First Sunday in Lent – February 18, 2024

Posted on February 22, 2024, Pastor: Pastor Lara Forbes

Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service. 

February 18, 2024

First Sunday in Lent

Mark 10:17-31
Psalm 19:7-10

Worship Service Video Sermon Video Sermon  Audio

Sermon Text:

Grace to you and peace from God, our Creator, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

I spend a lot of time in my preaching talking about relationships and how we interact with each other as people of faith because those were at the heart of things for Jesus and his ministry. In one way or another, that’s what he spent most of his time teaching.

The parables he told, the miracles he performed, all go back to relationship – restoring it where it’s been broken, and embodying how to nurture it. And Jesus does this for God’s relationship with us, our relationship with God, and our relationship with one another as people who follow Jesus and as a community of faith.

Because when those relationships are as they should be, the Kingdom of God is made visible here on earth. A community in which people care for each other and depend on God. And it’s a community that can be experienced here and now and in the life to come.

So, in today’s reading, Jesus is teaching about relationship. It isn’t a parable or a miracle, but rather a conversation that was started by a man who had done everything he knew to do in terms of keeping the commandments. But he recognized that something was missing. So, he asked Jesus how to go about inheriting eternal life.

And when Jesus answered, he named the commandments about people’s relationships with each other. The ways that God commands people to care for one another. And the man says he has kept all of those since his youth.

But the commandments Jesus doesn’t name are the ones about relationship with God. And when he tells the man to sell what he owns and to give the money to the poor, Jesus reveals that even though the man had kept the other commandments he’d been focused on himself.

That instead of his heart being in relationship with God, it was devoted to his property, to his possessions. And that relationship held him back from experiencing relationship with God.

And we aren’t told why the man grieved. The common assumption is that he didn’t want to let go of his stuff. But we’re never told that he doesn’t sell his things. So, it could also be that he was upset because he understood that his possessions had interfered with his relationship with God.

Either way, his heart was troubled. Jesus had just told him a really hard thing; he told it with agape love, the love God has for us. But the reason Jesus told him to sell his things and give the money away is because he was concerned about how the man lived his life.

He wanted the man to experience a relationship with God, to experience the Kingdom of God – the community that it creates – while he lived. Because within that relationship, the man would have learned to trust God.

 What this teaching reveals to us is that it’s hard to trust God, to have a relationship with God, when our material possessions get in the way. Specifically, when our attachment to our possessions is what rules our heart.

And by possessions, I mean the things beyond the basic shelter, food, and clothing that we each need for survival. It’s the accumulation of material things that we think we need. And when we hold onto them too tightly or, more accurately, when they have a hold on us, it turns us inward so much that we’re focused on ourselves.

And when we’re focused on ourselves, our hearts are closed off to God. And we aren’t able to experience God’s kingdom here on earth. We aren’t able to be part of that community that Jesus envisioned for us.

 In the words of Jesus, it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. And that is what he meant. An actual camel literally going through the eye of a needle. The other interpretations of that image that we’ve heard were invented as ways to allow us to squirm out from under what Jesus said here.

This image is a word of law. It’s meant to make us uncomfortable so that we look away from ourselves and toward God and our neighbor. The gospel, the good news that Jesus gives here, is that for God all things are possible. That’s what saves us. It doesn’t let us off the hook; we’re still called to take care of our neighbor – especially the most vulnerable among us. But it isn’t our possessions or keeping the commandments, or not keeping them, that save us. It’s God.

 Shortly before I left to serve in Costa Rica, a woman in my congregation gave me a quilt. And she said, “This is for you to take with you,” thankfully it was twin-sized. And then she said, “I want you to use this. Let it be a reminder of the prayers that cover you while you’re away. And before you come home, give it away. You aren’t allowed to bring it back with you.”

And I said, “Of course! No problem.” And two years later, about a month before I left to come home, I gave it to one of the deacons that I worked with – we all called her Doña Tére. She was surprised to receive it, and I was super excited to give it to her.

The overnight temperatures in San José, the capitol city, average in the mid-50s year-round. There’s almost no variation. Most of the homes don’t have heating because it isn’t needed.

About a week after I gave the quilt to Doña Tére, no joke – the overnight temperatures dropped into the mid-40s for a few nights. I pulled out my sleeping bag and slept in it.

The morning after the first cold night, when the volunteers who worked full-time with Doña Tére came home from work, they were laughing. Because while everyone else was talking about how cold they were the night before, Doña Tére said, “I wasn’t cold at all.”

I share this experience with you because oftentimes when we think about giving away our things, or selling them and giving the money away, we give out of our abundance. We give and don’t think twice about it. And that was absolutely the case with the quilt that I gave to Doña Tére.

But what we often forget is how that abundance can get in the way of our relationship with Jesus here and now. We like our stuff, don’t we? We hold onto it because it makes us feel safe. It makes us feel like we’ve accomplished something. It feeds our desire for status and belonging.

But when we recognize its hold on us, it indicates a change in our hearts. It indicates our openness to live as a member of the community that Jesus envisions for us. Ultimately, it opens our hearts to relationship with him.

And when our hearts are open to that relationship, we’re able to look beyond ourselves and be in relationship with one another as the body of Christ. We’re able to recognize that that relationship goes beyond these walls, and that it compels us to care for people all over the world. And we’re able to admit that we can’t save ourselves.

The man in our reading today was focused on the wrong thing. He was looking ahead to life after death and what he thought he needed to do to achieve that. But Jesus redirected him to get him to think about how to live as a member of the community that he calls his followers to be part of.

 It isn’t the way to an easy life. But it’s the way to a life of relationship with Jesus, and a life of trust in God. And the assurance that God is the one who saves us. Thanks be to God! Amen.