by John Jewell
Scripture: St. Mark 10: 17-31
Have you ever go to a store to look around or get a few ideas? If you go to some department stores, you can plan on being ignored. But there are some stores where a clerk will very quickly find you and ask, "May I help you?" And you reply, "No thank you, just looking." Or perhaps you have ventured out just to get an idea of what was available in automobiles. No sooner do you begin looking around the lot when a sales person will be at you side asking, "May / help you. " Once again, your reply is, "No thank you, I'm just looking. "
We do a lot of looking in our society. We like the parade of homes, Mail of America, or the one stop super stores. It's fun to look.
"Just looking," means you are not ready to commit. You just want to look it, over, think it over, check it out, look into it... but it isn't time to make a decision. When you are in the "just looking" mode, you don't want people bugging you to commit. There are some stores where you can tell the clerk that you are just looking and they won't leave you alone. Know what I mean? You know those triangular "cheese head" Green Bay Packer football fans wear? I want one something like that only mine will say, 'Just looking!"
As I look around at contemporary Western Christianity, I see a lot of this 'just looking" attitude. Sometimes it isn't even intentional, it's just something we've taught and passed on generation after generation. A couple of examples:
It never fails that in every church I've ever served, sooner or later something like this will happen. I am introduced to someone with words like this, "Have you met Pastor Jewell?" And the answer comes, "Why no, I haven't. Nice to meet you Pastor. I'm a member of your church!" Amazing! I had been at one church for six years and had never seen the guy who told me he was a "member" of the church.
* Some years ago while working as a youth pastor, I became involved with a bright, creative young man who had gotten involved in the drug scene. His parents were devastated. Eventually this kid wound up in juvenile detention where I went to visit him. Though he had been confirmed, he was only nominally Christian. That is, he got confirmed because, "My parents will kill me if I don't. " He had no real desire to be in the class and expressed his disinterest in things having to do with church or with Jesus Christ. To make a long story short, his troubles helped him wake up to spiritual things and to what he was going to do with his life.
When back at home, he told his parents he wanted to go into the ministry. His dad (who was a member of the church and on the Board of Trustees) called me and was furious. "I think this is your fault! We appreciate the fact that he got some help with the drug thing by talking to you, but this is going a little too far!"
The father was totally unaware just how much he was betraying his strange view of Christianity.
A number of year ago, I preached a sermon called, "Balconeers and Travelers." The idea came from a parable of sorts about how the church has two kinds of people in it. Some are like people who spend their days on the balcony of a grand hotel watching the travelers go by. Day after day, they watch. They never join the travelers and never go anywhere. They watch. The travelers on the other hand, are committed to the journey. They are on the road and actively involved in reaching a destination. They travel with other travelers and encourage each other along the way -- while the balconeers sit on the balcony and watch the travelers.
After worship that day a woman came through the line where I was greeting. She wore a significant scowl and barked, That was a very divisive sermon and I didn't appreciate it one bit!" If I recall correctly, she attended worship at least once a year in addition to Christmas and Easter.
No doubt you've heard the one about the fellow who leaves church one morning and complains to the pastor, "I'm getting tired of singing the same old hymns. Every time I come, we're singing "Silent Night" or "Christ the Lord is Risen Today! "
Actually, the "just looking" phenomenon is not new at all. Our scripture lesson this morning is about a well to do, prominent young man on the fast track wants to make sure he has a place in heaven, so he comes to Jesus with his question. "What must I do to have eternal life?"
In the conversation that follows, it is clear that this is a young man who tries to live a good life and he wants to make sure , he is spiritually secure. He respects Jesus as a gifted teacher and waits for Jesus to say, 'You're doing great, just keep it up and you will have a place in heaven. "
Instead, the encounter with Jesus shocks everyone in the crowd. Jesus says in effect, "Your spiritual life can not simply be an outward thing -- a matter of doing good and observing your religion. It's got to come from deep inside, it has to be at the center of your life, it can't be window dressing. Here's the test -- give up your material approach to life, get rid of all your stuff and come and follow me!"
Christianity is not primarily a religion, it is a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. It is not an elective or an extra curricular part of life… it is the central issue!
Some time ago, a woman who was new to the community and to our church, came to my office to ask three questions. She had been attending worship and her two children were in Sunday School. Her husband was unchurched and although supportive of her involvement, wanted none for himself. Her questions were direct, to the point and very sincere. Her questions pointed to the fact that she had begun to realize that Christian faith is more that "just looking". There is a decision to be made... a commitment to engage. She was about to move from the balcony to the road. Her questions were:
1. How do you get on board?
2. How do you know if you are on board?
3. Can you get someone else on board?
Questions like these have come up in one form or another in every place I have ever served the church. It can be expressed as, "What is the basic, essential meaning of being a Christian?"
Her questions deserved an answer that was as simple and to the point as her questions and it was this: "The answer is as simple as A, B, C. Awareness. Belief and Commitment.
Sooner or later, something in our life wakes us up or makes us aware of the fact that without the spiritual dimension of life, something is really missing. The stimulant for this awakening might be crisis or tragedy or boredom or emptiness ... but it hits us and we are set to questioning. "Where do I turn?" "What can help me when it's helpless?" "What is there that can bring meaning to all of this?"
It is at this point that our path, like the path of the young man in our gospel reading, crosses the path of Jesus Christ. We are brought to an awareness and ready to consider moving from the balcony to the road.
With everything Jesus came to say and do, the bottom line comes with his last three words to the successful, sincere, questioning young man in our reading from Mark. "Come, follow me!"
II Belief (Faith / Trust)
The word belief means literally to place your faith or trust in something. It is an action word. Jesus did not say to the young man, "I want you to accept the intellectual proposition that I am the incarnate Son of God - the second person of the trinity." Following Jesus was not something the young man was supposed to think in his head, but a trust he should embrace in his heart.
To believe in Jesus for this man would have been to get rid of every possible barrier to his moving from the balcony to the highway. For the rich young man, it meant letting go of his possessions and accepting a life of uncertainty and service to others.
The time came for the young man to commit. It was time to follow or to return to his life as he knew it. And pleased understand. This was not a, "move ahead or go back," proposition. Once the young man encountered Jesus, his life would never be the same. Even when he chooses his "old" life, it would not be the same. He would always wonder what it might have been like to follow Christ -- to move off the balcony and on to the road -- to engage the journey which leads to spiritual fulfillment.
And notice this also -- when Jesus answered the young man, it was not with harsh judgment, but with compassion.
Jesus looking at him, loved him and said, ''You lack one thing, go sell what you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, then come, follow me."
Jesus' heart goes out to the man. He is stuck in his life and is unable to break loose of that which holds him in bondage. You could say that he does not possess his possessions - his possessions possess him! He is shocked by Jesus' call to commitment and sadly goes away. He would like to have his cake. He would also like to eat his cake.
At least he is honest. He can not make the commitment at this point in his life
It is important to understand that Jesus does not condemn the young man and he does not say that it is wrong to have possessions. The critical key is that a commitment to follow Christ above all things is the center of our faith. Whether it be our possessions, our values, our relationships, or our hopes and dreams, the essence of faith is the encounter with Christ, the placing our trust in him and a willingness to follow Christ above all else.
It's as simple -- and as difficult -- as A. B. C.
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