21st Sunday after Pentecost - Mark 10:23-31 - October 17/18, 2015
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Now, remember, last week we had the rich, young man who was so eager to please Jesus - oh, Jesus I want to follow you. At least he was eager until Jesus said he should give all his stuff away to the poor. Then, he goes away sorrowful, for he was very rich. But he missed the point. The point of the Christian faith, it's goal, is not to get earthly treasure - in fact, we confess that all this earthly stuff is just dross that will fade away. Rather, we are looking forward to the resurrection of the body, the life of the world to come. This poor rich guy couldn't see that yet, and he walks away sorrowful. And as he walks away, our Gospel lesson today begins: "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 this is the point where sadly, all too often, we just sort of shrug our shoulders. Eh. Okay, well, that's... something, I guess. But it's got nothing to do with me, not my circus, not my monkeys. Maybe Donald Trump or Bill Gates ought to be worried. I mean really, how many of us squirmed when we heard this text? Because there are texts that make us squirm - and this one, boy did it make the disciples squirm: "And the disciples were amazed at His words." It made the disciples drop their jaws in utter amazement. What in tarnation are you saying, Jesus? Because this statement shocked the disciples to their core. Because, in their hearts they knew and expected that good service to God would mean earthly power and glory, especially when Jesus set up His earthly kingdom and showed those ungodly Romans who was Boss. As evidence of this - a few verses after our lesson, Mark 10:37 (which we'll skip over next week for some reason) - James and John ask Jesus, "Grant us to sit, one at Your right hand and one at Your left hand, in Your glory." When we get to Jerusalem, and you run things, we want positions 2 and 3 behind you, because we've earned it -- unlike Peter or the 9 who couldn't cast out that demon a few weeks ago, we haven't messed up - we should get top billing... and power, and riches. And they ask this even after Jesus says, twice, how hard it will be for the folks having wealth to enter the kingdom of heaven. Even after hearing the whole "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" - they still ask for earthly power and might and wealth. Doesn't it seem shocking? That they would be so brazen?
No... it doesn't. Because we are just as bold and brazen as they are. Here's the hinge of this text for us - we Americans are the rich. We are. We're not in some 3rd world hovel. We have stuff in spades. How many of you in this room have a legitimate worry that you will starve to death this winter? Or are down to two sets of clothing and they are starting to wear out fast? See, the problem is, while we are rich, we live in the land of the Super rich - so we compare ourselves to them... naw, I'm not rich. Yet let me ask the question - how often does money or wealth influence and shape your decisions and thinking rather than what God in His Word has said is good and right? Well, I know I probably should give a good offering to the church... but you know, there's that new doodad that's coming out...? Well, I could stand to help out that poor guy over there... but my kids want one of those doohickeys, so I better look out for them... besides, if they are poor, it's probably their own fault! Why should I reward them, they'll probably just blow it on booze or drugs because they are bad poor people and I'm a good little Christian... and there it is. How often in our minds, in the back of our heads do we equate being a good Christian, being a good person, with wealth? If I work hard - I should have money. If I am smart - I should have money. If I keep my nose clean - I should have money. And if someone has more than me - then they are more successful than I am... think on that - we measure success in dollars - not in terms of virtue, or kindness, or goodness, but in dollars. That's how we keep score. We are the rich.
"Children, how difficult it is to enter the Kingdom of God! 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." We know this verse - we smile and nod. Yet how often does wealth and money sit at the back of our head, like a seductive tyrant, ready to shape the way we look at everything? How often even in the Church even does money become an issue, a point of contention and even anger? At least the disciples are more honest when they are astonished at this, when they wonder, "Then who can be saved?" Jesus, we know the way the world works - everyone wants more stuff. Everyone wants more money. There's not a single one of us in here who, if our income were suddenly cut in half, wouldn't be complaining up a blue streak. I mean, we can get angry if we get passed over for a raise, or if Social Security doesn't give us a cost-of-living bump.... And yet, how often does Christ teach us to be content with whatever we have -- there's a reason He has us pray for Daily Bread, daily necessities, not more stuff. There's a reason He points to the lilies of the field or the Birds of the air. If love of money is a sin, is a root of all sorts of evil - who then, Lord, can be saved?
"Jesus looked at them and said, 'With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.'" You want a sign of how corrupted we are by greed? How often have you heard people use that phrase "for all things are possible with God" tied not to salvation, but to their big awesome plan for more stuff? Do you see - it really is impossible for man. Yet there's the wondrous truth - the One who says this to you is no mere Man, but He is True God and True Man, even Christ Jesus the Lord. Christ Jesus had no love of money, no idolatry of wealth. He never butters up the rich and powerful; instead He turns over the moneychangers' tables. He doesn't worry about keeping up with the Joneses - foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to rest His head. So be it - for He came to this earth not seeking His own wealth, His own leisure, but He came seeking to win you salvation with His death and resurrection upon the Cross. It is always, always about what Christ Jesus does for you.
And yet, in the back of our mind, we still want to think in terms of power and wealth - if I do good, God will pat me on the head and give me stuff. Here's Peter piping up - "Peter began to say to Him, 'See, we have left everything and followed you.'" Peter began. Did you catch that? Peter starts up with the same old song and dance, what a good boy am I! And Jesus cuts Peter off - "Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for My sake and for the Gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life." Did you catch it? At first it sounds like a nice little reward - I do something nice for God and I get rewarded a hundredfold in this life... awesome. Um... wait... did you say with persecutions? Persecutions?
What Jesus here is describing is the reality of the Christian life in this fallen world. There is a cost to discipleship. If you are a Christian, you are going to tick people off. Friends will mock and revile you. You will end up passing up on various opportunities because you know that they are wrong. Doing the things you are called to do as a Christian in this world will bring you earthly hardship and sorrow. Yet even in that sorrow, you do have brothers and sisters a hundredfold - I'm an only child, yet how many of my brothers and sisters in Christ do I see sitting in front of me right now? If I go on vacation, how many different houses of God could I enter and be welcomed as a brother in Christ - more than hundreds, thousands. This is the reality - you have been called by God into His Kingdom, into His Church. And this is a place where things are not focused upon what you do, what you have done. No - here we are all forgiven sinners, all washed in the Blood of the Lamb, all Baptized into Christ. Here we approach the Lord's Altar and enter into Holy Communion - and not just Communion with God... but Communion with one another... and when I say one another I don't just mean the folks you can turn around and see right now - I mean the one another of all time and all places, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. These things are impossible for us to wrap our minds around, but God has made them not merely possible but the truth, the reality. Your life is more than just the rat race you see out there - you have been redeemed and purchased by Christ for life everlasting. You are God's own precious children - Jesus Himself left His house, He let His brothers and mother think He was nuts, He forsook gathering children and lands - so that He would have you as His brother, His sister, in His house, in His Kingdom for all eternity.
"But many who are first will be last, and the last first." My dear friends, indeed, my brothers and sisters in Christ, who are mine for all eternity - as you go on your way this week, beware of that greed, that desire for money that clings to your sinful flesh. It seeks to dominate you, to twist you, to make your life miserable. Rather, remember this - you are more than your bank account, you are more than your stuff. You are something utterly wonderful - a redeemed child of God - and this is not based upon what you have done. This is not like the fallen world where your value is based upon what you do... no, though you are indeed a miserable sinner, the last, the lowest - Christ Jesus has come, and He has suffered and died for you, He has risen for you, He has sacrificed all to claim you as His own, and He makes you to be first in Him for all eternity. You have in Christ wonders and blessings our sinful minds can't even wrap our heads around. When temptation comes and weighs heavy upon you, especially fears about stuff, or lack of success or any of that junk - you are Baptized, Christ Jesus has brought you into His Kingdom; you belong to Christ for eternity, a co-heir with Christ Jesus, the Prince of Peace, and you shall delight in His good reign for you in His kingdom for all eternity. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.