Summary: God will give us the strength and desire to let go of the things that hinder us from serving Him. If we follow Him, He will bless us spiritually. In order to be first with God, we have to be last in the eyes of the world.
Let's take a walk down memory lane for a moment. Some of you, especially the older members of this congregation, may remember a famous comedian named Flip Wilson. He had a weekly TV comedy show back in the 70s, and one of his favorite characters was a preacher named Brother Leroy.
In one skit, Brother Leroy was leading services one Sunday morning. It wasn't going very well. People weren't very responsive. It came time to receive the offering and so Brother Leroy passed the collection plates. They came back empty. So he passed them again. Same thing. Empty. Brother Leroy then went before the people and said, "Now, I know that you all want this church to progress. This church must progress." No response from the congregation. Brother Leroy shouted a bit louder: "Now, before this church can progress it has to crawl, this church has got to crawl." And the congregation started getting excited and they yelled back, "Make it crawl, Reverend. Make it crawl!" Brother Leroy continued, "After this church has crawled, it's got to pick itself up and start to walk, this church has got to walk!" And the people yelled back at him, "Make it walk, Reverend. Make it walk!" "And after this church has walked, this church has got to get up and run, this church has got to run." And the people were worked up into a terrible frenzy, and they hollered back: "Make it run, Reverend. Make it run!" And then Brother Leroy said, "Now, brothers and sisters, in order for this church to run, it’s gonna need money, it’s gonna take money for this church to run!" And the people yelled back, "Let it crawl, Reverend. Let it crawl!"
The congregation in this story has something in common with the rich young ruler in tonight’s Gospel reading. Both of them were asked to give up something that meant a lot to them in order to gain something more important, and both of them were reluctant to give up that one thing that was important to them. A similar situation exists with many people today. Those who have abundance in this world sometimes find that their abundance is a roadblock on the road to salvation. They are not always prepared to suffer for Christ when and if it is necessary. The rich young man was not prepared to do that. He was like many of us in that he wanted the benefits, but he didn't want to pay the costs. In other words, he wanted something for nothing.
Sometimes giving something up is our choice, and sometimes God forces us to give something up. The rich young man wasn't prepared to give up what he had for the sake of Christ. How many of us are in the same situation today? How many of us are willing to give up what we have in order to follow Christ? For example, when we give our offerings, are we giving because we want to, or because we feel that we HAVE to? Do we give willingly, or do we give grudgingly? Do we tithe regularly? Failure to tithe is the same as robbing God. Spiritual life is not a matter of bookkeeping.
Most of the time, fasting for Lent involves food. In modern times, other forms of fasting have emerged. For example, many younger followers are giving up things such as Facebook or text messaging. By doing so, they are showing that we do not have to be slaves to things. It allows us to get back in control of our lives.
Someone once said that “Subtraction plus addition equals multiplication”. During this season of Lent, Christ calls us to give up more than just things. We are also called to give up habits or traditions that keep us from following him. He calls us to give up traditions, habits or ways of thinking that keep us from fulfilling His will or following Him in faith, or that interfere with our relationship with him. For example, is it REALLY necessary to have Eucharist on special occasions like Christmas or Thanksgiving? Does that “tradition” bring us closer to God, or is it just a “thing’ that we don’t want to give up? When we give up something, we must add something to our spiritual routine, whether it is more involvement with the church, more time spent in studying the Bible, or more time in private prayer.
By giving up things in this life, and following Christ in faith, we will gain MUCH more in heaven. Sure, by following Christ we will have to pay a price. We may lose our friends, our families or our jobs. In some parts of the world, Christians can lose their lives for their faith. These are just “things” that we give up when we suffer short-term pain by following Christ, but this short-term pain leads to long-term gain-namely, eternal life in heaven. We might lose our earthly family and friends, but we will gain a NEW family of fellow believers. This ultimate reward is much, much greater than the pain we have to suffer in this life.