Camels and Needles and Money, Oh My!

My sermon from Sunday on Mark’s gospel.  It’s all about money today, which is more taboo than sex in our culture.  Tell me what you think.

Based on Mark 10:17-31.

If the word of God is active and living, like a quick sword, as we heard this morning from the letter to the Hebrews, then Mark’s narrative cuts deep today.  We have heard this story before about the young man— he’s become known as “the rich young ruler”—who approaches Jesus so he can earn salvation.  It’s been going well in his life so far, he invested in Apple when they were $7 a share and now he’s got it all.  And he’s faithful to boot, keeping all the commandments that Jesus lists off to him.

“Ah,” Jesus says with his uncanny ability to see through right to the heart and to have so much compassion.  “One thing you lack.  Go, sell what you own and give it to the poor, and then come, follow me.”  And the man turns around shocked, and goes on his way grieving, because, as Mark puts it, he had many possessions.

You might have been more focused on the money, but did you catch that phrase?  Jesus loved him.  He loved him and wanted the best for this young man who came yearning for something deeper.  Jesus knows the path to salvation always means facing the things that hold us captive, otherwise there’d be nothing for us to be saved from.  This man longed for eternal life, but he didn’t expect it to cost so much.

Jesus completely understood the sway money has over us.  He gives the lure of cash the name mammon, a god that has its icy grips deep within us.  That makes us as Americans cringe, because cash is king and we somehow think we’ve got it under control rather than the other way around.

 

Philip Yancey, in his fantastic book Rumors of Another World, illuminates this.  He recounts reading that we must learn how to profane money, in order to “demagnetize it’s spiritual force even if that [meant] handing wads of bills to strangers or throwing them into the air on a busy street.”[1]  He found the idea absurd, which clued him on to the spiritual forces at play on his life.  He recounts how he lived generously at that time, giving money away to his church and charities, but always with the expectation of a receipt and a thank you note so he’d be ready come tax time.  He gave calculating how much it would help him in the long run.

 

Yancey experienced a shift.  He lived in Chicago at the time, and his wife worked with the low-income elderly.  She brought home stories about the ones who faced evictions or shut off notices.  So they began taking 50s and 100s and sliding them under the doors of the needy with a note “‘From someone who cares.’”[2]  He writes, “It seemed like sacrilege the first few times, to give with no assurance the money would be well used and with no tax receipt making it worth our while.  Those feelings betrayed the real sacrilege, I soon realized.  I had adopted a rational economic viewpoint that exalted money as the supreme value, and I needed to profane it and break its hold over me…. I needed to see money for what it is, a loan that God entrusted to me for the purpose of investing in the kingdom of heaven.”[3]

 

When I meet with the parents who want to have their children baptized, I ask them questions about the vows they are making.  They renounce “Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God.”  And I ask them what they make of that.  How do you view Satan and spiritual forces, and often the conversation meanders down the road of evil in our world.  Sometimes we talk about bullying and pride.  Many times I am answered with uncertainty and furrowed brows because talking about spiritual forces of wickedness isn’t conversation fodder.

 

But when I read economic reports that household debt in America has recently climbed nearly $40 billion to a total $13 trillion,[4] I know there’s a spiritual force out there.  We are being crippled by all of this personal debt in education costs and cars and vacations and gadgets—never mind the current Federal deficit—and that bondage is hindering us from eternal life.  “It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”  That’s pretty disparaging; even the disciples ask, “Who then can be saved?”  “For mortals it’s impossible, but not for God.”

 

Many cannot be more generous because they live paycheck to paycheck overcome by the monthly bills.  Jesus looks at us in love and wants something better for us.  We catch glimpses of another world, where money doesn’t have control over us.  Being generous is one of life’s great joys, but we must recognize the power Mammon has and change our lifestyles and desecrate money.  We may be keeping the commandments, but we lack one thing.  We’ve allowed our stuff to control us.  Lasting change can happen with God’s help. But it means sitting down and having frank conversations and digging ourselves out from under the mountain of excess and recognizing the beauty of that loan from God to bring about the kingdom Jesus proclaimed.  It may seem impossible, that it’s not worth the effort.  But a fuller life is on the horizon.

 

As we welcome three little ones today into the church through the waters of baptism, as we share together in Christ’s amazing love, may we see a little more clearly today that Christ cares for us deeply and wants all the best for us.  May we know that we can live without being overcome by either greed or envy.  And may we know that in Jesus’ outlandish kingdom camels, from time to time, do go through the eye of the needle.  Amen.



[1] Philip Yancey. Rumors of Another World. Zondervan, 2003. Pg 210.

[2] Yancey, 211.

[3] Yancey, 211.