Sunday, October 21, 2012

Sermon for the 21st Sunday after Pentecost (October 21, 2012)

Wordle: Untitled

Text: Mark 10:23-31

            Are you rich?  You probably don’t think you are.  Your house and your bank account are certainly nothing like what Bill Gates has.
            Compared to the very rich, of course you will look like a pauper.  But compared to the very poor, you look like Solomon in all his splendor.  Depending on what your source is, average household income in the United States is somewhere between $47,000 and $50,000.  If we take the larger figure, that works out to about $137 a day.  Compare that to some of the poorest countries in the world … Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ethiopia, and Haiti, among others.  According to a United Nations report, more than half of the populations of those countries make $1 a day or less.
Yes, we are rich.  And that presents a problem.  Jesus says it will be hard for us to enter the kingdom of God.
This statement by our Lord comes on the heels of an encounter with a rich young man.  Jesus looked into the man’s heart and saw that his riches were more important to him than his relationship to God.  When the young man self-righteously told Jesus that he had kept all the commandments, Jesus told 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” (Mark 10:21).  This was too much for this fellow.  He could not accept what Jesus was telling him.  He was not willing to see how his money and his possessions were the number one thing in his life.  And so, St. Mark tells us, he went away very sad.  Even more sad is the fact that he did not become a follower of Jesus.
            Like that young man, our money and our possessions are often more important than our relationship to God.  We hoard them for ourselves.  We neglect to share them with others.  We forget about the mission of the Church.  We give little.  The Bible tells us that our offerings should be our firstfruits.  For many of us, our offerings are our “lastfruits.”  It’s what we give if we have enough left over after paying the bills.  If we happen to have a buck or two in our wallet, then we drop in the plate a the last minute.  Our offering to the Lord is often not the first thing we think about when we get our paycheck.  Even for those of us who do give beyond our means, we have mixed motives.  We want to give cheerfully and willingly.  But our sinful nature thinks as we write our check, “Boy, there’s a lot of fun stuff I could do with this money instead of putting it in the plate.”  We have another god.  That god is our money.  We have broken the First Commandment.  We are idolaters.
            In chapter 21 of the Revelation to St. John, God says that idolaters will not be in heaven.  He lumps them in with quite a cast of characters:   “the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable … murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in lake that burns with fire and sulfur” (Rev. 21:8).  Those who are idolaters are bound for hell … an eternal, agonizing separation from God.
            Rich people entering into the kingdom of heaven … Jesus says it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.  Now that is an impossible task.
            “Then who can be saved?”  the disciples asked.  That must be our question, too.
If being saved were up to us, we would be in trouble.  “With man it is impossible,” Jesus said.  You know the rest of this.  Aren’t you glad that Jesus doesn’t leave us hanging?  “With man it is impossible, but not with God.  For all things are possible with God.”  All things are possible with God.  If God wanted to, he could make a camel go through the eye of a needle.  If God wanted to, he could save hell-bound idolaters.  And he DOES want to do this.  He did it in the death and resurrection of his Son.
            Jesus shows His care and concern over this matter:  he addresses his disciples as “children” … and by baptism you and I are God’s children, too.  Children need to be cared for and taught so that certain things will not harm them.  Don’t touch the hot stove.  Don’t cross the busy street.  Don’t talk to strangers.  Parents must warn children of the dangers in the world.  And our Lord Jesus warns us, God’s children, of the dangers of putting our money and possessions first in our life.  Through baptism and by faith we already are in the kingdom of God.  God has graciously made us to be part of his kingdom.  But we still need to be warned about the dangers of idolatry, because our sinful nature will look at our earthly riches, and our attention will be drawn away from Christ and His kingdom.
            Apart from Christ, it is impossible to enter the Kingdom of God.  He does not rule and reign in our hearts apart from faith in the Savior.  Apart from Christ, it is absolutely impossible to be a part of God’s family.
            We enter the kingdom of God through Jesus.  A camel cannot pass through the eye of a needle.  Likewise, you and I cannot enter the kingdom of God through our own efforts of trying to obey the commandments, like the rich young man thought he had done.  As St. Paul says in Romans, “by the works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight” (Rom. 3:20).  With man this is impossible.
But not with God.  All things are possible with God.  That includes saving and forgiving sinners like you and me.
We may not be able to pass through the eye of a needle, but we can enter into God’s kingdom through the door that he has provided.  That “door” is Jesus.  In John 10, Jesus compares God’s kingdom to a sheepfold, and he says, “I am the door of the sheep…if anyone enters by me, he will be saved and go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:7, 9).  We enter the “door” of God’s kingdom through Baptism, and we are washed clean of our sinful idolatry.  We enter the “door” of God’s kingdom when we hear and believe the Good News that Jesus took our place.
Out in the wilderness, Jesus was tempted by Satan with the “riches” of the world.  Satan took Jesus to a high mountain “and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory” and told Jesus, “All these things I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”  Jesus was tempted with the riches of this world, yet in our place he withstood and overcame Satan’s temptations.  We heard earlier in the Epistle lesson, “we have [a high priest] who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.”  And so, our sinless High Priest sacrificed himself for our sins.  In our place, he suffered and died an agonizing death on the cross, he felt the pains of hell, and he did this for us, taking the punishment for our idolatry.
Through faith in Christ Jesus, we have entered into God’s kingdom.  We are honored guests in his castle.  There is a place reserved for us at his table.  We are fed with the very body and blood of God himself.
            Peter said to Jesus, “We have left everything to follow you!”  Now that we have been forgiven for making idols out of our money and possessions, we, too, can leave everything behind.  The tight grip with which we once held our riches is loosened, and our attitude towards them is changed.  We can be content with what we already have, not coveting more and more.  We can use and enjoy the things that God has given us, keeping a proper perspective on them, with thanksgiving in our hearts.  And we can freely give of the riches that God has given us for the ongoing preaching of the Gospel and for the well-being of those who need our love and service.
            Jesus said, no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.  In other words, though you have forsaken all things for the sake of Christ and the Gospel, Jesus says that even in this life you will receive back a hundred times as much as what you lost.  This does not necessarily equate to material riches.  But think of the riches that you do gain when you enter God’s kingdom through the door of Jesus Christ.  You are baptized into a new family, and you enter into relationships that are far closer and dearer than any blood-relationships in this world.[1]  All the spiritual blessings that you receive—forgiveness of sins, peace of mind, joy in your heart, comfort, hope—these all outweigh any physical goods here on earth that only rust and rot and are reduced to ashes in the end.
            But then again, Jesus is very realistic for us, too.  He warns us that when we live this kind of life—a life that exists in him and that does not find its meaning in its earthly possessions—we will suffer persecution.  We will suffer persecution because the way of Jesus is the exact opposite of the way of the world.  The way of the world is to find meaning in your worldly wealth.  We are bombarded on all sides with advertisements to make you think that your life will be better if you buy this product that will make you look better, smell better, feel better, or have the knowledge you need to get-rich-quick.
            But Jesus promises so much more than that.  In spite of the trials and troubles that we may indeed encounter, Jesus promises us a full, abundant life here and now…but not only here and now.[2]  Jesus promises eternal life in the “age to come.”
            And so I ask you again, “Are you rich?”  Yes, we are rich.  We have been blessed with so much more money and possessions than other people around the globe.  But if we are clinging to these riches to the detriment of our relationship with God, then we are indeed poor.  But with the forgiveness that Christ earned for us at the cross, and with the Holy Spirit guiding and directing us, we can take our earthly riches and use them to God’s glory.
            And then we can see ourselves as truly rich because of the eternal life that Christ has won for us… “not with silver or gold, but with his holy, precious blood, and with his innocent suffering and death, that I may be his own, live under him in his kingdom, and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness, even as he is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.”[3]
            We are rich!  “This is most certainly true.”

[1] Kretzmann, Vol. 1, p. 222
[2] Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 717.
[3] Luther’s Small Catechism, Explanation to the Second Article

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