The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 23, Year B)

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Sermon by guest preacher, Betsy Miller

Hebrews 4:12-16

Mark 10:17-31

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart find favor in your sight, Oh God, my Lord and my Redeemer.

Mark’s gospel asks the penultimate question – “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus answers the rich young man “Follow the commandments.”  The man questions him further – “I have done all this, but what more must I do?”

Jesus replies – “Give all your wealth to the poor and you will have treasures in heaven.  “Then, follow me. ” After this encounter, Jesus asks his disciples “How hard will it be for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of Heaven?” He answers the disciples calling them Children to emphasize that they have a lot to learn and he is willing to teach them. Jesus replies, “Children, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.”

Ancient authors used this metaphor of a large camel passing through a small gate or small opening often to refer to a situation that is possible only with great difficulty. Using this metaphor, Jesus is emphasizing that it is possible for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only with great difficulty, only after the rich man has been stripped of his wealth like a camel is stripped of its packages as it enters the narrow gate. Jesus was very clear in this analogy that a man’s riches were an impediment to this goal. Only by stripping himself of his wealth and following Jesus completely could a man enter through the gates of heaven.

The simplicity of Jesus’s first response to the rich man’s question is beautiful – Follow the commandments, Follow Me.  This is a message of Hope and Love. However, as the man presses him for further clarification, Jesus explains that this simple commandment requires a lifelong commitment – it is the way we live our life, not just how we spend an hour on Sunday.

I recently took up the sport of golf, a decision many who know me think highly questionable. After 6 months, several lessons, and the encouragement of a group of wonderful women, I am still trying. Golf looks easy, and sounds nice.

Being outside on a lovely day. Driving around a beautifully manicured expanse in an electric cart. Hitting a stationary ball with a stick. How hard could it be? But, I have found that in reality the weather is not always optimal. Pushing a cart with over a dozen golf clubs up some big inclines is tiring. Just hitting the ball correctly is hard, much less getting it to go where you want it to go, like not in the water. Did you know that each type of golf club requires a different stance and swing? And on the tougher putting greens the ball never ever goes straight. I have had to be Patient in training my body to perform each swing type correctly.  And this requires Discipline. I have found that I can’t think of anything else while I am playing, because unless I focus my entire mind on that little golf ball I won’t hit it correctly, and I will probably lose another ball in the rough or the water. [You notice that I have a problem with the water hazards]. Hitting this tiny golf ball in just the right way to get it where you want it to be requires a lot of Patience, Discipline, Focus, Commitment. And oh yes, Mental Toughness to stop me from quitting. And what is the reward? Sinking that little golf ball into a tiny hole in the ground that is very far away. We may not have walled-in cities with tiny gates and camels anymore but we do have golf.

Many of us may think, like the rich man in the Gospel, that we follow the Commandments. Yet so much more needs to go into our commitment to Jesus. Like that rich man, we are a lot wealthier than most of the world. We live in a war free country. Our roads are paved, our houses have clean water, and our children can go to free schools. Medical care is available to all of us. Jesus asks us to use our God-given talents to improve the lives of others. Like the game of golf or fitting a camel through a small gate, this takes Discipline and Focus. It requires a conscious effort to think about what talents you have and how you can use them. You need to be disciplined, you need to take the time out to do your research and spend the time searching out the best way to help and support others. You need to set aside time to go and do the work. You need to stay focused on helping and following through and not get distracted from the goal. And you need to go out of your way to do that. Finding our own way through the Eye of the Needle – the way to be closer to Jesus.  And what a greater reward is eternal life with God in Heaven.

Recently I met with Pastor Jane and our Diaconal Intern Dinushka to look at all the outreach activities we are doing and identify the areas of outreach that we as a community are most passionate about. We found that our church focuses on three keys areas of need in our community: Helping children. Supporting those in Recovery. Feeding, and clothing the poor. We have been disciplined and very mindful about focusing our outreach activities on these three areas of need that address the needs of our community.  Your efforts can be in person, in kind, or monetary. We ask that you pray about the type of commitments you feel you can do. For example, there is a blood drive at Grace Church tomorrow. Blood donations are always needed, but especially during this time of Covid. We know that there are children just down the street in Bridgeport who need transfusions. In October we are supporting IRIS, the Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services, as they deal with the influx of Afgan and other refugees. IRIS is asking for school and Baby Supplies. Recently Pastor Jane went to IRIS to donate some household items and toys.  The associate director told her about a little boy who abruptly had to leave his home with his family and travel many hours. He was in tears when he arrived in his new home where everyone spoke a new language and looked so different. He was tired and missed his home, but as soon as he went into his new room and saw the donated toys and children’s books, he stopped crying and came back out of his room hugging a new book.

November will focus on food needs including Thanksgiving Dinner.  December’s activities are always the most fun with gifts for children and adults, warm clothes, and one Sunday during coffee hour we will enjoy Christmas music and eggnog as we prepare food for Calvary St George’s.  The weekly newsletter and the on line calendar contain specific actions that the Outreach Committee and Church Leadership have identified for each month so that it is easier for all of to stay Disciplined and Focused.

This week take the time to click on the calendar… Ask yourself – where can I help?  How can I put the same effort into giving as I put into perfecting my golf game? How can I be like the camel?  How can I be like the rich man?  Where do I need to put my focus so that I can give?  It is not easy.  Jesus told us it would take great effort … but the reward… the reward is worth it.

Dear Lord, help us each day to follow your Word, and to take actions to make your teachings alive in this world.  Amen.