Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Series, "Critical Questions All American Christians Should be Asking.", Sermon, "Can the Rich be Saved?", Mark 10:17-27

A few years ago day time network TV was changed forever. We saw the cancelation of the soap opera, at lest all but one, and that one is slated to conclude next summer. One of TV's most enduring programing, one that comes and goes and seems to have a place in every generation is the Game Show. Game shows have been around almost as long as TV. They use to be found airing during prime time, but that distinction has gone to sitcoms, drama's and reality TV. Probably the last great game show to be aired successfully during prime time TV was, "Who wants to be a millionaire?" We still have cultural references to this show. There's a whole generation of people who know exactly what, "Can a phone a friend?" means and what  a "life line." is. Most game shows revolve around the opportunity to become and instant prize winner. Who want's to be a millionaire was so great because you didn't just win a few thousand dollars or a trip to the Grand Cayman's, but you instantly became rich, you became a millionaire in seconds!

The thought of striking it rich intrigues and motivates us all. Thats why we play the lottery and that why we loved, "Who wants to be a millionaire?" Because it fulfills are dream of rags to riches over night. I mean who hasn't had the day dream at work of what you'd say to your boss if you one the lottery? In a 2012 Times article this instant wealth having was referred to as "Affluenza". I know it sounds like a virus or disease, but that is exactly what they intended it to sound like. People who instantly become wealthy, who win some game show prize or some jackpot somewhere or amazingly enough win the lottery, lose all their prize money in an average of 10 years, no matter how much they win. They spend money on all kinds of things and people, blowing through cash like it's a pile of leaves on an autumn afternoon. 

Truth is we are a greedy bunch of people. Given the chance most of us will take all we can, spend all we can and waste all we can (John Wesley encourage Methodist to earn all you can, save all you can, and give all you can). You say, "I'm not greedy!", but yes you are. How many of you have nicer things than your neighbor? How many of you worked hard and saved for those things? And there is nothing wrong with that, but how many of you have ever given that much money, the value of that nice thing, ie. car, boat, house, cabin on the lake, etc, to a charity, to a food bank, to a church, to a homeless shelter? You haven't. Why? Because you are greedy and you want what you have worked for and earned yourself. How many of you complain about welfare, the affordable care act, food stamps and public housing. You say things like, "I'm tired of working so other people can get a free ride!" Or "If they can't work they can't eat, I'm tired of helping those lazy people!" Eric Fromm says that "Greed is a bottomless pit that exhausts us in an endless effort to satisfy or desires." How many of you are actually happy with what you have and would be willing to help other people have the same thing? I'm not saying I'm any better. I try to be generous and give as much as I can, but I still try to get what I want. I don't live a lavish life, but I more than I need.

Money is to the majority of the world an end, while people become the means to that end. Look at all the people in the 3rd world who work for meager wages in deplorable conditions. Some of them are as young as 5 years old, working 12-15 hour days for less than 1.25 a week. Americans would never stand for that, right? Though we buy those products left and right and our government makes policies to stimulate economic growth for the rich by giving tax breaks to companies that outsource jobs to other countries were they can pay a 5 year old 10 cents a day to make an iPhone. The rich get richer and all at the expense of the poor. 

In 2008 the worst global financial collapse the world has even seen happened because of greed. Rich people playing with the life savings of hard working families lost the bet and they didn't suffer, they got bailed out to the tune of 75billion dollars by our government while hard working men and women lost everything from life savings, to homes and even jobs. Given all the sins and evil perpetuated by the rich and that has only been the last decade or so, it's fair to ask, "Can the Rich be saved?" Sometimes I wonder and when I wonder I thank God I'm not rich.

Lets put this all into perspective. Imagine the world being shrunk down to a village of 100 people. 57 would be from Asia, 21 from Latin America, 14 from the West, i.e U.S, European nations and Canada and 8 would be from Africa. 51% would be female and 49% would be male. 70% would be non white while only 30% would be white. About 51% would be Christian and 47% would be Muslim and the rest would be all the other various world religions represented in our global village. Only 6 would be citizens of the U.S. 99% of the worlds wealth would be in the hands of those 6 people! 80 people would live in substandard housing, 70 would be unable to read or write, 75 would be malnourished and only 4 would have a college education. So 6 out of those 100 would control over half the wealth in our village and would be un willing to help the other 80% who are uneducated, malnourished and living in squalor, oh yeah and about 50% of the total population would be children under the age of 12. So yeah, the question, "can the rich be saved?" is an important one and at first glance I'd say no!

So who are the rich? Are we rich? (middle class, white Americans?) Yes, by comparison we are richer than 2/3 of the world. But we are not rich by comparison to let say...the various CEO's and company owners that seem to operate with impunity. But actually us middle class folks are well taken care of, yet money and greed still has a profound hold on us all. We go into debt to buy homes we don't need, boats we don't need, car's, clothing, vacation homes and even food we don't need. But are we the rich? No, not really. Despite the fact that we have more than 2/3 of the world we are not the rich. Most of us give when we can, we help people who are in need and we try to spend and save wisely. And though debt makes us slaves to the lender, it's a necessary evil for most of us (not to many middle class folks can write a check for 100,000+ for a house or 10,000+ for a reliable car.). Methodist Holiness leader Phoebe Palmer said "the rich are a gift from God.", but she meant only when the rich use the resource that God has given them to bless others, else wise they are a scourge on the earth.

Fortunately for us the bible is not silent on the issue of wealth. There are over 635 verses in the bible that deal directly with economic justice. Jesus was also outspoken about wealth and economic justice. One of my favorite passages from Mark has to do with economic justice in a global economy. The woman that Jesus calls a dog, but still goes ahead and heals her daughter, she was part of a wealthy gentile community form Tyre. This community was just on the other side of the sea of Galilee. While the jews in Galilee starved the gentiles in Tyre ate well, even though 80% of the food they ate came from Galilee. Jesus was angered that the food that was grown by and meant for the people and children of Galilee was sold to and consumed by the people of Tyre because the growers could make more many selling it to Tyre. This is what is meant by, "The children's bread being feed to the dogs" (dog being a common slur for gentiles in Jesus day). Jesus saw this gentile women from Tyre as part of the cycle of injustice and was unwilling to help her until she admitted who she was and that she was responsible for this injustice. Our main passage this week deals with a rich young man who did everything he was suppose to do, He read his bible, obeyed the 10 commandments, tithed to the church and went to church every week, yet still none of that was enough. Jesus told him he was still laking in something.  When the rich man asked him what, he got an answer he wished he'd never gotten. Jesus told him that in order to be saved he had to give all his wealth away to help the poor and needy. The rich man, like most rich men, was not willing to part with his hard earned money, especially giving it to people who did not deserve it and so he left disappointed, but not disappointed enough to change.

This lesson confused the disciples because in Jesus day, kind of like in our day, they believed the rich to be blessed and favored by God. So if this person who is favored by God can't get to heaven who can? Jesus told them that it's hard to be rich and get into heaven, that it's easier to thread a camel through a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus went on to say that the only way a rich person can be saved is to become poor. Does that mean literally poor? Or does it mean being a person who realizes they have nothing, that everything they have belongs to God and that they are merely stewards of God's stuff? So can the rich be saved? Yes, but only of they allow God to change their selfish heart. This means that they are simply saved the same way you and I are, by grace through faith, but it's a whole lot harder for someone rich and powerful, who as it all to realize they have nothing.

Theres a story about a man who died and went to heaven. At the gates of heaven he met St.Peter. St. Peter told him that he needed 100 points to get in. So the man said well I went to church every sunday. St. Peter said I'll give you 2 points for that. The man then said I helped some old ladies cross the street. St. Peter said I'll give you another 1 point for that. Then the man said well I use to help at this soup kitchen and one year I even helped on Thanksgiving day. St. Peter said alright I'll give you 2 points for that. By then the man was so discouraged he shouted out, "Lord Help ME!! I'll never get in this way!" St. Peter then said to him, "thats worth 95 points, welcome to heaven!!!" Truth is none of us can earn, buy, spend, even give our way to salvation. It only comes as a pure act of God's grace.

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