First Congregational Church
October 10, 2021
20th Sunday after Pentecost & Communion
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
A man in the desert rents out a camel to ride. The rental guy asks, “Have you ever ridden one of these?” The man replies, “No.” “It’s simple. If you say Woah, it will walk. If you say Woah Woah, it will run. If you say Woah Woah Woah, it will run so fast you have to pray for it to stop.”
The man hops on the camel and says “Woah.” It starts walking. He says “Woah Woah.” It runs. He says “What Woah Woah,” and the camel runs so fast the man has to pray for it to stop. Now it’s a good thing he did that because the camel stopped right at the edge of a cliff. The man looked down the ravine with wide eyes and said “Woah!”
This morning’s scripture passage comes after the time when Peter, James, John and Jesus went up on a mountain, and while the three disciples stood at a distance, two others appeared with Jesus, two very much like Elijah and Moses. After Jesus’ pre-resurrection hint at future glory, what we call the Transfiguration, the disciples and Jesus went back down the mountain and Jesus started on his “first shall be last and last shall be first” lessons using quips and linguistic catches.
While there were some other healings and teachings, last week, Jesus was teaching the disciples, and as people were bringing their children for Jesus to bless, the guys tried to keep the people at arm’s length. But Jesus told them “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And Jesus took the children in his arms and blessed them.
17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’[a]”
20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”
24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is[b] to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”
27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
28 Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”
29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
Thank you, Phil. It’s interesting that while the children crawled up into Jesus’ lap, when he called the young man to essentially do the same, he walked away. I would venture to guess that a lot of people think this passage is about money, or wealth, or even a crisis of character. Those are certainly interesting parts of the story, but I think the real meat of the story is in understanding and recognizing the postures - how the characters sit or stand or reach out or put their hands in their pockets.
It doesn’t say so explicitly, but Jesus being “on his way” means that he is not only going down the road, but that he is on his way to the cross. So there is intention and purpose in his journey. His walking is probably different than before, different from simply going on an afternoon hike from one little town to the next.
The young man kneels. It would be an interesting master’s thesis to study historic films to see if there were any made about Roman or Greek gods or rulers where someone wasn’t kneeling in front of someone with great power and/or authority. The man recognized Jesus’ authority, but kept that relationship at arm’s length. I wonder how many of us cry to God in dire situations and when God provides answers, answers that we weren’t really envisioning, we just sort of turn aside, allowing our situation to grow greater, having more control over us. Just a wonder.
I don’t think Jesus was really asking the man to give up his money, but to give up what he thought was more important than following Jesus. If he’d have been a farmer, Jesus might have asked him to give up the farm. If he’d been a sailor, Jesus might have asked him to give up his boat. (Actually, he did that - to James and John and Peter and Andrew, and they let go of their boats and nets.)
The passage says that the man’s face fell when Jesus told him to let go of what had a hold of him. I wonder how many people ask God for blessing, and like this man - not only walk away, but somehow that turning away from what might seem overwhelming and even scary, leaves people with sad faces - and hearts - that never seem to go away. Sadness that turns into poison over time. Posturing.
Camels though needles - the greatest of ironies and hyperbole! Of course it can’t happen - mostly because of rhetorical clenched fists blocking the passing through the needle.
So a question for us this morning is - what are we holding that is keeping us from greater blessing? Maybe nothing. Maybe something. Maybe we know. Maybe we don’t. But there is a thing, a posturing thing, that we can all do, that can start us or get us back on track or give us a richer experience of that which God has in mind for us. And it’s as simple as turning your hand over.
It might feel a little exposed, because some of us have greater peripheral vision than others. So if you do, turn off that peripheral vision for the moment. Because this question of posturing is for no one else than you - and you - and you. Most of the time our hands are probably turned down, because it feels more natural, safer, and more protective. After all, when the palm of our hand gets hurt, it’s a real pain to do even the simplest of tasks.
Turning your hands over, where you are, whether sitting here or in the car or wherever you might be, is an act of allowing one’s self to be vulnerable, and open to what can fill those hands. It’s such a great way of entering into our Lord’s Supper because it reminds us that there is more to the eating of bread and drinking of cup. With little combo communion cups, it’s not as easy to incorporate this idea of intentional posturing of our faith, but hang with me and I think we’ll be able to get there.
As we enter into this time of being together, using our hands as representations of our hearts and participating in the meal Christ gave us, I’ll invite you to first open the smaller end, with the “bread” wafer. You might want to wait to eat is because if you transfer the wafer to the palm of your other hand, you can flip the combo cup so that the liquid is on top. While holding the wafer in the bottom of your hand and the cup with your fingers, you can open the larger side and you can take both parts together when we are ready.
Among friends gathered around a table, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this to remember me.” Later, after they had eaten, he took a cup of wine, blessed it and said, “This cup is God’s new relationship, made possible by my life and death. Whenever you drink it, do it remembering me.” So now, following Jesus’ example, we take this bread and cup; for in them he has promised to be with us, making us whole, making us one. In celebration of God’s goodness, let us internalize that love. The bread of life and the cup of love for the people of God.
So shall we pray, perhaps with open palms. Almighty and Glorious God, thank you for understanding our lives as human, tactile people, and for the ways that you speak to us, through hands and objects and ideas and people and your Spirit. For those times of clenched fists and spiritual tantrums, we ask your mercy. Help us to be more attuned to our faith posturing, how it comes off not only to others, but to us. Remind us to lift our shoulders in hope and straighten our heads in endeavor and to breath deeply of the love and grace and joy and peace that you offer us each and every day, each and every minute, each and every second. May our faith posture not only energize us, but those with whom we come in contact. And all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.