Job 23:1-9, 16-17 – Job’s lament: If only I could vanish in darkness and thick darkness would cover my face.
Amos 5:6-7, 10-15 – Seek good and not evil, that you may live; so the Lord will be with you, as you have said he is.
Psalm 22:1-15 – My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Psalm 90:12-17 – So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom. (Ps. 90:12)
Hebrews 4:12-16 – The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword. All are naked and laid bare before him.
Mark 10:17-31 – Rich young ruler. Eye of the needle. For God all things are possible. First last. Last first.
Jerusalem Conference, Thursday, October 11.
Before I jump in I want to make a plug for the Jerusalem Conference being held on Thursday, October 11, 2018 at the University of Houston. Christians pray for the peace of Jerusalem. This conference will explore pathways to peace. Speakers include Jim Wallis, Mitri Raheb and others. Please make time for this. The cost is only $30.
Preach at the Beach, Tuesday, October 23
Also, David Lose is speaking at Preach at the Beach on Tuesday, October 23, 2018, at Zion Retreat Center on Galveston Island. Come for the day, or stay the night. $45.
October and November in the Revised Common Lectionary
In October and November the three-year Revised Common Lectionary lays out about like this.
- October 7, 2018 we have this text on divorce.
- October 14, 2018 we have the Rich Young Ruler.
- October 21, 2018 the disciples ask to sit at Jesus right and left in the kingdom, spurring Jesus to teach about servant leadership. All these texts in October are from Mark 10.
- October 28, 2018 in the Lutheran Church, we have Reformation Sunday the last Sunday in October.
- November 4, 2018, the first Sunday of November is All Saints Sunday.
- November 11, 2018 we have the widow’s coins from Mark 12, another thoughtful stewardship text.
- November 18, 2018 we have Mark’s “Little Apocalypse” from Mark 13. See these large stones in the temple? Not one stone will be left upon another.
- November 25, 2018 is Christ the King Sunday. The text comes from John 18. Jesus says, “My kingdom is not of this world,” and “I have come to testify to the truth.” Pilate asks, “What is truth?”
Sundays in October and November people are tax planning and thinking about their giving for the coming year. Congregations are the same. This is, in part, because it is budget time, but there is more to it than just that. The end of the year is the harvest. The crops are gathered in and sold, literally and figuratively. Those in retail receive the vast majority of their income during the holiday season, a kind of harvest, the last three months of the year. Bonuses come in for folks in some professions, and it is a time when financial gifts are made. The Bible is rife with images of the harvest. It is a time of reckoning, a time to take stock of things. The end of the year is also a great time to plan for the coming year. It is a time to think about what we are going to spend, what we are going to save and what we are going to give. Where have we been? Where are we going?
The lectionary does not disappoint on this matter. This week we have the story of the Rich Young Ruler. Here is Mark 10:17-31 in its entirety:
17As 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?”18Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You 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.’” 20He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21Jesus, 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.” 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
23Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It 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.” 26They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
28Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29Jesus 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, 30who 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. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”
The rich, young ruler asks the good teacher how to inherit eternal life. After scolding the rich young ruler for calling him “good” (for only God alone is good), Jesus says, “You know the commandments,” and then starts listing off some of the Ten Commandments. The ruler believes he has kept the whole law, but he wants to be perfect, complete, so he presses Jesus. Jesus tells him he lacks one thing. He lovingly tells him to go sell everything he has, give the money to the poor and follow Jesus. The rich young ruler then goes away shocked, and grieving.
It strikes me that Jesus does not run after him and chase him down. He doesn’t say, “OK then, not everything, but maybe 75%. No? 50%? 20%?”
Instead, he tells his disciples that it is very hard for people with wealth to enter the kingdom of God. It is the disciples now who are shocked, or perplexed. Jesus presses on, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” The disciples are “greatly astounded.”
Tell the story. It speaks for itself. Don’t explain it away or rob it of its tension. Take your time, so that the congregation can imagine themselves in the disciples’ place, for they too will be scratching their heads at this. We are the wealthy. Most in our congregations have never gone a day without food.
The perplexed, astounded disciples then voice our own question upon hearing this from Jesus: “Good heavens! If that camel statement is true, then who can be saved?” Jesus replies, in essence, “No one. It’s impossible, but for God, all things are possible.” There are both law and gospel in this story. Keep the commandments. Practice radical generosity. Give your life away for the sake of the world and the gospel. That’s the law. Then there is a recognition that it’s probably unattainable, like the camel and the needle. Impossible, but not for God. We will need divine intervention.
There is no getting around it. Jesus is all about giving. If the church is always talking about money, well so is Jesus. If people complain that the church is always asking for money, perhaps it is because we all too often talk about giving to budgets and buildings, rather than a broader appeal for a life of generous living. The fact remains, Jesus talks about giving and generosity more than just about anything else. We need to talk to people about opening their hearts to God and neighbor.
I love to tell this story. It embodies so much of what we are about: generosity, hospitality and more. 17 years ago, a group of people illustrated this heart-opening generosity in a way that caught my attention. This is a true story. The details vary from source to source, but this experience changed lives. Don’t read the story. Tell it.
17 years ago last month, Delta Flight 15 was over the North Atlantic, en route from London’s Gatwick Airport to Cincinnati, Ohio, when flight attendant Joyce Hanson was ordered to the cockpit immediately, where the stern-faced captain handed her a message from Atlanta that simply said, “All airways over the Continental U.S. are closed. Land ASAP at the nearest airport, advise your destination.”
The nearest airport turned out to be in a town called Gander, on the island of Newfoundland. A quick request was made to the Canadian traffic controller and a detour to Gander was approved immediately. They simply told the passengers they were having instrument troubles. When they landed 40 minutes later, there were already 20 other airplanes on the ground from all over the world, and 60 more were on the way. The captain made an announcement, “Ladies and gentlemen, you must be wondering if all these airplanes around us have the same instrument problem as we have.” He explained that there was terrorist activity. No one was allowed to get off the aircraft. No one on the ground was allowed to come near the aircrafts.
At 6 p.m. on September 11, Gander airport told them that they would be allowed to deplane at 11:00 the next morning.
About 10:30 on the morning of September 12th, a convoy of school buses showed up at the side of the airplane, the stairway was hooked up, and the passengers were taken to the terminal for “processing” through Immigration and Customs. They then had to register with the Red Cross.
The town of Gander has a population of 10,400 people. The Red Cross ended up processing around 8,000 passengers. Passengers from various flights were taken to hotels, churches, schools and private homes, where they finally watched the news and learned what was going on. At such a deeply troubling time in U.S. history, the “Plane People” as they came to be known were utterly overwhelmed by the hospitality of the people of Gander and outlying communities. With nothing to do, and nowhere to go, for two days they did nothing but enjoy the company of strangers. It was a unique bubble in time.
Steve Kirby of Delta Flight 37 stayed in the small town of Gambo. The two small stores there simply opened their doors all night long and told the community to “take whatever you need.” He said, “Every meal was a feast. I gained 28 pounds.” For two days they lived in the new community – a community of kindness, hospitality, generosity, sharing.
218 passengers from Delta Flight 15 ended up in a town called Lewisporte, about 45 Kilometers from Gander. Families were kept together. All the elderly passengers were lodged in private homes. Nurses and doctors were on duty. Phone calls and emails to the U.S. and Europe were available for everyone, once a day.
Some people went on boat cruises of the lakes and harbors. Some went to see local forests. Local bakeries offered fresh bread for the guests. Food was prepared by all the residents and church members and brought to schools and churches. Every need was met. In later news interviews, tears would stream down their faces as passengers would pour out these stories.
Pat Bernard says that she slept in a padded pew at St. George Anglican Church. When the Plane People were finally about to leave, the church had a big good-bye service for them, tons of food, church bells ringing, people hugging.
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or… what you will wear… Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them… Consider the lilies of the field… they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these…
Two days later the passengers were delivered to the airport right on time and without a single one missing or late. When the passengers from Delta Flight 15 were all on board, one of the business class passengers, a Dr. Robert Ferguson got on the PA and reminded everyone of the hospitality they had received at the hands of total strangers. He said he was going to set up a Trust Fund to provide a scholarship for high school students of Lewisporte to help them go to college. He requested donations of any amount from the other travelers. When the paper with donations got back with the amounts, names, phone numbers and addresses, it totaled to $14,500. The doctor got on the PA again and promised to match the donations.
The first recipients of the Flight 15 Scholarship fund were the members of the 2002 graduating class at Lewisporte Collegiate.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, when we catch a glimpse of real hospitality, divine generosity, it changes us forever. We cannot help but give back. True gratitude expresses itself in sacrificial giving. Jesus gives himself 100% to God, even to giving his life on the cross. When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we recall the lavish, prodigal generosity of God, we remember Jesus’ giving of his own life, his death and resurrection, we eat and drink to this utterly new community in Christ, we catch a glimpse of the lavish grace of God, and what it means for our lives. I challenge you to be that new community, out of the grace that God has lavished upon you in Jesus Christ. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger.
What grace and unearned hospitality have you received? What’s your response of lavish generosity, for all that you have received?
By the way, the Lewisport Area Flight 15 Scholarship Fund, administered by the Columbus Foundation at 1234 East Broad Street, Columbus Ohio, is administered by Shirley Brooks-Jones, a retired administrative assistant from Ohio State University. She was on that flight. The fund started with $14,500. Today it is worth over $1.5 million.
Generosity is a sign of the fulfillment of the kingdom of God. It is a sign that our hearts have been touched by God.
Never neglect to offer hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
– Hebrews 13