Discovering Gravity”

First in the series Defying Gravity

Matthew 19:16-26closeMatthew 19:16-26 The Rich Young Man 16 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. 23 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (ESV) closeMatthew 19:16-26closeMatthew 19:16-26 The Rich Young Man 16 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. 23 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (ESV) The Rich Young Man 16 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. 23 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (ESV)

You may know one of the most famous stories from the history of science.  A young British scientist and mathematician named Isaac Newton was sitting in his garden when he was bonked on the head by a falling apple.  It was an “aha” moment for Newton and led him to suddenly come up with his theory of gravity.  Today, historians agree the story has almost certainly been embellished.

Now Newton was a deeply religious man and believed that creation revealed God’s mystery and majesty, and so understanding how creation worked would tell him about God.

At the time, he was studying the orbit of the Moon around the Earth.  What is true in the story is that, while sitting in the garden one day, wondering why the Moon did not simply fall into the Earth, he observed an apple fall from a tree.  “Why should that apple always descend perpendicularly to the ground? … Why should it not go sideways, or upwards? But constantly [down] toward Earth’s center?”  Newton concluded that the earth drew the apple toward it, and therefore, there must be a drawing power in all matter.  His theory of gravity states that every particle or body in the universe is attracted to every other body with a force, and he derived a formula to compute this force. Thus, Sir Isaac Newton’s theory of gravity was born.

Aren’t you glad we don’t have think about gravity in everyday life?  It’s reassuring that gravity’s pull keeps us grounded on earth, rather than letting us float off into space.  The force of gravity orders our lives and world, and we don’t even realize it.

Today we want to begin to see that there is another force working around us all the time.  Gravity exists in the physical world and in the economic world:  We are constantly pulled by financial gravity.  You may experience financial gravity when you click through websites and discover ads for things that actually appeal to you, or as you channel surf, you stop on one of the shopping channels to consider the deals on things you didn’t know you needed you just have to have. Or walk into the mall, and it feels like something is pulling you inside each store you pass.

Financial gravity’s impact is evident on our society, in which one survey found that more than 70% of households routinely spend more than they earn.  The personal effects of financial gravity can be measured when you study your bank account and find the balance is lower than you’d hoped or when your credit card balances are higher than you’d like.

The key to financial gravity is to experience the force in just the right proportion.  Consider this video illustration. [Video shows man stacking weights on a training sled. First time he has moderate amount of weight and runs freely up a hill pulling the sled.] We have various needs to live in this world.  All of us feel the force of our needs.  These are normal things in life.  You have to figure out the income that will provide for those needs.  Needs are like the weights stacked on this training sled. These include food to eat, a place to live, clothes to wear, transportation, communication, health care and so on.  When we get these in their proper order and keep them in proper perspective, we can move smoothly through life.

But sometimes we can get things out of perspective.  [Video shows many adding more and more weight to the sled.  When he tries to run and pull this time, the sled won’t budge. He continues straining to move it, until he falls down, exhausted.]  We listen to our culture that tells us that we will be better off and have a higher status if we have more and better things. So we move from needs to wants, and our list of wants is never short:  a newer car in a better model, a faster computer, a larger house, a new $1,000 cell phone, a bigger TV, designer clothes, an expensive hobby. As we add these wants to our lives, we begin to feel the added force of financial gravity holding us down.  We feel trapped and stuck; we just can’t move through life. We feel unhappy and burdened; our relationships with our kids suffer; our marriages become strained; our mental, physical and spiritual health declines. We feel like we work harder but find less freedom, joy and hope.

Our complicated relationship with money and things is not new; people struggled with it in Jesus’ day as well.  As we heard in our scripture, one day a young man came to Jesus with a question:  “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” (Matt 19:16)

This was a good young man who was trying to live a faithful life.  He loved God, yet he must have felt other forces pulling him away from his faith.  He wanted direction and wisdom from Jesus.  Jesus told him to keep the commandments.  As Jesus listed the commandments, the man mentally checked off each one.  He said to Jesus, “I have kept all these; what do I still lack?” (19:20)

Whenever we ask Jesus what we lack, he already knows, and so we need to be prepared for the answer he gives.  His answer will be unique, based on each particular person’s situation.  To this young man, Jesus said, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” (19:21)

Jesus gave him a once-in-a-lifetime offer.  This young man had the opportunity to become the thirteenth disciple.  He could have lived and traveled with Jesus.  He would have heard Jesus teaching, witnessed his miracles and helped found the early church movement.  Can you imagine the possibilities?  He could have learned to love as Jesus loves.  He might have become a world-changing missionary to Egypt, Africa, Asia or Europe.  His name would be remembered by Christians the world over.  Instead, all we know about him is that he could not escape the financial gravity of his stuff.  Matthew tells us, “When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions” (19:22).

How could he walk away from Jesus?  He seemed serious about living a godly life, and he came to Jesus because he believed he could help him go deeper. What made him walk away?

He grieved as he declined Jesus’ call and went away.  Some translations say he was sorrowful or crestfallen.  This young man was torn between the pull of two worlds.  He wanted to do something new in his life and learn how to surrender fully to God, but he could not stand to let go of his stuff and give to the poor.  He went away sad as financial gravity pulled him back into his old world.

Jesus turned to his disciples and said, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (19:23-24).

He points out that we must choose between two worlds where we can live:  the kingdom of self and the kingdom of God.  The first world, the kingdom of self, is the world we experience every day. It includes your family and friends, work and hobbies, home and possessions, abilities and interests.  These are all good things God has given us so that we can enjoy life and influence the world.

The challenge comes when we lose perspective and think that our world is the world, that it is something we deserve.  We justify chasing after our wants by saying, “It may be expensive, but I work really hard and I deserve it” or “I do a good job, so I deserve to enjoy a little more.”  We protect the boundaries of our kingdom fiercely – in fact, some of you may be feeling annoyed that we’re even talking about this in worship.  We become selfish, and we don’t want to lose the power over our kingdom.  This is where we feel the pull of financial gravity the most intensely.

Notice that Jesus didn’t say it’s impossible to enter the kingdom of God when we feel financial gravity’s strong pull, only that it’s hard.  Why?

Gravity is the force that pulls all matter together – and Newton figured out that the more matter, the more gravity. The sun has so much mass it can hold the solar system together.  Money and possessions have their own mass as well.  They pull us in. The more we collect and hold, the more gravity we experience.  If we don’t manage our money and possessions, they will control us.

Jesus said it’s hard for people to escape the pull of financial gravity and move into God’s kingdom, but not impossible.  He said, “All things are possible for God” (19:26).

Jesus recognized this conflict for both the man in the scripture and for us today.  You and I may not think that we are wealthy, but we are.  According to DoSomething.org, more than 3 billion people – almost half the world’s population – live on less than $2.50 per day, and over 1.3 billion live in extreme poverty on less than $1.25 a day [www.DoSomething.org. Accessed 10/27/2017].   We are wealthy, and therefore, not immune to the full of financial gravity.  Defying the gravity of money and possessions is necessary to love God fully.

The good news is that Jesus offers us a way to enter the gravity of God’s kingdom.  Money and possessions can weigh us down, like the man in the video earlier, or they can also be part of what sets us free.  Today I invite you to undertake an experiment to see how you experience gravity in your life, and I invite you to worship with us throughout the month of November as we continue this series.

The experiment is to prepare for and participate in the “Clean-Out Challenge” on Saturday, Nov. 11.  Go home and prayerfully look at the stuff you have.  Do you really need all of it, or could some of it benefit someone else?  Does your stuff own you, or do you own your stuff?  Then gather any gently-used items, including clothing, toys, books, furniture, and so on and bring them to our parking lot on Nov. 11 between noon and 3 pm.  Salvation Army and Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore will be on hand to receive your donations.  Our hope to have a commercial shredder available did not work out.  In addition, we’ll need ministry servants to help receive the donated items.

Jesus calls us to recognize the pull of financial gravity in our lives so we can break free and enter the kingdom of God.  As the introduction to the song plays, consider the gravitational forces in your life.  Are you pulled toward the kingdom of self or the Kingdom of God?  Seek Christ’s power to reorder your life.

Let us pray:  God, you are the Giver of every good and perfect gift, and you have blessed us all with abundance in our lives.  But sometimes we allow the blessing of possessions and finances to hold us and pull us away from you. Open our eyes to the subtlety of their gravity, and by your Holy Spirit, free us that we might live in the gravity of your Kingdom instead.  Through Christ we pray. Amen.

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