Sunday’s sermon: The Impossible Dream

The Impossible Dream

Text used – Mark 10:17-31

 

AUDIO VERSION

 

 

  • We’re going to start off with a song this morning, friends. The lyrics are on the cover of your bulletin. There are, of course, all sorts of versions of this iconic Broadway song, but this morning, ours will come from the unforgettable, the inimitable, the supreme … Diana Ross.
    • [PLAY “The Impossible Dream”]
    • Context for this song[1]
      • Written by Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion
      • Most popular song from the 1965 Tony Award winning Broadway musical Man of La Mancha (story of Don Quixote and a little bit the story of author Miguel de Cervantes as he waits for a hearing with the Spanish Inquisition[2])
        • (If you’re not familiar …) Don Quixote = knight with not enough to do → sees foes and battles in places where there are none (most well-known e.g. – battling a large windmill thinking it was a 4-armed giant)
        • Throughout the story, Quixote is a bit of a joke. His family thinks he’s crazy. The villagers think he’s crazy. He’s dogged by a doctor who, in trying to help him recognize his madness, basically ends up killing him. The only one who believes in Quixote is his faithful squire, Sancho Panza. And, of course, Quixote himself. Even in the face of embarrassment, even in the face of ridicule, even in the face of utter disbelief, Quixote clings to his impossible dream – his dream of being a knight.
    • In today’s Scripture reading, we encounter what seems like an impossible dream: salvation. Eternal life. Entrance into God’s Kingdom. In the face of questions and uncertainty and disbelief – both from strangers and from the disciples – Jesus is candid and thoroughly honest … but he also offers hope.
  • Begins with familiar story – story found in all 3 synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) → story of the rich young man or the rich young ruler (depending on which gospel you’re reading and which translation you’re using)
    • Young man approaches Jesus and asks a question: “Good Teacher, what must I do to obtain eternal life?”[3]
    • Jesus’ first response = slight but significant scolding → Jesus asks the man why he has chosen to call Jesus ‘good’ before reminding this young man that “No one is good except the one God.”[4] This may seem like a trivial thing, like a technicality … like Jesus is nitpicking. But this small correction is important because it directs the young man’s attention away from Jesus and straight to God.
      • At this point in Jesus’ ministry he’s been healing and performing miracles all over the place → this is Jesus’ attempt to keep the focus directed not on him and his actions but the source of those actions: God
        • Scholar: Jesus in not trying to deny his own goodness; rather, he is asking the man if he knows what he is saying and why he is saying it. Jesus refuses any empty flattery (if that is what it is) and takes the opportunity to challenge his [questioner] with a deeper question, “Do you even know what it means to call someone good?”[5]
    • Without giving the young man a chance to reply, Jesus continues with a pretty general but acceptable answer to the man’s question about eternal life → basically: keep the commandments (lists a few of them)
    • Man’s reply: “Teacher,” he responded, “I’ve kept all of these things since I was a boy.”[6] → Now, we have to image that the rich young man is feeling pretty good about himself right now, right? He’s asked this famous rabbi what he needs to do to obtain eternal life, and the initial response that he’s gotten is stuff he’s already done. Check that off the list! Eternal life … in the bag! Yes!
      • Probably excited
      • Probably relieved
      • Probably proud
    • And I imagine him starting to turn and go back to his home feeling safe and secure in this reassurance that Jesus has just given him … but Jesus isn’t done with this rich young man yet. – text: Jesus looked at him carefully and loved him. He said, “You are lacking one thing. Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.”[7]And the young man … is crestfallen. – text: But the man was dismayed at this statement and went away saddened, because he had many possessions.[8] → Okay, there’s so much to tackle in just these two verses.
      • First: Jesus’ moment of discernment before he speaks again (Jesus looked at him carefully and loved him.) → This is a beautiful, powerful, challenging moment, friends.
        • Gr. “looked at him carefully” = one of the words for “looked at/saw” but has underlying tone of consideration in it → This is a beautiful, powerful, challenging moment because we can just tell that Jesus is looking at more than just this man’s hair and tunic and outward appearance. Jesus is gazing into this man’s heart and soul. He is reading this rich young man from the inside out – his desires, his gifts, his failings … everything about him. And it is from that intense gaze that Jesus’ next invitation comes.
      • Jesus’ reply cuts straight through the man’s façade to the heart of his identity: “You are lacking one thing. Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.”
        • It’s ironic that to this man with many possession, Jesus says, “You are lacking one thing.” He doesn’t say, “You’re missing the point.” He doesn’t say, “I have one more thing for you.” Jesus very deliberately says, “You are lacking one thing.” In that frank and searching gaze, Jesus discerned that this young man’s pride and heart and identity were wrapped up in what he owned, in his wealth and his possessions. So he piques the man’s interest with a little teaser: You are lacking one thing. In and amidst all the wealth and possessions you’ve already accumulated for yourself, you’re still lacking.
      • That one thing that the rich young man is lacking – the one thing that Jesus asks of him – is the exact opposite of where he’s truly placed his heart
        • Lacking GENEROSITY
        • Lacking SIMPLICITY
        • Lacking CHARITY
        • Lacking in that he is not lacking at all à that he doesn’t know what it is to want
        • In that frank and searching gaze, Jesus immediately figures out the one thing that will be hard for this man to do – the thing that will, in fact, be impossible for the man to do alone … as he proves with his action.
      • Man’s response = to walk away in utter disappointment – text: But the man was dismayed at this statement and went away saddened → 2 very different Gr. words
        • Gr. “man was dismayed” = shocked, appalled, gloomy, sad
        • Gr. “went away saddened” = offended, distressed, vexed, irritated
        • Clearly Jesus’ words have had an impact on the rich young man. He goes away dissatisfied (with Jesus … or with himself?) because his possessions are many, and the thought of selling them all has him utterly bereft. Or is it the thought of missing out on accepting Jesus’ invitation and following because of his inability to part with his things what has him utterly bereft?
          • Scholar: Jesus’ invitation is not a command or a judgment, not an attempt to exact justice; it is, rather, an attempt to enact gratuity. To love the man, Jesus must tell him the hard truth, that his wealth is in his way. So Jesus invites him, as an act of love, to unload his burden, to give away his wealth, to free himself from that which has come to bind him, even though he has no idea he is so bound. This is love. This is the truth – and it is hard to hear.[9]
  • Continues with this theme of hard truth to hear in the next part of our passage BUT here we find somewhere to lay our hope
    • Jesus continues with theme of difficulty of giving up wealth – text: Looking around, Jesus said to his disciples, “It will be very hard for the wealthy to enter God’s kingdom!” His words startled the disciples, so Jesus told them again, “Children, it’s difficult to enter God’s kingdom! It’s easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom.” Then they were shocked even more and said to each other, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them carefully and said, “It’s impossible with human beings, but not with God. All things are possible for God.”[10] → There is it. There’s the whole point. That’s Jesus’ mic drop moment. The disciples are shocked … amazed … overwhelmed with this truth bomb that Jesus has just dropped on them … and then Jesus looks at them. Carefully.
      • Gr. = same word used when Jesus looked carefully at the rich young man → searching, probing, soul-reading gaze
      • And then we get Jesus’ response: “Who can be saved? No one … not by themselves. That dream of salvation that you get for yourself … earn for yourself … deserve for yourself? It’s impossible. It’s an impossible dream. But with God, you can have eternal life. With God, it’s possible. Only with God.”
  • Now, this text is often preached on stewardship Sunday or in regard to church finances because, well … frankly, Jesus talks a lot about wealth and money and generosity and giving in this passage. But I don’t think that’s all that this is about. I think it’s more about whatever it is that we have our hearts and our identity wrapped up in. Whatever it is we’d find it impossible to give up. → 2 reasons that I say this is about more than just money
    • First: that searching gaze that Jesus gives the rich young man → It’s a gaze that sees into his very heart and soul, and in that gaze – in that moment of unmitigated discernment and sheer agape love – Jesus sees what it is that is holding that man back. Jesus sees where he’s spending his time, his energy, his fervor, his devotion. And he says, “That’s it. Right there. You’re so wrapped up in your wealth that God cannot get through. So you’ve got to remove that obstacle from your path.”
    • Second: Peter’s response after Jesus’ declaration that all things are possible for God – text: Peter said to him, “Look, we’ve left everything and followed you.”[11]
      • 2 ways we can read this
        • Can read it as Peter being exasperated: “Look, Jesus, we’ve literally left everything behind to follow you. What about us?”
        • Can read it as Peter being expectant: “Look at us, Jesus! We’ve done that. We’ve done everything you’ve asked. We’ve been good little followers. Does that mean we get in?”
        • Either way, Peter is pointing out that he and the disciples have no wealth holding them back. They have no possessions holding them back. But we still get the impression that they are being held back by something. By their jockeying for position with Jesus? By their tempers? By their misguided expectations for the Messiah? By their inability to see Jesus for who he truly is? Something is holding them back as well because even after giving them the same searching, discerning, soul-reading look that Jesus gave the rich young man, he tells them it is impossible for human beings to enter God’s kingdom without God. He doesn’t say, “Yup. You’re good. You’re in,” like some divine bouncer at the pearly gates. He says, “It’s impossible without God.”
    • Jesus’ response to Peter reinforces this: “I assure you that anyone who has left house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, or farms because of me and because of the good news will receive one hundred times as much now in this life – houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and farms (with harassment) – and in the coming age, eternal life. But many who are first will be last. And many who are last will be first.”[12]
  • So in this season of Lent, let me ask you this: What is holding you back? What is getting in the way of your relationship with God? If you were to run up to Jesus just as the rich young man did and say, “Teacher, what must I do to obtain eternal life?” what would Jesus see as your impossible surrender? Amen.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Impossible_Dream_(The_Quest).

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man_of_La_Mancha.

[3] Mk 10:17.

[4] Mk 10:18.

[5] Scott Bader-Saye. “Mark 10:17-22 – Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels: Mark. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 308.

[6] Mk 10:20.

[7] Mk 10:21.

[8] Mk 10:22.

[9] Bader-Saye, 310.

[10] Mk 10:23-27.

[11] Mk 10:28.

[12] Mk 10:29-31.

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