Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
October 12, 2003
The Gospel: Mark 10:17-31
Sermon: "What's it like to Jump into Thin Air?"

The Rev. William D. Oldland

The Gospel:

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."]

Mark 10: 17-31

What's it like to Jump into Thin Air?

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost - October 12, 2003

Eight years ago a group of youth were off on a spring retreat. They were trying to grow closer together by participating in some activities on a high ropes course. On a high ropes course every person has to overcome the challenge. Some of the challenges are done individually while everyone else cheers on. Some of the challenges require the help of someone else, a belayer. The belayer is a person whose responsibility is to make sure the other person does not fall and get hurt. For example, on this trip, one teenage boy had been really going through the challenges without a problem. He had overcome every obstacle with ease. The group had arrived at the last challenge. The first part of the challenge was climbing up a tree to a small platform. The platform was about twenty feet off the ground. This platform was on a post that was slightly wobbly. Eight to ten feet out and above the platform was a trapeze bar. The final goal was to jump from the platform into the air and try and catch the bar. In order to attempt the last part of the challenge the boy had to be willing to trust the person on belay. 

During the entire challenge there was a safety line attached to the boy as he was climbing. As long as he had his hands on the tree he felt safe and secure. While standing on the platform he still felt secure. Now, he was asked to jump off the platform and leave its safety. To jump out into thin air he had to trust that the person on belay would catch him even if he missed. The young boy had to face this decision. 

Now, we are going to leave the young boy for a minute as he ponders his decision. Let's draw our attention to a young rich man who has come to talk with Jesus. He wants to know what he must do to inherit eternal life. He knows Jesus has the answer. Jesus responds with six of the Ten Commandments. Notice which commandments Jesus gives. All of the commandments address how the young man is to treat others. He is not to murder, commit adultery, steal, bear false witness against or defraud anyone. Finally he is to honor his father and mother. In other words he is to love his neighbor as he loves himself. Face it. We don't steal from ourselves. We don't commit adultery alone. We don't lie to ourselves, that is, unless we need some serious professional help. The young man responds that he has followed all of these commandments since he was young. In other words, he has faced these temptations and overcome them. Now, I do not mean this young man was perfect. He had tried diligently to follow them. Jesus knows the young man has indeed tried. I love Jesus' response. He looked at the young man and he loved him. However, the young man did have one challenge. He loved his position of wealth. He had many material possessions. With his wealth he would have a position of prominence and authority. He could get anything he wanted when he wanted it. Having the wealth kept him safe and gave him what he felt he needed most, security. 

Do we have a parallel between our young boy on the platform and the rich man talking to Jesus? I think so. They have both been successful in their challenges. They both feel very secure in their own abilities. They both believe they have the resources they need to be successful. Now they both have to come to a decision. The young boy has to choose to trust the belayer. The young man has to choose to trust the Savior. Once the young boy leaves the platform he has to trust the belayer to get him to the ground. Once the young man leaves his wealth he has to trust God. 

How do we feel about their decisions? Do we feel they are unfair? Perhaps we ask, "What's wrong with being self-sufficient even wealthy?" Well, the problem is possessions have a way of becoming important, too important. To be quite honest they can erode our ability to put our faith in God. We can begin to believe we can make it on our own. We don't need God. We don't need God's help in this world. We don't need God's help with our problems. We don't even need God's help to get into heaven. 

All of these statements are traps that keep us clinging to our possessions. We hang onto them like the young boy stands firmly on the platform. We lack trust in God to supply our needs. If we are really serious with ourselves what we are afraid of losing is our desires and wants. So, we too are faced with the decision to either jump into thin air and give up clinging to our material wants and desires. Or we can stand on the platform and hang onto the material possessions we think we need most in order to make it. 

The choice is definitely ours to make because Jesus is compassionate and loving. Jesus gave the young man the space to decide. He was saddened by the choice the young man made. The young man turned and walked away. His possessions meant more to him than following Jesus. Now, does he have a chance to receive eternal life? Certainly he does. Because the Good News is that we do not save ourselves. God saves us and as Jesus says, For God all things are possible. The Good News is that grace the God abounds. Now, how will God continue to work with the young man? We don't know. We do know that even though he walked away God still loved him. 

By the way, we left the young boy standing on the platform. What did he decide to do? Well, he looked at the trapeze bar first. Then, he looked down at the ground. He looked into the eyes of the belayer searching for a definite answer that he would not fall. He looked again at the ground. 
Then he brought his eyes to the trapeze bar. He flexed every muscle in his body and with a huge push he jumped for the bar. His fingers stretched out. His arms and legs were taught. He flew out from the platform into the air. His hands just missed the bar. His belayer gently lowered him to the ground. The challenge was not to reach the bar. The challenge was to jump out and try. 

Jesus does not call us to follow him and fall. We might err. We might stumble. Jesus, our Savior, will always be with us. As we follow Jesus we are asked to be willing to step out and let Jesus hold us up.


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