MARK 10:17-25

APRIL 17, 2016

Rev. Dr. Richard Meyer

(Play Audio)


            This week I came across a rewrite of a familiar night-time prayer. Here’s how it goes …


            Now I lay me down to sleep,

            I pray my new PC to keep.

            I pray my stocks are on the rise,

            and that my analyst is wise.

            That all the wine I sip is white,

            and that my hot tub's watertight.

            That tennis games won't get too tough,

            that all my sushi's fresh enough.

            I pray my cordless phone still works,

            that my career won't lose its perks.

            And my microwave won't radiate,

            or my condo won't depreciate.

            I pray my health club doesn't close,

            and that my money market grows.

            If I go broke before I wake,

            I pray my "Beemer" they won't take.


            We all like to be comfortable and happy, but what can easily happen as we pursue the “good life” here in Nebraska, is the line between needs and greeds can get very blurry. And if we're not careful we can get consumed by those greeds.

            This morning we turn to the third deadly sin in our Spring Cleaning 2.0 sermon series this morning. We’ve looked at sloth and pride, and today we turn to our attention to the deadly sin of greed.

            The Bible also refers to it as avarice or covetousness, and let’s make an attempt at defining it. Greed is the gratification of our desires at the expense of the common good. One more time. Greed is the gratification of our desires at the expense of the common good. And it would be easy to focus our attention on greedy executives, or the extravagant life styles of the rich and famous, or sports stars who sign multi-million dollar contracts, but I rather talk about you and me. I want to talk about those personal desires that live inside the best of us.

            Leo Tolstoy, the great Russian novelist, wrote a short story about a successful peasant farmer who was not satisfied with his lot in life. He wanted more of everything. One day he received a tempting offer. For 1000 rubles, he could buy all the land he could walk around in a day. The only catch was he had to be back at his starting point by sundown. You can predict the ending. Early the next morning he started out walking at a fast pace, digging holes and stacking turf to mark his progress. By midday he was very tired, but he kept going, covering more and more ground. Well into the afternoon he realized that his greed had taken him far from the starting point. He quickened his pace and as the sun began to sink low in the sky, he began to run, knowing that if he did not make it back by sundown the opportunity to become an even bigger landholder would be lost. As the sun began to sink below the horizon he came within sight of the finish line. Gasping for breath, his heart pounding, he called upon every bit of strength left in his body and staggered across the line just before the sun disappeared. He immediately collapsed, and in a few minutes he was dead. Afterwards, they buried him in a grave. It was not much over six feet long and three feet wide. The title of Tolstoy's story was: “How Much Land Does a Man Need?”

            That’s the question greed poses to us: How much do you need?” Greed’s answer is always, “More.  You need more. More space. More money. More stuff. You need more.”

            And how rampant a sin is greed? Well, how many of us want more?

            Ever watch the game show, “Who wants to be a millionaire?” Well, I don’t want to embarrass anyone, but if I asked you to raise your hand if you want to be a millionaire, how many of you would raise your hands? I know I would.  Of course, I’m not alone in this. Just about everyone I know wants more.

            And when the Power-Ball lottery reached a jackpot of three-quarters of a billion dollars a few months back, how many of us bought a lottery ticket? We don’t usually buy a lottery ticket. In fact, we seldom if ever buy a lottery ticket, but when it got that high, how many of us bought a ticket? I did. After all, somebody is going to win, why not me? And I fantasized what I would do with all that money. I thought about it driving around town. I thought about it in the shower.  Just so you know I would have given a bunch of money to Anderson Grove’s endowment fund. God still chose someone else for the winning ticket.  Go figure.

            You know the problem for me with this Spring Cleaning sermon series is, the deeper we get into it the more deep cleaning I have to do. And true confessions: for some of us greed has taken up residence in our hearts … it’s hard not too when advertisers bombard us about what we need to make our lives more satisfying … and what we need is an antidote to greed. We need to get that poison out of our system, and Jesus offers us one today. Turn with me to Mark 10:17 on page 822 of our pew bible. Note the antidote. Mark writes,


            As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, (Catch the urgency there?  A man ran up to him. Didn’t saunter over, he ran up to Jesus) 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 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, (By the way, what a great line. Jesus loved him. Jesus heart went out to this man. In fact, he loved him so much one could make the case that if he had done what Jesus had recommended, he would have invited the guy to be one of the disciples. He already has his twelve, but Jesus would have made an exception for him. Listen to what Jesus asks him to do.) “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.


            The antidote to greed?  Generosity.  Generosity.         

            Have you heard Adele’s hit song “Rolling in the Deep?” It’s a break up song. She’s lamenting the loss of her love and in the chorus she regretfully says, “We could have had it all.” Well, the rich man had it all. At least financially. He could have lived Regency. He could have purchased Willy Thiessen’s home. According to Luke, he was a ruler. He had power and prestige. He spoke and things happened. According to Matthew he was young. His life loomed before him. He was also righteous. He was a good person. He kept the commandments, and yet in the midst of all of this, he runs to the One he calls Teacher and says there is something missing. Can you help me? And Jesus, loving him, says you are right; there is something lacking in your life.

            What was it? What was lacking? Generosity. Listen to Jesus one more time. Verse 21: “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.”

             I would have said it differently. I would have toned it down a bit. If I had been Jesus I would have suggested he increase his pledge next year. Instead, Jesus said, “Sell it all. Give the money to the poor, and through your lot in with me.” You can’t get much more generous than that! Does Jesus ask us to do the same thing? Does Jesus us ask to sell everything and give it to the poor? Nope. I can say that with confidence. The “all” here is person specific, but Jesus does call us all to be generous.

            When it comes to generosity I like what Bob Hope said about it. He said, “If you don't have charity in you heart, you have the worst kind of heart trouble anybody could ever have.”

            Someone said “Greed is grounded in fear.” There may be some truth in that. We fear we will not have the fundamental necessities of life — food, shelter, safety, stability — so we keep saving for a rainy day, but when is enough, enough?

            Listen to these words from Steven Burt.  He wrote,


            There's a big difference between meeting needs and meeting greeds. Now I'm not saying greedy people don't ever get their greed needs met. Some of them do. But I am prepared to say that God cares about us and will help us meet our needs. Period. God will help meet our needs, not our greeds. If we insist on meeting our greeds, we're on our own.


            In one episode of Little House On The Prairie, farming hasn't worked out, so Pa Ingalls moves the family to a new state. Gold has been discovered there, so Pa decides it's worth a try. They stop in town for provisions and meet a minister who befriends them. A conversation about Sunday school ensues. When the wagon is loaded, Pa Ingalls says, "S'long, Reverend. Maybe you could say a prayer we find gold." To which the wise and kindly minister says, "I can't ask God to help you locate gold, Mr. Ingalls, but I will pray for you and your family's happiness and welfare."

            Pa Ingalls looks lovingly at Ma Ingalls, and you can see that the minister's words have at least momentarily gotten them back on track, helped them reorder their priorities. Pa says (with that winning Michael Landon smile), "That'd be fine, Reverend. That'd be just fine."

            God helps meet our needs, not our greeds.

            Let's put it another way. If we were Pa Ingalls and the minister said he could pray for one or the other -- finding gold for for us or our family's happiness and welfare -- which would we choose?

            I suspect we all could be a little more generous with our time, our talents and our finances. Maybe we could give a little more, or maybe even a lot more to the church, or to the We Care Fund, or to the United Way, and maybe we could forego that purchase. Maybe we could ask ourselves do I really need another pair of shoes or another sport coat or another television? Maybe, just maybe, we could commit ourselves to living more on the need level than the greed level, which would free us to become much more generous people. Amen.