Swimming In The Deep End

A sermon from Sunday, October 11th, 2015

Mark 10:17-31

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 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.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

01 Aug 2006, Summit, New Jersey, USA --- A woman hangs for a moment under the water in the deep end after coming off the water slide at the Summit Community Pool, in Summit New Jersey. --- Image by © Tony Kurdzuk/Star Ledger/Corbis

01 Aug 2006, Summit, New Jersey, USA — A woman hangs for a moment under the water in the deep end after coming off the water slide at the Summit Community Pool, in Summit New Jersey. — Image by © Tony Kurdzuk/Star Ledger/Corbis

Pent20 / First Lutheran Church / 10-11-15 / John Stiles

Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace, from God, our First Love, in Christ Jesus. Let all who hear say Come! Amen.

Can you swim? My dad was the one who first got me into the water. I still remember that first swimming lesson and how much I hated it! It was terrifying! We were at the Thunderbird Hotel, which is down by the Mall of America in Bloomington. At first, he’d scoop me up, hold on tight, then jump into the shallow end. I got water in my eyes and up my nose… and coughed up a storm. But I never let go… and neither did he. He’d just laugh and swim around a bit with me clinging to his neck. But then I soon learned that there was something called “the deep end!” And you, for sure, didn’t go there without a grown up. And should we swim over there now? Dad asked. Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait! It’s a scary thing, learning how to swim. Because, at some point, we all need to learn to let go, lean back, and to trust that the water will hold us. Until we can do that, we’ll never learn how to swim.

In our 2nd lesson, from Hebrews, we hear about letting go when we listen to God’s Word. Here, God’s Word is a two-edged sword… which lays bare our souls… so, what have we got to lose? God knows us all the way down to our bare naked selves. Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness.

I don’t know about you, but when my soul has been laid bare, the last thing I’d feel like doing is approaching some throne with boldness! Are you kidding me? It’s embarrassing! I’m not the person I know God wants me to be. Me, in my selfishness and when I do not notice the needs of even those dearest to me? I expect something more like, “Hang your head when you approach that throne of grace, and maybe – just maybe – the Lord will cut you a little slack!”

Singer, songwriter, Jason Gray wrote a song about this called “The Cut” He sang:

You peel back the bark
And tear me apart
To get to the heart
Of what matters the most
I’m cold and I’m scared
As your love lays me bare
But in the shaping of my soul
The cut makes me whole.

Remember the words of Psalm 139? “O Lord, you have searched me and known me… you knit me together in my mother’s womb… where can flee from your presence?” God is always there. The Hebrew word for “you have searched me” may also be translated “you have probed me.” Like some cosmic forensic CSI expert, God probes each one of us, knowing us intimately, having peeled back the layers, to get us down to what matters most (which can be both comforting and unsettling).

That, I believe, is how Jesus looked upon this wealthy man in our Gospel lesson today. He knew what was most important in his heart-of-hearts. Yes, money is important – we can’t dismiss that Jesus makes a claim on it – and calls for a redistribution in favor of the poor; but there is also the following to which he calls us – the desire to know this young man.

Notice how, in other places (like Luke 19), Zaccheaus is commended for only giving half of his possessions to the poor. And Jesus said, “Today salvation has come to this house.” When the early church began (according to Acts 4) the believers sold their homes and laid the proceeds at the feet of the disciples (something which never occurred again, as far as we know, in the Bible). So which is it? Give half away or give it all away?

Maybe salvation has more to do with faith and learning to float in God’s grace and swim in service to others – instead of focusing on all our possessions.

So, what’s keeping you from swimming out into the deep end today?  Or, maybe you’re already there and at your wits end just trying to stay afloat!  I hope you hear the loving tone in Jesus’ voice this morning. The rich young man went away sad because he had many possessions. But Jesus had looked on him with love and said to him, “You lack one thing. Go and sell all that you have and give the money to the poor and follow me.” In other words: Let’s go to the deep end, where you can’t touch bottom. I’ve got you in this and I’m not letting go.

Noted author and speaker, Brennan Manning has said that heaven will be like this: “When you get to heaven Jesus isn’t going to ask if you found the cure for cancer or brought about world peace… he’s only going to ask one question: ‘Did you believe that I loved you?’”

I suppose the rich young man was used to getting his way, if he was so wealthy. And yet, he was a good man – one who had followed the Ten Commandments since he was a child. But he asks Jesus: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Think of the logic of that question for a moment. Can anyone do anything to inherit something? No. Someone in your family has to die first. Right? Then you, being next of kin, receive the inheritance.

If it’s up to us to follow every commandment to the letter of the law… we’ll be spending a lot of energy pushing camels through the eyes of needles! And so, hear the good news again: It’s the love of Jesus that saves us. The text clearly says, “Jesus looked at him with love.”

But still he went away sad. He just couldn’t see it, drowning in a sea of riches. Today, there are people who still just don’t see it. They’re drowning in the deep end of sorrows – stuck in a place in which there seems to be no way out. Lost in the grip of depression and despair.

I don’t know why Aggie Ohman had a stroke this week and has now lost control of her whole left side of the body. On top of losing her eyesight, and having to move away to live closer to her children, and falling and breaking her hip last month – now this! How long can anyone keep treading water in the deep end? So, we swim out.  And her Lord swims alongside for awhile, and offers encouragement and a blessed assurance.

I don’t know why 13-year-old Vienna Peterson hanged herself last week at a sporting event here in Brainerd. But clearly, she could no longer hold on. So we swim out, and Jesus swims out along side us in those times.  My heart breaks for this teen and her family. For anyone out there who is struggling in the deep end, please know that there are people out there, right alongside you, who care. I’m one of them. I don’t pretend to have an answer – I’m not even the best swimmer – but I will be a lifeline.

We don’t even know why this rich young man threw himself at Jesus’ feet – only that he believed Jesus could help him. He swam out along side him with the assurance: You are not alone.

In his book “Messy Spirituality” Mike Yaconelli writes: “It is so bizarre, because I know Christ loves me, but I’m not sure he likes me, and I continually worry that God’s love will simply wear out… [In Romans, chapter 8] Paul uses lots of religious words, but the bottom line is we are all stuck with God’s love whether we want to be or not. The words ‘nor anything else in all creation’ mean that nothing can stop God from loving us. Nothing. He just keeps loving us. In modern language, you could say, ‘Neither failure nor poor church attendance, nor inadequate Bible reading and prayer, nor betrayal, denial, doubt, insecurity, guilt, weakness, bad theology, or even losing our temper can separate us from the love of God.’ He loves us when we don’t want him to love us. He loves us when we don’t act like Christians. He loves us when our lives are a mess.” (from Mike Yaconelli’s Messy Spirituality, p. 123f)

I wish we could all hear this – that we are loved beyond anything we could ever do to separate us from God.

It’s what every child needs to hear: this promise from the deep end of life.
It’s what every refugee or oppressed person needs to hear: this promise of a welcome that will not wear out.
It’s what every wealthy person must hear: this promise that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. “Looking at him, he loved him.”

What can we do to inherit eternal life? Follow me, says Jesus. Become a child of God. In a world in which we expect “hoops” to jump through – and ladders to climb, we are simply handed the mercy and love of Jesus – this scandalous free gift, which can only move us to tears of deep gratitude. Pure, undeserved salvation! Or, in the case of the wealthy, it may send us away sad, with a lot to think about.

This stewardship season, we are asking you to consider giving a percentage of your income to the work of God through the General Fund at First Lutheran Church – and to invite you to grow in your giving as a spiritual discipline. You should be receiving a pledge card in the mail about this. And, from our gospel reading today, we clearly see how our relationship with money has a lot to do with faith.

Simply put, when we receive the morning offering, toward the General Fund, it becomes the fuel for all the ministries you see each week (and many that you don’t see). Beyond the obvious expenses for maintaining a building and utilities, there are staff to pay and ministries to support – to ensure that the table may be set for Holy Communion – and that a young person will have a visit in the hospital from our youth director – and that preschooler will be kindergarten ready, and know that Jesus Loves Them, by the time they graduate from the Learning Tree – and that a homebound person who can no longer attend worship will be visited by the pastor – and those hymns will be carefully chosen by the organist – and that choir will have a director to rehearse the cantata with – and the books will be balanced – and statements will go out – records will be kept – and the building will be clean. Truly there is a lot to think about, as we consider our giving this year: both in time and treasure. And, each year, we rely on you, the people of First Lutheran Church, to make sure we don’t ‘run out of gas’ on the journey.

That’s where I’ll end this morning: with where this gospel lesson started out: with a simple phrase: “Jesus was preparing to go on a journey.” Don’t you want to go with him? Don’t you want to go swimming today? To hear Jesus say, “I’ve got you. And I’m not letting go.” Together, let’s learn to trust Jesus – and in each other – to lean back and float in the love of this one, through whom all things are possible. Let us pray:

O God, without you we are lost at sea, drowning in the deep end. Ease us back into the waters of your love – that healing and redeeming water of baptism – so that we may learn to float all over again – and swim out into the deep end in service to you and one another. Amen.

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