Saturday, October 10, 2015

20th Sunday after Pentecost

20th Weekend after Pentecost - Mark 10:17-22 - October 10/11, 2015

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Our Gospel lesson begins with a few subtle words that give color and shape to the rest of our lesson, something we might miss. "As [Jesus] was setting out on His journey...". His journey? What journey is Christ on? This is fantastic - He's journeying to Jerusalem. He's headed to the Cross. Last week we heard He reentered Judea; two weeks from now we will see Him in Jericho. So Mark reminds us of this wondrous little point - even while Jesus is having the conversation with the fellow here (who is often called "the rich young man"), Jesus is thinking about His own death and resurrection for this young man, for us. So, let's look at this text, but just keep in the back of your mind Christ's death and resurrection - because I'm sure we'll get back to that before the sermon is over.

"A man ran up and knelt before Him and asked Him, 'Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?'" What a strange question. What does a person do in order to inherit anything? I mean, if I inherit something, it's not that I *did* anything... it's that someone who loves me died and left me stuff. I mean, I shouldn't be doing anything to inherit - I certainly shouldn't be making someone die so that I can get their stuff. This is why the younger son in the parable of the Prodigal was so heinous - dad, give me half of your estate now; I wish you were dead already and I had your stuff now. But the guy who asks this of Jesus is nice and zealous, seems eager to work, eager to please. And that's what Jesus calls him on.

"And Jesus said to him, 'Why do you call Me good? No one is good but God alone.'" So, fella, are you thinking getting eternal life is going to be based upon what you do, upon how good you are? Well, guess what? If it is - you are in trouble, because no one is good except for God. Now, you happen to be in luck, because Jesus is God, and He is good... but that's not really what the rich fellow is saying, is confessing yet. He was right to call Jesus good, but he didn't know what he was saying. He wasn't confessing Jesus as the Christ - he was just buttering Him up a bit. And so Jesus continues: "You know the commandments: Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, dot not defraud, honor your father and mother." You see guy, if you are going to ask a question about what you should do, it's always going to drive back to the commandments. And I'll let you guys in on a secret - if you ever ask me what you should do, I'm going to point you back to the commandments, possibly even with their meanings from the Catechism. That's not just for kids - that's for all of us, they should be shaping and informing what all of us do.

And this fellow talking to Jesus, he paid attention to his own catechism lessons back in the day. "Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth." This is a translation that just sounds bad in English - it sounds arrogant. His answer wasn't. That word that we translate as "keep" is "ephulaxamen" -- a phulax is a guard, a watchman. He's not sauntering up to Jesus and saying, "I'm the bee's knees, Jesus" - he's saying, "I've paid attention to the commandments since I was little." What he says here is no more arrogant than if one of you were to say, "Yeah, I remember Pastor Royer teaching me the commandments; in fact I keep wanting to say 'thou shall' instead of 'you will.'" And the fellow learns - just calls Jesus teacher this time. Teacher didn't like the "good" added on, I'll not use it. He's an attentive, sincere fellow.

"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.'" If you ask about what you should do, there's always more to do. So here it is: if you wish to follow Jesus where He is going, sell your stuff and go. Because Jesus loves the kid; he's just a great little devout boy. You can come along. Yet - "Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions." Now, this will actually be what we discuss in detail next Sunday, because Jesus will springboard off of this onto a larger discussion about wealth and greed and power - but Jesus found the sticky point, didn't He? Stuff. And it's a sticky point for us in America too - that idea that if we are good, devout little Christian boys and girls we should get more stuff - that Jesus should come sweeping in like an even more awesome Santa Claus and give us presents not just once a year but all the time? Not what it's about, kid. If you will follow Christ Jesus, it's not about how much stuff you have.

Make sense - all on the same page? Now, we're going to look at the story again. And why? "As [Jesus] was setting out on His journey." Too often we will look at this text in a vaccuum; we'll look at it just as a little story about morality and maybe even finger wagging - you are nice people but you ought give more to the poor... coughcoughcoughorOFFERINGcoughcoughcough. It's not primarily a money drive guilt trip text, or even at text looking at the depth of God's Law - the law here is simple, basic, from your youth sort of stuff. No - this text is about Jesus' death and resurrection. Listen.

"As [Jesus] was setting out on his journey, a man ran and knelt before Him and asked Him, 'Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?'" Oh fellow, it's not what you do. It's what Jesus is going to do, it's what He is journeying to do now. There's going to be an inheritance coming to you guy, but it's not about what you do. Christ will go to the Cross. And if you want to know about the inheritance He leaves you... "Drink of it all of you; this cup is the new..." New what? New testament... as in Last will and testament, as this is that which I leave to you as an inheritance, so that you receive the forgiveness of sins; and with that the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. This is what Jesus is on His way to do when the kid asks Him this question - to establish the Supper, to go to the Cross, to die and rise precisely so that this kid can have eternal life.

And then Jesus asks, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone." Oh, kid - don't ask a law question. Don't ask a question about what you have to do, because you aren't God. You're a fallen, sinful human being, and you are going to fall short. But I am in fact God, and I have come to do good in your stead. I have come to not only truly do all these commandments, but I've come to fulfill them. Because the law always has a demand. It's do this, or you die. I come to fulfill the law; I come to die for you. Of course I come to die for you, for I love you. I come to rise for you, for I love you. Jesus isn't whistling Dixie when He says that He loves the fellow - Jesus truly does.

And there's one more bit of death and resurrection in the text. Jesus is on His way to the Cross - "Go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." It's funny, kid, that you brought up inheritance. What happens when you die? All that you had in this world, you give up... you don't get to take it with you. And it all gets handed out, distributed to others... and you get to see the treasures of heaven. You get to see the treasures of heaven because Christ Jesus opens the gates of Heaven to all believers. Might as well just be bold with your life and follow Christ.

Dear friends in Christ - when St. Paul says that He is determined to know nothing among us except Christ and Him crucified, this is what He's driving at. Everything in your life, in reality, is shaped by the death and resurrection of Christ the Crucified. The truth is you've already died - you were buried with Christ in Holy Baptism, washed and joined to Him. Your life is not an attempt to earn or win God's favor and eternal life. You already have it; Christ has won it for you already. Your life is not an attempt to gather and more and more stuff. You've already died - you're a living sacrifice, living out your own last will and testament; your life now is basically just distributing your stuff to your neighbors even now... we could call that stewardship, we could consider the Father in the parable of the Prodigal who does in fact give his stuff to his son before he actually dies (but again, that's another Sunday). But your life isn't about your stuff, the size of your bank account. Nope - you just are here caring for your neighbors in their bodies and proclaiming the wonders of Christ for the benefit of their soul, and even that just for a brief time - that's the reality, that's the truth of it.

Sin will try to tell you otherwise. The man in the text was sorrowful, why? Because he had lots of stuff, he thought stuff was the point. This is what Hebrews would call the "deceitfulness of sin." Sin tries to wrest our eyes of off Christ and the eternal life that is our now, and rather make us focus on stuff, junk, things of this life. No - the truth, the great truth is this. Christ Jesus went on His journey to the Cross; and you do follow Him. He has joined you to Himself in Holy Baptism. He has given you eternal life; life you have now, life you shall see in full later. Until then, rejoice, be at peace, and know that Christ Jesus has died and risen, so you are forgiven and have life in Him. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

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