Basic Rules Don’t Apply: Love Is Wealth

Mark 10:17-22

What possesses you?

Okay, weird question?
What I mean to ask is: what consumes you, what drives you?

What possesses you?

Is it your career? Are you one of those people who is completely driven by your job and all the things related to it? Do you find yourself thinking and talking about your profession more than anything else?

Or is it your family, if you have kids? Are you mostly driven by what your kids are doing, how they feel, behave, learn?

Or is it something else? What possesses you, drives you, consumes you?

Now bear with me here, because I realize this can be a nuanced conversation. I am aware that for some of you, this question may lead you down a difficult path. Perhaps you have struggled for years with addictions and so, this can drive you. Or for any of you who suffer from depression or anxiety, this can consume you, no doubt. So please know that I am not downplaying that and I absolutely acknowledge addiction, illness, disease, and chemical imbalances as real issues that people deal with every day.

What I’d like for us to do is to focus on the things that drive us overall, apart from those things we cannot control or are part of our chemical makeup or a result of great trauma we suffered. I’d like for us to focus on the driving force for each of us, the thing or things that get us out of bed in the morning and keep us alive.

And I acknowledge the amazingly courageous people I know who fight addiction or mental illness every day and keep on living. Because this is at the core of the question. How do they keep on going?

And I’d like to address this by looking at this Mark Gospel story about a person who clearly was driven by questions about salvation, eternal life, legacy, etc. The man [called a ruler and a young person by Matthew’s and Luke’s versions] was also rich. He owned things—most likely a lot of land. He possessed property. He went to Jesus of Nazareth, because he respected Jesus as a religious teacher. Jesus would know the answer to a question he had. The rich man wanted to inherit eternal life. He was used to getting what he wanted, you see. He thought of salvation as something to buy or sell or to obtain. It was a possession. Religion, for this person, was about keeping the commandments that Moses shared with the Israelites. Don’t do this, don’t do that, etc., etc. Following these rules allowed him to maintain his upper hand in society, to fit in, to be respected, to maintain control. Follow the rules, get the reward.

Wrong.

Jesus tells him that he still lacks something. Ironically, what he lacks is because of what he owns. He has a lot of possessions. Material things. On the surface he has a lot. But he lacks the most important thing. What was that important thing? Well, it seems like Jesus didn’t say. What Jesus does do is tell him to do the most logical thing: sell your things, give money to those who need it most, and then you’re good. Follow this way of love.

Sounds good, right? Happy ending to this story?

Nope.

The rich guy doesn’t jump up and down with joy, now knowing what he has to do. I mean, it would have been fairly simple for him to give things away. And Jesus wasn’t even asking him to give it all away! But instead, the man gets sad about it. He expected Jesus to perhaps tell him about some other commandment or rule that he didn’t know about. Maybe there was just one more thing he had to check off his list and then he’d be okay. But no—he was told to do the very thing that he felt that he couldn’t do. He couldn’t give up material possessions. He could not follow such a way. For him, wealth was having things; wealth was not expressing love, not giving to others. Following the religious rules made more sense to him, even comforted him. But now that salvation fell outside the rules, his world turned upside down. He grieved, because he lost something—his ability to control things, to buy and sell life.

As Jesus often does, though, he invites this rich man to be healed. Get up, go, change, be healed. Follow this way. And I suspect that the story doesn’t really give us an ending so that we are aware that it’s not so easy to just change in the moment. The rich man was grieving because he felt that he could not give up his possessions, he could not see a way to be possessed by love. But that was in the moment. He left the scene—probably went home, probably thought more about it. And maybe, must maybe he started small. Perhaps he gave away some of his material wealth. And it probably felt great. And then maybe he gave away some more. And eventually, maybe this person was no longer possessed by what he owned. After a while, maybe he discovered what true riches were.

Friends, we can be possessed or consumed by things that are our “ultimate concern” like ambition, religion, money, power, politics or whatever. We can be owned by a number of things. And so we are offered a healing choice, I think, to instead be driven by love. To let go of the things that possess us and drag us down or hold us back. To walk forward and not backwards. To give more than we try to obtain. To make love our reason for existing—not pleasing people, not “making a name for ourselves,” not obsessing over legacy or retirement or status or religious rules or sexual norms or gender binaries or nationalities or affiliations or ethnicity.

What if we are driven by love?

What if love is in front of us, behind us, around us, and in us?

*To all of you who beautiful and courageous humans out there who wrestle with addiction and mental illness, I love you. It is your life: your courage and honesty and the way you show love to others in spite of all you go through–that inspires me.

Be driven by love, because you are loved.

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Josh grew up in Indiana and Iowa before completing a Masters of Divinity [M.Div.] at Princeton Theological Seminary [NJ]. He has worked in a variety of settings, including the Presbyterian Church (USA) and United Church of Christ (UCC) in Philadelphia, Hawai’i, Mexico, and Michigan. Currently, he serves as pastor of Love in Action United Church of Christ, a progressive, Christian, LGBTQIA+ affirming and interfaith community in Hatboro, a suburb of Philadelphia. He also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre/Speech from Northwestern College (IA). Josh has worked with youth and young adult programs for 25 years regionally, nationally, and in Latin America. He is also a trained actor and performs regularly with the dinner theatre company, Without a Cue Productions, LLC. He has developed theatre arts curriculum for use in worship, youth groups, education, and group-building. Josh is also committed to promoting religious pluralism and partnering with people of all faiths and those who identify as atheist or agnostic to build bridges of shared values and cooperation. He is honored to work with the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia as a Fellow and a Consultant. Focus areas include: University alternative spring break and summer programs that incorporate faith encounters and service-learning for students; workplace diversity programs that promote understanding in organizations, corporations, schools, and hospital settings. Josh also enjoys playing basketball, strumming on the guitar, traveling, learning language, or making strange and funny faces. He lives in Center City Philadelphia and thinks vegan cheesesteaks are amazingly good.

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