Sunday, October 21, 2012

Pentecost 21 (Proper 24), Series B

Sermon on Mark 10:23-31
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
October 21, 2012 (The Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost, Series B)

How hard it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God!  It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.  And so, then, therefore, is the way to be saved to give up all our worldly possessions?  To renounce all of our private property?  To sell it and give it to the poor? After all, that’s what Jesus said to the rich man in the text which was scheduled for last week (but which was missed due to the confusion over LWML Sunday this year).  This text has been used to argue that having worldly possessions is somehow contradictory to Christianity.  It has even been used to argue that the Communists are right that nobody should have private property and that everyone should share everything, and that anybody who has any money or property and doesn’t give it away to those who don’t have it is, in effect, stealing from society in general.  Of course, that would contradict the example of the Old Testament patriarchs; Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were very wealthy men, and yet the Lord identifies Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob throughout the rest of the Old Testament.  He wouldn’t have identified Himself as their God if they had not been saved.

The fact is, however, that stuff won’t save us.  Our stuff won’t even come with us into heaven, no matter how much or little of it we have.  And if our stuff is more important to us than eternal life with God, that means we won’t fit into heaven.  Thing is, none of us can really say that we haven’t put our “stuff” ahead of our eternal relationship with our Creator.  Even the disciples couldn’t say that.  They got the point.  Who can be saved?  And the answer is, nobody.  All of us are too big to fit through the door into everlasting life we call the grave.  You can’t take it with you, as the saying goes.  But that’s the problem.  There is nobody who doesn’t try to take it with him, by nature.  We all want our stuff to come with us.  Even if we give up our physical possessions, we still try to take what is ours into God’s judgment hall.  If the rich man had been able to bring himself to give up all his physical possessions and give the money to the poor, he would have tried to bring that fact into God’s judgment hall as a good work that he could claim as his own.  And that’s still too much of his own stuff.  Even that good work, he can’t take with him.  Even that good work won’t fit through the needle’s eye.  It’s impossible to be saved by man’s reason and strength.

But all things are possible with God.  The funny thing about Jesus saying that is, He’s talking about Himself in the third person there.  And He’s doing that for a reason.  He’s not going to give away the answer to the puzzle that easily.  He could just come out and say, “Well, I’m God the Son, and I can save all of you.”  No, He lets his saying be a little more cryptic than that, because it will be His own resurrection that will clinch it.  Next Sunday’s text, if Reformation Day hadn’t gotten in the way, would have been another prediction by Jesus of His own death and resurrection.  The disciples, remember, tend to ignore those predictions, because Jesus is predicting something difficult and uncomfortable to think about.  They’d prefer to think about who will be the greatest, who will have the most power and authority and, yes, wealth when He establishes His kingdom on earth.  But it’s His death and resurrection that is the key to His whole reason for becoming man in the first place.  His death and resurrection is the whole point behind His becoming man, growing up, and His ministry as an itinerant rabbi.  It will be when He is raised from the dead that the clues will all come together in the disciples’ minds.  But even though He doesn’t come right out and say it, He’s giving them an important clue here.  With man it is impossible to enter the narrow gate that leads to eternal life.  But with God (that is, with Me, Jesus) all things are possible.  I will enter that narrow gate.  I will give up literally everything in order that you can have everything.  Even my clothing will become the property of Roman soldiers.  I will die in your place so that you can enter by that narrow gate.  I will save you, precisely because you can’t save yourselves.

Who, then, can be saved?  Everyone.  With God, all things are possible.  Which is to say, with Jesus, all things are possible.  No matter whether your net worth is in the millions or whether you owe more than you own, your sins were paid for by Jesus on the cross.  He is the only one who can go through the narrow way, and He did it on your behalf.  Your salvation comes as a free gift from the only one who can do it, God become man, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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