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, 2015

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 24)

October 18, 2015
Text: Mark 10:23-31

            “Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’” (Mark 10:23; ESV).  Our Lord is commenting on the rich young man who walked away sad after Jesus told him to go and sell all his possessions, give it all away to the poor, and come follow Him.  We heard about that last week.  In the case of the rich young man, his wealth had become an impediment to his faith in Jesus.  Wealth became and idol.  And so it goes.  Such is the danger for those who have wealth.  This is an important warning to us as we live in the most affluent nation in the world and in history.  We call ourselves consumers, but the truth is, we are consumed by our money and our stuff.  We are never satisfied, as the Preacher points out in our Old Testament reading (Ecc. 5:10-20).  “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money” (v. 10).  “When goods increase, they increase who eat them” (v. 11).  It’s never enough.  The more you have, the bigger you get, and the more you “need” to sustain your “standard of living”.  And so, as the Preacher points out, you can keep riches to your hurt (v. 13).  Best to enjoy them now, because, as the common proverb goes based on our Old Testament reading, “you can’t take it with you when you go.”  And Jesus teaches us that the best way to enjoy it now, the godly way, is to give it away, to give it to those who need it, be generous, help your neighbor, invest in him, and in this way store up treasure for yourself in heaven.  But when we hear that kind of talk, we go away sad, because we have great possessions.  And we need them.  We need the money to take care of ourselves.  We need the money to provide for ourselves.  Now… who, or what, are you trusting to take care of you and provide for you?  Idolatry, that is.  Repent.  How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God.
            But in general, it’s just difficult.  Because we all have our idols, be it wealth, or something else.  First Jesus says it is difficult for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God (Mark 10:23).  Then, when His disciples are “amazed at his words,” He makes it more general: “Children, how difficult it is to enter the Kingdom of God!” (v. 24).  Period.  Because you can’t enter it with your other gods.  It’s the very First Commandment: You shall have no other Gods besides Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  And that actually makes it not just difficult, but impossible.  “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (v. 25).  Now, I don’t know about you, but I think it’s fairly safe to say there has never, in the whole history of the world, been a camel who could fit through a needle’s eye.  So the disciples are right to ask: “Then who can be saved?” (v. 26).  And the only reasonable answer is: Nobody!  Nobody can be saved.  Not by any amount of human ingenuity.  Not by wealth or great possessions.  Not by being “basically a good person,” as we all think about ourselves.  It is impossible for the rich.  It is impossible for anyone.  It is impossible for you.
            But “not with God.  For all things are possible with God” (v. 27).  Salvation is God’s business, not yours.  It is monergistic, as we say in theology: God’s work alone.  Salvation must come from outside of you, for it is impossible for you to attain.  You’ll see camels marching through the eyes of needles before you could ever gain salvation for yourself.  Because you are a child of Adam.  You are born with his disease, original sin.  And therefore you are born spiritually blind, dead, and an enemy of God.  You cannot see the light of God’s salvation.  In fact, you are spiritually dead, so you have all the ability of a dead man to see, to decide, to believe, to bring yourself back to life.  This is what we call the bondage of the will in spiritual matters.  And you hate God.  By nature.  Yes, you do.  Because you want to be your own god, deciding good and evil for yourself, and you simultaneously submit to all sorts of other gods, like wealth or sex or alcohol or whatever it is.  So all that being true, how can you be saved?  You can’t do it for yourself.  Dead men can’t bring themselves back to life.  But God is in the very business of bringing the dead back to life.  And that is extraordinarily good news.  So serious is God about bringing the dead back to life, He became a man and died for the dead, for you, and rose again to conquer death for you, that you may have life… real life, abundant life, eternal life, in Him.  It’s not possible with you.  But all things are possible with God.  Even the likes of you coming to faith in Christ Jesus, the Son of God.
            He does it by the Word, for the Spirit is in the Word, preached for your salvation and written down for your learning.  The Word is the swaddling cloths of our Lord Jesus Christ.  In the Word you will find Him, crucified for your sins and raised for your justification.  He does it by the water of Holy Baptism.  It is your new birth.  Since you were born of your mother spiritually blind, dead, and an enemy of God, you must be born anew of water and the Spirit if you are to see the things of God, be alive with the life of God, and love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  He does it in the Supper, feeding you with the Food that does not perish, the true Body and Blood of Christ for your forgiveness, life, and salvation.  This is what keeps you alive in Christ and strengthens you to stand in the midst of this world’s idols, rejecting them and clinging to Christ alone.  The altar is the manger from which you feed on the Lord Jesus who is our Bread of Life.
            And what of all our stuff: our wealth and our possessions and the things of this earthly life?  What about the danger these things can present?  We prayed in the Collect that God would “Put away from us all things hurtful,” that He would take away whatever stands between us and our salvation, whatever stands between us and Jesus.  And St. Peter points out that this is the cost of discipleship: “See, we have left everything and followed you” (v. 28).  We prayed for it, and it’s in the Bible, so we shouldn’t be all that surprised when our gracious heavenly Father takes some things away from us, particularly things that have become idols to us, whether we know it or not.  Sometimes He takes these things away from us by force.  The economy tanks and you lose your retirement savings.  And sometimes He gives us, as a gift, the will to give it away, even though the Old Adam fights against this will tooth and nail.  If wealth is your idol, it’s time to dethrone it.  Put it to work in service of the one true God.  If you’re struggling with money, the best thing you can do is put a little extra in the offering plate or give it to someone else who needs it. It is a confession of faith, like the widow who gave her mites, all she had.  It is a confession that God will take care of you, that He who gave His only Son into death to redeem you will not forsake you over a few measly dollars.  And it is a rejection of wealth as your god.  Dethrone that idol.  Mammon makes empty promises.  It cannot satisfy you.  It can’t even sustain you.  And you can’t take it with you.  Mammon cannot endure. 
            But Jesus does.  He does all of these things.  And He promises He will more than make up for whatever you lose for His sake.  “Truly, I say to you, 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… and in the age to come eternal life” (vv. 29-30).  Now, Jesus is not telling you to leave your family.  He is telling you that your house and family and lands may be taken away from you as part of the cost of discipleship.  Maybe your family will despise you or reject you because of Christ or His Word.  Maybe they will be taken by force in a time of persecution.  That hurts.  But these good gifts of God, too, can become idols when they get between you and Jesus.  But here is the Promise: Jesus will always give you more than has been taken away from you.  That is again what we prayed in the Collect: “give us those things that are beneficial for us,” the things that prosper our salvation.  And Jesus promises He will.  He will give us wonderful things in this life: He will give us the Church as our house full of brothers and sisters and mothers and children.  He will give it in every land (v. 30).  We prayed for it.  It’s in the Bible.  It shouldn’t surprise us when it happens.  He will also give us persecutions.  He will give us the cross.  Because that is also what is best for us.  But the greatest reward is at the end.  It is eternal life.  It is heaven.  It is the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come.  And these gifts of Jesus are the things that last.  They endure.  The treasures of this world are destroyed by moth and rust, and robbers break in and steal them.  But our Joy cannot be taken away.  For our Joy is Jesus.  He was handed over for our sakes, but He is risen from the dead.  And He lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit eternally.

            Who then can be saved?  With man this is impossible.  We cannot do it by our own reason or strength.  But all things are possible with God.  And our salvation is not just possible, it’s a done deal.  The proof is the crucifix, where the Lamb of God is slain, and the empty tomb that could not hold Him.  He lives.  And because He lives, you live, in Him.  And He will raise you from the dead.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.    

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