Posts Tagged ‘Mark 10:17-31’

What Is It Worth To You 10-14-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 10:17-31, Jesus encounters a man (who we know as the rich young ruler), and offers an invitation to discipleship.  The odd thing is that we don’t know if it works or not.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

The grace and peace of the Triune God is yours, now and forever. Amen

There’s an exchange that goes on at my house with a pretty fair bit of regularity. I’ll be in the living room or sitting at the table, and my wife, who many of you know is a bit…vertically challenged…will say “Hey, can you come in here at help me with something?” Typically she means “There’s something on the top shelf and I don’t want to climb on the counters and you are just sitting there not doing anything anyway, so come get this thing from up there for me.”

More often than not…my response… “Maybe…what’s it worth to you?” Now she quickly puts me in my place, but you get the idea.  That things are often transactional…that if you want something, is there something you can offer for it.

This is an idea that I latched onto during my senior year of high school. As a senior, I had open campus during study halls, and could come and go from the school…and I pretty quickly discovered that many of the underclassmen wanted me to run to the store for them…to pick up a snack while they were languishing at school…it took me about 3 trips to figure something out.  That I was carrying an awful lot of change back to the school after 3 or 4 separate transactions…and so I told them, I’ll make the run for you, and I’ll bring back any paper money as change…but the loose change stays with me.  And let me tell you something…this transaction worked out pretty well. I’d drive the 3 blocks to the store, and I’d usually end up with 3 or 4 bucks worth of loose change by the end of the day.  They got something out of it…and I got something out of it. (pause)

Now I can’t help but think that this is the attitude…or perhaps it would be better to say, the expectation…of the man who approaches Jesus today. (pause)  Now Jesus is just setting out on a journey…he’s just been in a house, bear hugging children and blessing them…reminding his disciples that to receive the kingdom of God…to enter into it…one must be like a child. And with that he steps outside to continue along the way, when this random guy that we know virtually nothing about, kneels before him…calls him teacher…and asks what really seems to be…an honest question about the kingdom of God.

Teacher…what must I do to inherit eternal life? Again, we don’t know anything about this guy. Has he been following…listening…hearing the teachings and seeing the miracles…maybe, we don’t know.  Has he simply heard about Jesus and the general ideas of the gospel which Jesus is proclaiming…maybe, we don’t know.  In truth, as this random guy enters the scene…we literally know NOTHING about him. (pause)

But as we hear…Jesus begins to engage with the guy…now I can only think that there are some cultural expectations at play here. The guy must be Jewish…because Jesus turns the commandments on him. “You know the commandments.” And then he begins to list off the back half of the 10 commandments which are aimed at our relationships with others. Don’t murder, no adultery, don’t steal, honor your parents, and so on.

And the guy seems to indicate that he’s got those bases covered…oh yes Lord, I have kept these since my youth…I know that…I’ve done that…I’m good on that front…so what else must I do? (pause)
Now with a bit more back and forth, Jesus lovingly lays another stipulation on him. Sell your processions, give it to the poor, and come follow me.” And it is only at this point that we learn this guys apparent economic status…that he has great possessions…as he walks away downcast and sad…grieving even.

With this Jesus turns to the disciples, and starts in on a bit more teaching…which at face value seems to be taking a shot at the rich…particularly as we hear him say “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.”  And then since the disciples are so confused…likely do to a cultural expectation that those with great wealth are the ones who have blessed by God…he says it again…”Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God.”

Did you catch the difference?  There’s no mention of wealth in this second statement…simply an honest statement from Jesus on the difficulty of entering the kingdom…and the disciples pick up on it with their exasperated question “Who then can be saved?” And Jesus responds, for humanity its impossible, but for God, all things are possible. (pause)

Here’s the thing…there’s a subtle thread running underneath this whole story…and it all begins with the question that the man asks in the first place. What must I do to inherit eternal life?  If you know anything about inheritance, you know how it works…and that to inherit anything, you don’t do anything…but someone else has to die.

And the really interesting part of all this is what he is asking for…eternal life…as opposed to what Jesus talks about…the kingdom of God. (pause) Now maybe we tend to think of these as the same thing…and yes there’s overlap…but there’s a distinction…because eternal life points us towards…the eternal…its right there in the name right…and so I think its safe to say that whatever eternal life is…it lies on the other side of death…the age to come, heaven, whatever you want to call it…but the kingdom of God…as we hear from Jesus at the beginning of the gospel…the kingdom has come near.  Its already here…even though its also in the age to come.

Yes I know that’s a little confusing…but the promise that we have received is that the kingdom is both now and not yet…and that’s a point that Jesus makes as he addresses Peter towards the end of today’s passage.  Peter asks, we have left everything to follow you…and Jesus says yes you have…he also called them children if you recall…and then he says that whatever or whoever you have left behind, you will receive again 100 fold…as well as persecutions…here in the kingdom…and then eternal life.

Anyone catch that? Jesus is speaking about this now and not yet reality of the kingdom of God…a realty that takes root in how we live our lives right here, right now…and this…is what Jesus is getting at in his invitation of discipleship offered to the rich man.

What must I do to inherit eternal life…Nothing…that’s up to God…you can’t DO anything…but fortunately through the life death and resurrection of Jesus, that’s already taken care of…its already done.

But in the case of the here and now…as Jesus addresses this man…sell your processions…free yourself of whatever it is that you trust in…and give it away….stop thinking about yourself and let your life benefit someone else for a change…and then…follow me. This invitation has implications in the present life that the man is leading…and since his possessions are so great, he walks away in grief. (pause)

Now I’ll be honest…I always thought about this event as a failed invitation to discipleship…but what if its not. What if the man walked away in grief because he realizes what this will cost him, and he’s already made the choice to do it?

Discipleship has cost…its different for everyone, but its there.  This invitation to follow Jesus might just cost us everything…and we wonder, just what do we get out of it? That’s the transactional nature at work within us.

Well, that’s hard to say…sometimes all we can do is follow along and see where it leads.  Keep in mind, we don’t know what happens this guy…and we usually think this invitation is a failure…but there’s a chance that its not…because there are 2 more times when a random young man shows up in Mark’s gospel with no indication of who he is.  When Jesus is arrested, there’s a follower…a young man wearing only a simple linen garment, who leaves it behind and flees…and then at the tomb…there’s a young man dressed in white that address the women.

Its probably not the same guy…but what if it is? (pause) What if this guy did what Jesus asked…and followed? Might be hard to believe…but remember that for God, all things are possible. (pause)

Jesus has invited all of us into a life of discipleship…of being a Christ follower…and maybe what we take away from today is remember that in this life…in the now of the kingdom of God, that looks like putting our own stuff aside and thinking about someone else as we follow him…we won’t be perfect, and we’ll mess it up…but the invitation is still there…and that whole eternal life thing…that whole aspect of the kingdom that’s not yet…well, maybe we just need to let God handle that end of things…(pause)

And one final thought…regardless of if the encounter with the man was a successful invitation to discipleship or not…even before the invitation to follow is given…Jesus loves him. Did you catch that…Jesus looked at him, Jesus loved him in that perfect, all in, sacrificial love…and then Jesus made the offer to follow.  This guy is the only person in Mark’s gospel that we hear “Jesus loves” and we don’t even know if he followed or not.

But the promise of the gospel, is that we don’t have to do anything to be on the receiving end of that perfect, all in love of God for all of humanity that has manifest itself in the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ…and yet through him, the kingdom is given to us anyway. Amen.

Not Just Difficult But Impossible 10-11-15

In this sermon, based on Mark 10:17-31, I explore the story of the rich man’s encounter with Jesus. This leads to the impossible nature of salvation based on anything that we do, as well as the impossible nature of the love of God expressed in Jesus Christ.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

There is a franchise in Hollywood that I’m a pretty big fan of. It goes all the way back to 1966. Mission Impossible. The original tv series ran until 1973. A rebooted tv series ran from 1988 to 1990. This finally led into a series of movies starring Tom Cruise starting back in 1996 that is still going on as the 5th film in the series hit theatres earlier this year.

The whole premise of Mission Impossible is right there in the title. During each episode or movie, the team facing seemingly insurmountable odds and obstacles to accomplish the given mission…but given enough training and know-how…throw in enough techno-gadgets…and in the end…they always seem to accomplish what they set out to do. However crazy their objectives are…they always manage to do the impossible. The name of their organization is even a wink at this…the IMF, or Impossible Mission Force.

There’s actually a pretty telling moment in the second film, which came out back in 2000…when Tom Cruise sits in a meeting with the director, who is outlining the mission at hand…part of which is to find and convince a wanted jewel thief to join the team and help with the mission. The director asks “Can you do it?” Cruise responds… “It will be…difficult.” And then in a nod to the audience, the director says “Well this isn’t Mission Difficult…its Mission Impossible…Difficult should be a walk in the park for you.” (pause)
As cheesy or silly as the tv shows and movies can be, there is a nugget of truth here. As a species, we humans are pretty good at overcoming some pretty insurmountable odds aren’t we? Look at some of the things that we have accomplished…simply because we set our minds to it…accomplishments that at first glance seem like they would be utterly impossible. (pause)
We have figured out how to leave the earth behind and fly…in an airplane anyway. We decided to explore space…worked at it, launched satellites and eventually people into orbit…we even sent people to the moon, simply because we decided to go there.

We’ve built 100+ story skyscrapers, we’ve explored the rainforests, and climbed mount Everest…simply because we as a species decided to work hard enough to figure out how to do it. We’ve done it as a species…and we do the same sort of thing as individuals…I remember October 17th 2011…It was my wife’s birthday and I decided that day I was going to go to the gym with her…and that day I ran 1 mile…and I thought I was gonna die. But I kept working at it…with an eventual goal in mind…and in February of 2014, I spent 5 hours and 5 minutes on a treadmill in my basement covering 26.2 miles…accomplishing a marathon…simply because I decided to do the work, to do the training and preparing that it would take to pull it off.

Its true…we as humans seem to be able to accomplish anything that we put our minds too…so much that we have a common phrase “you’ve done the impossible.” (pause) But I find myself wondering…is that…well, for lack of a better word…possible? (pause)

The definition of “impossible” is this…not able to occur, exist, or be done. (pause) Not just difficult, but not able. And so to say that we have accomplished the impossible, by definition…must be a lie. Certainly we can and do accomplish amazing things…things that take extraordinary amounts of effort…but if we do it…then it isn’t impossible. (pause)

I’m sure by now you see where I’m going with this…for in today’s gospel lesson we hear an astonished, likely exasperated question from the disciples asking the important question…Who can be saved? And the honest, if daunting reply from Jesus…for mortals it is…impossible.

But before we explore that any further, we need to back up and take a look at the situation that prompted this exchange in the first place…the encounter between Jesus and the rich man who asks the familiar question…what must I do to inherit eternal life? (pause)

I think many of us are familiar with this story…I even referenced it last week…this random man comes up to Jesus…kneels before him, which is worth noting…this guy pays the proper respect to Jesus and so his question seems to be quite sincere…It seems that his heart is heavy because despite all that he has done throughout his life…he lacks the assurance that eternal life has been given to him…and so the question to Jesus…what must I do?

Jesus response…well, it’s a bit odd this time around isn’t it…You know the commandments…and he lists off a batch of them…and the man’s response…I have done all these things since I was young…which is likely true…we have no reason to think that this man has failed to follow the listed commandments to the letter.

There’s something interesting that we need to notice though…even before Jesus jumps in to point out the one thing lacking for this guy…we need to stop and think about the commandments and who they are aimed at. Commandments 4-10 are aimed at how we treat other people…and each commandment that Jesus listed off to the guy falls in that category…but what Jesus did not list off for this guy are #1-3, which are aimed at our relationship with God. (pause)

Now remember that Jesus didn’t dispute the man saying he’s followed the listed commandments…but he does point out something pretty specific…that the man needs to go off, sell everything he has and give it to the poor before finally coming to follow Jesus.

And we see…in this instant, that the man can’t do it…he goes away crestfallen…saddened…downright gloomy…and then, only then do we hear that he has many possessions…Possessions which he places all value upon…possessions and wealth that he places his trust in…so much so that he can do what Jesus asks…and this makes me think that this man’s wealth is the idol that is standing in the way of his relationship with God.

Remember that command that I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me? (pause) For this guy…its his wealth…and as we see in the story today, its too much for him to give up at this point…and Jesus’ call to discipleship for this guy…the invitation to come and follow me…goes unanswered. (pause)
I kept coming around to this part of the story this week…over and over again…wrestling with the question of if Jesus is taking a pot-shot at wealth in general…or if it is simply the specific hurdle that makes this specific guy fail in his relationship with God…and there’s a lot of debate about that…perhaps because we as individuals are pretty attracted to the ever present dollar sign in our lives as well. (pause)

But in the end…Jesus seems to point out the important point here…he actually says it twice to his disciples after this guy walks away. How hard it is to enter the kingdom of heaven…how hard it is…children…to enter into the kingdom. (pause)

Well now wait a second…Jesus just called the disciples…those who are following him despite their flaws and shortcomings…children…haven’t we heard lately…from Jesus himself…that it is children who receive the kingdom? (pause) Well now that’s interesting isn’t it?

To be a follower of Christ is to be called a child…and that’s not all bad…because children are loved despite their flaws…despite their shortcomings…and we see this in Jesus’ call to the rich man today. Even before pointing out the insurmountable hurdle in this man’s existence, Jesus looks at him…and loves him…

The love of God in Christ Jesus for all of humanity exists long before we recognize our sin…long before we recognize the futility of our attempts to earn out own salvation…and long before we realize just how impossible it is for us to inherit eternal life.

That was the man’s question way back at the beginning of the story…what must I do to inherit eternal life…and now think about how you inherit anything…do you do anything? Or do you wait for someone to die? (pause)
Jesus assures each of us, that we are incapable of fulfilling the law…and as such the law can never bring us salvation…this is what he calls impossible for mortals…yet his love for us is already present…and he proved it by going to Jerusalem…and taking on that cross…dying…so that the inheritance of eternal life might be possible…

In order to inherit anything the owner of it must die…and wouldn’t you know it…the one who holds eternal life in his hands has already done so…and not only that…but knowing us fully…all that which is good and all that which is lacking within us…he loves us enough to offer it to us freely. (pause)
Now all that being said I need to come back around to the disciples…those 12 poor schmucks following Jesus around and seemingly failing at every possible opportunity to show what they are learning…for as Jesus talks about this situation…explaining it to them, all they can say is “Who then can be saved?”

Perhaps we hear that and think they are throwing their hands up in disgust…Jeepers Jesus, we’ve been following you around and we have no idea how to do it…how can anyone else? Or maybe they were exasperated at the fact that, once again…Jesus is showing love to someone that they think is unworthy of it…someone unwilling to give up everything as they have…in order to follow along behind.

Either way…I think it speaks to the impossible nature of the Gospel…on both sides of the coin. Its impossible for anyone to ever do enough or be enough or say enough to earn salvation…just as its impossible to ever love another person enough to offer them freely that which they cannot provide.

Our sin stands it the way of our relationship with God because we constantly put something else in front of Him. We have idols everywhere…whether we realize it or not and so perhaps as we cry out about the impossible nature of all this maybe we’re being honest with our selves thinking that its impossible that anyone could love ME…that much.

And yet…God does…for what is impossible with mortals is possible for God. (pause)

God knows us…and despite that which stands in the way, he loves us…and he loves us so much that he has died in order for us to inherit that which we cannot achieve on our own…eternal life in the age to come…whatever that looks like…and in the meantime…he extends us the invitation to come and follow…where ever that might take us. Amen.