Invitation to Love

Preached on the 21st Sunday after Pentecost, Oct 14, 2018 at St. John’s Episcopal Church.  To read the scripture passages, click here.

Last week, I taught a retreat at Holy Cross Monastery.  And they have a tradition for all their meals.  When people come into the refectory they come in two lines to form a large circle with the table of food in the middle, the first people meeting at the top of the circle and the last people sometimes straggling in after or during the prayer and forming the bottom of the circle.

Yet, when the line forms to receive the food, these stragglers, these last people, are invited to move through the line first.

ReversalA beautiful way to live out Jesus’ words: “Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

Now, I promise to you that when the Stewardship Committee planned this year’s Pledge Campaign, we didn’t know that the Gospel reading would be one in which Jesus says, “go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor.”  But here we are.

This isn’t the only time Jesus talks about money in the Gospels.  And this isn’t the only time Jesus refers to money as the thing that gets in the way of God’s Love.  In the Gospels of Luke and Matthew, Jesus uses the word mammon in reference to money.  He says, “You cannot serve God and mammon.”

But the word “mammon” does not mean “money.” Mammon is a Greek transliteration of an Aramaic word that means, “that in which one fully trusts.”

That in which one fully trusts.

Money is a big part of our lives.  Money.  Bills.  Wealth.  Property.  Debt.  Credit.  Savings.  Pledging.  Budgets.  Investments.  Banks.

Each one of us has a relationship of some kind to every one of these.  It makes me wonder how much of our lives do we spend talking about, worrying about, thinking about money?  We can get so wrapped around our identity with money that we define our own inherent worth by it.  And we judge other people because of it… either for having too much or for not having enough.

It becomes mammon to us, in this way… a thing in which we fully trust.  A thing that we think will save us.

But money is not the only thing that can become mammon to us.  It’s just one of the most common forms of mammon.  Jesus talks about this when Peter starts to get defensive.   Peter says, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.”

And Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age…”

Jesus is talking about a long list of things that, to us, feel scandalous to leave behind. All of our property… houses, fields… well, that makes some sense because of their relationship to money.  But all of our family?  Brothers, sisters, mother, father, children?

What does he mean here?  And how can this possibly be equated to money?

It’s a way of thinking about all the things that we form attachments to.  By going to the extreme and suggesting that even our family is what we need to leave behind, Jesus is demonstrating that it’s our attachments to worldly things – even and especially to our most cherished relationships – that can prevent us from experiencing God’s Love.

Because to follow Jesus means that we follow an ethic of Love no matter what.  It means we continue to seek ways in which we offer Love.  It means that we always seek a higher purpose, a higher plane, because we realize what the larger story of scripture tells us about how God works in this world.

And the definitive narrative of this in the Christian tradition is found in the narrative of the manger – the Christmas story.  I realize we’re 2 months from Christmas but the manger is the foundational story of how God works in our world and it echoes throughout all of scripture.

God comes down to earth in the form of the most marginalized, most humble, most vulnerable… and in that, is the salvation of the whole world.

“Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

Pledging is, of course, a way for any church community to pay for the things we do.  But the spiritual component is so often overlooked.  And the spiritual component is this:  the practice of letting go of the things we think will save us and doing so in an intentional way, a reflective way with the discipline of a regular pledge.

Hoffman-ChristAndTheRichYoungRuler23nkjasc90The young rich person in today’s Gospel reading tells Jesus, “I’ve followed all the rules.”  You can almost hear the pleading in the young person’s voice, “What must I do?”

And Jesus looks at this confused, young person and responds in love… not contempt or judgment.  But Love.  Jesus saw in that moment that this young person was like all of us who have learned the worldly message that we have to hold on to something.  And the loving response is to invite us to give it up.

Because we are not able to see this thing we have to have… whether that’s money or property or status or the right relationship or the way we present ourselves or the things we do or the things we know or the ideology we subscribe to… all of it…
The loving response is in the invitation to surrender that, the very thing in which we have placed so much trust.

Isn’t it strange to think that the invitation to Love isn’t: “Here, have more.”
The invitation to Love is: “Here, have less.”

And aren’t we all that young person?  In some way?  It’s true, we cannot serve God and mammon.  Can we see that the invitation to surrender mammon, is the invitation to come to the manger?  Where God’s love comes down and finds a home in our own heart with the most vulnerable, as the most humble.

“Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

About Michelle Meech

I want to unfold. I do not want to remain folded up anywhere, because wherever I am still folded, I am untrue. -Rainer Maria Rilke
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