A rich man’s question
18 A certain ruler asked Jesus, “Good Teacher, what must I do to obtain eternal life?”
19 Jesus replied, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except the one God. 20 You know the commandments:Don’t commit adultery. Don’t murder. Don’t steal. Don’t give false testimony. Honor your father and mother.”
21 Then the ruler said, “I’ve kept all of these things since I was a boy.”
22 When Jesus heard this, he said, “There’s one more thing. Sell everything you own and distribute the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.” 23 When he heard these words, the man became sad because he was extremely rich.
24 When Jesus saw this, he said, “It’s very hard for the wealthy to enter God’s kingdom! 25 It’s easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom.”
26 Those who heard this said, “Then who can be saved?”
27 Jesus replied, “What is impossible for humans is possible for God.”
28 Peter said, “Look, we left everything we own and followed you.”
29 Jesus said to them, “I assure you that anyone who has left house, husband, wife, brothers, sisters, parents, or children because of God’s kingdom 30 will receive many times more in this age and eternal life in the coming age.”
Summary of the Lorax
The Lorax is the story of the Once-let, a man who slowly but surely cuts down all the Trufulla trees in the area to get rich. He does it despite the repeated requests of the Once-let to stop destroying the environment. At the end of the story he passes on as single Trufulla seed to a small boy telling him that it is now up to him to plant a new tree and bring back life to the world.
Thoughts on the passage:
We are starting a seven-week series called “Belief in Books” where we will read different children’s books and see what they can teach us about faith. Our first book, the Lorax is perhaps one of Dr. Suess’ more preachy books. He paints a clear message about the problems of industrial growth and the dangers of rampant capitalism at the expense of the environment.
What I want to do is to use the Lorax to help us understand something else, our faith. The consumerism that drives the Once-let in the story is also something that can drive us in our faith. It can be easy to be focused on what our faith is doing for us. We see this in the question of the ruler who asks “what must I do for eternal life.” The ruler makes it clear that his actions and his obedience to the law are all motivated with one goal in mind, personal gain. His faithfulness is rooted in the positive outcomes for himself.
Lest we think this is just a problem for the ruler, Peter doubles down, seeking to clarify that by his actions he is already doing what Jesus asked of the ruler “give up everything and follow.” Peter shares the same concern as to whether or not he is doing enough to earn something. While Jesus assures Peter that he will be rewarded for his actions, I cannot help but wonder if Jesus is not shaking his head at the same time. The call to give up everything and follow Jesus is not about what we are promised in return. We should not be following God simply so that God will bless us, that is a pretty selfish faith if you ask me. The whole point of giving things up to follow God is to not be thinking about ourselves, but instead be focused on God.
I think consumerism is part of what is wrong with our faith today. We focus too much about what we want and what our faith is doing for us. The church does not exist for us; it exists for God. The questions we should be asking are not what more can the church do for us, but what more can the church do for God. Our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world and yet too often it seems like we spend more time arguing about the merits of drums vs organs and what color the carpet should be rather than how we can be reaching out to the least, the lost, and the left out and sharing God’s grace and God’s peace with them.
In the 1800s it was said that Methodists were planting a church a day. As amazing as that growth is, it comes tinged with sorrow. I am sad because we are not planting a church a day, instead we are closer to closing one a day. I am also sad because even when we are focused on growth it is for the wrong reasons. I do not care if Willmar United Methodist Church lives or dies. I do not care if The United Methodist Church lives or dies. What I care about is whether or not the message of Jesus Christ lives or dies. I love our denomination and I love our church, but if we live and Christ’s message dies, then being alive is meaningless.
We need to ask ourselves why we come to church. Do we do it for the friends, because there are great friends here? Do we do it for the music and worship, because we have great worship here? Do we do it for how it makes us feel, because I know I feel good when I go home? I hope we do it because we want to follow Christ. I hope we come to church because we want to grow in our faith. I hope we come to church because we love God so much that we would not want to be anywhere else.
We have each been given a seed. It is the gospel, the Good News, that God loves us, that God is with us, and that God’s grace is available to us. Let us take that seed and plant that seed in others. Let us nurture that seed and help it to grow. Let us make sure that the seed does not die with us but lives on and is passed on so that all the world might know God and be transformed by God’s love.
Questions to Ponder:
How have others passed on their faith to you?
Who is someone who you know who needs to know the Good News?
What is God asking you to give up as you become a better disciple of Christ?
Jesus, we hear your call and we seek to follow you. Too often, however, we stop and ask what it is in it for us. Forgive us our questions and doubts. Help us to set aside those things that we cling to instead of you. Give us the courage to not count the costs, but to follow you each and every day. Amen