Homily for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, October 10, 2021 at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, on the occasion of the The Right Rev. Porter Taylor’s episcopal visitation to the parish to celebrate Baptism & Confirmation.
The man thought he knew all there was to know about religion. He spent years studying the Torah. Every day he went to the Temple and argued over minute points with the rabbis.
He drove his family crazy because he insisted on obeying every jot and tittle of the dietary laws. No hydrogenated fat. No Barbeque in his household.
The man thought he knew all there was to know about religion. The problem was, no one really appreciated his expertise. His friends and neighbors seemed weary of hearing his explanations. He felt as if he was casting pearls before swine.
But he had heard the rumors of this Rabbi — this Jesus. They say he confounded the wisest teachers in the Temple when he was only twelve. They say he put the Pharisees into knots when they questioned him. The man thought, surely he will recognize the extent of my knowledge.
So, when he saw Jesus walking, he ran up and knelt before him and blurted his question,
‘Oh Good Teacher, What must I do to inherit eternal life?‘
And he waited — with eager anticipation for the repartee that he knew was coming. But this Jesus apparently didn’t know how to play. Instead of some entertaining dialogue, he challenges the man.
“Why do you call me good? And why are you asking this question? You know the commandments.“
The young man is shocked.
“Know the commandments! I knew the commandments when I was 5 years old!“
At this point Jesus could have played the man’s game. They could have had a very esoteric conversation about different interpretations; or how the context of the writer shapes the meaning. And on and on.
But Jesus looked steadily into the man’s eyes. And the gospel says at that point, “Jesus loved him.” Out of his love for this man, Jesus pointed to the door to eternal life.
“Let go of all your baggage — give to the poor. Remember your real treasure is in heaven and follow me.”
As we say in the South — Jesus just went from preaching to meddling. This wasn’t a head game anymore — it was about conversion. It was about putting first things first. It was about moving the man out of his head and into his heart.
The way of the cross is not the way of the world. The doorway to new life is not about our merit badges. The WAY is not about how smart we are and not about our accomplishments. The way of the cross is always about surrender. Not my will but God’s will be done.
This is not really a story about money, as much as it’s a story about where we center our lives.
But let’s go back and look at the man’s question.
He doesn’t ask “How can I participate in what God is doing in my life and in this world? He doesn’t ask “How can I discern God’s will for me and my community? He doesn’t ask “What is the life God wants me to live?” He doesn’t ask anything about God.
It’s all about him. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” ME. ME. ME. It’s all me. And it’s a ridiculous question anyway.
You can be in control of your children’s inheritance. But inheritance is a gift from the giver; the receiver doesn’t control that. The only thing to do we can do is to receive it.
And it’s all grace anyway. Eternal life is not about what you do. It’s about what God does for God’s children.
Every time we go to the altar, we open our hand to receive the bread of heaven. That is the fundamental gesture of the Christian life.
God is the giver — we are the receivers — our job is to give thanks for these gifts — all these gifts — like the fact that we woke up this morning — and then to use them to God’s glory.
We are at such a huge disadvantage in this culture because we are bombarded with the illusion that we are what we own. We think our identity is our resume.
When I was a priest, I’d attend clergy conferences and the question I’d get asked was “How big is our parish?” Now as a bishop it’s “How big is your diocese?”
We think the point of life is about addition One more experience. One more book. One more program. One more degree, or salary increase, or job title.
But the real journey is less about what we do and more about who we are.
So — not how big is your parish or diocese or job or house — but how big is your faith? How big is your complete trust in the Lord Jesus Christ? How big is your heart?
Coming from Asheville, I live in the capitol of “spiritual but not religious.” The most recent Pew Study of Religious Life in America documents that men and women under 30 have no interest in the outer container of religion.
They are not interested in the Rich Young Man’s questions because they could care less about Rule Bound Religion. They are not going to come to some Rabbi and ask what are the rules for me to get certified as a righteous person.
The Study says that ONE THIRD of this age group has NO religious affiliation. But they are very interested in the SPIRIT, in the HEART, in being CONNECTED.
We need religion; we need a sacred container for the mysteries. We need to order our lives in accordance with God’s desire for us as revealed in Scripture. But it all begins with our hearts which is about faith.
FAITH opens our hearts and connects us to the Great Love who is Jesus. Faith not a set ideas; faith is falling in love and surrendering to a living God.
We could say that religion is knowing about Jesus but faith is knowing Jesus. Our faith is trusting that our connection to God in Christ gives us life — life eternal.
Once we open our hearts to that Great Love then we know it’s not a matter of what we can do to earn it. It’s a matter of connecting with the One who is the source.
Faith is trusting that God loves you and that love has nothing to do with your deeds. When people come to Jesus, he doesn’t ask them “What have you done to deserve my grace? Instead he asks, “What do you want me to do for you?”
Our faith is not in ourselves nor in our capacity to earn anything. Our faith is in the love of God incarnated in Jesus and spread into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.
When the disciples think about how they compare with this man, they are in despair. They are just fishermen. They haven’t followed the commandments since their youth.
“Then who can be saved?” they cry. Jesus answers, “So long as you think about yourselves it is impossible. But for God all things are possible.”
Our faith enables us to embrace religion and keep our hearts tender. Faith needs the structure of religion and religion needs the heart of faith. Without religion, faith is sentimentality. And without faith, religion is about power.
Let me end with a story:
Henri Nouwen left his position as a Professor at Yale Divinity School to join the L’Arche Community, a community of mentally handicapped persons in Canada.
Henri became very close to a boy named Adam. Henri went on a speaking tour to Texas. When he returned, he brought Adam a cowboy hat as a memento from his trip. To his surprise, Adam threw the hat on the floor and stomped on it and screamed, “I don’t want your stupid hat. I want you.“
Jesus doesn’t want our report cards. And God doesn’t want our faithless religion. Jesus wants us — all of us –heart, body, and soul.
When we surrender them to him. We can lay aside our baggage. Because it’s our wanting that allows us to let go of whatever separates from God.
— Bishop Porter Taylor
The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog