First Congregational Church
(United Church of Christ)
Greg Briggs,
Interim Pastor

101 State Street
Charlevoix, MI 49720

Sermon ~ October 14, 2018 ~ Pastor Greg Briggs

“Too bad we aren’t literalists…” or “sitting-with instead of explaining-away”

10/14/18 by Pastor Greg Briggs

  1. Prayer and Introduction
    1. “May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, our rock and redeemer. Amen”
    2. “Too bad we aren’t literalists…” or “sitting-with instead of explaining-away”
  2. Interesting lectionary scriptures for stewardship season
    1. Job – lamenting God abandoning him
    2. Jesus – saying hard things about money
      1. Give more, or scare people away?
    3. Glad you have the offering before the scriptures here.
  3. Last week’s sermon title and topic – why I’m glad we aren’t Biblical literalists and prooftexters
    1. Talked about how Job was afflicted, and Jesus talked about why divorce should be illegal.
      1. We talked about how the set up for Job’s story was to eliminate any doubt that he was a truly a man of integrity – not that God will just smite us for sport or gambling
      2. We talked about how Jesus forbidding divorce was a measure to protect the women, and the asking for divorce was to highlight the selfish and hard hearts of the men who didn’t consider the consequences of divorce for anyone but themselves – now a days, divorce is a safer option for many people, especially but not exclusively women, to escape from abuse
  • We also talked about how Jesus focused on two spirits becoming one, and that we should not separate what God brought together.
  1. So, we shouldn’t take a single phrase from the Bible literally, but we should take these stories very seriously. This is to be in covenant
  1. Yet, this passage from John so many supposedly “Biblical literalist” preachers and listeners go out of their way to avoid any sort of literal interpretation
    1. It’s not all rich people, just this guy’s problem
    2. It’s a spiritual allusion
  • Need to demonstrate willingness, not actually do it.
    1. Like Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac
  1. Explanations of the whole camel and eye of needle pun
    1. Eye of needle being a narrow gate into the city – difficult, but not impossible
  2. And many not Biblical literalists also seek to neuter these assertions, too


  1. Question asked and responded to in love not confrontation
    1. A big difference between last week’s question and this weeks
    2. Not the pharisses trying to trip Jesus up, but a genuine question from a seeker
    3. Jesus’ dialogue with the man
      1. Look at the commandments
        1. One added that’s not in the 10
      2. Jesus’ response “Jesus looked at him carefully and loved him”
      3. Apostles followed up later, and Jesus said the same thing
      4. Then who can be saved? No one
        1. With God, all things are possible
      5. Then Jesus emphasizes the sacrifice the disciples have made, leaving family, parents, behind for the sake of the good news
      6. Will gain 100 fold
    4. Why so scary?
      1. Challenges so many of the assumptions we have, both back then, and now in our American capitalist society where we treasure the idea that we are get a fair and equal chance to make a go of it. Pull us up by our bootstraps
      2. So, what if this passage is literally true?
    5. Psychology of Money
      1. TEDx talk – Psychologist Paul Piff, does money make you mean?
        1. Rigged game of Monopoly – over 100 pairs of strangers, flip of a coin to determine who gets advantage
          1. 2x money, got twice as much money for passing go, and got to roll two dice to move around the board
          2. Watched for 15 minutes
          3. They knew it was rigged
        2. Noticeable differences rich player
          1. Moved around board louder
          2. More likely to see signs of dominance and power
          3. Bowl of pretzels – consumption rate – rich ate more
          4. Became ruder to other player
          5. At the end, rich players attributed their success what they’d done, and earned their successes, not the flip of the coin that got them into that position first
  • Compassion and empathy decrease with rise in wealth, with increase in self interest and entitlement go up.
    1. Richer more likely to moralize their behavior – greed is good – the pursuit of self interest is favorable and moral
  1. UC Berkley – How Money Changes the Way You Think and Feel
    1. More money, less empathy
    2. Wealth can cloud moral judgement
  • Wealth has been linked with addiction
  1. Money itself can become addictive
  2. Wealthy children may be more troubled
  3. We tend to perceive the wealthy as “evil”
  • Money can’t buy happiness or love
    1. After basic needs are cared for 50k to 75k a year.
  1. Create moral justification for their success and behavior.
  1. Anxiety
    1. The flipside of this, is the increased fear, or anxiety, of losing what one has
    2. Not just about the money or not, but also the mindset
      1. Americans all act like we are soon to be millionaires
    3. Myth of the zero sum game
      1. Not an economist, but one of the fundamentals of money is, the more you keep it moving, the more wealth it creates.
    4. Same challenges today
      1. Richest political cabinet in history, richest congress in history
        1. Increasing disregard, distain, and hostility for anyone who disagrees with them
        2. NOT following the commandments discussed
      2. Could go on for a long time
    5. Job and the Anonymous rich man
      1. Contrast with Job
      2. Not taken literally, but taken seriously
      3. Don’t spiritualize poverty
      4. Not impossible – but requires focus and effort
        1. Regular reminders of compassion and empathy – need for church
      5. Despair of Job – loss of privileged blinders
        1. Wealth, sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism,
        2. You will see how easy you’ve had it, and how hard it’s been for others
      6. Call to make the faith the central focus of our life, over ALL else
        1. Reversing the social order
        2. Start in small ways, but continue to grow


Job 23:1-9, 16-17

23 Job answered:

Today my complaint is again bitter;
    my strength is weighed down because of my groaning.
Oh, that I could know how to find God—
    come to his dwelling place;
    I would lay out my case before God,
        fill my mouth with arguments,
    know the words with which he would answer,
        understand what he would say to me.
Would God contend with me through brute force?
    No, he would surely listen to me.
There those who do the right thing can argue with God;
    I could escape from my judge forever.

Look, I go east; he’s not there,
    west, and don’t discover him;
    north in his activity, and I don’t grasp him;
    he turns south, and I don’t see.

16 God has weakened my mind;
    the Almighty has frightened me.
17 Still I’m not annihilated by darkness;
    he has hidden deep darkness from me.


Mark 10:17-31

17 As Jesus continued down the road, a man ran up, knelt before him, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to obtain eternal life?”

18 Jesus replied, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except the one God. 19  You know the commandments: Don’t commit murder. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t steal. Don’t give false testimony. Don’t cheat. Honor your father and mother.”[a]

20 “Teacher,” he responded, “I’ve kept all of these things since I was a boy.”

21 Jesus looked at him carefully and loved him. He said, “You are lacking one thing. Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.” 22 But the man was dismayed at this statement and went away saddened, because he had many possessions.

23 Looking around, Jesus said to his disciples, “It will be very hard for the wealthy to enter God’s kingdom!” 24 His words startled the disciples, so Jesus told them again, “Children, it’s difficult to enter God’s kingdom! 25  It’s easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom.”

26 They were shocked even more and said to each other, “Then who can be saved?”

27 Jesus looked at them carefully and said, “It’s impossible with human beings, but not with God. All things are possible for God.”

28 Peter said to him, “Look, we’ve left everything and followed you.”

29 Jesus said, “I assure you that anyone who has left house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, or farms because of me and because of the good news 30  will receive one hundred times as much now in this life—houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and farms (with harassment)—and in the coming age, eternal life. 31  But many who are first will be last. And many who are last will be first.”

Listen to the audio version of Pastor Greg’s Sermon below:

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