Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost (B – Proper 24)
St. Luke, Evangelist
October 18, 2009
Text: Mark 10:23-31

How impossible is it for a camel to go through the eye of a needle? It is totally, absolutely impossible! Well, if that is the case, how impossible is it for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God? It is totally, absolutely impossible! In fact, it is totally, absolutely impossible for anyone to enter the Kingdom of God. It is totally, absolutely impossible for you to enter the Kingdom of God. At least, that is to say, if you are seeking to enter by your own efforts or merits or riches or resources. Man striving to enter the Kingdom of God by his own efforts and resources is as ridiculous as a camel, proverbially the largest of animals, striving and straining to pass through the eye of a needle, proverbially the smallest of openings. Jesus declares, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:23; ESV). Then, when His disciples look at one another amazed, He drops the “wealth” part and says simply, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God” (v. 24). It’s not just that it’s difficult for the rich to enter, it’s difficult period, difficult for everybody. Impossible, in fact. Because man, by nature, in this sinful, fallen, unbelieving flesh is incapable of entering the Kingdom of the righteous and holy God. St. Paul writes, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). This is the biblical teaching of the bondage of the will. That is to say, in spiritual matters, the unconverted person, the person outside of Christ, the person whom the Holy Spirit has not enlightened by the Gospel, is bound. He is bound to unbelief and sin. He is born spiritually blind, dead, and an avowed enemy of God. He cannot make any sort of decision for Christ. He can only continue in his blindness, unable to see his Creator and Redeemer in faith. He can only continue in his deadness, unable to do anything, because a dead man, by definition, cannot do anything. He can only continue, therefore, as a bitter enemy of God. To enter the Kingdom of God is an impossible thing for man.

Thanks be to God, however, that what is impossible for man is by no means impossible for God. “For all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27). That is to say, all things are possible with the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The one true God can and does bring you to saving faith in Jesus Christ. The one true God can and does preserve you, by His grace alone, in that faith. The one true God can and does do everything in the matter of your salvation. It is by grace, through faith, not by works, not by riches. The problem, again, is that even we Christians, as long as we have the old sinful flesh clinging to us (and we do, even though the old Adam has been drowned in Baptism… He keeps popping his head up out of the waters)… even we Christians often slip into trusting the wrong god(s) rather than the one true God. Our texts this morning are not so much about riches, the difference between the wealthy and the poor, or even our stewardship of the possessions God has given us, as they are about the First Commandment: You shall have no other gods. A god, remember, is anything that we fear, love, and trust above all things. A god is that from which you expect all good and that in which you take refuge in all distress (cf. Luther’s explanation of the First Commandment in the Large Catechism). Why does Jesus single out the rich in our Gospel lesson? Because wealth and possessions so easily become idols to us. We so easily slip into relying on things, money, possessions, jobs, spouses, etc., that we make them into idols, fearing, loving, and trusting in these things more than we trust in God, expecting every good from these things, taking refuge in these things when we are distressed. It really doesn’t matter how wealthy you are, whatever you have can become your idol. Even one with only two pennies to his name can make those two pennies into his idol! Luther writes concerning this in the Large Catechism: “Many a person thinks that he has God and everything in abundance when he has money and possessions. He trusts in them and boasts about them with such firmness and assurance as to care for no one. Such a person has a god by the name of ‘Mammon’ (i.e. money and possessions; [Matthew 6:24]), on which he sets all his heart. This is the most common idol on earth. He who has money and possessions feels secure [Luke 12:16-21] and is joyful and undismayed as though he were sitting in the midst of Paradise. On the other hand, he who has no money doubts and is despondent, as though he knew of no God. For very few people can be found who are of good cheer and who neither mourn nor complain if they lack Mammon. This care and desire for money sticks and clings to our nature, right up to the grave.”[1] Rich and poor alike make Mammon their god, putting Mammon in the place that rightly belongs to the one true God, our Triune God, alone.

To have the one true God as your God is to fear, love, and trust in Him above riches, above things, money, possessions, jobs, spouses, etc. It is to trust Him absolutely for salvation and every good. It is to live in repentance, which is another way of saying, live in your Baptism, daily drowning the old Adam with all sins and evil desires, that the new man can daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity, rightly regarding His good gifts as just that, gifts, from a loving and wise heavenly Father, gifts to be used for the glory of God and service of the neighbor. To have the one true God as your God is to trust not in your own efforts or merits or good works to gain salvation, but to plead Jesus’ blood alone as your righteousness, to take solace in Jesus’ wounds alone, to know that Jesus’ sacrifice alone has made peace for you with God and paid your debt for sin. To have the one true God as your God is to fear, love, and trust the God that Jesus Christ, the Son of God has revealed in His flesh, the Father who loves you and gives His Son for you, the Son who is Jesus Christ and gives Himself into death for you, the Spirit who fills you with Himself as the breath of life, calling you by the Gospel, enlightening you with His gifts, sanctifying and keeping you in the one true faith of Jesus Christ.

This is not to say that there isn’t a word to be said about stewardship in the texts for this morning. There most certainly is. As those redeemed by the blood of Christ, made God’s own children, filled with His Spirit, how would God have us live now as His people? What would He have us do with what He has given us? King Solomon writes in our Old Testament reading, “There is a grievous evil that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owner to his hurt” (Ecc. 5:13). I should say here that it is not sinful to have wealth. Wealth is a gift of God. But we must understand that wealth is a trust from our gracious heavenly Father. Whatever we have, be it much or little, is a trust from our gracious heavenly Father. He does not give it to us that we should store it up for ourselves and be misers toward our neighbor in need or toward the Church. You have a responsibility to use what God has given you for His glory and for meeting the needs of your neighbor. You should fund the mission of this congregation and this church body and her institutions. You should pay your pastor and the employees of this congregation. You should give to the Good Samaritan fund and to other charities to help your neighbor in need. If your neighbor is hungry, you should feed him. If he is naked, you should clothe him. If he is homeless, you should provide shelter. Whatever means the Lord has given you, He has given you to be used in His service, which means serving the neighbor. Because in reality, none of the things you possess are really yours. They are God’s. And don’t forget what Solomon says of them in the Old Testament reading. “As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand” (v. 15). Earthly wealth is for this life only. It is better to spend it here for your neighbor and for your Lord, and so store up treasure in heaven. And certainly do not trust in your wealth and your possessions, for they are fleeting. They are here today, but may be gone tomorrow. Trust in Jesus Christ alone. He alone is your Savior. He alone will provide for your every need. He alone must be your solace in distress.

Your Lord Jesus is really all you need. Everything else is an added gift of His grace. If you have Jesus, you have the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. “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” (2 Cor. 8:9). “[A]nd he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (5:15). Christ is your life and salvation. All that you are and have has been redeemed by His blood, to be used for Him, to His glory, in service to your neighbor. And what if you lose it all for Him? It could happen, you know. The Christian Church has been persecuted before. It is still persecuted in other places. We’ve had it relatively easy here in this time and place where we have not had our possessions confiscated, or been arrested, or been called to shed our blood in martyrdom. But it could happen. What if we have to lose our wealth to be a faithful Christian? Or our friends? Or our family members? Or our very life? Christ promises that He will be our all in all. And so also He promises, “there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time… with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30). The Lord provides. And as much as He provides us in this life, He provides infinitely more in the life to come.

It is impossible for man to enter the Kingdom of God by his own efforts or resources. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor. It doesn’t matter if you’re man or woman. It doesn’t matter if you’re slave or free. It is impossible for you to enter the Kingdom of God by your own efforts or resources. But what is impossible for man is possible for God. And He has bought you at the price of His Son’s own blood. Trust alone in the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Trust alone in Jesus Christ, the only Son of the Father. He alone is the way, the truth, and the life. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] LC Part I:5-9, McCain et al., p. 359.

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