Mark 10:17-31

(sermon note: 02-18 sermon note)

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.”’ He said to him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.’ Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’ And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them 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.’ They were greatly astounded and said to one another, ‘Then who can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.’

Peter began to say to him, ‘Look, we have left everything and followed you.’ Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.’

This morning’s reading can’t help but make me recall the one about a man who was walking through the woods when he came across a hungry bear, frothing at the mouth and dizzying about. The man immediately dropped to his knees and put his hands together to pray for salvation. To his surprise, so did the bear! Greatly eased by this, the man began to pray. “Oh, heavenly Father, please let this be a Christian bear! I don’t want to be eaten by those evil nasty devil bears!” And the bear, to the great shock of the man, began to pray, too! Kneeling there on the side of the road across from the man, paws clasped together, the bear prayed, “Oh, heavenly Father! For this meal, which I am about to receive, I give thanks.”

And who says God doesn’t answer prayers?! God, in his great mercy, somehow managed to send that man a Christian bear who had the faithful discipline of saying grace before his meal! Too bad God didn’t send a bear with the Christian value of mercy. His life could have been spared altogether! It just goes to show that if you’re expecting a genie-like God who doles out wishes, then you better be careful in what you wish for. A Christian bear can equate to a variety of things…

I think the rich man in today’s reading kind of expected a genie-like God as reflected in his encounter with Jesus. If only he said or did the right thing, then God would grant him salvation and eternal life. He had spent his whole life crossing his t’s and dotting his i’s, making sure that God would somehow feel compelled to grant him his wish. Not to mention he lived a life or wealth and privilege, a life in which few things were denied to him. If his “perfect” behavior wouldn’t earn him his salvation, then surely his wealth and status would, or so he though! Alas, God isn’t compelled to do anything, nor does he reward with salvation. Our God is good and gracious and freely bestows salvation on anyone who simply believes. We, as Lutherans, know and trust this very fundamental tenet of our faith. Luther very boldly and courageously reminded the church, and us, that our salvation relies entirely on our faith and not our works. Of course, it wasn’t a tenet that was new or unique to Luther. He was merely focusing our attention to the words of Paul as written in his letter to the Ephesians, “for by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” (2:8-9) History tells us that the church had somehow pulled away from Paul’s teaching and convinced the mass population of believers that salvation was something to be earned, that we are to say or do certain things to earn our salvation or the salvation of our loved ones. This was reflected in that nasty little tool of indulgences where people paid money for their salvation or the salvation of their loved ones. It’s amazing that the church got away with that for so many years! Paul clearly taught that salvation comes through faith alone and as a gift from God! I guess the church got away with it because most people couldn’t read or understand Paul’s words as expressed in Hebrew and Latin. The church took advantage of mass ignorance and what a gift it was when Luther came along and translated Paul’s words so that they could be read and understood. But at the time, people had been fooled into believing that their salvation was earned through works and the expression, “works righteousness,” was considered dogma.

Paul corrected this commonly held misunderstanding long before Luther’s time. It wasn’t unique to Luther’s time by any means. Yet it had firmly corrupted the church of Luther’s time having gone unchecked. In fact, Paul reiterated his correction a couple times in different settings and situations. In his letter to Titus, he wrote, “he [Jesus] saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” (3:5) Again, nothing we do can earn our salvation, only what Jesus has done for us already. We must simply believe and place our trust in him. He came to us first and we respond one way or another. Or, as 1 John so neatly words it, “we love because he first loved us.” (4:19) We can choose to love or not choose to love but regardless, God chooses to love us. What a gift, friends!

In his letter to the Romans, again Paul wrote, “because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (10:9) Confession and belief, these are the key to salvation. Not anything we say or do. Now then, the rich man in today’s lesson didn’t have Paul’s words to help him understand how he received salvation. Could he have been saved without them? Of course! He only needed to rid of his belongings and accept God’s gift of salvation for what it is—a GIFT! He only needed to trust God would provide for him. God had already provided for him through all his wealth and status! God provided for him and for us, each and every day. It is by God’s grace alone that we continue to exist in this world! Our God must have a purpose for us in this world…a purpose and a plan. We must listen and figure out what it is because, as that old expression goes, “God don’t make no junk!” God wants us to be here now and in this community.

It was a hard teaching for the rich man, and it can be a hard teaching for us, too, unless we place our whole heart and trust in him. God loves us so very much, why wouldn’t we love him back?! Let us get rid of whatever holds us back from loving him with our whole lives. Let us give thanks for his love and share it with those around us. Thanks be to God!

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.