I recently came across a very interesting article online and the article was entitled, “No, that's not in the Bible.” And it listed 11 things that most people think are in the Bible, but they're actually not. So for example, there weren't three wise men at Jesus's birth. I know every Christmas, we put out our nativity set with the three wise men. But the Bible says that these visitors were magi from the East. The Bible never says there were three of them. And the Bible never says they were men.
Now also, most of us grew up with the Bible story of Jonah and the whale. You even see little kids whose children's Bibles have pictures of Jonah and a whale. But the Bible never says that it was a whale. The Bible says it was a fish.
The same is true for the apple in the Adam and Eve story. If you look in the Bible, it never says it was an apple, it just says a fruit tree.
Then there are a bunch of phrases and platitudes that many people think are in the Bible, things like “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” Or “This too, shall pass.” Or, “God works in mysterious ways.” “God helps those who help themselves.”
Now also, not in the Bible, is the phrase, “God loves the sinner, but hates the sin.” The Bible never said that. And neither should you, my friends.
Then there is this phrase that is also not in the Bible. And it is “Money is the root of all evil.” Not in the Bible.
But that's the one I want to talk about today, because the Gospel reading from today's lectionary is the one in which Jesus tells a man he has to sell all of his possessions. And Jesus says, “It's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than it is for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”
So many people think that this teaching is actually an indictment against money, that Jesus is saying money is bad. But that's not exactly what Jesus is getting at here.
This man comes to Jesus and says, I've obeyed the commandments my whole life. But what must I do to experience the kingdom of God, to enter into the kingdom of God?
Now I've told you before, that the Kingdom of God is not a place we go to after we die. The Kingdom of God is a state of consciousness that we enter into now. It's a place of peace, love, joy, and abundance that we can enter into now. That's what the the young man is asking Jesus -- what must I do to experience that?
And Jesus says, You have to be willing to give up everything for it. Everything that you have. And you see, the the young man goes away sad, because he's unwilling to do that.
And sadly, my friends, I think most of us, are not willing to do it either.
You know, there are 24 hours in the day. How many of those hours do you really spend focused on God? If you were really serious about experiencing the Kingdom of God, you would devote more of your time and energy each day to it.
Now last year, I saw a documentary on Netflix, and it was called God is Bigger than Elvis. It told the life story of a woman whose name is Dolores Hart. Dolores Hart was an actress in the 1950s and 60s, and she starred in movies opposite handsome leading men like Montgomery Clift, and a young Marlon Brando and, and Warren Beatty. And the reason that it's called God is Bigger than Elvis is because Dolores Hart is the actress who gave Elvis Presley his very first onscreen kiss. But at the age of 24, Delores Hart walked away from Hollywood at the height of her career.
She entered a convent and became a cloistered nun. She's still there today. Now at the time, everyone, not only her Hollywood agents, but her friends and her own family, her own parents said, You're crazy. What are you doing? You have the life that everyone wants, and you're just throwing it all away. And she says, Yes, I am throwing it all away. And the quote that she gave in the documentary, which I loved, she said, “I left the world I knew, in order to re enter it on a more profound level.”
I left the world I knew in order to re enter it on a more profound level.
And that's what I think Jesus is saying in today's Gospel reading, that if you really want to experience life on a more profound level, a deeper and more authentic way of living, you have to be willing to give up everything for it. I think that's what Henri Nouwen was getting at in the Words of Integration and Guidance this morning, when he said that the way of Jesus isn't the way of the upwardly mobile, it's the way of the downwardly mobile, that life isn't about amassing more and more material things. But it's about deepening our spiritual riches.
Now, again, I want to make clear, material things are not bad. And money is not the root of all evil. It doesn't say that in the Bible. But what it does say in the Bible, in First Timothy, chapter six, verse 10, is “The love of money is the root of all evil.” The love of money, is when people place money before everything else. They focus more on money than they do on God.
Many of you are familiar with one of Jesus's parables, which is called the Parable of the Rich Man. It was about a man who amasses so many things that he has to keep building more and more storage units to house them all. And God says to the man, “You fool, why are you amassing all of these material earthly things? Your life on earth is temporary, but your spiritual life, your soul is eternal.”
So why are you spending your time storing up earthly riches, when you could be storing up spiritual riches, those things that you can take with you. That's why Jesus famously said, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and then everything else will be added.”
That's what he said. We've been doing it backwards. We've been seeking everything else first. Once I get that job... once I get that diploma... once I get this stock portfolio to this amount of money… this amount of money and my retirement... once I get that house or that car... I lose that amount of weight... then I'll experience peace, joy, love and abundance.
And it doesn't work that way.
How it works is you seek the Kingdom of God, first, you put your time and attention on God, and then everything else is added.
And I share that with you humbly, from personal experience. Because once I did that, then everything else happened for me. That's how it works. That's what Jesus was saying.
Now, I'm not gonna lie to you. Putting your time and attention on God throughout the day takes work, and it is a sacrifice. But I don't know how the word sacrifice ever got to be a negative thing. I mean, people make sacrifices for other things, and we praise them for it. I mean, take an Olympic athlete. Olympic athletes from a young age have to go to the gym every day at three o'clock in the morning to work out. They can't do things their friends do. They can’t go to proms and school dances, they can’t eat junk food -- they sacrifice all of that for their goal, for the gold. And we celebrate and applaud that.
The word sacrifice comes from two Latin terms sacra and facere. Sacra means “sacred, holy,” and facere means “to make.” The word sacrifice means to make , to make sacred. And we can make our lives sacred by sacrificing our possessions, our possessions are those thoughts and behaviors that possess us. So we spend our day focused on worry and fear. We spend our day focused on on resentments and lack. Those things possess us. Jesus saying, “Let go of those possessions so that you can experience the Kingdom of God in your midst” means we must be willing to sacrifice the false self, the ego self. It's the self that cares about what I look like, the self that cares about the diplomas on my wall, the self that cares about my bank account, my stock portfolio. Jesus is saying, sacrifice the false self, so that you can resurrect the true self, the Christ Self, the Divine Self, the authentic self.
So my question for you is, are you willing to sacrifice everything for the Kingdom of God? Now you may say, Well, yeah, I'm willing, but that sounds really hard. It sounds really difficult. It almost sounds impossible.
Well that's why Jesus ended his teaching today by saying, “Nothing's impossible with God.” Nothing's impossible. A life of peace is possible. A life of joy is possible. A life of love and abundance is possible. When you put your attention and focus and trust in God and in God alone. Once you know that truth, really know it and start living from it. You'll experience salvation, not in the next life. In this one.
When you know this truth, you will be set free.
Reverend Salvatore Sapienza
Words of Integration & Guidance
by Henri Nouwen
The society in which we live suggests in countless ways that the way to go is up. Making it to the top, entering the limelight, breaking the record - that's what draws attention and offers us the rewards of money and fame. The way of Jesus is radically different. It is the way not of upward mobility but of downward mobility. In a society in which upward mobility is the norm, downward mobility is not only discouraged but even considered unwise, unhealthy, or downright stupid. Who will freely choose a low-paying job when a high-paying job is being offered? Who will choose the hidden place when there is a place in the limelight? Who will choose to be with one person in great need when many people could be helped during the same time? Who will choose to withdraw to a place of solitude and prayer when there are so many urgent demands from all sides? The descending way of Jesus is the way of downward mobility. It is the way toward the poor, the suffering, the marginal -- toward all who ask for compassion. What do they have to offer? Not success, popularity, or power, but the joy and peace of the children of God. The compassionate life is the life of downward mobility. It is going to the bottom, staying behind the sets, and choosing the last place. Why is the way of Jesus worth choosing? Because it is the way that brings everlasting life. The great paradox which Scripture reveals to us is that real and total freedom is only found through downward mobility. The divine way is indeed the downward way, and so the downward road is the road to heaven.
What did you think?