A Threat And A Promise

Sunday Sermon by Pastor Sue Hutchins


As you heard that passage read, some of you may have thought, Oh man, another sermon on the rich young ruler. But I’d like to encourage you this morning to try to look with fresh eyes. Because every time we come to scripture, scripture is different because we are different. So whatever happened to you since the last time that you heard a sermon on this particular passage or maybe studied it in Bible study or somewhere, you are different.

And if you’re nothing else, you’re older than you were. Because all of us are older than we were yesterday. That’s the good news. We’re still here today.

It’s interesting in this passage that we call this the rich young ruler, the rich young man, and Laura said that, and in our Bibles it has it as a heading. But the interesting part is that we’re not told that until the end of the story. Simply that a young man comes to Jesus and he falls at his feet and he says, Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? What can I do to have eternal life? And it’s interesting that his posture is one of humility. He falls at the feet of Jesus.

One of the hardest things I experienced when I was, especially the first time I went to Uganda was how particularly the older women, when they came to one of us from America, they would fall on their knees, they would bow to us. And it was embarrassing for me and I think uncomfortable for others because we should be honoring this older elderly woman, not her falling at our knees. But that’s what they had been taught as a part of the British colony. And we would say, Jaja, get up, because Jaja meaning grandmother, and that’s what they call most of the older women.

And so I had that image that this man, young man, comes to Jesus and he bows before him. He falls on his knees and asks him what he has to do, and he calls him Good Teacher. And Jesus said, Why do you call me good? Only God is good. But the young man understood and recognized that this was somebody important, that this was someone who had something from whom he could learn, somebody that is a teacher of the law, as a rabbi.

And Jesus says, Well, you know the commandments, and he repeats them. And it’s interesting in the translation that Laura read it was, You must not do such and such. Do not. And I think do not has a whole lot more power to it.

You know, parents, if you want your child really to listen to your grandchildren, you don’t say, Well, you mustn’t do that. You say, Don’t do that. Right? You know, and we’re trying to be polite, so, but usually, you know, do not. And Jesus goes through that Ten Commandments, and a young man says, But I have kept all of those commandments since I was a child.

And here he was, someone who had been trying to live a good life, what we would call a good life, someone who had been following the commandments of God, someone who had been listening and hearing from his teachers and supposedly his family, but he knew that there was something missing. There was a longing within him. And part of what it means to be created in the image of God, which is one of our statements of faith, that we are created in the image of God. One of the things that’s a part of that is that we long that we are created to be in relationship with God.

And we try to fill that hole, we try to fill that emptiness with all kinds of things. We try to fill it maybe with other people or with substance abuse or with possessions or with fame and fortune or whatever it is that that we’re trying to fill that hole within us, but we can’t. There’s a longing, there is an emptiness within us. I always think of a little chorus that the Castle Shannon Choir sang many years ago, There is a longing in our hearts, oh God.

There is a longing in our hearts, oh God, for you to reveal yourself to us. We’ve all had longings. We know what those longings feel like. We know what it feels like to be feeling the emptiness of longing, of wanting deeply.

Not just, you know, I don’t usually long for ice cream. I may want ice cream, and I want ice cream for a long time, but I don’t have a longing for that. But I have a deep desire to be in relationship with God. And this young man recognized that even though he had followed all of the rules and he had lived according to the way that he should do.

He kept them since he was a youth. There was still an emptiness. There was a longing. There was something inside of him.

And he came to Jesus asking to have that filled. He called it eternal life. And eternal life is not simply living forever. eternal life is that life in which we live in eternal and everlasting relationship with God.

I spent the last 10 days with this woman whose service we celebrated yesterday, Diane. And that sanctuary at Carnegie was filled, almost to capacity. Now that’s not unusual for someone that young. And she has three young adult children and their friends and coworkers were there.

And Diane worked for the County 911 service. She trained the 911 operators, over 1,800 operators in the course of her career. And so there were people there from the County 911 from Scott Township Fire or Police Department because she had been a part of them. And so there were all kinds of people there, but there was a special group of people there yesterday who were there.

Because Diane and her then husband, Brian, had been the youth leaders in their church for about 10 years. And there were young people who were now in their 30s and 40s who were a part of that youth group, who talked about how Diane brought them to the cross, talked about how she was the one who had recognized that longing within them, and brought them to the one who could feel that longing. And when they talked about being brought to the cross, they somewhat meant that literally because they would often go to Jomonville and to the big cross on the mountain and they would have experiences of faith there, but they also talked about bringing him to the cross of Jesus Christ. And through her life and through her love, she was able to help them to satisfy that longing by introducing them to Jesus Christ.

I have a folder in my file drawer. It’s not a very thick folder, it’s a little thin folder. But in that folder are some notes and letters. Remember when people used to write notes and letters before email and texting and all that stuff? In that folder are some correspondence from people over the years of my ministry who wrote to thank me for helping them to come to Jesus Christ.

And then there’s one special letter from a young man named David who was the one who was, we called it picked on back in those days, now we call it bullying. David was bullied within the youth group. And we worked upon that as a group and David became very much a part of that group and now is the pastor of United Methodist Church in Georgia. And on the days in which I am the most frustrated, never with Fairhaven Church but perhaps some mothers.

There are days when I pull out that folder and I read that letter and I remind myself if I’ve only ever introduced one person to Jesus Christ, I have been faithful in what I was called to do as a person of faith, not as a pastor, but as a person of faith. There is a longing in the people in the world around us and many of what we talked about and Kelly mentioned the gun violence. The violence in our world is often as a result of that emptiness in people’s lives. The addictions that people deal with and the hatred that they have and the unwillingness to be open to people of other cultures or races or nations, all of that hatred comes from trying to fill that emptiness by being number one.

You know, I’m Great, because I’m a Steeler fan, or still a Bucko fan. There’s always next year, right? But the only one that can fill it is Jesus Christ. And so this young man comes to Jesus and he asks him, What must I do to inherit eternal life? And finally, Jesus responds to him, and he uses action words, action verbs. And he says, Go and sell all that you have, and give it to the poor, then come and follow me.

Go, sell, give, and then come and follow me. And then one of the saddest verses in scripture according to my feelings and readings is that the young man went away sorrowing, for he was very rich. It’s then that we find out that he was very wealthy. And he came to Jesus wanting to have that emptiness filled, and when Jesus told him how to do that, that if he would sell, go and sell all that he had and give it away, and then come and follow Jesus to substitute that wealth for following the Christ, he would have eternal life.

And it’s about at this point in the sermon that most people say, oh, well, that’s not me. I’m not rich. This doesn’t apply to me. Oh, okay, I don’t have to listen to the retina.

As if I were listening to before, but now I don’t have to listen to anything else. But ladies and gentlemen, we are rich. We have more opportunities and more possessions and more safety and more shelter and food and clothing and any other nation in the world. We always compare ourselves to someone who has more.

And we say, Well, I’m not rich. But we are. But Jesus is not only talking about material possessions. What he’s saying is you need to get rid of whatever it is that you’re holding on more tightly than you’re holding on to God.

What is it that’s blocking you from totally following Jesus Christ? You need to go and get rid of whatever that is. Whether it be your own possessions or your own position or your own power or your own understanding, or maybe it’s your own pride that stands in the way. We need to be willing to give that up so that we can come and follow Christ. At the end of that passage, Jesus reminds us that if we want to be the greatest of all, we must be willing to be the least.

Because the least of all become the greatest in God’s kingdom. The young man went away very sorrowful. I think it’s sad that we don’t hear the end of his story. We don’t know if he was ever able to come back and give up what he had to follow the Christ.

I often wonder what happened to him. But there’s another verse, that chapter, in verse 21 of that chapter, tells us why Jesus did what he did, and he says, I think, I can’t remember how Laura read it, but in the Revised Standard Version, it says, Jesus, looking at him, Jesus loving him, told him to go and sell. Out of love. Jesus, this passage is more about Jesus than it is about this young man.

The passage is about God’s love for us that’s greater than anything that we think is gonna save us. The disciples said, How then can anyone be saved? And Jesus says that with humanity it’s impossible, but with God all things are possible. And that includes a transformation of people’s lives, Lives that we think are not worth anything. Lives that we may think are beyond hope, beyond redemption.

Once again, the debate about the death penalty has been raging in our country. And when people say to me, Well, do you believe in the death penalty? Don’t you believe that we should kill those people who have done blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah? And I say, No. And they say, How can you say that? And I said, I say that because I’m a person of faith. And I believe in God’s transforming power.

And that God can and does transform every life, even the ones that we deem as unforgivable, that we deem as not worthy, as we deem as impossible, that they deserve something else. You and I only sit here this morning because of God’s grace. And it’s grace that comes to us in Jesus Christ and enables our lives to be transformed. And in scripture there’s no hierarchy of sin.

There’s no these people have to be killed, but these ones can stay, but these can be jailed, and these can be something else. Sin is sin. And if we say we believe in God’s love and grace, we have to understand that that’s offered to all people. Even the vilest sinner among us.

Our hymns this morning have talked about God’s grace and about God transforming our lives. We need to go. And through God’s grace and power, get rid of that which blocks us from our relationship with God. And come and follow Christ.