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Sermon for October 18, 2015

Mark 10:23-31 (Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 24—Series B)

“What Does All This Get Us?”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

October 18, 2015

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

This morning’s text is the Gospel lesson recorded in Mark 10:

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!” 24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 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, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” 28 Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “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, 30 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. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

          The rich man, who seemed to have it all together, had walked away from Jesus. “All these” commandments he had kept from his youth. But he lacked one thing—fear, love, and trust in God above all things. He loved his wealth and possessions more. At least at this point in his life, he had decided to walk away and not follow Jesus. Treasure here and now was more important to him than treasure in heaven.

          Jesus used this moment to teach his disciples by means of an object lesson involving a camel and a sewing needle. Our Lord’s point? A camel has an easier time getting through the eye of a needle than a rich person does entering into the reign and rule of God present in Jesus! In fact, it’s plain impossible for people to accomplish this feat. As you heard me say last week, eternal life is not earned. It’s freely given. It’s not merited, but inherited as God’s complete gift to us. Riches and wealth, possessions and “stuff” place us at such a great risk of idolatry, putting those things first in our life as our “gods,” that which we love and trust in most of all. Hence the difficulty entering into the reign and rule of God. The wealthy prefer their own reign and rule based on what they have, the comforts they enjoy, including their own self-sufficiency. “Disheartened by the saying, [the man] went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”

          Peter then takes us to the opposite extreme. He said to Jesus, “Look, we have left everything and have followed you.” When we read St. Matthew’s account of this episode we read that Peter adds, “What then will we have?” Certainly the message here is, “We, as your disciples, don’t have wealth. We’re following you. We’ve given up our “stuff”. What does all this get us?” In other words, “Jesus, we are your disciples. We’re not like that rich guy who loved his possessions more than God. We love you. We have followed you. Does that earn us eternal life?”

          Would you be so crass as to sit here this morning and say the same as Peter? “Jesus, I love you. Jesus, I have followed you. I am a Christian. I’m your disciple. Look, I’m here in church. I’m even going to put something into the offering plate. I actually signed up to volunteer for something when no one else has. So Jesus, what does all this get me?” Maybe it’s not always said. Perhaps it’s not always verbalized, but there is an attitude in the church that demonstrates what these words illustrate. It is a “Look what I’ve done for you Jesus,” “look how great I am Jesus,” when we grace the doors of His sanctuary, as if coming here does the Lord some big favor. And yet we get our Christian check-lists all ready:

  • Go to church and say hi to friends.
  • Put something into the offering plate.
  • Think about volunteering for an event, but don’t actually sign up.
  • Go home and feel good about what I did for God today and wonder what I get from God for doing all this.

Now we are back to, “Look, we have left everything and we have followed you. What does this get us?” It gets us just as much as loving wealth and possessions more than God. It gets us just as much as keeping all of the commandments but failing to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. It gets us nothing. Behaviors, attitudes, and actions do not merit for us a single thing before God. You can make all the right Christian moves, say all the right Christian things, but they will never ever earn you eternal life.

          Notice what Jesus says as the cause of leaving everything and following Him: “For my sake and for the sake of the gospel.” It’s not “for your sake” or “for the sake of your eternal life.” Disciples of Jesus follow Him on account of Jesus and on account of His Gospel, which is freely given to those who don’t deserve and have not earned it. We Christians follow Jesus because the Holy Spirit has called us by the Gospel, enlightened us with His gifts, sanctified and kept us in the true faith. Following Jesus takes place because God in Christ has already given us life everlasting through the forgiveness of sins received by grace alone through faith alone for the sake of Jesus alone. Disciples don’t follow Jesus to merit; they follow Jesus because they have already inherited His Gospel gifts of forgiveness and life.

          What a radical way of thinking that goes so against our corrupt human thought process of “what do I get?” or “what’s in it for me?”! To be a disciple of Jesus Christ means that you have already received the gifts of God, freely and generously poured out for you on the tree of the cross. When the Lord Jesus shed His blood for you as the once-for-all sacrifice for your sins of selfishness, self-centeredness, idolatry, and greed, He washed you clean and, by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the waters of Baptism, placed His saving blood and God’s holy name upon you making you a child of God and an heir of everlasting life and salvation. It was at the wondrous event of your Baptism that you were empowered by the Spirit to follow Jesus as His disciple. What you do now, how you live, and the reason you come to worship is simply a response to what God has already given you, that which is already yours. You come to this place to thank and praise God, to serve and obey Him. You don’t come to earn or gain something that you already have! You come, prompted by the call of Christ’s invitation through the working of the Holy Spirit in His Word, so that God might continue freely to give you the Gospel, the forgiveness of sins, and the strengthening of your faith. With these gifts you continue to live as the people of God in Christ, disciples of the Lord Jesus.

          And is that not His promise? “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.” By grace, the Holy Spirit has called and gathered us by the Gospel to be the Church, a new family, the body of Christ. It is within the community of believers, among fellow disciples of Jesus, that the Spirit nurtures your faith through the preached Word and in the eating and drinking of the Lord’s Supper. Here God lavishes upon you forgiveness, strengthening your faith through His Word and Sacrament so that you can stand firm during the times of persecution that Jesus reminds us will come against the church, even as you look forward to eternal life in the age to come.

          The promise of eternal life, which we dare not forget is now a present possession in our Baptism, looks beyond the conflicts and troubles and persecutions that the church faces on account of Christ and His Gospel. The eternal life that we have through the forgiveness of sins enables us to look forward as individuals, and as the body of Christ, to the triumph that will be ours in the age to come. On that day Jesus will bring His Church into the completeness of the reign and rule of God at His coming again when He will create a new heaven and a new earth.

          Our text reminds us today that you and I don’t have to work to get the gift of eternal life because it’s already ours. All of you have this great possession, this heavenly treasure, not because you keep the commandments perfectly and not because you have left everything to follow Jesus, and bot because you come to church. You have life forever because God gave it to you in your Baptism. You have the forgiveness of sins because Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose again from the dead giving His gifts to you in the Gospel Words of Absolution, in Baptism, and in His Body and Blood with the bread and wine, given and shed for you. You have the power of the Spirit at work in you by so that you can do the things that God commands. You have the power of the Spirit at work in you so that you can respond to the great gifts of forgiveness and eternal life. That is why you come to this place—to receive the gifts of God again and again so that you, along with your brothers and sisters in Christ in His holy Church, might endure the days of hardship and persecution, looking forward to the age to come when we will be with the Lord who alone gives such wondrous gifts. Amen.


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