Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost, Year B
October 14, 2012
Every so often, I hear someone talking about the so-called Prosperity Gospel. For the uninitiated, it's a message that states that God wants us to be wealthy. If you have faith in God, then God will bless you financially.
The Prosperity Gospel has it critics...a lot of them. When I googled "prosperity gospel," I came up with a ton of links denouncing the theology. It didn't matter if you were liberal or conservative, there was an outright disdain for this belief in "pennies from heaven."
Whenever I hear all the criticism, I feel a bit uncomfortable. It's not that I agree with the prosperity gospel, it's just that I don't know if any of us is that innocent ourselves. I mean, it might feel good to look down on those preachers who peddle this garbage, but at some point you realize that God is pointing at you as well.
The fact is, we are caught up in having things as well. We might look with contempt at the prosperity preachers, but most of us live in nice houses with nice cars, listening to tunes on our iPod/iPhone/iPad/iWhatever. To paraphrase that old pop song, "We're not that innocent."
This week we find Jesus encountering a young man who's done pretty well financially. He's also someone that has tried to be a good religious person. Jesus tells him to follow the commandments, which the young guy has done. "You still need to do one thing," Jesus said. "Sell all of your possessions and give it the poor."
We know how the story ends. The young guy walks away perplexed. That's when Jesus remarks about how hard it is for a rich man to enter heaven.
Theologian Matt Skinner tells us that we shouldn't try to soften the message that this gospel is getting at. We are pretty good at trying to soften the blow. Jesus isn't really calling us to give up everything, we say to ourselves. But yes, God is calling us to do just that. Jesus is calling us to be true disciples and give up everything to follow him.
Of course, we live in the real world. Very few of us are going to give up our stuff and go and live in a yurt somewhere.
And yet, Jesus is still calling us to give up everything, give up our call to be prosperous and follow him.
I don't have an easy answer to this quandry. I know that I am saved by grace through faith. I know that I am love by God even though I fall short. And yet, you and I are still called to give our whole selves to God, because that's exactly what God did through Jesus on the cross.
Go and be church.
Dennis Sanders is the Associate Pastor at First Christian Church in Minneapolis.