The rich young man in our Gospel story
Is a good guy – an especially good guy –
because he practices his religion faithfully
He asks Jesus for guidance
about what else he needs to do.
But Jesus invites him to something better.
To understand what’s at stake here,
we need to get clear on the three styles of religion.
Style one is consumer religion.
In consumer religion, we think of ourselves as customers.
We prefer our religion this way or that way.
We prefer incense or praise music or fiery sermons
or smart sermon or nice sermons with a cute story.
Religion is just like our sports team,
the movies we like to watch
or our flavor of coffee.
I'll have a mainline Protestant latte
with one shot of charismatic espresso.
It’s a preference.
What is your religious preference?
the hospital admissions form asks.
In consumer religion, we sit in judgment on our church.
Is the priest doing things to suit us?
If so, we’ll show up and support the church.
If we don’t like it, we are leaving
because, as customers,
we can take our business elsewhere.
Style two is transactional religion.
We want something for ourselves.
Maybe its forgiveness of our sins, life after death,
or just the strength to carry on.
We need something God has to offer.
In exchange, we will pay what we think God charges.
We may pay by believing the right ideas,
joining the right church,
or restricting our speech, diet, or entertainment habits.
We may differ over what we want from God.
We may differ over what we think God charges.
But we agree religion is a quid pro quo deal
tit for tat, to get something from God.
That was the rich young man’s kind of religion.
He was after eternal life and wanted to know the price.
Jesus wasn’t playing either one of those games.
He had no interest in entertaining religious consumers.
His hard teachings ran them off first thing
earlier in the gospel story.
Now he is coming up against transactional religion
and he isn’t going for that either
because the things we get from God, the blessings,
are not for sale.
God doesn’t give us blessings as a wage.
Blessings are grace.
Blessings are God’s free gift out of love,
boundless, unconditional love.
Jesus starts out to dismiss the young man
and his transactional religion.
He says, Go home and read the rule book.
But then Jesus sees the guy is serious.
So he invites him to something better,
the third way, the true approach to Christian life.
The young man does not need to do anything
to earn God’s blessing.
His problem is there’s a hole in his bucket
so no amount of blessing will fulfill him.
He, himself, is broken, or more accurately, incomplete.
Jesus offers him a chance to become whole,
fully human, fully himself.
But the way to wholeness is a paradox.
It defies human logic.
Just as death is the way to resurrection,
to become whole we give ourselves away.
Here’s the reason people get frustrated with religion.
We all come to religion to get our needs met.
That’s what it’s about, getting our needs met.
But there’s a Catch 22: we can never get our needs met
as long as we are trying to get our needs met.
That agenda is the hole in our bucket.
Once we forget about our needs and give ourselves
to the service of others, our needs take care of themselves.
The young man isn’t evil.
He is just trying to take care of himself, his needs.
He clings to his wealth because it’s his security.
Giving it away would be casting himself on God’s mercy,
giving himself to God.
That, brothers and sisters, is the Christian faith.
Jesus didn’t say follow your bliss.
He said take up your cross.
That isn’t consumer religion.
It isn’t a transaction religion.
It’s dying to self to find life in Christ.
Paul said, I have died. I have been crucified with Christ.
And yet I live. I am alive in the Resurrected Christ.
Jesus said, Whoever tries to save his life will lose it.
But whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Faith is trusting that paradox which makes sense
only because of God’s boundless love.
Following Jesus sets us at odds with our culture.
We march to the beat of a different drum.
The ways of the world teach us a different kind of life.
But in Isaiah, God says,
My thoughts are not your thoughts;
nor my ways, your ways,
for as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways,
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Let’s look at the ways, the basic values, of where we live.
Nevada’sper capita personal income is in the middle third of the nation.
But our per capita charitable giving is dead last.
What does that tell you?
The whole world lives in fear and scarcity mentality;
but Nevada has fear and scarcity mentality on steroids.
Stewardship, pledging and giving to our Church,
funds important mission and caring ministry.
But that’s a secondary benefit.
The main point of pledging and giving to the Church
is to set our souls free.
We think we have possessions,
but because of fear and scarcity,
those so-called possessions actually have hold of us.
Now this isn’t fund raising.
Fundraising is alright and sometimes it needs doing,
but this isn’t about that.
If I were fund raising, I’d talk in the language of the world.
I’d try to persuade you that the mission is worth your support
and how good your gift will make you feel.
I would promise to publicly praise you and give you credit.
I’d do some consumer religion and some transaction religion.
That’s the way to raise money.
But this is different.
It’s about your soul.
It’s about how you get yourself free and become whole.
It’s about giving yourself away
in gratitude and faith.
We don’t give to buy influence or get credit.
We don’t give to get something.
We give to say thank you for what we’ve already received,
which is all that we are and all that we have
given at the cost of the precious blood of Jesus.
Our gift is an act of faith.
We trust God to supply our needs.
We give to open up a space in ourselves
where Christ can make a home.
So I put before you the invitation
Jesus offered the rich young man.
Take a chance on Jesus.
Make a pledge then pray for God to help you pay it.
Don’t trust your bank account. Trust your Savior.
My shuttle driver the other day had found a church he liked.
Then they asked him to pledge and he was out of there.
He said that’s not what he went to church for.
If you want consumer religion, if you are a spiritual customer,
this kind of religion isn’t for you.
Jesus isn’t for you.
But if you want to become whole,
if you want to live generously
in faith and gratitude, this is how you do it.
A pledge won’t change your life all at once.
It’s a push up, an exercise – a spiritual exercise --
maybe not a leap of faith but a little hop of faith.
Practice faith and watch it grow
as little by little you get yourself free and become whole.