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"What Must I Do?"

Rev. Dr. Karin Case
Sun, Oct 11

Text: Mark 10:17-31

Last weekend about 75 or 80 First Church folks went to Craigville Retreat Center on Cape Cod for a weekend of rest, relationship, worship, study and play. It rained two out of the three days we were there and we spent a little less time on the beach and a little more time than usual inside, just hanging out together. Talking, singing, playing games, making music and art, writing poetry. (We have an all-church retreat just about every year, in case it sounds good and you want to try for next year!)

For me the highlight of the the weekend was being with our children. “Our children.” I use that particular possessive pronoun intentionally. Not “my” children or “your” children, but “our” children. My children—ages 22 and 25–were not there. But many children of the church were there—the next generation—of all ages, from toddlers to college graduates. And what a joy it was to be in the midst of that community of beloveds. Ada, perched on Joanne’s lap, Danyson observing all things with his wise, big eyes, Emily trying her hand at Chinese checkers, teens talking late into the night, Aaron’s killer game of Bananagrams.

Children lighting candles at Saturday night worship and speaking up when it was time to pray. On Sunday—as we sometimes do at First Church—I asked the congregation to tell the story of Jesus’ life and of the last supper. What do you remember about Jesus? What was he like? I wonder what it was that made people want to tell about him?

And our children began to tell the story. “Jesus wants peace. Jesus doesn’t like guns. He wants us to have bread. Jesus doesn’t want people to push each other.”

It was a powerful moment—our children telling about Jesus.

One of our big themes this fall as a church is “speaking our faith in a secular world,” as we seek to make explicit the connections between church and the rest of our lives. And, as Brent Coffin helpfully laid out in his sermon a couple of weeks ago—we are exploring how to speak OF our faith, to speak FROM our faith, and to live IN faith.

What was so powerful about that communion moment at the retreat is the way our children brought all of these together so effortlessly. Speaking of faith, from faith and living in faith. How present they are. Comfortable in community. Attuned. Able to speak the connections between faith and life. “Jesus doesn’t like guns. He doesn’t want people to push each other. Jesus wants peace.”

I do not want to idealize children. This is not my point. I do want to point out that something remarkable is happening here in this church. Faith is being passed from generation to generation. We are a new community, grounded in God—our hope and our healing; growing in community—with Jesus our center, acting in love—made bold by the Spirit. (These are words from our proposed mission statement)

Our morning scripture from the gospel of Mark speaks of this new community in Christ. It begins with the familiar story of a rich man who comes to Jesus, and kneels beside him, seeking wisdom and guidance. “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

The rich man must have arrived late, because—if we back up two verses—we see that Jesus has just proclaimed that “whosoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” (v. 15) The rich man must not have heard these words. Or maybe he heard, but did not understand. Jesus has made plain that God’s grace is not something to be earned, but rather, simply a gift to be received.

And still the man’s question is, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” “How can I earn God’s favor? What must I do to secure a place for myself in the kingdom?”

Rabbi Jesus points the man toward God: “No one is Good, but God alone.” He reminds him of his neighbor: “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.” And directs the man to observe Torah—specifically pointing to the second half of the Ten Commandments—those having to do with relations with others.

The rich man insists that he has kept all these commandments since childhood, but according to the standards set forth in Torah, the man has failed with regard to care for the poor.*

Jesus tells him, “You lack one thing. Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Jesus has singled out the man’s remaining obstacle—that he is clinging to his riches, relying on them, operationalizing them for his own gain. Jesus says, “how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God!” When riches become an idol, they become an obstacle. The man has lost sight of God’s goodness and our human need to be in right relationship with our neighbors.

Giving is important for a whole host of reasons having to do with generosity and justice, kindness and community, God’s call to us and hope for us. But giving to the poor is not a prescription for salvation. Giving is not a ticket to eternal life.

Giving IS a sign that your head and heart are in the right place. Jesus knows that if the rich man is able to do this one thing—to give up his possessions and give to the poor, it will be a powerful indication that his mind and heart have changed.

Jesus’ disciples are struck by the difficulty of this requirement and begin to say to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Peter appeals to Jesus, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” As if to say, “Look, bud. This isn’t easy. We’ve made sacrifices. Cut us some slack.”

Jesus acknowledges the personal sacrifice of those who have left home and family to follow him. But he promises so much more! “Truly there is no one who has given up these things for my sake and the sake of the good news who will not receive a hundredfold—brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields—and in the age to come, eternal life.”

Jesus envisions—yes, even calls to himself—a new family, an new community
that places love of God and neighbor at the heart of everything.

In the context our Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO) conversations, I have heard one of you comment that our culture has become so atomized and individualistic that everyone is worried about their own children in the narrowest possible sense. Where will my children go to nursery school, or elementary school or high school? Where can my family live that will afford us best access to limited resources?

And we forget the “we.” “Our” children, “our” families, “our” community, “our” collective welfare and common good. Early childhood programs. Access to excellent and affordable education for all. Affordable housing for all. Our children, our community. Our world.

Today we baptize two new members into the “faith and family of Jesus Christ.” We welcome Sherry and Adelaide. The children of First Church gather around the font of life and pour living water.

We are a new community—all of us together:

First Church in Cambridge, Congregational
United Church of Christ

Grounded in God
our hope and our healing

Growing in community
with Jesus our center

Acting in love
made bold by the Spirit

And here in this place—in the faith and family of Jesus Christ—we remember and celebrate that we are all beloved children of God.

*See Deut. 24:17-22, Amos 2:6, etc.

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