20th Sunday after Pentecost “Uncluttered; Follow Jesus”
October 10, 2021 Mark 10:17-22
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
Some years ago, an article in Good Housekeeping Magazine declared, ‘There Are More Self-Storage Units Than McDonald’s restaurants in the United States.’ A main point of the article was: Many of us are living cluttered lives. In Mark 10, the problem was not that a certain young man had too much stuff, but that his stuff ‘had him.’ (by the way, St.Matthew calls this man ‘a rich young man.’)
We can use Graham Hill as an example. Mr. Hill has been an author & speaker who talks about ‘uncluttering your life’; he gives advice & encouragement for ‘the pared-down lifestyle’. He tells the story of his struggle with ‘stuff.’ Graham founded an Internet company and then sold it for millions of dollars. He then bought a big house on the west coast, & filled it with the finest furniture, and all the latest electronic gadgets, and put couple of fancy cars in the garage. Because of his busy work schedule, he hired house cleaners & even a personal shopper to take care of his new place. Then Mr. Hill rented an apartment on the east coast as he commuted back & forth for business; that meant more furniture, electronics, & housewares in his life.
*What was the result of this American dream? He said, ‘My life was unnecessarily complicated. There were /lawns to mow, /gutters to clear, /floors to vacuum, /vehicles to insure & refuel & repair, and all that technology had to be set up & constantly updated. My stuff became my new employer for a job I had never applied for.’ He felt suffocated by the clutter; there was no room to just ‘live.’ This was not a happy life.
The rich young man in Mark 10 thought he had achieved the ‘happy life’, but what about eternal life? He thought he had it covered; but he wasn’t sure. He thought the prophet from Nazareth would know; so he went to Jesus and asked: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” First, Jesus could see that all the things this man had in his life were getting in the way of seeing life clearly; so Jesus asked him that question: Why do you call ME good? No one is ‘that kind of’ good except God alone. That statement & truth would be vital to this man receiving eternal life = if his ears were truly hearing it. *Was this man seeking the fulfilment God gives, or was he just trying to achieve the ultimate possession?
As always, we can expect The Son of God to get to the heart of the matter quickly. Jesus wanted that man, (and He wants us & those around us), to have true treasure. Jesus has compassion for all of us, and He knows how distracted we can get. Part of Jesus’ answer to all of us sounds like this: ‘Get rid of everything that is getting in the way of real life.’ It seems that Jesus had a goal to ‘de-clutter’ this man’s overcrowded existence so that he could see how empty it was. That’s what this man needed; that’s why this rich young man was quite desperate; he sought Jesus out, and fell on his knees to ask his question. Even by his keeping all these commandments & being a good person, he still didn’t have that greatest possession.
This is true for many people; his life was so cluttered with ‘things’ that there was no room for God’s Savior & priorities & perspective. I hope it’s not true for you; but we should know that this is a real danger & temptation for all people, including me & you. *Is there room in your life for the most important thing? And again, the issue is not ‘how much’ stuff you have, but does your stuff ‘have you.’ There are times for us when we realize how desperate we are for true treasure. This is a mysterious part of being human & being more than an animal. Our lives can be filled with good things, and yet we realized that there’s something more, and something we’re missing.
*Do you know what we long for? It’s found in vs.21 here: We long for Jesus to look at us with love; our soul longs for the Father to draw us to the Savior in repentance & faith. We can’t achieve that no matter how well we keep God’s good commandments; we can’t even de-junk our souls from clinging to what is temporary & less important. We need help from the outside; so God sends help. God’s Word goes out, and God-in-the-flesh becomes the ‘good teacher,’ who has answers for us. His answer is straightforward: we don’t need to just be ‘pared down & better organized.’ We need to be ‘cleaned out.’ Not from too many earthly things =as such= but from over-valuing & being controlled by those earthly things. That’s what a Savior does.
Jesus let this young man know that there was still time to make room for God. This man’s earthly desires, & possessions, & even some pride were getting in the way of real life ==
but God has a solution for that. And not only that, Jesus isn’t merely an ‘advice-giver’ with some 3-step program to de-clutter your life & be happy.
Our Savior’s assurance for life is full & perfect for us. Jesus came to give us His life & death & forgiveness as a gift. That gift of Himself brings us into eternal life, & it puts everything else in the background. Recall the words of Jesus to ‘the woman at the well’ in John 4. He said to her: ‘if you knew the gift of God, and WHO IT IS that is speaking to you, you would ask and He would give to you living water.’ That woman-at-the-well finally did believe that Jesus was the Messiah-Savior & life’s real treasure who gives us eternal life.
*What about this rich young man?
Well, even tho it seems that this man came to Jesus seriously seeking the great prize & possession that he didn’t yet have, in vrs.22 we hear that he went away sorrowful. He didn’t just have a lot of stuff; that stuff ‘had him’. He was looking for something eternal because he realized that the day was coming when he could not take any of that stuff with him; and yet, he was not willing to get it out of the way so that he could follow Jesus into eternal life.
This event is recorded for us in 3 of the 4 gospels; which means our Lord does not want us to miss it. So, *is there some clutter in your life?
Clutter can be more than the stuff in our house, garage, or storage sheds. *How cluttered is your schedule? There have been times in my life when things are so closely packed in time that I have not stopped to help someone who needed a hand. Those times can be a sin of ‘omission’ = omitting the good things we should do. So, should our schedules ‘run us’, or should we control our schedule better? Have you lost the margins in your life = the spaces to rest & breathe, to pray & worship & to give thanks for your blessings, and times to consider your future?
Other things get in our way: we might let our stubborn pride ruin the opportunity to resolve a conflict with someone & mend a relationship = *has that happened to you?
The clutter of anger separates others from us, & affects our sleep & our own health.
Hoarding up grudges against others prevents us from offering or receiving the forgiveness
that would finally give us some peace. The Good Teacher is asking us: *What are those things we’re holding on to, and tripping over; those things that prevent us from having good days of following the Lord of True Life?
At the start, I shared Graham Hill’s story of a life that was miserable because of so much stuff. Well, he found a solution; or I should say: a solution found him. He fell in love. He met Olga, a lovely European woman. To be around her, Graham downsized his oversized life. He sold his stuff, & lived out of a backpack with the essentials: some toiletries, a few changes of clothes, & a laptop. He began to see that the most important things in life aren’t things at all. He saw the importance of relationships, kindness & wisdom, and being of help & service to others. He found that a simpler life was much freer; he could be satisfied with a small apartment, and he rejoiced in having more time for real life, instead of taking care of things. He said, “My space is small, but my life is big.” So, that’s nice; *isn’t it?
But, as far as I know, Graham Hill is still lacking ‘one thing’.
Now, if earthly love can change a person’s earthly life to be more free & happy,
*what will a heavenly love do? It will change our view of everything = forever. That’s what Jesus was trying to show the rich young man in Mark 10, and show us. Jesus was offering him ‘the one thing.’ And it’s the same thing that is offered to us and to everyone: The Savior & His eternity. He is offered by grace and thru faith; it is the gift of God, & not by our works in trying to keep His commands. That’s what makes it the simple, uncluttered, fully comforting truth. Jesus brings to you His gift of eternal life, & it doesn’t depend on you = it’s His solemn promise.
You have probably heard in a sermon or Bible study a Greek word for ‘love’ which is ‘agape’. Agape love is not deserved or earned; it’s not about whether you are lovable, like whether you’ve kept all the commandments. It’s a love given by the Giver, because the Giver wants to. That’s the love Jesus shows this empty young man; the same love He shows to you & me. When ‘God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son,’ it was that self-sacrificing love shown at the cross. God, thru Jesus, gave up everything so that your life would be de-cluttered of mere earthly things, and have a free, new beginning that will even shield you thru death to land you safely in His heavenly kingdom.
So, God’s Son was given in agape, so that whoever believes in him WILL NOT perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (that’s John 3:16-17).
That is the Word & promise of God that de-clutters our lives. That’s how God gives us courage, telling us that we can count on His promise from the cross and from Jesus’ empty tomb. You couldn’t do it yourself, so God sent His only Son to clear away the clutter /of sin, /& guilt, /& shame, /& disappointment, /& pride. The Savior is the Cleaner, to remove everything that stands in the way of The Life that is good & meaningful; life that lasts forever. That’s the ‘good’ Savior who speaks those same words of vrs.21 to you: ‘come, follow Me.’
That would be a reason your soul had a desire to be here today; coming to Jesus with a question or two, & wanting a answer that makes eternal sense. Your soul got cluttered a bit this week, maybe tempted again, and confused by what the world says will make you fulfilled & happy. That empty idea is all around us, and that’s all the world knows. But you have come to know something more than that. Your soul has already had a cleansing & washing in a Holy Baptism, and a new birth. That was a gift to you from God. God has already opened to you an eternal desire to have more than all these earthly things = those things that we can’t take with us for later.
And that greatest gift & possession has a name & scarred hands, and thee heavenly connection for us. Jesus empties us of the junk that separates us from God, and He fills us with His Spirit, His courage, His long-view of hope, and His peace. We follow Him because He has the way to de-clutter us, & He fills us with that one thing we lack: The treasure of heaven.
It’s a great treasure to know that, even tho we have broken God’s commands, we are forgiven by Jesus’ blood & work for us. It’s a great treasure to know that, even tho this life ends in death, Jesus alone has opened the door to an actual place for us in heaven. It is a great fear that the possessions we have in this world can all be taken away from us; /they can burn, /or rust, /or break, /or be outdated & useless. So, it’s a great treasure to know that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Having that great treasure is the greatest foundation for not relying on our possessions to define our life, or to make us happy. Having that Great Treasure makes us willing to put away our pride, and treat others in the way God has kindly treated us. Having that Great Treasure of God’s eternal promise truly does give us a new perspective on this life, and makes us be like new people in how we live & treat others.
For many believers, Ps.46:10 is a favorite: “Be still and know that I am God.” It’s a reminder that our temptation is to have such a busy, noisy, & cluttered life that we forget God’s rightful place for the center of our lives. It reminds us how comforting & satisfying our life is when God is the Lord over all the things in our life. “Be still and know that I am God.”
The Son of God has answers for all your questions. The question of this rich young man is a pretty important one; and sometimes it will cross our minds, too. “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus really is the only one who can give the good answer, IF we will have the ears to hear it. To have that ‘one thing’ all sinners lack, your Good Teacher says: “Go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”