Sunday, October 4, 2015

Preacher’s Study – Year B, Proper 23 (28) 2015

Monday Morning in the Preacher's Study

First thoughts about next Sunday's sermon
(20th Sunday after Pentecost, Oct. 11, 2015)

Frank Logue

Job 23:1-9, 16-17 OR Amos 5:6-7, 10-15
Psalm 22:1-15 OR Psalm 90:12-17
Hebrews 4:12-16
Mark 10:17-31

This week's Gospel brings up the cost of baptism as Jesus looks at a wealthy man and loves him.

The man had asked the Rabbi what he must do to inherit eternal life. After running through the parts of the Ten Commandments that deal with how we treat one another, the man assured Jesus that he had kept all these commandments since his youth.

Then Jesus looked at him and loved him. Jesus asks the man something that he had asked before at least twelve times. Jesus had asked this of Peter and his brother Andrew, and then of their friends John and James. He asked them to drop their nets and walk away from their fishing boats.

Jesus had already asked Matthew to walk away from his tax collectors booth, leaving the mounds of coins on the table for someone else to deal with.

Jesus asked each of his disciples to drop everything and join him on the road.

This rich man is being given a decisive moment, what Karl Barth would call a crisis. Let go of all that you are carrying to join Jesus on The Way.

The man famously turns away grieving, for he had many possessions. Jesus offered the man a prime spot in the history of God’s bringing salvation to the whole world. And the stuff mattered too much to him. He couldn’t leave it behind. The hold his possessions had on him was too strong.

It would seem that every one of us got off easy. None of us has had to face the day where Jesus gives us that big moment of decision, leave everything behind and follow me. But we do know better than that, right? Jesus still comes into each of our lives and asks us to follow him on The Way.

The Way is what the first followers of Jesus called their movement. Judaism had always talked about the life of faith in terms of following "hallakah", which means literally "the way to walk". There is nothing on Jesus’ Path that adds to the way to walk taught by the Jews. In fact, Jesus is teaching a simpler path where loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself are the signs that you are on the right path. 

This week's Gospel can also be heard through a bit of homiletical fiction. There is a much-repeated story that “Eye of a Needle” refers to a gate into Jerusalem. It seems that a preacher in the Middle Ages wrote that there was a gate into Jerusalem called “The eye of the needle” through which camels could pass, but only by hobbling through on their knees. The idea was that it is difficult, but not impossible and it had the added punch line of suggesting that rich folks who wanted into heaven needed to get on their knees. 

It’s a great little story, but it has no basis in archeology or any other known facts. The truth is Jesus was referring to the largest animal in Palestine and the smallest common opening. He meant a real camel and an actual eye of a needle. The idea is that humanly speaking it is impossible to get a camel through the eye of a needle.

As I journey toward Sunday, I am wondering how to convey that following the Way of Jesus still means making difficult decisions about how to live. As Bonhoeffer noted famously, that grace is not cheap, but costly through a well crafted passage in The Cost of Discipleship. Why has baptism come to be seen so cheap, and how might we recover the baptismal life as a life of following Jesus on The Way?

Frank Logue is an Associate member of the APLM Council and has served as its secretary. He worked as a church planter in the Diocese of Georgia, starting King of Peace in Kingsland, before joining the diocesan staff in 2010 as the Canon to the Ordinary.