Sunday, March 15, 2009

Radical Renovation: Nothing Short of Everything

March 15, 2009
Third Sunday in Lent
Radical Renovation: Nothing Short of Everything
Mark 10:17-27
*I am indebted in my Lenten preaching preparations to the book Radical Renovation: Living the Cross-Shaped Life by James A. Harnish.

We’ve been talking about the radical renovation God wants to do in us: the total change in us, the turning our faces toward the ways of God, and learning the peculiar way of greatness that Jesus teaches, serving. The radical renovation that Jesus asks for from the “rich young ruler” helps us see another part of that radical renovation. It helps us see a new aspect of what God wants to do in us.

Now the man we meet in the important story is known as the “rich young ruler,” though you’ll not find that designation in any one gospel. Mark refers to him as a “man,” while Luke says he’s a “certain ruler” and Matthew indicates that he’s young. But they all say he is “rich.” The man has the big 3: position, power and possessions. By the world’s standards, he has everything going for him.

We also know that he is a faithful person. He has kept all the laws – perfectly – from his youth. Everyone knew he was a good man. He certainly was better than the crowd Jesus gathered around him, full of “tax collectors and sinners.” And if he were to be among us today, he certainly shows us up, too, in his following of the law.

But this rich young ruler longed for more. Not more stuff, or things or wealth. Not more power or position. He wanted something more spiritually. He wanted real life in God. He wanted the life he witnessed in Jesus, that deep relationship with God. He was searching for a radical renovation and so his question to Jesus was, “What must I do to get eternal life?” After playing to the rich young ruler’s strength – following the law – a beautiful thing happens between Jesus and the man.

Jesus looked at him, perhaps in the same way a cardiologist looks into a person’s heart in search of what is stopping the flow of blood. Jesus looked into this guy’s soul. Jesus wanted to see what was blocking the flow of God’s life into his own life, and so Jesus looked at him and Jesus loved him. In that searching and love, Jesus found the blockage.

What was the diagnosis? The rich young ruler had one thing that caused the block. It was his wealth. Now, it was not that he possessed so many things, but that his many things possessed him. He was a slave to his big 3: position, power and possessions. Salvation is being set free from whatever has us bound. It happened for this man that his things bound him.

The diagnosis was tough to take. It was the last thing he wanted to hear. Jesus asked of him the one thing he could not surrender, would not surrender. He held tightly to his big 3, and there was no way he was going to give them up.

This story is certainly about money. Recently we talked about how much Jesus taught about money, and this is one of those instances. But this story is not only about money. It’s about whatever binds us. It’s about the block in our hearts that keep us from a full relationship with God. It’s what we are holding back. It’s the one thing we are not willing to give up for God. For many of us, it’s our wealth that gets in our way of the radical renovation that God wants to accomplish in us.

But the block in our hearts can be so many things. It might be pride, power, prestige or position. It might be addictions that are taking your life. It might be a victim mentality that comes from a memory of past hurts and emotional abuse. It might be an over commitment to our careers. It might be racial, cultural or political prejudice. It might be the way you use your time, energy and resources. It might be the places you go. It might be the sites you visit on the internet.

I don’t know what the one thing is for you. I do know that Jesus is looking deep into your heart. I do know that Jesus loves you. And I do know that the blockage needs to be removed. I do know that the radical renovation to live the cross-shaped life is dependent on your willingness to surrender that one thing.

You see, the rich young ruler lacked an ability to surrender fully to God. He held back a part of his life – his wealth. In his unwillingness to surrender every aspect of his life to God. He blocked the flow of the very thing for which he longed: the rich life of God.

God calls us to surrender nothing short of everything. There’s a saying in sports: “Leave it all on the field.” I hear Mike say that all the time. It’s about giving every ounce of yourself to the game. It’s about coming to the end of the game and being able to say that you had nothing more to give. That you left all your energy, talents and abilities on the field. That you surrendered your whole self to the game.

Jesus called the rich young ruler to leave it all on the field: to surrender nothing short of everything, to surrender all that he was to the transforming power of God, to surrender not only how he lived his life with respect to the rules of the faith, but also to surrender all that he had. God did not ask him to give them up, but to surrender them to God, to surrender his big 3: position, power, and possessions to the work of God.

It’s the same big 3 Oscar Schindler had developed for himself. He wasn’t much before the war, but as the war progressed, he saw his opportunity. He profited from slave labor available during WWII. He bribed his way to the top of the heap. He developed position, power, and possessions at the expense of others, until he had a nice little munitions factory full of the cheapest labor he could have in that day – Polish Jews. His position, power and possessions blocked the radical renovation that was necessary in his life.

The rich young ruler never surrenders. His story ends tragically. The scripture says “he walked off with a heavy heart. He was holding on tight to a lot of things and not about to let go.”

The good news is that Schindler does begin to surrender. He begins to understand what was blocking his heart. He begins to care about saving the Polish Jews rather than take advantage of them. Just before the war ends, he uses everything he has to buy the lives of as many of his factory workers as he can. He surrenders everything for that work. His accountant, Itzhak Stern, lets him know, he has nothing left to use to buy more workers.

It’s the day before the end of the war. The Jews he worked so hard to save will be free tomorrow, but he will be a war criminal. So in the middle of the night, he and his wife prepare to flee. That’s where we pick up the story in this video clip from Schindler's List.

Oscar Schindler learned what it meant to surrender. Are you ready for the same?

If we want the radical renovation that God offers to us, then we must be willing to let Jesus look into our hearts, to see and diagnosis the blockage, to love us, and to remove the block from our hearts, so that the life of God can flow in and through us.

Let us pray: Give us courage, Gracious God, to hold nothing back, but to surrender it all to you, to surrender nothing short of everything, that we may discover the life that is really life! Amen.

Rev. Becky Jo Thilges, Lead Pastor
Homestead UMC, Rochester, MN

No comments: