St. Philip Lutheran Church
10 October 2021 + Lectionary 28b (Pent. 20)
Rev. Josh Evans
I wonder where he was running from. I wonder what brought him to Jesus. I wonder what would compel a man like him, with such wealth and prestige, to suddenly bring himself to kneel at the feet of a stranger.
By all accounts, he had it all. He was a faithful Jew, having kept all the commandments since he was young. He had many possessions and lived a comfortable life. And yet, something was off. For all he had, something was missing.
His question is understandable: What must I do to inherit eternal life? What do I have to do? What do I have to get? Just tell me, and I’ll make it happen! If only I had fill-in-the-blank, then I’d be happy!
But his was a longing that couldn’t be solved by adding more stuff, though he could surely afford it. Instead, Jesus calls him to let go, to give up some of his possessions instead of adding more.
It’s no accident that the commandments Jesus quotes from have to do with our relationships with other people. This is not a story meant to make the man feel “bad” for what he has. But it is a story about priorities.
Wherever he was running from, whatever brought him to Jesus that day, the man was about to have his priorities shaken up. Jesus doesn’t condemn him for his question. Instead, Jesus looks at him and loves him. Out of love, Jesus invites the man to think about the things that get in the way of his relationship with other people and with God.
Jesus longs for his followers to experience the abundance of grace that he offers. And yet, all too often, the things that we hold on to … our stuff, our beliefs, our view of the world … get in the way and prevent us from experiencing the fullness of that grace.
By now, many of you know that I grew up bi-denominational, with one foot in the Lutheran church and the other in the Catholic church. When I was in fifth grade, I started taking first communion classes at our Lutheran church, and I remember being told that I was only to receive communion at our own church or at other churches within our same denomination.
Up until this point, I had been receiving communion regularly whenever I attended mass with my Catholic side of the family, without a second thought. Then one Sunday in the midst of my Lutheran first communion instruction, while attending Catholic mass, I went forward for communion as usual, but instead of receiving the bread and wine, I simply asked the priest for a blessing.
That experience sticks with me as a point of tension, even to this day. Never mind the fact that, as I would later learn, the Catholic church, too, has its own rules about who is “allowed” to take communion at its altar.
Regardless of denomination or tradition, we’ve done a fine job of setting up rules and barriers about who is welcome. And by holding on to those rules and barriers, we close ourselves off from receiving the fullness of God’s abundant grace for us.
But here’s the remarkable thing: Where we set up rules and barriers to grace, Jesus freely and without reservation serves that holy meal that first night to Judas, the disciple who would soon betray him, and to Peter, the disciple who would later deny ever knowing him, and to all the other disciples whose shortcomings go unnamed.
What extravagant grace! Jesus opens wide his table fellowship with no restrictions and draws his friends into closer relationship with himself. It’s amazing what can happen when we let go and let grace do its thing.
What do we have to let go of in order to more fully experience that kind of abundant grace of God for us?
In this season of generosity, we’re invited to think about all we have been given and how we are called to use it for the sake of the gospel. But this is not about the number that we ultimately fill out on our pledge card.
When Jesus told the rich man to sell everything he owned and to give the money to the poor, it wasn’t about what he had or how much he gave away. It was an invitation to reconsider his priorities about what was important to him. In this case, it meant sharing the abundance that had been given to him and being drawn into relationship with his community.
Ours is not a solitary faith but one meant to be lived in community with each other. Ours is not a faith lived only for ourselves but one that calls us into the world, in all its beauty and brokenness, and joys and sufferings. Our faith draws us outside of ourselves and more deeply into relationship with others.
We’ve all heard the phrase “let go and let God” … by which the well-intentioned speaker usually means to stop worrying so much and to trust God more. To be perfectly honest, I’ve never found that advice particularly helpful (that’s another sermon).
Instead, I offer an alternative: Let go and let grace. Or said another way: Get out the way and let grace do its thing.
In the midst of everything that gets in the way, God calls us back to grace.
Grace reveals itself best in relationship, between us and God, and between us and our companions on this journey.
Through the lens of grace, Jesus reminds us that we are not on our own. This message is as much for the man kneeling at Jesus’s feet and the disciples within earshot as it is for all of us today.
It’s not all up to us alone, and we don’t always get it right. But with the grace of God and the support of the community, all things are possible.