No Life at All | 03.12.23 | Spring Cleaning p4.
Pastor Drew Williams
His name was Thomas, and he lived alone. Every day, he would wake up, go to work at his huge company, complete his tasks, socialize with his coworkers about things like the weather and the stock market, and then come home. When he got home, he would spend endless hours searching the internet for something…something that felt real. Something that seemed like it had a bigger purpose.
He heard stories about people who had thrown off the weight of the oppressive lifestyle he had, people who had turned away from serving the 9-5, serving the rat race, serving the constant striving for a bigger pension or a bigger office.
These people were legends, and he wanted to meet them, to learn from them, to learn how to live like that, too.
He would search and search for clues online, asking people in hidden message boards and underground communities for any evidence of where he might get in contact with his heroes. He would often fall asleep at his desk in front of the blinking lights of his computer monitor.
Until, one night, he was woken up by a message that took over his computer and simply read: “Wake up…Neo.”
Now, even though that is the set up for the blockbuster movie, The Matrix, the sentiment is one that relates with a lot of people. It speaks to the longing that many of us have when we find ourselves going through the same motions, striving after the same things, and still not feeling like it’s what we want our lives to be about.
We find ourselves getting the house we wanted, and it feels great. We’re excited, we host people over, we paint the walls. And then, after a little while, the exhilaration fades. We find all the nail holes in the trim and the faulty light fixtures. We wonder, is this what life is all about?
We get the payday we were hoping for. Our hard work has paid off! Now we’re able to pay off the credit cards, we’re able to get that splurge purchase we were putting off. We’re able to take the family out to dinner at that nice place. But it doesn’t last. Even though it took away some of the stress we were experiencing, before we know it, other stress has come in to fill the open space.
And so we wonder, is this what life is all about? So we search for something, for someone, to help us live a better life. A life with meaning. A life with purpose. A life that transcends the daily stress and effort and bills and paychecks and errands and weekend activities.
And that’s why we relate with the story of Neo from The Matrix, because we want to be able to be a part of an amazing story. We want to be able to meet some heroic figures who have escaped the labyrinth of life, who have been able to get a higher perspective, who can offer us a way into a different life. A more “real” life. A life where our actions make a difference for us and others.
This is the same desire of one of the people in our Jesus story today, so let’s open our black seat-back Bibles to Matthew chapter 19, which can be found on page 16 of the NT.
Jesus has recently been teaching about how the Kingdom of God offers a different kind of life. Though the world suggests that human relationships are temporary and able to be cut off, the kingdom of God counters that human relationships are binding and can powerfully transform each person. Though the world suggests that there is a hierarchy of power and influence based on how strong you are, or how old you are, or how rich you are, the kingdom of God lifts up the lowly, and doesn’t look down on people who are weak or young.
And then we get to our passage, which I hope you’ve been able to find. Matthew, chapter 19, and we’ll be starting in verse 16:
“Someone CAME to him…” So this person is coming to him from their regular rhythm of life. They’re coming from the crowd. They aren’t a regular follower of Jesus.
And they ask, “What good DEED must I do to have eternal life?” They’re looking for a singular deed, a singular task. This guy assumes he’s already 99% of the way there, and just needs that last “bit” to get him to a life that has an abundant, eternal quality.
And, from all reports, this guy has lots of money, lots of influence, and therefore, lots of respect from others in his community. Any of us can think of someone we know that fits this bill: a good amount of money, are influential, respected, well-liked even.
And, according to the world, those type of people ARE 99% of the way to the “perfect” life. Things are going well, and they’re just on the hunt for that one thing that can sinch the deal for them. So, Jesus, any pointers?
But Jesus doesn’t take the bait. He directs the attention and focus back to God, “There is only One who is good.”
You think you’ve got a “good” life? Maybe, compared to the other people around you. But if we compare to the TRUE goodness that is only in God, then we’ll see how LACKING our life is.
“If you want to enter LIFE, keep the commandments.” Notice that the rich young man asked about eternal life, but Jesus just says, “life.” The young man is saying, “I’ve got a good life, but how do I get an abundant, eternal, meaningful life?”
And Jesus responds by saying, “Buddy, you haven’t even stepped into LIFE yet.” It’s almost as if Jesus is saying, “The life you’ve been pursuing, the life you’ve been building, is no life at all.”
In the Matrix, the “gospel”, the good news that is presented is that the “life” everyone knows isn’t the real thing. The good news that they are hoping for is that there is a real life that they can experience. In fact, the “life” everyone is aware of is no life at all. It’s a simulation, it’s a farce, and in truth, they are having the life sucked out of them by machines.
When there is an organism that “lives” off of others, taking resources only for itself, only growing for itself, not giving back anything for the others around… we call that a PARASITE, a weed, a leach.
According to Jesus, the way of life this young man had been living had actually been sucking the life out of him, and so it was no life at all.
“If you want life, follow the way of God.”
“Yeah, I’ve done those commandments. I’ve kept the rules. I’ve the benchmarks. What else? Got anything for me that can put me over the edge?”
And Jesus sees right to the heart of this guy, and says, “Yeah, if you want to be “perfect,” if you want to have a life that feels complete, if you want to reach full development, full maturity as a human, here’s what you’ve got to do: Sell all your stuff…and then give the money away. And then come follow me.”
And verse 22 shows us one of the saddest parts of the Bible: The young man heard this word from Jesus, this offer of full life, but turned away grieving, for he had many possessions.
Jesus knew exactly what the thing was that was keeping this young man from experiencing full, abundant life. It was his possessions. It was his wealth.
Does that mean that wealth is bad? Does that mean that we’re ALL supposed to sell all we have and then give away the money? I don’t know hardly anyone who would be able to do that. Are we all unable to follow Jesus then?
These are some of the questions that the disciples have for Jesus. “What do you mean that people who are rich can’t be a part of the kingdom of God?” Everyone in that culture looked at outward blessings and attributed those blessings to God. Yes, I know he’s worked hard, but I work hard everyday. So the fact that he’s richer than me, the fact that she’s had more doors opened for her that me, the fact that they have a bigger house than me, that’s got to be because God has blessed them. And if that’s true, that must mean that God loves them more.
But now Jesus is upending their view of how God works. In this case, it seems like all the “blessings” that this rich young man has are actually the things that are keeping him BACK from entering into God’s love.
See, it’s not about the money or the stuff. Jesus didn’t tell any of his other disciples that they had to sell everything they had in order to follow him. We know this because many of them went back to their houses and lives and jobs after his crucifixion.
No, for Jesus, when he looks at this rich young man, he knows the GRIP that the wealth has on him. He KNOWS how much his life is entwined with the money and stuff he’s got. THAT’S why he suggested the drastic amputation, “cut yourself off from your money and your stuff.” THAT’S why he suggested the drastic life change, “sell it all, give it all away, and then come follow me. Walk away from your prestige, your influence, your respected standing in your community. Walk away from this “life” that you’ve been building, and I’ll show you what true life is like.”
But the guy can’t do it. And our text says he’s grieving. Why is he grieving? Is it because Jesus didn’t have an answer that he wanted? Grieving because he knows he can never attain his “ideal” of what eternal, abundant life is because the cost is too high? Grieving because he realizes the grip that his possessions have on him is too strong to get free from?
What’s the thing in your life that has become “too precious” to give up in order to fully commit to the Way of Jesus? What’s the “thing” in your life that you couldn’t walk away from in order to become an apprentice to Jesus in your daily life?
The author, Richard Foster, puts it this way, “Idolatry is…when we take good things and make them ultimate things.” (Celebration of Discipline)
Money is just a tool. In fact, it’s a great tool that can do a lot of great things for us, for the people we love, for the people God invites us to care for. And stuff, stuff is great! We love stuff! We buy so much stuff that we have to buy bigger houses to hold more of our stuff. We put stuff in the garage, in the basement, in the attic. We donate stuff to Goodwill, but usually got to run in as well, “just in case there’s some stuff that’s a good deal.”
We realize that we’ve got too much stuff, so we do spring cleaning to get rid of extra stuff, but then we have space, so we get more stuff that is newer.
And for Jesus, it’s not about the stuff. It’s not about the money. It’s about the HEART! Anything that is a good thing that then becomes an ultimate thing, a thing we can’t LIVE without, has become an idol, a counterfeit god, that is keeping us back from the LIFE that is offered by Jesus.
Jesus is trying to show us that a “life” lived for money or stuff is no life at all.
And that’s why he offers an alternative to the rich young man in our story. He can see that the guy’s “life” is no life at all, and he saw him with such compassion and love. He knew the guy truly wanted life. He truly wanted something of value of worth. And he had bought the lie that the idol of Wealth says, that getting more stuff, getting more money, getting a bigger house…THAT will satisfy you. THAT will give you security. THAT will ensure that nothing bad can happen to you. THAT will make sure that your kids never have to experience the upbringing you had when you were younger. THAT will quiet the anxiety and the fear.
But the pursuit of stuff, the pursuit of money, that’s no life at all. It’s a leach, sucking the life from you, always leaving you still hungry for more.
The disciples ask a good question at this point, “If the people who seem to have it all, who seem to be successful…if they aren’t able to experience the full life that God offers in his kingdom, what chance do the rest of us have? We’re not even on that level!”
And Jesus, once again, points the focus back to God. “You’re right, it’s impossible for humans to save themselves, it’s impossible for humans to achieve the full, abundant life that they were made for on their own. It’s impossible for anyone to work their way into true LIFE.”
But…for God…All things are possible. So that means that even the worst people aren’t kept out of God’s plan. Even the richest people aren’t unable to be reached and used and called by God. Even the most ignorant and naive people can be used by God and ushered into the full life that they were made for.
No one is outside of God’s reach, because it’s GOD who reaches towards us, and invites us to turn away from the things that hold us back from him, who gives us the grace and strength when we’re feeling weak, who leads us to follow him step by step as he transforms our hearts and lives.
But how do we do that? How do we receive that life from God?
It involves apprenticing ourselves to Jesus. It involves giving up our “way” of life for the Way of Jesus. It involves committing to some spiritual habits that are small steps in the direction that God is leading us so that we can partner with the work he is doing in us and through us.
And here’s where the problem enters, isn’t it? Because we usually don’t WANT to commit to a life of apprenticeship. We’re just like the rich young man, we’re coming to Jesus from the crowd. We’re coming in from our life, our way of doing things, and we’re looking for a guru, a guide, a hero who can show us a quick fix, a quick answer, so that we can make a small tweak to our lives and then go back to OUR way of life.
We don’t want to take the red pill that offers us a completely different life. We don’t want to walk away from our way of doing things, our sense of control, our sense of comfort, our sense of how things should be.
But when Jesus sees that our life is being bent around an ideol that is harming us, that is sucking the life out of us, he’s going to prescribe the antidote that will heal us and free us from that idol.
For the rich young man, that involves dramatic amputation from his wealth and possessions in order for him to be able to fall in step with Jesus.
For us, it might involve something dramatic as well, especially if you feel gripped by money and stuff, especially if your heart is being choked by the ever tightening vines of financial stress, debt, or the pursuit of “more.”
Jesus wants to free us from that, so he invites us to commit to his Way, he invites us to apprentice ourselves to him through spiritual habits that undo the damage of the counterfeit gods we’ve given our lives to and help us enter the LIFE offered only by the One, true God.
But, like the rich young man, sometimes we don’t like the sound of that. Sometimes, the cost seems too high. It’s not the quick fix we were hoping for. It’s 5 months of physical therapy, not two sessions. It’s cutting out dairy and red meat, instead of just having one salad every once in a while. It’s cutting up the credit cards.
Oh, man! That’s not what I was hoping for. Give me the simple medication to take each day. Give me the single task to do. Give me the factoid that can deliver the change I want without having to change the way I live my life.
But when we make that realization, that the things in our life have become too important to us, it reveals where idolatry has taken root.
If there is something in your life that you “can’t live without,” you’ll probably do ANYTHING to keep it, including things you didn’t think you were capable of. You might sacrifice your morals, your values, your integrity on the altar of the counterfeit god that has become a parasite that is sucking the life out of you.
A life lived for money or stuff is no life at all.
Jesus wants to offer us True Life. And the spiritual habit that we’ve been discussing for the past few weeks has been fasting or abstinence. Intentionally lessening or giving up something in order to be able to turn more fully to God so that we can partner with the work of healing and transformation that he’s doing in us.
The disciples were convinced that being saved was something that people could work towards, but Jesus is claiming that what WE bring in to the equation is of no importance. In fact, we need to leave behind whatever it is that we are looking to for satisfaction, whatever it is that we are pursuing that fills our “needs,” so that we can remain NEEDY before the Lord.
Our neediness is all that is required to receive his grace and his call for us to take on his way of life.
Jesus clarifies that “all things are possible for God,” so people who are wealthy or have a lot of stuff are precluded from the kingdom of Heaven…it’s just clearly difficult for those who cling to and are clutched by wealth and possessions to be able to listen to God’s call and serve his mission when they are also trying to serve the idol of Money and Stuff.
So, engaging in the spiritual habit of fasting or abstaining from wealth and possessions is one way to lessen the grip that they have on our hearts so that we can become more captured by God’s grace. So that we can become transformed into people who rely on God’s grace and who freely give grace to those around us.
A life lived for money or stuff isn’t a life at all, but practicing the spiritual habit of generosity or tithing is one way to train our hearts to keep wealth in it’s rightful place: as a GOOD tool given to us by God to be used for his mission in our lives.
Practicing the spiritual habit of simplicity is one way to train our hearts not to find worth or security in our STUFF, but to realize that God is our provider who calls us beloved child. And then we see that the possessions we have can be used to bless us and others, instead of being things we are slaves to.
A life lived FOR money or stuff is no life at all, so the question today is this: Is God inviting you to commit your money to his mission as a spiritual habit?
Many of us already give to God’s work here in the church, or support other things in our community, and that is incredible. But the reason that Jesus taught more about the dangers of money and wealth than pretty much anything else is because it is an easy danger to fall into.
Pastor and theologian, Tim Keller, writes that, “Nobody thinks they are greedy. Greed hides itself from the victim. Therefore we should all begin with a working hypothesis that “this could easily be a problem for me.” If greed hides itself so deeply, no one should be confident that it is not a problem for them.”
Maybe what you can do in response to God’s prompting today is to ask God if youre money or possessions have become a little too entwined with your heart. And then ask him how he might be inviting you to trust him more by committing to regular generosity or simplicity.
Maybe you give to church when you think about it, so a spiritual habit of generosity might involve setting up recurring giving so that it’s set up every month and is a habit, no matter how big or small, just committing to that habit and asking God to help unentangle you from the clutching of money.
Maybe you need to spring clean your house of all the things that clutter the space so that you’re not masking the fact that you’re afraid you won’t be able to provide for your family. Maybe having a yard sale and donating the money will be a spiritual practice to help you realize that God is a good provider who can not only take care of you but also work THROUGH you to care for others.
The truth from today’s lesson is that a life lived for money or stuff is an endless pursuit of momentary exhilaration. But when the joy fades, when the excitement is gone, when we see someone else with more, then we feel the lack. We haven’t “won” after all. We don’t have peace. We don’t have assurance that WE are enough.
A life lived for money or stuff is an exhausting race that never ends, but leads towards isolation, fear, suspicion of others, and grief over the fleeting nature of life. Things decay. Money loses value.
But Jesus offers a better way of life. Jesus offers True Life, the life we were creation for.
Jesus offers a life of Peace, nowing our father can provide for us.
Jesus offers a life of Joy, sharing our hearts and experiences with others.
Jesus offers a life of Love, caring for others and being cared for by them simply because we are all children of God.
Jesus offers a life of Patience, trusting our God of Love and Justice to work things out in the end.
Jesus offers a life of Kindness, where the grace and compassion that we receive from him through his Spirit and through his family is so much more than we can comprehend that it just naturally overflows from us to others.
Jesus offers us a life of Faithfulness, where we are all learning how to show loyal love to each other because of the faithfulness of God and assurance that God will never forsake us. God will never leave us behind to fend for ourselves.
Jesus offers a life of Gentleness, where we GET to see other the way of heavenly Father sees them, with pride and love and a desire for their good.
Jesus offers a life of Self-control, where we don’t need to clutch or take or panic by gathering everything we can, because we can TRUST that God HAS provided and will continue to provide for our every need.
Jesus offers us a life of Goodness, where we GET to enjoy the gifts of creation without being CONTROLLED by them, because we trust the Creator to give us what we need and lead us into life everlasting.
A life lived for money or stuff is no life at all, but Jesus offers us true life and invites us to follow him day by day, step by step, as we journey with him and learn how to live like him.
Isn’t’ that good news?