The Cost of Change
Scripture: Mark 10:17-31
You all know that I am a dog lover and I love telling stories about my dogs. One of my favorites took place when we were living in Gary. We lived near the lakeshore and we were surrounded by the National park. So there was always plenty of wildlife… which my dogs loved. At that time, we had three dogs: Charis, Sophie and Eirene. That was the sequence of their age and dominance order: Charis at the top, followed by Sophie and Eirene at the bottom of the pack. At this particular time, Charis was on limited physical activity because she had hip dysplasia and had suffered an injury. So, she was gated inside the house to be sure she didn’t run and jump and play. And, when she went outside to do her business, she was to be on a leash. It was a fall evening and there was dew on the ground. I was already in my pajamas, with flip flops on my feet. I should add that Charis weighed almost 80 pounds and that I weigh around 87 pounds. When I opened the door into the back yard the two youngest dogs shot through it with a clear mission. They had spotted a possum in the yard. The possum scrambled to scale our chain link fence and had nearly cleared it when Eirene, our young Doberman at the time, reached the fence, jumped up and smacked it hard enough to send that poor possum tumbling. It barely hit the ground before it was snatched up by Sophie who immediately turned to present her captive to dog number one, Charis. Charis, meanwhile, had also spied that possum and her leash, with me on the other end, was of little significance. She bolted toward Sophie with such a jolt that the soles of my flip flops – wet with the evening dew – slid out from under me. Down I went with the leash still in my hand. Charis, with four wheel drive – well, four paw drive – had all the strength she needed to drag me along. Like George Jetson, I was on the ground, leash in hand, gliding across the grass coming to a sudden realization that I might meet that possum face to face. It was then that I gathered my wits and let go of the leash.
Now, what I want you to remember about that story are two things:
As I’ve done throughout this sermon series, I’d invite you to turn to the center of this morning’s program and consider “How easy is it for you to part with things you don’t really need? Are there things you keep even though you don’t regularly use them or need them?”
This morning’s scripture is a story about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. I think Ralph Waldo Emerson is credited with saying, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” Well friends, that is applicable to our understanding of Christian discipleship. Certainly it does have a destination. But Christian discipleship involves more than a destination; it is about the journey; a journey that demands our full attention and focus. A journey that is often difficult, but enormously rewarding. A journey that is impossible if we are weighed down and distracted by too much unnecessary stuff. Christian discipleship is a lifelong journey that requires us to “travel light.”
The encounter between Jesus and this rich man is a story about discipleship, about what it means to follow Jesus and to learn to live as Jesus lived… because that’s what the Greek word for disciple means. A disciple is “one who learns” and a disciple of Jesus is one who, out of loyalty and devotion to Jesus, learns to live like Jesus lived and Jesus, our gospels remind us, certainly traveled light.ii
This is also a call story; a story of a man who is issued an invitation by Jesus. He’s given an opportunity for his life to change. But that change is going to cost him something and he’ll need to decide for himself if it’s worth the price. Jesus invites this man – just as he invites all of us – to lay aside all of the other stuff that distracts and burdens us and to “then come, follow me.”
Now notice something about this guy. This guy is a great guy. I mean, he is religious. He knows a lot about his faith and he has been following all of the rules diligently. He’s sincere and serious in his interaction with Jesus. He addresses Jesus as rabbi, or teacher, a title of honor. He kneels before Jesus, a posture of respect. He is genuine and… this is the most important point… he knows, he senses that there is something more to life, to eternal life, that he is missing. This man who has it all recognizes that there is something that he is missing… something money just can’t buy.
So Jesus invites this man to follow him, to join him on his journey as he and his disciples head toward Jerusalem. But first, the man will need to lighten his load. He is weighed down; apparently, preoccupied by great wealth. It is an obstacle hindering his ability to follow Jesus. Now we can’t know with certainty exactly why this man’s wealth gets in the way but we can engage in some speculation.
This man would have received two benefits from his wealth. One was security. Even today, we’re told that money provides security. Financial advisers remind us that we need to always have three to six month’s worth of living expenses in our savings so that, should something go wrong, a medical emergency, loss of job, etc., we don’t lose our homes and find ourselves out on the streets. Secondly, money – especially having lots of it – has a significant impact on our sense of identity. With money, others treat us differently, and we begin to perceive ourselves differently. Now, my point here is not to encourage financial recklessness and irresponsibility. But I want us to think about the fact that it is very, very easy for us to begin to judge ourselves based on our belongings, our reputations and our abilities. In Jesus’ day, someone with wealth was supposed to function as a patron for the needy. And the way in which those who received help thanked their patron was through the giving of public praise. So, if you were wealthy and owned a great deal of land and I was poor with no means to support my family, you might allow me to farm a piece of your property rent-free. And, if you did that, I would tell all the folks in town about what a fine, upstanding guy you were because you had been generous with me in my time of need. And if I went around telling everybody in my village about how awesome you were… Well, a fellow could really get used to that, right?
Now, that’s all speculation with this guy. We don’t know the personal details of his life. But clearly Jesus knew his heart and knew that his wealth – all that stuff in his life – was hindering him from following Jesus. It stood in the way of him placing his full trust in Jesus. It prevented him from allowing Jesus to be the source of his security and his identity.
And when he realizes for himself how attached he is to his stuff, it makes him grieve. He makes a painful choice. He counts the cost and then he chooses all that stuff. But it’s not a choice that brings him joy. It’s a choice that causes him sorrow.
Folks, sometimes our lives become a frustration, or even a disappointment. We sense that something is lacking; we know what we’re doing now isn’t working. We have so much stuff filling up our lives, our calendars and our closets. And, it’s just too much.
But, that’s not the only way to walk life’s journey. We can choose differently. We can choose to follow Jesus and to “travel light.” Jesus issues the invite to us: do we want eternal life with him enough to shed that excess stuff and make following him our singular passion and our sole focus? Can we decide that the only relationship that will determine our identity is our relationship with Jesus? Do we trust that the only enduring security we have is Christ? Or do we believe that we need all that other stuff?
Our life is a journey in which we’re challenged daily to decide between following Jesus or giving in to the expectations and standards of our commercial culture.
But it’s not a challenge we face alone because we’re in it together. And when I struggle, it’s your job to encourage me; and when you struggle, it’s my job to encourage you. Discipleship, friends, is a personal journey. But, it’s not a lonely journey and it’s not a private journey.
You know, my dogs got that possum because they weren’t distracted by other stuff in the backyard. When they shot through that door, they were locked on to that possum. We need that kind of intense focus in our discipleship journey. And, we can help one another get there. But we can only really help one another if we really know one another. And that happens by joining a bible study or a small group or serving together in mission just as we’ll do this afternoon, or being part of a fellowship group where other people get to know us and we know them.
It’s hard to follow Jesus if we try to walk the journey alone, weighed down by all the stuff our culture tells us we need to hold onto. But we don’t need bigger closets or containers and we don’t more clutter on our calendars. All we really need is Jesus.
ii See Matthew 8:20 and Luke 9:58.
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