Scripture – Deuteronomy 15:7-11 and Mark 10:17-22 – Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost
I wonder what Jesus would say about the ruby slippers. Yes, those ruby slippers, the ones worn by Judy Garland in the 1939 American film classic The Wizard of Oz. The ruby slippers have been at home in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, DC since their anonymous donation in1979. They’re about 80 years old and they are one of the most sought after displays by museum visitors. An after all this time, they’re fading and weakening and in serious need of restoration.
I wonder what Jesus would say about the ruby slippers given that the estimated cost for the detailed study and complex restoration of those slippers is $300,000. But to put that into context, the conservation of the flag that flew over Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore in 1814 and inspired the writing of the national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” cost the museum over $21 million dollars. Last month the Smithsonian announced an on-line Kickstarter campaign to raise the $300,000 from the general public; within the first three days of a 30-day campaign, they were over halfway there, having received over $165,000 from 3,000 donors.
I saw the story on morning television news last month and I’m sure I was not the only one who was moved to want to donate. Those slippers are a beloved piece of our cultural history, worth the cost of preservation. This week as I looked back on that moment of being moved to take action, I wondered about the psychological phenomenon which calls us to move from one mindset to another, from inaction to action, from hanging on to our money or our possessions to turning them over for a greater cause. Now, being moved to send in money for the restoration and preservation of the ruby slippers may be nothing more than nostalgia and a desire to preserve our cultural history; but for more significant commitments, I don’t think it’s psychology alone. I’m willing to bet our being moved to change, to reordering our priorities, to sincere and heartfelt generosity, to donating our time and effort and money to the greater good is a consequence of something beyond our emotions and intellect. It’s the movement of the Holy Spirit.
Last week we talked about our spiritual health, our spiritual growth and the spark of spiritual renewal that can come from a sense of gratitude. For thousands of years, Christian mystics and theologians have written about our spiritual desire for connection with God leading us to a desire to act for the good of neighbor in the earthly realm. We come to know God, not only through prayer but through the study of Jesus’ teachings, and the deeper we go, the more inspired we become to align ourselves with God’s dream for a healed world and to take action in that direction. And the more action in which we engage, the more aware we are of God’s presence in the world, the more our faith grows, the more our commitment deepens, the more we act… If we keep at it, we are blessed with an abundant snowball of growing faith and a deepening commitment to live out that faith.
In the process, however, I’m afraid we also gain the insight that our commitment to Christ, to his teachings, to emptying ourselves to make room for the Holy Spirit, to sloughing off our possessions so others may have enough, is counter to our culture: a culture which prizes personal accomplishment and status and wealth, sometimes even at the cost of others’ opportunity, dignity and well-being. The Jesus movement of stuff-and-self-giving begun 2000 years ago was and still is countercultural.
Countercultural and more important than ever.
• The Jesus movement, of which we are a part, values individual uniqueness and worth.
• The Jesus movement, of which we are a part, includes and affirms all people.
• The Jesus movement, of which we are a part, feeds the hungry and cares for the sick.
• The Jesus movement, of which we are a part, encourages, if not commands, sharing our wealth and our influence to lift up others who have been left behind, left out and left at the margins: left due to economic injustice, environmental injustice, racism, homophobia, sexism, disability.
• The Jesus movement, of which we are a part, advocates for non-violence.
• The Jesus movement, of which we are a part, is based in love and peace.
• The Jesus movement, of which we are a part, welcomes the stranger. Welcomes the stranger. Welcomes the stranger.
The Jesus movement is countercultural and, given the climate of our current culture, the Jesus movement is more important to preserve and grow than ever. By now you have received your letter from our Stewardship Committee asking you to join in our effort to “keep us growing”. And, yes, they’re talking about money and the importance of pledging, which we need to us keep growing, but there is more at stake. We are called to keep growing closer to God by deepening our spiritual relationship, which will in turn increase our desire to put our faith into action, living out what Jesus modeled and taught. Growing our ministry to the poor, the homeless, the hungry, to children, to refugees, to the sick and grieving, to those suffering from injustice in a society whose priorities we fear will leave the weak behind.
The man who knelt before Jesus “was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.” I am grateful for the New Testament scholars who remind us that we don’t know what happened to the man after that, what he actually did after he left Jesus. Was he grieving because he intended to keep his possessions thereby eliminating his inheritance of eternal life? Or was he grieving because he was on his way home to clean out the place and give it all away? In what direction was he moved and by what?
Those of us who have moved to smaller environs or cleaned out the homes of deceased loved ones know how hard it is to give up the possessions which surround us. Several of you know I possess and treasure the 1947 Philco table-top radio through which my Dad listened to the Red Sox games in our living room until his death. It’s a pleasure for me to dust and polish and try to preserve its 70-year-old wooden cabinet. Our country prizes the possessions we collectively own from our shared history culture in the Smithsonian from First Lady gowns to spacesuits to historic flags and ruby slippers. I don’t know what Jesus would think of our keeping those things and spending money to preserve them, but I do know he is showing us this morning that we cannot allow those possessions or any possessions to take priority over following him.
And, my friends, in light of the dramatic events of this past week, now it is more important than ever that we follow him and not subscribe to the possible pervading cultural values which could result in the encouragement of exclusion and discrimination and selfishness instead of generosity and mercy. Our priority as a faith community right now must be the preservation and growth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
May the Holy Spirit move within each one of us to preserve that priceless possession, that its values and our actions and the faith of his followers keep us and our impact on the surrounding culture growing towards God. Amen.