I originally preached this sermon at Cornerstone Church where Gwen Brown was pastor. I share this on the anniversary of her death as she taught me much about trusting God.
A reading from the Gospel of Mark chapter 10 verses 17-31, The Message version.
As he went out into the street, a man came running up, greeted him with great reverence, and asked, “Good teacher, what must I do to get eternal life?”
Jesus said, “Why are you calling me good? No one is good, only God. You know the commandments: Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t cheat, honor your father and mother.”
He said, “Teacher, I have–from my youth–kept them all!”
Jesus looked him hard in the eye–and loved him! He said, “There’s one thing left: Go sell whatever you own and give it to the poor. All your wealth will them be heavenly wealth. And come follow me.”
The man’s face clouded over. This was the last thing he expected to hear, and he walked off with a heavy heart. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and not about to let go.
Looking at his disciples, Jesus said, “Do you have any idea how difficult it is for people who ‘have it all’ to enter God’s kingdom?” The disciples couldn’t believe what they were hearing, but Jesus kept on: “You can’t imagine how difficult. I’d say it’s easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for the rich to get into God’s kingdom.”
That set the disciples back on their heels. “Then who has any chance at all?” they asked.
Jesus was blunt: “No chance at all if you think you can pull it off by yourself. Every chance in the world if you let God do it.”
Peter tried another angle: “We left everything and followed you.”
Jesus said, “Mark my words, no one who sacrifices house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, land–whatever–because of me and the Message will lose out. They’ll get it all back, but multiplied many times in homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and land–but also in troubles. And then the bonus of eternal life! This is once again the Great Reversal: Many who are first will end up last, and the last first.”
The word of God for the people of God.
Thanks be to God.
I heard that you all just had Vacation Bible School this week. I also heard that the theme verse for VBS was Mark 10:27, “With God all things are possible.” And, if I’m not mistaken, a major theme of this year’s VBS was trusting God.
I helped lead the kindergarteners at a similar VBS a few weeks ago. Every day, the theme was slightly different, but the kids learned a little hand motion. An adult would say, “No matter what,” and the kids would respond, “Trust God!”
I have to admit, I thought the concept of trust would be a little difficult for the kids to grasp. I mean, trust is something we don’t give away too easily. Trust is something we don’t model very well. With that being the case, how can we really expect kindergarteners to “Trust God!”
Trust is a big word. According to my Oxford English Dictionary, trust is a “firm belief in the reliability, truth, or strength of a person or thing… a confident expectation…” Synonyms for trust are “confidence, reliance, faith, conviction, certainty, assurance.” As a verb, trust means to “rely on, confide in, depend on, entrust with, or empower to.” Essentially, putting trust in something implies that we let go of our control.
Most of the time, when I hear the word “trust” used in a sentence, it is not used with the same level of exclamation as the children at VBS. In replace of the fervency the children offered in shouting, “Trust God!,” I often hear, “It’s difficult for me to trust, because…” Or, “I don’t give my trust away easily.” Or, “Trust is something you have to earn.”
The most difficult thing about trust is that it causes us to relinquish something else. Sometimes it is a possession, sometimes it’s our independence, or sometimes it’s our pride. Placing trust in someone or something always requires us to become slightly more vulnerable than we were beforehand.
And oh! That is scary.
In a time and place where we are told we can control our destiny–that if we just take hold of our lives, we can be anything we want to be–do anything we want to, the thought of vulnerability does not sound the least bit enticing. In fact, allowing ourselves to become vulnerable seems counter-intuitive–a step in the wrong direction.
Personally, trust has always been one of my biggest struggles, particularly and especially in my relationship with God. When I was in college, I remember praying to God asking for confirmation about some vague detail in the future. I would say, “God, if you would just let me know this one thing, it would be so much easier to trust you now.” I basically had an “ends justifies the means” faith. If I knew that everything was going to turn out OK, I could trust God… If the crystal ball was a little hazy, I could not relinquish control.
And it wasn’t for lack of eagerness or fervency in my relationship with God. I wanted to be the best Christian I could be. I approached God earnestly seeking answers to having a deeper faith. I just didn’t know how to respond when God said, “No matter what, Trust Me!”
Similarly, an extremely eager man saw Jesus as he was just heading out of town, ran to catch up with him, got down on both knees and asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life??”
As far as Jesus could tell, this was not a trick question. He responded by reciting the last half of the 10 Commandments, all of which the man said he kept since his youth. “Scouts honor, Jesus – you can ask my Rabbi!”
So Jesus looks him in the eye, seeing his honesty, he speaks lovingly saying, “Give up all your possessions, give them to the poor, and follow me. Trust that I will take care of you. Trust that none of this stuff matters. Trust me!”
The man can’t do it. This man who was so excited to see Jesus–to get a moment to speak with him and pick his brain. This man who ran and knelt at Jesus’ feet. This man could not trust Jesus enough to give up his possessions. Feeling defeated, the man turns around and walks back home.
After the man leaves, Jesus turns to his disciples. Apparently, they had been standing there the whole time, and were shocked at how it all went down. Jesus says, “Do you understand how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God? How difficult it is for someone who has everything they could want on this earth to give it up? You can’t even imagine!”
Still shocked, one responded, “But if that’s the requirement to get into God’s kingdom, who has any chance of entering??”
And that’s when Jesus just lays it all out. “No one who thinks they can do it all on their own–who isn’t willing to give up control–will be able to enter the kingdom of God. It’s impossible! But if you trust God. If you let God take control–everything is possible.”
There’s so much to learn from this man’s brief encounter with Jesus.
First, we must hear Jesus’ initial response. He specifically mentions six commandments the man should keep: “Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t cheat, honor your father and mother.”
The 10 Commandments are generally divided into two sections: the laws regarding duty towards God, and the laws outlining duties toward the neighbor. When addressing this man, Jesus only mentions the laws pertaining to relationships with neighbors.
So, Jesus’ first reaction when the man asks him how to inherit eternal life is to question how he treats other people. Does he treat them well? Does he obey all the laws related to community development and care for neighbors?
The man doesn’t even have to break a sweat in answering this question. Of course, he’s never broken those laws. His parents taught them to him as a boy, and since then, he has upheld them. He’s always been a nice person, never intentionally wronged anyone. He should be good to go.
But Jesus never ends at the simple step. No – it seems inevitable that Jesus will always revolutionize what we think we know. He turns the laws about neighborly relations all around and says, “If you really want to fulfill this law, you’re gonna have to give up everything you own and give it to your poor neighbors, then come follow me.”
This radical love Jesus describes says it’s not enough to be nice to your neighbor. It’s not enough to refrain from lying or stealing. It’s not enough to be a well-behaved child. If you truly want to honor the law, you have to be willing to give up everything for your neighbor.
Have you ever thought about that? Giving up everything you have? What kind of courage would that take? What kind of faith? What kind of trust?
The man couldn’t do it. He simply had too much stuff. He couldn’t imagine giving it all away.
Maybe he couldn’t do it, because he just liked all of his stuff too much. He couldn’t imagine living a day without all his toys, books, iPad, iPod, iPhone, etc, etc, etc. Maybe each thing he owned was too important to let go.
Or maybe he couldn’t do it, because he had never seen anyone else do it, and it was scary. To get rid of all you own means to trust that you will be taken care of somehow. Somehow, without all your possessions, your needs will be met.
Few are willing to trust that there will be other brothers and sisters in the faith who will watch over and care for them, partly because we do not watch out for them (NIV Commentary). It’s a hard thing to do when there’s no precedent. It’s a hard thing to trust when the trust isn’t earned. It’s hard to let go when you don’t know where your next meal will come from if you do. But someone has to do it or no one will. And it’s what Jesus requires!
When the disciples question Jesus, they know he’s talking about more than just possessions. They know, because of what they had to give up. They left everything they had to follow Jesus. And listening to Jesus’ radical example of what it takes to enter God’s kingdom, they wonder who could possibly make it.
The disciples know that even the poorest people can have something that stands between them and trusting God. Something that keeps them from giving away that last shred of vulnerability. Even the disciples, with their incomparable level of trust, could not say they had given up all they had.
I bet we can all relate to the disciples. No matter how much we give, it seems impossible to give that last little bit to God. We want to remain self-sufficient; to know we are still in control.
And that’s the paradox. As much as we want to be in control and do things on our own, it is impossible to do the one thing we need to do on our own. This kind of trust in God is only possible with God’s help.
Trusting God is not something we can do on our own, and it’s not something we can do overnight. We must ask God for guidance. We must run to God with the same kind of audacity the man had to meet Jesus, but we must hold on to that audacity even when God’s instruction for us is difficult. And we have to commit daily to such fervency and eagerness in our faith.
As a community, we should also be challenging each other in this regard. Mark says that when Jesus addressed the man, he looked at him and loved him, then gave him this very difficult instruction. We, also, must love each other enough to challenge one another and not back down. We have to help each other see where we can trust God more, and encourage one another in knowing that no matter how much we give up, we will be taken care of.
I read somewhere that pastors may want to avoid passages that bring up tough subjects, because their congregations might expect them to set the example. Well… I hope you don’t watch me too closely after this, because I know I’m not the best example. I’m too controlling. I try, but I don’t have this trust thing down yet.
But I’ll tell you who you should be watching: children. Watch your children. Especially now, after they’ve spent a week learning what it means to trust God. They will amaze you. Everything children do, they do with abandon. And, they haven’t learned that they can control much of anything, so they come before God more vulnerable than anyone.
I honestly don’t think it’s a coincidence that the passage directly preceding this story is where Jesus says, “Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.”
One of the kindergarteners from the other VBS I went to was at a pool a couple weeks ago. She decided she wanted to go on the diving board, but it was really high. The pool rule said she had to go by herself, so her mom waited in the pool for her to jump down. When she got to the ledge, she was afraid to jump, but remembered what she learned in Bible School. Right before she jumped, she whispered to herself, “No matter what, Trust God!” And off she went, cannonballing into the pool! And that was only the beginning of her pool adventures that day.
When I led the kindergartners in VBS, I was worried that trusting God would be too big a concept for them to grasp. Maybe it’s the other way around. Perhaps we have something to learn from them about this big word, “Trust.”
Jesus teaches that trust is not something we do lightly. Trust requires giving more of ourselves each day. It asks that we look out for our neighbors. We cannot trust alone. We need God. We need each other.
And once we trust, we follow. And that’s where the real adventures begin. The more we trust, the more we see that “with God, all things are possible.”
I find you a person to trust, Rev. Holladay.