Rich People and Jesus

Speaker: John McLarty

Audio Recording:

Sermon for Green Lake Church, Sabbath, June 15, 2019

The Gospel of Matthew, chapter 4: 

Jesus left Judea and returned to Galilee. 
This fulfilled the word of the prophet Isaiah: 
In Galilee where so many Gentiles live, 
the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. 
And on those who lived in the land of the shadow of death 
a light has dawned. 
From then on Jesus began to preach, 
“Repent and turn to God, 
for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” 

One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers–Peter and Andrew–throwing a net into the water, for they were fishermen. 
Jesus called out to them, 
“Come, follow me, 
and I will show you how to fish for people!” 
At once, they left their nets and followed him. 
A little farther up the shore he saw two other brothers, James and John, sitting in a boat with their father, Zebedee, repairing their nets. Jesus called them to come, too. 
Immediately, leaving the boat and their father behind, they followed him.

Jesus traveled throughout the region of Galilee, 
teaching in the synagogues 
and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. 
He healed every kind of disease and illness. 
News about him spread as far as Syria, 
and people soon began bringing to him all who were sick. 
And whatever their sickness or disease, or if they were demon possessed or epileptic or paralyzed–he healed them all. 
Large crowds followed him wherever he went–people from Galilee, the Ten Towns, Jerusalem, from all over Judea, and from east of the Jordan River.  
(Matthew 4:12-25 paraphrased and elided.) 

On the people sitting in darkness, a light dawned.
Morning came.

Jesus visited towns throughout the region of Galilee and everywhere he went joy sprouted up like flowers in a Seattle spring after the gloom of winter. You could trace his route by the noise of jubilation and happiness and excitement.

If we were to set this story in our world, Jesus would travel around Washington. Leaving Seattle he would travel to Aberdeen and Forks and Morton and Darrington. In every town he would heal people of cancer and heroin addiction. He would fix genetic disorders and cure schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder. Can you imagine the joy?

Now, imagine that you were a young person, two years into your career at Amazon or Paccar, and Jesus invited you to leave your job and come assist him in healing cancer and heroin addiction and genetic disorders and schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Would you do it?

I think so.

If  you could not bring yourself to step off the career path and join the Jesus Movement, you would say no with deep regret. You would have wished you had the guts, the courage, the daring, to be part of something so grand, so epic.

A couple of months ago I was sitting with a group of strangers. The conversation turned to Alex Honnold and the movie Free Solo about his climb of El Capitan. I had said something about my own climbing back when I was young, before I had children and had to think about the responsibilities of being a parent. Somebody, a young person, asked if I had been a dirt bagger. I laughed with embarrassed regret. Clearly I had exaggerated my youthful adventures.

“No,” I said, “I was never a dirt bagger. Not even close.”

You know what a dirt bagger is, right? According to the Urban Dictionary, a dirt bagger is someone “who casts off the restraints of a conventional life to pursue their passion (usually something dangerous and off the wall like base jumping, rock climbing, surfing etc.) Often you will find them living in vans, buses, caves or tents. Usually broke but always smiling.

Peter and Andrew, James and John, were holy dirt baggers. They left their conventional lives, their careers, and joined Jesus living out of his van–spreading jubilation, excitement, happiness–healing, restoration, recovery.

If you were young again, and you were invited to be a dirt bagger with Jesus, how could you resist such an invitation? And if you did resist. If you decided to stay on at Google or Bank of America or the University, every time you remembered saying no, you would feel a twinge of regret. What would it have been like to be part of the joy train led by Jesus?

Peter and Andrew, James and John, were young people. So we might think, being a dirt bagger with Jesus was just for young people. But there is a fascinating passage in the Gospel of Luke.

Jesus began a tour, preaching and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom of God. He took his twelve disciples with him, along with some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases. Among them were Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons;  Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s business manager; Susanna; and many others who were contributing from their own resources to support Jesus and his disciples. Luke 8:1-3, paraphrased and elided.

Tradition imagines Jesus male disciples, The Twelve, as mostly young. But these women, are generally regarded as older, middle-aged women who had husbands and families and still became temporary dirt baggers with Jesus–with this important difference. Dirt baggers are usually dirt poor. These women were not poor. In fact, the text specifically says they were wealthy. They had money to fund the Jesus campaign.

Which brings us to one obvious application of the Gospel to us–to us who have careers and houses and investments and the obligations of being parents and grandparents and caregivers:

The jubilation train that was the ministry of Jesus was built squarely on the foundation of people like you and me who did not leave their nets and their boats and follow Jesus. People who were at least relatively rich and had the resources needed to support Jesus’ ministry.

Jesus declared he owned nothing, not even a place to lay his head. But he did sleep and eat–which means he counted on rich friends.

One time he borrowed a boat as a platform for preaching to a crowd gathered at the beach.
Someone had to have the boat so he could borrow it.
Jesus had friends near Jerusalem, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, who owned a house and gave him a welcome place to stay away from the stress of the conflict with the ruling elites. Jesus counted on Martha’s hospitality and Mary’s sweet attentiveness and Lazarus’ friendship.
In Jericho, Jesus invited himself and his disciples to the home of Zacchaeus, a wealthy man who had a large enough place to entertain the entire crew.
For his grand entry into Jerusalem just a few days before he died, Jesus borrowed a donkey from a stranger.
And finally, when he was executed, it was two rich men, Nicodemus and Joseph, who provided a decent burial.

The ministry of Jesus was entirely dependent on the generosity of rich people–rich people who did not become holy dirt baggers, rich people who did not leave their homes and careers and responsibilities, people who used their wealth to enable the glorious ministry that could best be described as the glorious light of dawn on a dark world.

All of us can be part of the shining, glorious ministry of Jesus.

Last Sabbath Karin and I visited someone in the hospital. The patient had made a lot of money and had given away a lot of money and then had experienced serious financial reversals. He was battling a serious illness and had traveled to Seattle for treatment. While here, his family stayed in a place provided by the Green Lake Church Housing Ministry. In his former life, free housing would have been unneeded. But now, a free place to stay made a big difference, offering some measure of ease in this very difficult time. 

Your generosity housed that family. Your generosity was the ministry of Jesus, the ministry of healing.

On the fourth Sunday of the month, you serve a meal to about 70 people whose lives are so hard, they show up in a church basement, hungry.

When you put money in the blue buckets you are easing the weight of life for orphans in Thailand.

I cannot recount all the ways you participate in the ministry of Jesus. But I can say this: Keep it up. Jesus needs you. Just like he needed Martha and Zacchaeus and Nicodemus and Joseph and the strangers who owned the donkey and the fisherman who lent him a boat and the kid who gave up his lunch.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus counted on his rich friends. They enabled his spectacular ministry.

Jesus still needs rich friends.

And that is who we are.