Guest Pastor: Pastor Curtis Holub, retired from Brooklyn Lutheran Church, Brooklyn, Minnesota
21st Sunday after Pentecost
Comedienne Joan Rivers who died last year once said something with which many people would agree. “People say that money isn’t the key to happiness,” said Joan Rivers, “but I always figured if you have enough money, you can have a key made.” How much is enough money? That is a good question. Once you get on the treadmill of material success, enough simply is never enough. When is enough . . . enough for you? More importantly, WHAT is enough for anyone?
A wealthy man came to Jesus to ask what he needed to do “to inherit eternal life.” Evidently, this man was where many of us are. His material needs were being met, but not his spiritual ones. He was not a bad man, just an empty one. Notice: he addressed Jesus as “Good Teacher.” “Why do you call Me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good–except God alone.” From the very get-go, Jesus sees into the mind of this man and knows that he thinks of himself as being pretty good. Only God is “good.” The whole human race is sinful. This young man comes to Jesus with a different attitude. He thinks of himself as almost there – spiritually. But deep inside his conscience tells him something is still lacking. What is it?! “What must I do to inherit eternal life.
“You know the commandments,” said Jesus. “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” This guy actually believed that! His keeping of the Mosaic Law was exceptional. So, here’s his situation: He thought money would make him happy. But it didn’t. He thought minding all the rules of his faith would make him happy, but it didn’t. All his life he had been taught that if he had enough money and if he was a good guy, that would be enough. But it wasn’t. Friends, it doesn’t work today either!
Mark tells us that Jesus looked at him and loved him. Did that simple little sentence in the reading of the text catch you up?! I think it is the highlight of the entire text. “God so loved the world….” If God loves everyone, why isn’t everyone saved? St. Peter tells us God doesn’t want anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). And God is almighty..Then why isn’t everyone saved?! This is one of those hard teachings of Scripture that many individuals cannot get by. Even whole Christian denominations try to reason it out and come to conclusions which contradict clear teachings of the Bible.
The answer lies somewhere in the reality that humans have a terrible natural ability to reject the true God of the Bible and His salvation. Stated in the simplest terms: If someone is lost eternally, it is altogether his or her own fault. If anyone is saved, it is the pure grace of God, pure and simple. I’m not saying that this simple truth is easy to understand. In fact, it defies our limited human reasoning ability. Just believe it! Cling to the faith you have in a crucified Savior from sin. Live a life of daily repentance and faith. Keep believing and go to heaven one day!
Jesus looked at this man, and loved him. Jesus knew this man was trying to live as his society told him he ought to live. And Jesus appreciated that. One thing he yet needed – Christian faith! And Jesus wanted to give him the key to what he needed. “One thing you lack,” He said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.” Following Jesus is where it’s all at. But something stood in the way of this man falling in line with his Savior:
“At this,” says the Gospel of Mark, “the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.” This has always struck me as one of the saddest verses in all of the Bible. This young man was in the presence of the Savior Himself. His life was on the very verge of becoming something magnificent. But he turned away because he couldn’t let go of the good in order to grasp the best. “He went away sad,” says the Gospel, “because he had great wealth.”
Can you imagine that? We could understand it if we read, “He went away sad in spite of his great wealth.” Many people are sad in spite of their great wealth. But it says, “He went away sad because of his great wealth.” Is it possible to be sad because you have great wealth? Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
The disciples were even more amazed, notes Mark, and they said to each other, “Who then can be saved?” That’s a good question. If accumulating toys won’t bring you happiness and keeping the rules won’t buy you salvation, what’s it going to take? If we take everything we have and sell it, and give the proceeds to the poor like Jesus was telling this man to do, will that do it? Well, that depends. Jesus was simply telling this man the truth about what came first in this man’s life–and that was his money.
What is it that comes first in your life? Is it your job? Is it your family? Is it time playing computer games, or watching sports on TV, conversing with your friends on Facebook, or some hobby? Could I look at your Visa statement or your computer log, or your Day planner and discover what really matters to you? Where do you devote your time, your money, your dreams, your energy? What might your church offering report say about what’s most important in your life? Can you believe that some people put their TV programming, even their smart phones ahead of God? Compare those monthly statements with their monthly offerings! Is it the accumulation of ever more wealth, ever more toys? Jesus said, “Where a man’s treasure is, there will his heart be also . . .”
Jesus knew where this young man’s heart was. He was a nice guy, he kept all the commandments – or so he thought. What if he kept God’s commandments more piously than you or I do? Jesus looked at him and loved him, but Jesus knew that God did not come first in this young man’s life. Again, what is it that comes first in your life?
Finally, Whatever is our ultimate concern in life, that is our God. Among these concerns might be our personal success, or our allegiance to our country, or the quest for scientific truth, or a host of very important concerns. How about our families? Surely God wants them to receive high priority. But is our ultimate concern and love the God of the Bible? All but the last are forms of idolatry.
That is a hard teaching. You mean God must occupy first place in my thoughts and loves? He has to come before my job, my family, my concern for my health, even my allegiance to my country? Yes, nothing in this world can come before God. Let me hasten to add that God rarely asks us to choose, for example, between our family and our faith in God–or our allegiance to our country and our faith in God–or even our job and our faith in God. But it can happen. And when it does, we must choose God.
Once you decide to worship the God revealed to us in Jesus of Nazareth and give Him first place in your life, then all the other important matters in our lives can fall into their places quite readily. If you choose instead to worship an idol–whether wealth or comfort or work or any other temporal god–then life becomes much more complicated and the end result will only be sadness. That is not the message of our culture, but it is Christ’s message, even to those of great wealth.
Someone has noted that countless people, by their own testimony, though they had all the money to buy anything they wanted, had arrived at the place where they were suffering from what he has so aptly called ‘Destination Sickness’–the malady of having everything that you want, but not wanting anything you have, and being sick and empty and lonely and miserable. Why do you think so many celebrities commit suicide?
The wealthy young man who came to Jesus probably suffered from this malady–Destination Sickness. He had arrived. To great measure he thought he had it made. But, in truth, he was a slave to his wealth. Jesus was offering him a lifeline, but he couldn’t see it. All he could see was what he would be giving up.
Are you ready to put God first in your life? Are you tired of the emptiness of living life your way and not God’s way? Have you discovered that there’s not enough money, not enough work, not enough sex, not enough narcotics to ease the pain of an empty and unfulfilled heart? To achieve happiness by a succession of pleasures is like trying to keep up a light all night by striking successive matches. Happiness comes not from pleasure but from purpose. The happiest people are people who are faith driven, whose primarily purpose in life to serve God, and then to put even others ahead of themselves
The disciples were amazed at Jesus’ words about the difficulty of the wealthy entering the kingdom. Finally, for any human – no matter how talented, how wealthy, how intelligent – it is pure grace that anyone believes: With man this is impossible, but not with God, said Jesus. All things are possible with God.” Is it possible that you are a person of faith? Isn’t that what your Baptismal grace tells you? God has put His claim upon you! He has drawn you to Himself, and drawn you into this room this morning to feed your precious faith that He be first in your life.
Then speak up with Peter this morning, “Lord, we have left everything to follow you!” “Truly I tell you,” Jesus says to your heart, “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 . . . and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.
In conclusion, be sure not to misunderstand. Jesus does not say that it is impossible for people with money to enter the kingdom. He said, “All things are possible with God.” The people in danger are those who put their wealth before God. The people in danger are those who have no greater purpose in life than the accumulation of more of whatever. When is enough . . . enough? Could that happen to you, that your cravings could crush your relationship with God? The wealthy young man in our Scripture turned sadly away from Jesus because he had great wealth. Cherish the eternal wealth that you have in your hands through Jesus your Savior! Amen!