Sermon ~ Letting Go

The Reading is from Matthew 19:16-26

At that time, a young man came up to Jesus, kneeling and saying, “Good Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you call me good? One there is who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which?” And Jesus said, “You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have observed; what do I still lack?” 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.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.

And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, it will be hard for a rich man 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 a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

A person accidentally slipped and fell off a cliff. On the way down he grabbed hold of the branch of a tree and remained suspended there. He started praying as he had never prayed before: “Lord, save me! Lord, Lord!”

Suddenly the Lord answered, “Yes?” the man pleaded, “save me, Lord!”

“Have you attended Church?” asked the Lord.

“Yes, I did whenever I could, but I promise never to miss if you will save me.”

“Have you kept the ten commandments?”

“Yes, as much as I could. I promise to obey them to the letter if you will save me.”

“Have you said your prayers every day?”

“Yes, Lord, but just get me off the side of his cliff and I’ll be the best praying man in the world.”

“Have you given generously to the work of my Church?

“Yes, I think I have, but I’ll give even more generously in the future. Just get me off the side of this cliff.”

“Do you trust me?”

“Yes, Lord, of course I trust you – completely.”

“Then let go of the branch.”

How many of us would let go?

We have been talking over the last few weeks about increasing our spiritual life and the prescription, if you will, for doing just that letting go.  I like to use the image of the room where we keep all of those things that hurt us or have hurt is over the years.  We lock them up tight where no one can see them, and we don’t have to deal with them.  We walk by that room each, and every day but we keep right on walking. But are we willing to let go?

The Gospel today is one of the most misunderstood and dare I say misused Gospel passage.  This is not the Gospel of redistribution of wealth.  This is not the Gospel of Jesus hates rich people.  No this is the Gospel about letting go.  Letting go of those things that keep us from true worship that keep us from true discipleship that keeps us from truly following the Son of God!

At the start of the story, we do not know anything of this man other than he is a seeker.  He has come to hear what Jesus has to say because he is interested.  Maybe he has heard something from a friend of his that there is a new preacher in town, and you just have to hear what he is saying.  Maybe he has heard of miracles, and he wants to see one, who knows what brought him to Jesus on this day.

He asks Jesus what he has to do to enter eternal life.  Jesus asks him if he has obeyed the commandments, and the man answers “Which?”  I can just see Jesus, “Which?”  Faith is not a buffet, we have to accept and follow them all, we don’t get to pick and choose.  Then just to be sure, Jesus lists them.

Don’t Kill
Don’t commit adultery
Don’t steal
Don’t bear false witness
Honor your father and mother
Love your neighbor as yourself

The man responds, I have done all of this, what do I still lack?  In this instance, he opens himself up and asks the crucial question.  He is saying I have followed all of the rules, I follow the commandments, I fast like no one else (and I like to tell people about it) I come to church every Sunday, I cross myself right, I wear the right clothes, I make my tithe, I do all of this, what do I still lack, as if I could lack anything.  And Jesus asks him, to you trust me?

But hold on, I just checked the text that is not what he said, Jesus told the man to go and sell all he had and give it to the poor.  The man was rich, and Jesus said to sell everything, Jesus hates rich people!

For the man in the story, all of his possession were like the branch the man was holding on to who fell off the cliff.  His possessions were like those things in that room we don’t want to talk about.  His possession was like his pride that keeps us from forgiving someone who hurt us 20 years ago.  His possessions are like thinking we know better than God when we choose what things to follow, and the ones not to follow.  His possessions are what is holding him back!

Jesus knew this about the man.  He knew that this is what was holding him back.  It could have been something basic like, go and put that food in the fridge and follow me, but for this man, at this point, it was his riches.  We have to remember that Scripture was written at a particular time for a particular people.  Yes it applies to us today, but the challenge is we have to consider that meaning , and sometimes it is hidden or not as straightforward as we may like to think it is.  Jesus said to the man, “go and take care of whatever it is that is keeping you from truly following me.  Take care of that, then come and follow me.”

When the young man came to Jesus seeking answers to his questions, Jesus knew what was holding him back.  Jesus knew that the man was a slave to his possessions, and that is why He told him to go and sell all that he had, to free him from his slavery.  As Jesus watched the man walk away, he said that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.

What Jesus is saying here is that the man had made a god out of his possessions, and it had enslaved him, and it was going to be extraordinarily difficult to let them go.  We never hear of this man again so we have to assume that he could not do what Jesus told him.  We have to assume that he continued his life as it was before.

How many of us want what Christ has to offer us?  How many of us want that peace, assurance of eternal life, and the forgiveness that come with being a follower of Him.  How many of us want this but don’t want to let go of our false gods, our hurts, our sins, the things that keep us back.  How many of us, like the man who fell off the cliff, place conditions on our faith, Lord if you save me I will believe!

We are being asked today, “Do you trust me?”

We respond, “Yes Lord, we trust you.”

“Then let go. Let go of the demons, let go of the death that is within you.”

In prayer, our response needs to be, “Lord, I let go trusting that You will bring me back to life.”


  1. i like to think the man in this story went away and thought about what was told him and made some changes in his life..maybe when situations arouse,he thought of what was said and slowly did what Jesus told him.maybe a seed was planted in his mind that slowly grew in his heart.change is hard and always happens slowly..most people who change to quickly do not stay with it.they crash and burn because the change is superfical.

  2. Father Peter’s quote “Then let go. Let go of the demons, let go of the death that is within you” makes me think of the Orthodox Christian theme I’ve heard many times before, “to live for Christ is to die to ourselves.”

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