he was deeply interconnected to others who were struggling and needed him to release his love for them and he needed his neighbor’s love too. We can’t be whole by ourselves.
As humanity, we think that our lives, the way the world works, is a zero-sum game. Either we win it all or we lose it all and we have control over the outcome. Jesus over and over in the gospels dispels that idea. Jesus doesn’t deny or diminish our struggle, if anything, Jesus names our struggle as real. Jesus knows that we struggle with how to live together, how to weigh our own needs and wants with those of our neighbor. Jesus also knows that the way to end the struggle is outside the binary response of us or them. It’s about a “we.” Jesus enters right into the middle of this struggle to show us another way. Living together doesn’t have to be a struggle but it does require sacrifice, honesty and truth. We have to admit that we are struggling to care about our neighbor, our black neighbor, our brown neighbor, our LBGTQIA neighbor, our immigrant neighbor, and to put them ahead of ourselves. Jesus’ life shows us that being complete in God and one another is God’s desire and it’s the only way for life to abound. Jesus time and again went to the people whom the rest of society said didn’t matter. Jesus died for this human struggle and God declared that the death will not be the last word for us in this struggle. God ushers in a new economy, on where relationships matter.
We have to release ourselves to God’s economy, we have to release ourselves to the truth of how we need to live together. We have to release ourselves and all people from the harmful labels of the world, we have to come close to each other, not only to people who are like us, but to people whom make us uncomfortable, challenge us, to listen understand and to not put any barriers between us. We have to be one people, Jesus says, we can’t separate ourselves by partisanship, wealth, social status, or education. If nothing separates us from God’s love, then nothing can separates us from the love of each other either.
We are released to be who God says we are: God’s treasure, each of us, together. We are released in the love, grace and forgiveness of God through Jesus Christ, for the sake of seeing our neighbor through God’s lens of love, of seeking understanding and unity with one another. Yes, the struggle is real, but we are released by God’s love through Jesus to be God’s people of love, in every time and in every place, with all who we are and all that we have. Amen.