Our Inheritance

A sermon, based on Mark 10.17-31, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 21st Sunday after Pentecost, October 14, 2018

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

This man, urgent in need and with earnest respect for Jesus, running to him, kneeling before him, calling him, “Good Teacher,” also speaks for us. We who know the joys and sorrows of this world long for eternal life, which I define as our lives lived in the presence and the power of God, both through the veil of death and now. So, we ask, “What must we do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus, the proclaimer, the living presence of the kingdom of God, answers surprisingly: “Why do you call me good? None is good but God alone.” Reciting the commandments, he continues to surprise us. For he doesn’t speak of the commandments regarding our reverence for God – “I am the Lord your God, you shall none other than me, worship no idols, take not my name in vain, remember the Sabbath day”(1) – but only those about our human relationships – “You shall not murder, commit adultery, steal, bear false witness, defraud, and honor your father and mother.”

Maybe being faithful in our relationships is what we must do to inherit eternal life. Makes sense. The cross, among many things, is a symbol of the essential, everlasting connection between, in its vertical dimension, our relationship with God and, in its horizontal plane, our relationships with one another. (So, the Peace we exchange with one another is not our peace, our goodwill for one another, but always the peace of God who reconciles us in Jesus. Thus, when we hear, “The Peace of the Lord be always with you,”(2) we, believing, accepting God’s peace, are called, verily, compelled to share freely with others what we freely by God have been given!)

The man replies, “I’ve kept the commandments,” in effect, saying, “I’ve been there and done that. There has to be something else!” Jesus, loving him, looking at him, seeing through him that he loves his possessions more than anything or anyone, acknowledges that there is something else, “You lack one thing,” thus, something more for him to do, “Go, sell, give to the poor, then follow me.” The man, shocked, unable, unwilling to part with his wealth, “went away grieving.”

Christ and the Rich Young Ruler (1889), Heinrich Hofmann (1824-1911)

Now, we, though created by God as spirits in flesh, in our lives in this world, bound by time and space, have possessions. And our love of our possessions can hinder our discipleship, can impede our taking up our crosses and following Jesus. But, blessedly, Jesus doesn’t demand that we give them up. Rather Jesus requires one thing; one thing we may lack.

Yes, Jesus says that it’s hard for the rich who love their wealth, who make their wealth the object of their love and worship, to enter God’s kingdom. (This shocked the disciples! For, at that time, wealth not only was the mark of one’s worldly well-being, but also a tangible sign of divine blessing. So, if one richly, literally, blessed by God couldn’t be saved, then who could?) Yet he immediately includes everyone: “Children (referring to all of us!), how hard it is to enter God’s kingdom!”

All of us, whether rich or poor, have the same problem in doing something, anything to earn salvation. We can’t! “For mortals it is impossible,” says Jesus, “but for God all things are possible.”

Now, this is no cheap grace that allows us to be and do as we choose and God will handle the rest. Though it is true that there is nothing we must do to inherit eternal life. For inheritance always is a gift of being in a family and never about doing something to earn it.

Nevertheless, there is something we must do to lay claim to our inheritance. This is the meaning of Jesus’ word to Peter who protests the great sacrifices the disciples have made. To follow Jesus is to belong to a new family of sisters and brothers unbounded by time and space, unlimited by culture or race. This new family, whose surname is Christian, is our inheritance that Jesus died to bequeath to us. Will we open our hands and hearts to receive it? Will we today live our lives loving and respecting each other as one and equal in the Lord as we will be in glory? That is all we ever must do!
Footnotes:
(1) Exodus 20.2-8, paraphrased
(2) The Book of Common Prayer, page 360. In the Eucharistic liturgy, the declaration of God’s Peace, following our confession of sin, is a renewed expression of God’s Love for us in restoring us to right relationship with God that we can strive again to keep God’s Law to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Illustration: Christ and the Rich Young Ruler (1889), Heinrich Hofmann (1824-1911)

8 thoughts on “Our Inheritance

  1. While eating lunch I just came to this page to see your comments on my post I wrote yesterday afternoon. But there were none, cause my REALLY LONG comments aren’t here. I’ll try to recreate some of it when I get off!! Rats!!!!!!!!!!

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  2. I really loved this sermon Paul! I can’t remember everything I wrote, BUT it was great!!! One of the things I wrote given the devastating hurricanes Florence and Michael is that we are so attached to our “things” BUT nature has shown us that we can literally lose everything in a nanosecond! That fact makes me so happy that I’ve been downsizing for more than a year. At this point in my life, I could give up most of my stuff and walk away (or drive away in JOY). As long as we have our lives, stuff is almost irrevelant.

    The other thing I focused on in my comments was was about inheritence. The only thing I’ve ever inherited was my Aunt Diane’s life insurance. The reason I bring that up is because I remember thinking I hadn’t done anything to earn that money besides being a devoted niece. But I was so stunned to receive it that I wanted to be sure I didn’t squander one dime of it. I know where every cent of that money went, AND I still have some of it today. I did give some to the church though I didn’t do anything specific with it that directly benefited my work for God (or at least that’s what I thought at first)…. Then I remembered that Tim and I used some of that inheritance on the purchase of Memory Maker. Even though I now have JOY, I traded up for her, and Diane is a major contributor to that. When we headed off to NY in 2016 to try out our retirement life with my book tour and LEGO work, what I now realize is that my inheritance definitely helped us to get into the RV which has already allowed me to do God’s work, meeting with caregivers – and will allow me to do much more when I retire. I hope that when I look back, I can take in all of the things I have been able to do in the work God has chosen for me to do… and to walk the walk Jesus would want me to…

    Much love!

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  3. An immediate thought, Loretta, occurs on reading your comments… Your inheritance from Diane, which, in part, is manifested in the material possession of your RV, lives on as a in-this-world-of-time-and-space continuous legacy of her to you – both in the RV itself and in what the RV allows you to do (AND that, both in what you currently are doing via the RV and what you dream of doing in the years ahead). Moreover, the legacy continuous to thrive, most especially, in your labors…

    This, for me, is a revelation of how, yes, in the limitation of transience/impermanence in this temporal and spatial realm of life in this world, one can look at a possession and find it a treasure, not in and of itself (which, I think, was the struggle, the trouble of the rich man Jesus encountered), but because of what it can do for good.

    Love you

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  4. Another immediate thought – when contemplating your words and thinking afresh of Hurricanes Florence and Michael, especially given having experienced their effects (though, blessedly, not as horrifically as our sisters and brothers of the NC coastline and the FL panhandle) – yes, our things can be lost in a nanosecond, and such loss can be devastating. Still, I think and feel more about those who have lost loved ones – by whatever means or cause. True, our relationships we do not possess, for we can own no one. Nevertheless, what treasures our loved ones can be, perhaps particularly, I think sometimes, when things are not faring well between and among us…

    As an extended commentary on this, for something’s stirred within me and it comes to my mind and heart, I am reminded when I am not well. And there have been moments when I felt ill for so long I couldn’t remember when or how it was to feel well. Moments when I wondered would I ever feel well again. (And I know you know this experience intimately.) In relation to this, there have been moments I’ve experienced in my relationships that matter most to me when things were not well. Moments when I couldn’t remember things going…being well. Moments when I wondered when we (whoever the “we” is or was) would be well again. In those moments, I can recall treasuring, perhaps more deeply than when all is/was well, how valuable those relationships were/are.

    I’m not sure what got stirred in me or why, but this thought comes to mind.

    Again, loving you.

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    1. So true Paul about losing loved ones in disasters! I’ve been afraid in my life of dying in water because I can’t swim, but even great swimmers have been swept away by flood waters!! It’s all just mind-blowing!

      Great points too about inheritance! I believe the legacy we leave behind is so important because others can do good for others and follow Jesus in their own way(s). Every time I get in JOY I think of Diane and Tim!! It’s sad we never had the opportunity to go on camping trips with Diane and her significant other, but I’ve already been to several places Diane had hoped to go.

      I also will be thinking more about relationships and when they aren’t well. Lots to ponder there!!

      Much love!

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  5. Loretta, last Sunday, I started a Sunday morning adult Bible study on the Gospel of Mark at Epiphany. (Epiphany hadn’t had a regular adult Sunday School since early 2015. I was hesitant to try it, fearing no one would come. We had a full room. Of course, over time, that could change. Nevertheless, I’m encouraged.) As I contemplate the Gospel of Mark, one of the key points, for me, is the evangelist’s portrayal of the call of Jesus to the radical (that is, from the Latin, radix, meaning root, that is, going back to the beginning) call of the kingdom of God to be and to do as God intended from the dawn of creation. Reading Mark through this lens, for me, it’s hard to miss Jesus’ stern summons to live not according to the world’s commitments to self – self-aggrandizement, self-preservation, self-enhancement, etc. – but rather, to self-sacrifice, self-giving, self-losing…

    Now, having said/written AND believing this, the struggle for me is to actualize Jesus’ teaching in my life. That is, to engage those who hurt me, to be present with those who treat me not well, indeed, to continue to love them (that is, to will and to act benevolently in their regard). This is hard, damnably, heavenly hard work!

    As oft, I’m wont to write: A luta continua (the struggle continues)!

    Love you

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  6. This is FABULOUS news Paul!!!! I’m thrilled that the Bible study went so well!!!

    Yes indeed the struggles continues for all of us!! I’ll go back and read Mark as well as I continue to work on my broken relationships!! The one thing I hang on to is that God loves us even when we are broken, so there’s hope for all of us! Thanks for always reminding me of that fact and that you struggle as well.

    Much love

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  7. Here’s another aspect of our struggle to live the life of Jesus between (what oft seem, feel to me to be) those polar opposites of self-preservation and self-sacrifice. How do we, in each and every instance, navigate the seemingly never-clear terrain of prudence in our self-care and faithfulness in our self-giving (and, I suppose I could switch the values/virtues and write: faithfulness in our self-care and prudence in our self-giving)?

    Jesus, I think, as I read scripture, doesn’t give us an answer for every circumstance, but rather offers/teaches broad cosmic principles (e.g., “Take up your cross and follow me” and “Whoever would be great among you is to be a servant of all”) and, in effect, says to us: “Figure it out!”

    Sometimes I think, “Jesus, Lord, have mercy, it’s hard to follow you” (but, then again, you did also say, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God”!), no wonder you don’t have a lot of friends and followers.”

    Love always

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