This sermon was proclaimed at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on October 10, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC. The texts were:
Amos 5: 6-7, 10-15
Psalm 90: 12-17
Mark 10: 17-31
Young Friends message: I love a good apple! This one is so pretty! I think I’ll save it forever. Is that a good idea? No? Why? Oh it will go bad! If I eat it now, it will be healthy for me won’t it? I can share it too and then we all get some of the nutrients from this apple. Yes, food in general doesn’t last forever and will go bad and then it’s no good to anyone. And when we share, it allows the food to nourish more people. Our bible story today is about saving. Now saving can sometimes be wise, but often we save more than we need and save what we don’t need. Jesus tells a person with a lot of things to get rid of all his stuff to follow Jesus, quite saving things you don’t need but other people do. And then Jesus talks about how with God all things are possible. In other words, we don’t have to worry about if God loves us and will keep us forever, because Jesus says that’s already done and everyone is loved and accepted no matter how much money they have, what kind of house they have, what kind of job they have, none of that matters as God sees only that God loves us. We’re going to talk a little more about how God saves us and cares for us.
What does it mean to save something? Why do we save objects or money? Yes, we save items and money because we might need it later. We store them up like squirrels with nuts for winter. What happens when you don’t need it later, what do you with those saved items or money? Trickier isn’t it? When we save, we’re often afraid to use it aren’t we? A savings account for a “rainy day” or that precious, precious toilet paper we all have saved in our homes, you know you do! Saving seems prudent, rational, and even necessary. This week the media has highlighted how supply chains are fragile and many people can’t get some basic goods, such as canned goods, and even diapers. This is one reason why the diaper drive for CrossRoads Urban Center is so important right now. We ‘re being told to save harder to get items and be cautious about what we actually need as it’s uncertain what will be available in the future.
The concept of saving has a long emotional, psychological, and yes, religious history in the US. Saving is seen as virtuous, people who can take care of themselves are lifted up in our culture as noble, ethical, and righteous. We hold the “self-made person,” well let’s be honest the phrase is “self-made man” as the standard to which we all must adhere. If you don’t have enough saved to care for yourself, for whatever reason, even reasons beyond your control, then obviously, you’re not as smart, capable and or principled. This idea of “saving” is the basis of the Protestant work ethic that infests the white culture of the US. And this Protestant work ethic then wormed its way into the theology of many Protestant denominations and is at the root of the very problematic and misunderstood theology of salvation. Who is saved and who isn’t saved. It’s essentially trying to save up for an uncertain future, what happens when we die?
It’s at the heart of all our texts this morning. While the Protestant work ethic is distinctly American, the idea of people who are the “Haves” in society as inherently worth more than the “Have Nots,” is as ancient as the texts of Amos this morning. The idea of scarcity, that there is not enough to go around so I’d better save and keep things to myself for the future, was as rampant in ancient times as it is today. Humanity doesn’t change all that much I’m afraid. We want to have enough saved for the future so that we can take care of ourselves, and we want to take care of our own salvation too. The young man who ran up to Jesus, was obviously seeking something he didn’t have. He knew that he had saved enough material items and presumably money for the future and he didn’t need Jesus for that. Yet, he felt that his future was still uncertain. AND I bet that young man, like us, knew exactly what was missing but was hoping against hope that he wasn’t correct. You see, this young man knew that Torah, he knew the teachings, and he knew enough about Jesus to seek him out. Jesus only confirmed what he already knew, which I think is why he was shocked and grieved. He was right. The young man was right that he wasn’t contributing to justice and righteousness in his community by holding on to his possessions and money. He knew that living only for himself was not what God desired. He knew that he was no better than the people who worked for him, who had far less and lived day to day wondering where they would get food, shelter, or safety. He knew it. And we do too. We know that poverty or need isn’t a sign of character deficiency or lack of work ethic. Often the hardest jobs in our society pay the least. The world celebrates people who can manipulate and exploit other people for their own savings. If a person had 100 cats, or umbrellas or rolls of toilet paper, we shame them, say they have a mental illness and call them a hoarder, but a person who has a 100 billion dollars, we reward and put them on the cover of a magazine. When in reality the billionaire is also afflicted by the same disease.
We misunderstand the concepts of saving, to save and to be saved. An additional definition of “save” that we need to talk about is this: to keep safe or to rescue. The focus of this definition is about relationship. It’s about what it means to live in community, to shed the harmful notions of individualism and self-importance. This is the definition that Jesus gives the disciples when they ask “who then can be saved?” You see, we can’t save enough objects, money, or status to keep ourselves safe or to rescue ourselves. We can’t save ourselves from the randomness of the world. We can’t control if we’ll get sick, if our house will burn down, if we lose our jobs, our families, or are in a car accident. The big lie we tell ourselves if that if those things don’t happen it’s because we saved ourselves by our cleverness or aptitude. The young man with many possessions, was shocked and sad as he realized how little control he had. Jesus had shattered the illusion of his self-aggrandizement and told him that following him meant that he stopped worrying about saving and rescuing himself and focus on his community members who needed what he had been saving.
Salvation is about connectedness, wholeness and interdependency on God who does the rescuing, the saving. It’s not ourselves, not our works, not our cleverness. Entering God’s Kingdom means entering fully and wholly into community with our neighbors whom God also rescues. God sent Jesus to show us what salvation looks like. It’s looking on us all with deep love, and giving away everything, even his own life to connect us to God. Jesus saved nothing for himself to save us forever. And no one is beyond that loving gaze.
There is a theory that in chapter 15 of Mark, the young man who was traveling with Jesus and ended up running away naked when the authorities tried to arrest him, is this same young man from our story today. And he lost more than his shirt. He did give everything, down to his underwear, for Jesus. Because of Jesus’ loving gaze, he went from a saver of things to being saved for the work of the kingdom. God, through the love of Jesus, saves us so that we give this saving love to others. This saving love compels us to act to care for our neighbor. God’s beloved community is the saving force the world needs to bring wholeness, justice, and righteousness to creation. We are part of God’s saving movement. What do we have as a congregation, as an individual, that we are saving that maybe we should give away? We can save it and lose ourselves or give it away for God’s kingdom. We are saved, for God’s love saves us, bringing love, God’s saving force for us all, forever. For God all things are possible. Amen.