Jesus talks money: Our attitude concerning material possessions or money often reflects our attitude toward our relationship with God. Some suppose that money is not something to be spoken about in church, but our Lord Jesus speaks about it! We would do well to listen to him as he tells today what our earthly treasures should be used for. After all, consider the grea price he paid for us!
21st Sunday after Pentecost
Are you familiar with the epic poem Dante’s Inferno? If you’re not, it’s the fictional tale of a man who’s led on a guided tour of hell. While it’s certainly not inspired Scripture by any means, the 14th century author Dante does have some interesting things to say, and the fictional tale has a few grains of truth in it.
Upon his arrival in hell, he and his guide pass beneath an iron gate with this message emblazoned upon it, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter” – he passes into the first circle of hell and sees the people there. Amongst them he recognizes the “shadow of him who made the great refusal.” He’s talking about the rich young ruler in the text for today. In Dante’s story, the rich young ruler never repented of walking away from Jesus. So he is grouped amongst those who were bound so tightly to the things of this world, in the first circle of Hell. They were so concerned for themselves that they out of cowardice, never committed any great extreme wickedness or any extreme evil, nor had they done any surpassing righteous acts, rather they were only focused on their own well being. They were on no one’s side but their own chasing after the temporal, the earthly, the perishable riches – Dante likens these people to never really being alive.
Did this rich young man eventually find himself in hell as the fictional tale of Dante’s Inferno supposes? I don’t know, but fiction or not he’s right about one thing. When we become enamored with or focused on or bent on the physical things of this life, and value them over God who gave them, well, we are not really living. Our souls end up being mired down with many pointless and frivolous concerns. That is not living! Jesus doesn’t want us to live like that. He wants us to live in him. This incident with the rich young ruler, shows us today that Jesus wants us to Let go and live: Let Go of the riches and even let go of what we think is possible.
This incident with the rich young ruler, happened almost immediately after Jesus blesses the Children. Fitting, seeing as how Jesus said there that, “The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Those who seek God and trust in him with the faith of a child are the ones who will inherit eternal life.
Part I: Let go of riches
And Spiritually speaking this rich young man, was a child, a very confused child. He thought that he was more spiritually mature than he actually was. So much so that he asks what he must “Do” to “Inherit” eternal life. What kind of conundrum is that??? Is an inheritance not a gift given in thoughtfulness or out of love – with no strings attached? How do you “Do” anything to earn it?
Either way, this young man has a spiritual problem. One that makes itself blatantly obvious when he claims to have kept all the commandments. As he says, “20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” See, he thought he was not only physically rich, but spiritually rich as well. Really, he was spiritually bankrupt.
Now, what might you or I say to someone who claims to have kept all the commandments from the time they were little? We might immediately say, “I’m sorry friend but I don’t think you understand the nature of God’s law.” As a Pastor, I might launch into an explanation of where sin really begins. It’s not about the outward action, it’s about what is in the heart.
But Jesus, masterfully addresses this young man in a way that you or I never could – namely because he’s God. Verse 21 says, “21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “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.”
Jesus looks at him as he does all sinners floundering in their sin! He loved him, even though he knew this man came to him with some ulterior motives and shoddy understanding. Jesus knew that he lacked more than “one thing.” He really lacked everything. This young man came to him asking for some outstanding good work to do, so Jesus gives it to him. Jesus tells him how he might keep the second table of the Law, love thy neighbor as thy self, in some way. This command, or preaching of the Law was so great that it must have made that young man realize that in his heart of hearts he hadn’t kept the least letter of the law. It must have made him realize that he didn’t love his neighbor as his self, nor had he loved the Lord his God with all his heart, soul and strength. He was more attached to his riches than to his God, who’s commandments he’d claimed to have kept perfectly.
All Jesus is saying to this man, in a loving way mind you, is Let Go! Let Go of the riches and live in me…
Riches. In this text that is a word that is full of meaning. When you think about the point that Jesus just made to this rich young ruler, “Let Go! Let Go of all of it and live! We realize that this has very little to do with actual wealth.
It’s a text that forces us to ask the question – what am I rich in? What am I heavily invested in? What thing in my life, were it taken from me, would cause me to go weak in the knees, go short of breath, make me nauseous. What is it in life that we would rather die over, than live without? Is it actual money? Is it a talent or an ability? Is it a relationship? Is it a job? Perhaps as we ponder it, we realize that it’s more than just one thing. Whatever the case, you know what it is, can you picture it in your mind? That’s the golden idol in our lives, now take it and “sell it” imagine that it’s gone, let go of it.
The idea of “letting go” of our “riches” can leave us feeling dismayed, as it did the rich young ruler. Like what are we supposed to do? Cover ourselves in sack-cloth and ashes and go find a hole to live in? No, don’t forget what else Jesus says, don’t forget his main point to this young man! Along with the young man in the text, he tells us today to follow him. It was from him that we received our riches to begin with. Will he not take care of us and our every need supply? We can let go of our physical things, when we realize that it’s from God all blessings and riches flow. Remember the prize that the rich young ruler didn’t see, Jesus Christ, treasure in heaven, the kingdom of God. Let go and live for him for he is our highest good.
Part II: Let go of what we think possible
At any rate, with the young man having gone away sad, Jesus now focuses his attention on his disciples. The text says that he looked around at them. I can only imagine that he looked at them in the same way that he looked at this rich young man when he first came up to him – a look of compassion, pity and love. And he says to them, ““How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!
The disciples are amazed. The sense of the original Greek is more like, they were bowled over completely. “Who can be saved?” They ask. That exchange between Jesus and the young man must have made them reflect on their own sins. How they too had the golden idols in their lives that they clung too.
So, Christ answers their question, “Who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
God can save and God alone. And in saying so, Jesus points to his divinity – the thing that was missed by the rich young man – yet something that the disciples had witnessed on various occasions. He is God, he can save.
With this statement, “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.” Jesus clears away any last vestiges of the idea that it is somehow anything that man can do to merit God’s favor. Man simply can’t save himself. We are not the subject that does the saving, rather we are the object being saved. This is the clear-cut message that Jesus gave the disciples.
Do you feel spiritually rich? Do you feel spiritually poor? Probably varies depending on the day, right? There are times when we feel closer to God than others. But when we focus on that, we are focusing on that which we think is possible. Just like the disciples. Is God dependent on how spiritually rich or poor we feel, or how close to him we deem ourselves to be?
Absolutely not! Jesus looks at you with the same look that he gave to the disciples, the same look that he gave to the rich young ruler. He looks at us with pity and compassion. As people who are floundering in our sin – and even then, Just as he did with the rich young ruler – He loves us!
Let go of what you think is possible – and live in the knowledge that you have a God that loves you no matter what! Not because of anything we’ve done. Rather, because he came to this earth to live in poverty and die the death of a criminal so that we might be crowned with riches in heaven, and live eternally in the presence of God.
So then live – live now in the knowledge that you have treasure in heaven, life eternal with Christ – that far surpasses any riches in this life. Live in the knowledge that, the impossible has been done for you. Your savior has loved, and still does love you. You and I, for sure, will never ever see those Iron gates that say “Abandon all hope, ye who enter.” Let go of the earthly things, and live freely in the hope of heaven. Amen.
We thank Pastor Phil Spaude for sharing a message from God’s Word with us today! Pastor Phil Spaude accepted the call to the WELS Ministry of Christian Giving after serving 27 years in the parish ministry in Missouri, Nebraska and Wyoming and serving four years in the teaching ministry in our Lutheran high schools. He has also served in positions at the district and synod level including 20 years with the WELS Adult Discipleship Commission.
While we do not have a transcript for this sermon, we hope you will enjoy the audio recording.
15th Sunday after Pentecost
1 Kings 3:5-12
5 At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”
6 Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.
7 “Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. 8 Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. 9 So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”
10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. 11 So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, 12 I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.”
2nd Wednesday of Lent
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, parenting is risky business, isn’t it? You pray for your children, but your children aren’t always the little angelic answers you had hoped for in your prayers. You do your very best to train them in the instruction of the Lord, but then, no matter your pleading and encouragement they stray away, maybe even far away from God and His Word. That is a fear of mine. You do your best in training your children but eventually you don’t have the influence you once had and you have to pray that they make the right decisions. I don’t know how many times I’ve been contacted by very concerned parents or grandparents (often of BSU students) whose hearts are breaking because they know their children are wandering away from their Lord and they don’t know what to do. I’m sure everyone of us has felt the pain of a loved one who has walked away, turned to another path. But how much more pain, then, did Jesus feel that night in the Garden of Gethsemane when his friend, his disciple because his enemy and his kiss meant death??
Judas Iscariot was called by Jesus as one of his twelve disciples. So we can picture Judas sitting at Jesus’ feet learning the Word and asking questions. Jesus also sent out the disciples to preach and do incredible miracles (Matthew 10). Can you picture Judas preaching the Word, cleansing lepers, healing the sick, driving out demons, even raising the dead? What kind of picture do you have of Judas? As one of the disciples we can assume that he was zealous, eager, and faithful in following Jesus.
But what did he do? He betrayed Jesus. Wait…what? How did that happen? How did we get from preaching the Word, healing the sick, raising the dead to betraying the Messiah?? Well, he didn’t just wake up one morning and say to himself, “I think I’m going to betray the Son of God today.” But how did Satan begin to work on Judas’ heart? How did it start? It starts wherever he can get a foothold. For Judas it started with greed.
Remember what God’s Word warns? “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Tim 6:10). And think about what Judas would have heard straight from Jesus: your real treasure is in heaven where moth and rust do not destroy, a person cannot serve both God and money- he will hate the one and love the other, the deceitfulness of wealth can choke the Word right out of the heart, it’s easier for a camel to be crammed through an eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. He heard all of that! But then slowly he began turning away from Jesus and turning toward gold and silver.
He was also the keeper of the money bag. Money passed through his hands and he helped himself to it. He became incensed when Mary gave Jesus a precious gift anointing him with a perfume that cost a year’s wages. Jesus wasn’t worth that! And then the opportunity came. Jesus’ enemies were rich and powerful and willing to pay cold cash. Now Judas became deliberate: discussing the “business transaction,” carefully watching for a time to betray, leading the soldiers, having a pre-arranged signal of kissing Jesus.
30 pieces of silver. It felt so good in his hands, but ate away at his heart. He was seized with remorse, tried to return it, when they wouldn’t take it back, he threw the money, and went away and hanged himself. He got his money, but he forfeited his soul. Now he’s been suffering penniless in hell for almost 2,000 years.
“Poor Judas.” No. Instead we should be saying, “God help me!” God doesn’t tell us about Judas so that we can pity a dead man, but so that we can avoid his dead end. “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall.” We have all kinds of examples in Scripture of faithful Christians who fell away. Here’s the warning: Any sin that we let take root in our hearts- be it greed, neglecting God’s Word, envy, coveting, etc, any sin that takes root can spin us into unbelief. Look at Judas!
But do you know what’s most tragic about Judas? When he came to his senses after seeing Jesus led away like a lamb to the slaughter, he had a change of mind. But instead of turning to Jesus for full and free forgiveness, he turned to his guilty conscience, instead of turning to the Lord for mercy, he turned to the corrupt priests to try to unbuy his betrayal. But no money, not even all the silver and gold in the world, could pay for one sin, only the innocent blood of Jesus can. In despair Judas turned to a noose instead of his Savior.
Learn from Judas, don’t turn toward your sin, turn to Jesus! Turn to Jesus who has turned to you in love with every word he spoke and every deed he did. Turn to Jesus who willingly allowed a lynch mob to arrest him and bind him and lead him away. Turn to Jesus who endured scorn, ridicule, mocking, and insults so you wouldn’t have to. Turn to Jesus who willingly allowed his hands and feet to be nailed to a cross to take your punishment on Himself and save you. Turn to Jesus who suffered hell for all the times we betrayed him with our sins. Because of that it is impossible for you to be more forgiven than you already are in Christ. Don’t turn to your sin and guilt- that’s spiritual suicide- look at Judas. No, turn to your Savior, He will always receive you with arms outstretched and hands with scars that prove His eternal love for you. Turn to Jesus, do not turn away. Amen.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ,
“If I were the devil, if I were the Prince of Darkness I would want to engulf the whole earth in darkness. I’d have a third of its real estate and four-fifths of its population, but I would not be happy until I had seized the ripest apple on the tree. So I should set about however necessary, to take over the United States. I would begin with a campaign of whispers. With the wisdom of a serpent, I would whisper to you as I whispered to Eve, “Do as you please.” To the young I would whisper “The Bible is a myth.” I would convince them that “men created God,” instead of the other way around. I would confide that “what is bad is good and what is good is square.” In the ears of the young I would whisper that work is debasing, that cocktail parties are good for you. I would caution them not to be “extreme” in religion, in patriotism, in moral conduct. And the old I would teach to pray – to say after me – “Our father which art in Washington.” Then I’d get organized. I’d education authors in how to make lurid literature exciting so that anything else would appear dull, uninteresting. With flattery and promises of power I would get the courts to vote against God and in favor of pornography. Thus I would evict God from the courthouse, then from the schoolhouse, then from the Houses of Congress. Then in his own churches I’d substitute psychology for religion and deify science. If I were Satan I’d make the symbol of Easter an egg. And the symbol of Christmas a bottle. If I were the Devil I’d take from those who have and give to those who wanted until I had killed the incentive of the ambitious. If I were the devil I’d just keep doing what I’m doing.” Have you heard it? That’s an adaptation of a speech by radio commentator Paul Harvey which first aired in the 1960s. If I were the devil. What would you do if you were the devil?
If I were the devil I would stop at nothing, I would do anything, I would try everything in order to get you and your loved ones to spend an eternity in hell with me. If I were the devil I’d do specifically 3 things to accomplish my goal. If I were the devil I would do whatever I could to get you confused about what true wealth really is. If I were the devil I would do what I could to get you to underestimate the reality and permanence of hell. And I were the devil I would do what I could to get you to doubt the power of God’s Word.
If I were the devil, I would get you to look at this man and say, “He’s living the dream! He has it all! Who said money can’t buy happiness! Think again!” “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day.” Now that’s the life! If I were the devil, I’d make you look at this guy, stare at this guy, and get you to want to trade places with this guy. He wears better clothes than you, He eats nicer food than you, he’s got a nicer home than you, he’s got a better car than you. If I were the devil, I would make you think that this guy is everything that you ever would want to be. And notice, he’s left nameless, he isn’t given a name like the other guy, in fact, you could just insert your name in there!
And this other guy, Lazarus, really? He’s just about the most pitiful thing you could imagine: “At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.” What a miserable, awful life! If I were the devil, I would get you to avoid suffering at all costs and get you to lose sight of those who suffer so that you no longer even notice Lazarus sitting at your gate. If I were the devil I would get you to focus all your concentration, all your energy, all your determination on having a good life here, putting all your eggs in the basket of this 100, 90, 80, 70 year life and forget about the eternity hereafter. If I were the devil I would convince you that work, fun, entertainment, pleasure, sports, TV, traveling whatever you want is more important and more valuable than God and His Word.
That slithering, conniving, deceptive serpent is doing a good job in our lives, isn’t he? I need Jesus’ words of warnings here. How often haven’t you and I become focused on the here and now, temporary thrills and treasures, to the detriment of our immortal souls? I need Jesus to refocus me on what is important, to direct me to heavenly and eternal treasure. And make no mistake, the problem with the rich man is not that he was rich- that’s not the problem. God’s Word has many examples of people who were very wealthy and yet godly. The problem wasn’t his wealth, the problem was what we heard in one of our lessons last week: the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. And that’s something that infects poor and rich alike. If I were the devil, I’d try to get you to be confused about what true wealth is.
“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side.” Now, if I were the devil, I wouldn’t try to convince you that you’re going to die, rich, poor, you’re all going to die. No, rather, if I were the devil, I’d try to convince you that hell really isn’t as bad as it is made out to be. I’d try to convince you that in the end everyone’s going to heaven so it doesn’t matter what you believe or how you live. In fact, if I were the devil, I’d try to get you to go to a church that didn’t really talk much about hell, or, even better, to go to a church that talked about having a second chance after you die. Or, maybe, just maybe, I could get you to think that I didn’t really exist, that I wasn’t really real, that I was just a cute Halloween costume and nothing more.
But what does Jesus say? “In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.” One thing is very clear from what Jesus says here: hell is horrible. There’s a lot about hell that I don’t know about and everything about hell I don’t want to know about. But some have concluded that the unquenchable fire that is used in Scripture to describe hell is a metaphorical picture because how can a soul burn in a physical fire. But far from that being comforting is that it’s a metaphorical picture of something far worse than we could ever conceive with our minds. And it’s permanent. “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.” Hell is final, hell is permanent, hell is forever. If I were the devil, I’d do all I could to get you to underestimate the reality and permanence of hell. For if I can do that, I can distract you from what’s really important.
So finally, if I were the devil I’d what I could to get you to doubt the power of God’s Word. “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” If I were the devil, I’d get you to think the Bible wasn’t all true and if I couldn’t do that, I’d get you to think that it’s not relevant to your day-to-day life that it can sit on a shelf far disconnected from your daily routine. I’d get you to think it was just words on a page, too difficult to understand, too much work to try to understand, too burdensome, too time-consuming.
You notice the implication of what the rich man says here, right? He’s in essence saying, do it right with my brothers, make sure that my brothers have more information, because if I had more information I wouldn’t have ended up here. But what does Abraham say? “Moses and the Prophets.” That’s all they need. Moses and the Prophets is another name for God’s Word. They have God’s Word, if they don’t listen to that, nothing is going to help them.
But if I were the devil, I’d have to leave here this morning utterly defeated. Why? Because the very same Jesus who told us these things, the very same Jesus who directs us to true treasure, heavenly treasure, the same Jesus who warns us of the reality and the horridness of hell, the same Jesus who directs our attention to the Word and Sacraments, the only life giving and faith-sustaining instruments in the world, that very same Jesus experienced the curse of hell for you and me.
What does Moses and the Prophets say? For a world full of failures, full of people who treasure earthly stuff to the neglect of the eternal, who toy with Satan and hell, God promised to send the woman’s offspring who would crush Satan’s head. We’re told that he was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds we are healed. This Jesus who told us of the torment and agony of hell, experienced it in all its horridness as he hung on a cross forsaken by God in our place, to rescue us from our sins and save us eternally, to assure us that we have a home forever in heaven. Because of Jesus, you, like Lazarus will be carried to Abraham’s side in joy everlasting.
But if I were the devil, I’d come back this week with new temptations, new assaults on your soul, new ways to try to lead you away from God. So cling to your Savior, cling to His Word of salvation, put on the full armor of God every day. Amen.
18th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, in 1908 the board chairman for the Bemidji library wrote to Andrew Carnegie requesting funding to build a new library. In 1909 Andrew Carnegie then gave the city of Bemidji $12,000 to fund the new library and the building has been on its current site ever since. Recently there’s been a campaign to save the building which has fallen into disrepair. Who was Andrew Carnegie and why did he give Bemidji money for a library? Andrew Carnegie is often described as one of the richest people in American history. He started a steel company right during the industrial revolution that quickly became one of the most profitable business endeavors in the world. What is really interesting is a “note to self” that he made early on, when he was only 33 years old. This is what he wrote: “Man must have an idol – The amassing of wealth is one of the worst species of idolatry. No idol more debasing than the worship of money. Whatever I engage in I must push inordinately therefore should I be careful to choose the life which will be the most elevating in character. To continue much longer overwhelmed by business cares and with most of my thoughts wholly upon the way to make more money in the shortest time, must degrade me beyond hope of permanent recovery. I will resign business at Thirty five, but during the ensuing two years, I wish to spend the afternoons in securing instruction, and in reading systematically.” Well, obviously he didn’t retire at 35 and although he was later known for his philanthropy building over 2,000 libraries and such, a former steel worker once said, “We didn’t want him to build a library for us, we would rather have had higher wages.” Steel workers worked 12 hour shifts on floors so hot they had to nail wooden platforms under their shoes, every 2 weeks work a 24 hour shift and live in crowded housing and most died in their 40s. Andrew Carnegie might have recognized that money can easily become and idol, but he didn’t know how to root it out of his heart.
What about you? What about me? Are we affected by the idol of money? Are we affected by greed? What we’re going to take a look at today is this disease of greed. 1. It infects every human heart, 2. It destroys our relationships with others, 3. It destroys our relationship with God, and 4. The only cure for greed.
First, it infects every heart. Notice what God says, “Hear this.” The prophet Amos worked at about the same time as Hosea. He served the northern kingdom of Israel that was on the outside quite successful at this time – they were enjoying peace and prosperity, the borders were enlarged, business was good, but spiritually they were a disaster. Not only was idol worship a norm, not only was immoral living predominating, even those who claimed to have some respect for God were filled with greed. The kingdom was on the verge of major collapse and in several short years it was going to be totally demolished. But the problem is, no one sees it. No one knows. So God points it out: “Hear this.”
You see, greed has an incredible ability to blind us of its grip on our hearts. Nobody thinks they’re greedy. I’ve never had someone come in to talk to me about their struggle with greed and how it’s destroying their life, their family, and their marriage. Why not? We tend to relate or compare ourselves within the society group that we are a part of. My in-laws were missionaries in Africa for several years. One of the things they talked about was when Americans would travel over to Africa in the Peace Corps or in some other mission work they would just be appalled that people could live in such primitive conditions. What we tend to do is relate ourselves to the people around us. Ok, I have some means, but I’m certainly not as rich as that person. As long as I can point to someone living more lavishly than me, I can claim that I’m modest in comparison. In fact, I once read a survey that most Americans think of themselves as “middle class” and only 2% of Americans would classify themselves as “upper class.” Each one of us should make the working assumption that greed could very well be something that I really struggle with. It infects us all.
Second, it destroys our relationship with others. That’s what was happening in Israel. Their greed blinded them not only to its grip on their hearts but to the conditions of their fellow human beings. “You who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land…skimping the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales, buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, selling even the sweepings with the wheat.” They totally ignored other people, they skimped, boosted, cheated people out of their money and when they did make a sale they sold the dirt off the floor with the wheat and when they poor people couldn’t pay, they sold them! Even for a pair of sandals!
Their attitude is get ahead no matter the cost, get more no matter what it takes, make more money no matter who you step on our abuse to get it. A skewed relationship with other people really flows from something deeper: a skewed relationship with God.
Greed destroys our relationship with God. Notice what they’re saying: “When will the New Moon be over that we may sell grain, and the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?” In other words, when will this God stuff be all over so we can go back to making more money?! Here’s the root of the problem. Something else other than God has taken over first place in their hearts and clearly its money. Jesus said in the gospel, you can’t have two masters, either you will hate the one and love the other or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.
Everyone has to worship something, everyone needs to have something as number one in their heart, everyone has to live for something. And if it’s not God, it’s something else. Clearly, the Israelite merchants here are living for the love of money, greed has taken over their hearts. So how do you know what you really worship? Our money has a way of showing us what it is that we really worship. What do you find it easy to spend money on? Where does your money effortlessly stream? If you’re a spender, if you find it easy to spend money on designer clothes or on your physical appearance, perhaps human approval is an idol in your heart. If you find it easy to spend money on entertainment, perhaps that’s your idol. If you’re a saver and you find it easy to save your money in a bank account, you may really be spending everything on a need to feel secure, protected, in control in this chaotic world.
Well, what’s the answer? What’s the only cure for greed? “The LORD has sworn by the Pride of Jacob: ‘I will never forget anything they have done.” There is no higher oath than when God swears by himself, he has nothing higher to swear by. He will never forget their greed, he will never forget our greedy, idolatrous hearts. God doesn’t ignore our greed, He doesn’t forget our greed, He doesn’t brush over our greed. He deals with it. But wait a minute pastor! Doesn’t the Bible say, “I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more”? Doesn’t God forget? The truth is God doesn’t forget and God does forget. That paradox can only be solved in one place: the cross. On the cross God didn’t forget our sin- he dealt with our sin, he paid our sin, why? So that when it comes to us he could forget our sin once and for all.
Our love of money cannot be removed, it can’t be repaired, it can’t be reformed, it has to be replaced with something else and the only thing that will cure us from greed is the gospel, the love of Christ. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” Jesus gave up his treasure in heaven in order to make you his treasure. He made you His treasure so that he might be the treasure of your heart. The grip of greed loses its grip on our heart as the gospel grips us more and more.
You see, you don’t have to find security and control in money, the cross of Christ proves God’s unending care for you. Money won’t spare you from catastrophe or tragedy in the world, only God can do that. Money can’t give you the significance and approval and status you really seek, the cross of Christ proves that God loves you more than you will ever know and with His love you have all the significance you need for life.
The true cure for greed isn’t rooting it out. Andrew Carnegie recognized the idol that money can truly become, but he couldn’t root it out. Greed can only be replaced, replaced by the one who though rich, became poor for you, so that you could be truly rich, eternally rich. Amen.
Don’t sit down with a calculator to give your money away, sit down with a cross.
 Quoted from “Andrew Carnegie” written by Joseph Frazier Walls
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!
3rd Sunday of Easter
2 Cor 2:12-16
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Grace and peace to you from him who is, who was, and who is to come our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In Jesus’ name dear friends in Christ, who is successful? #1 – 78.3 billion, #2 – 75.8 billion, #3 – 69.6 billion. 78.3 billion dollars is the estimated net worth of Bill Gates the founder of Microsoft and supposedly the richest man in the world. 75.8 billion dollars is the estimated net worth of Carlos Slim Helu who made his fortune in Mexican tele communications. And 69.6 billion dollars is the estimated net worth of Warren Buffett the owner of a large holding company in America. Having 70 billion dollars, makes you successful right? Is that what makes someone successful? I’m guessing that the majority of people in America would say yes that’s what it means to be successful, but would you? What about you, are you successful in life? How would you define a successful person?
We could maybe come up with a bunch of different answers to describe a “successful person.” But, finally, isn’t the only definition of success that really matters in the end, God’s definition of success? I mean, if you are very successful in the eyes of people in the world but not in the eyes of God, what good is it? Jesus said something similar, didn’t He? 3 out of the 4 gospels record Jesus saying, “What good will it be for a person if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” Obviously God operates with a much different definition of success than our world and perhaps a much different definition than we do.
The words before us are the inspired words of a very successful person. But keep in mind some of his background. He didn’t attend a prestigious business school, he never formed a multi-billion dollar company, but what had happened to him? He had numerous plots on his life – people all over the world wanted to stone and kill him, in one city he was actually stoned and left for dead, in another he was brutally flogged and imprisoned, and just before he wrote this letter he had been driven out of Ephesus because there was a riot against him. And then to top it all off the congregation he started in Corinth was a disaster – all kinds of sin and error taking place and there were false teachers there spreading rumors about him behind his back and trying to lead the congregation away from the truth!
Paul had written the letter we know as 1 Corinthians and since there wasn’t, of course, email or the postal system, he sent it with Titus. It was a rather stern letter calling the Christians in Corinth to repent. He had hoped to meet up with Titus in the city of Troas to find out how things were going in Corinth, but Titus didn’t show up. So now, Paul had all kinds of questions: Why didn’t Titus make it? Were things such a mess in Corinth? Was the congregation deteriorating? Was it all hopeless? In fact, we’re told that he had no peace of mind that he actually passed up an open door to spread the gospel in Troas to go to Macedonia to meet up with Titus. Such was his concern for his fellow Christians in Corinth.
Success? It sure doesn’t look like it, right? But then what does Paul say? “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ.” Stop and think about that for a moment. God says He’s doing what? Leading us in triumphal procession. And He’s doing it…always!
The picture is from the Roman military. When the army would win the victory over their enemy they would return to Rome and have a grand parade through the city. People would stand a cheer and applaud their soldiers. The defeated enemies would also be dragged along in the parade often chained to victory chariots and at the end of the procession they would be put to death. Part of the celebration they would burn quantities of incense and garlands of flowers would be draped around the victorious soldiers. This would cause a fragrance in the air. To the enemy this fragrance meant defeat and even death, but to the winners this fragrance was great it meant that the war and all its troubles were over and they could look forward to undisturbed security for the future.
Now God through Paul pictures our lives as being a constant marching in that victory parade. The “smell” of that parade is life for some – as we tell people about Jesus we bring them eternal life. But the “smell” of the parade is also death for others. Some will recognize that we believe in Jesus, but will refuse to listen to the Word and will be condemned to an eternity in hell. That’s death.
But note what God is saying: He’s leading us in what? A victory parade! And when? Always! He went into battle, defeated sin, death, and the devil with His death on the cross and His glorious resurrection and we get to join him in that victory parade. Talk about success!
But what about you? What about me? Would you describe your life as one big triumphal procession? Let’s just think about this last week, would you describe this last week as a triumphal procession? This was my last week, pastor’s conference in New Ulm, MN with the family, long car trips, 4 small children, fun- yes, triumphal procession? Not the first word that comes to mind. Opening worship service at the college in the beautiful Chapel of the Christ with over 200 people most of whom were pastors, pretty neat, sitting in church with 4 small children for an hour and a half, triumphal procession? Last part of the week, one child got a nasty flu virus, then my wife, and then it proceeded through each of my children, triumphal procession?
What about as a congregation? One member was hospitalized for half the week, another one’s dad just passed away, and another one’s mom is very near death. Would you describe your last week as a triumphal procession? A success? Far worse than all the un-pleasantries of this past week are our sins, the sins of my heart, the sins of yours. What about the times we were stressed out, said things we shouldn’t have said, failed to say things we should have said, the people whom we failed to love, times we failed to give attention to God’s Word, times we failed to rejoice in the things he’s done for us. If our week was a “parade” perhaps we would think it would look not like the parade of a winner, but a loser.
But that’s not what God says. What God says is that He’s always leading us in triumphal procession in Christ! Not sometimes, not most of the time. Always! And yes, that included this past week! Yes, that includes today! Sure, we failed! Sure, we sinned! Sure we messed things up! But remember in whom we trust! We trust in Jesus, the one who went to the cross, the one who lived perfectly in our place, the one who died in our place, and most importantly, the one who rose in our place! We follow the ultimate conqueror, we follow the ultimate winner! That’s true success! The war is over, our hero has won, like those soldiers marching through Rome, the victory is ours and we look forward to a future of undisturbed security.
Yet, how easy it is for us to attach “success” to the outward, physical things of life and not to the most important? How easy it is for us to let our mood, our enjoyment of life, our definition of success be defined by something else than how God defines it! Success in our world is often defined in the outward visible results, in having this or that, and yet for God, success is found in bringing one soul safely into His kingdom, in strengthening the eternal souls of those who are His, and of bringing one soul at a time home to heaven. That’s true success. That’s a triumphal procession.
So did your trials this week drive you closer to Jesus? Did the craziness of your life cause you to come here to hear about the one, the only One who can bring the pieces of your life together and make sense out of a life full of pain and hardship and trouble? That’s success. Did someone, maybe a co-worker, maybe a child, watch as you displayed love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control in a situation or some kind of attitude that reflected your faith in a crucified and risen Savior? That’s real success.
Real success comes the more we know about our Savior and His gospel and the more we smell. The more we smell like Jesus, spreading the fragrance of the knowledge of him. The realtor knows that you always bake cookies before the open house, it helps sell the house, how many people have pulled into the driveway of a fast food restaurant just because they could smell the burgers? In Burlington, WI where I used to live there was a Nestle factory that every once in a while the whole town smelled like chocolate and made you crave chocolate. Smells are powerful. Well, as we share the gospel as we live as people who have been brought from death to life, people whose sins have been forgiven, we give off a fragrance around us, people watch us and we have opportunities to give the reason for the hope that we have. That’s success.
Finally, success isn’t found in the outward things of this world. True success is being brought to saving faith in the crucified and risen Savior. True success is basking in the results of Jesus’ glorious resurrection no matter what outward things or even inward things are going on in life.
What Paul knew was that Jesus is alive. Jesus already won the victory. Jesus is right now leading His own to the final and eternal celebration of that victory at the wedding feast in heaven. You are also a part of that success, that triumphal procession. Knowing that Jesus is alive, that victory is won, that sins are forgiven, that is what gives you success every day. Not success as the world sees it or describes it or defines it, but real success as God defines it. No, your life may not feel like a triumphal procession. BUT! Where will your life ultimately end? Your life will ultimately end in the glories of heaven! Your life will ultimately end in leaving this world and entering into life which is eternal! You will stand in glory next to Jesus your Savior! You will have glory which will be never-ending! And day by day, God is leading you to that place. Which means what? It means that your life is indeed a triumphal procession! Thanks be to God who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ! That’s success, no matter what. Amen.