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Sermon for Pentecost 20

Sunday 21 Oct 2012

Sermon on Mark 10:23-31

Note: A version of this sermon was submitted to the sermon archive at Goettingen University.

Click here for mp3 audio 52 Sermon for Pent 20.mp3

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The text for the sermon this morning is the Gospel reading appointed for today from Mark chapter 10.

Probably the first thing we have to recognize it that our reading today is a continuation of the reading from last week’s Gospel, Jesus and the rich man.  What Jesus is teaching this week is based on that interaction last week.  So, if you weren’t here last week, let me catch you up.  “And as [Jesus] was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him,

“Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’ ” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Mk 10:17-22, ESV)

It’s easy to see how what Jesus says this week comes right after than interaction with the rich ruler.

“And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”   And Mark tells us that the disciples were amazed at what Jesus was saying.  And to emphasize the point Mark tells us Jesus repeats what said.  “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God!”  And then he adds the probably very familiar saying: “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.”  Jesus is speaking in a rather overstated way here.  He does not mean to say that rich people don’t get into heaven.  And yet at the same time Jesus is speaking truthfully about something we have all experienced at one level or another, the power that money can buy.  Money may not be able to buy true happiness, but the truth is it can get pretty close and for most people, its close enough.  My son and I went camping last weekend.  This is the second year we’ve gone to this scout event.  Last year we stayed in a borrowed tent that was so drafty we might well have slept outside.  We were miserably cold all night long.  This year I spent a little money and bought a tent and a new sleeping bag and we were warm and comfortable all night long.  We both enjoyed both trips.  And there’s nothing like a little shared suffering to draw two people together, but I would not go back next year without our good tent.  Money can’t buy a good relationship between father and son but it can buy some comfort to provide for that relationship to foster.  This is point from a single story the next is the same point as evidenced by a study.

It was about this time last year that a study was released that proved money can buy happiness, at least up to a point.  People’s emotional well-being, that is what researchers call happiness, increases along a spectrum correlated with income up to about $75,000.[1]  Folks making less than that reported significantly less emotional well-being.  Folks making more than that didn’t report all that much more happiness.  Now of course, we’re talking about happiness and maybe that’s muddying the waters a little.  Jesus is certainly not a guru teaching about finding enlightenment or inner peace or perfect happiness.  Jesus came teaching about the kingdom of God and the rich man who came to Jesus wanted to be sure to inherit eternal life in the kingdom of God.  But the same thing that stands in the way of finding happiness in this life is the same thing that stands in the way of inheriting eternal life in the next.  The reason why people find a greater measure of emotional well-being when they have some worldly means is that they are in greater control over their environment.  Greater control means less stress and less stress means more happiness.  When you’re not stressed out over how to pay the heat bill, life is more enjoyable.  But let’s get to the root of the matter.  From where do the earthly means come?  The answer to this question gets to the heart of Jesus’ interaction with the rich man.

We are told that the rich man had great wealth.  Very rare is the one who realizes the wealth he has, he has because of blessing, unmerited grace, or as the catechism puts it, completely “out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.”  (SC 2)  We are far more inclined to believe that we have what we have because we worked for it, we earned it, and therefore we deserve the blessings we have.  Yes, there are some lazy people who expect a handout but there are far more people who work and work hard and yet do not seem to find the same relative success in this world for their labor as others do.  This is life in the kingdom of this world.  The way this life works is just second nature to a man like the rich man who approached Jesus.  He wanted to know what he needed to do to inherit eternal life.  As anyone who has inherited anything knows, you don’t do anything to inherit something.  In fact there is nothing one can do to inherit anything.  An inheritance is just that, nothing but given to the recipient.  A rich man who truly believes he has earned everything in his life will never understand that.

Jesus said, “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.” 26 And they were exceedingly astonished.  When we hear such a saying coming from the mouth of Jesus we are inclined to just chalk it up to hyperbole, to overstatement for the sake of effect.  We especially think this way when we realize just how rich truly we are.  But then we do something awful.  We ascribe it to extremism and modify it and in a sense nullify it so that it loses the prophetic punch Jesus intended.  We say, “Jesus is just speaking for effect here.  He doesn’t really mean we should sell all our things or not be wealthy, he means that we should acknowledge that all we have comes from God.”  Okay, but that’s just step one.  Step two is actually helping other people with the blessings God, your heavenly Father, has given you so that through you, He blesses others.

In our country today, we have a conception of the faith that makes Christianity something one does to get their life in order and to be a better, more spiritual person and at the end of such a life we get to go to heaven.  Unfortunately that idea has little foundation in the Bible.  Instead Jesus is preaching something far more profound, the coming kingdom of God.  It is not defined in modern national identities but rather in the ordinary people all over the world who hear the Word of God and keep it.

Every once in a while a story makes the news about someone who sacrifices himself for the sake of another.  One such story came this year from the Ohio state finals track meet where Meghan Vogel came in last place in the 3,200-meter race because she helped one of her opponents, sophomore Arden McMath.  Mc Math had collapsed in front of Vogel and it was obvious that McMath couldn’t finish and so Vogel the other girl to the finish line despite facing disqualification.[2]  Stories like this appeal to us because they appeal to the truth Jesus taught about the last being first in the kingdom.  The kingdom of God is among those who know every meal on their table comes from the Lord’s table.  Every stich of clothing comes from the mill of the Lord’s hand.  Every roof is ultimately an extension of the Lord’s own home where He provides shelter from the storm and protection from dangers of the night.  The kingdom of God is among those who are the last in this world and who shall be first in the kingdom of God.  Any person who thinks all he has comes by his own hand is indeed first in this world and shall be last in the kingdom to come.

This is not overstated.  It is God’s own truth.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

 

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