St. Matthew’s Sermon 10-14-2018


St. Matthew’s Sermon 10-14-2018

Keep the Door Open

Job 23:1-9, 16-17, Psalm 22:1-15, Hebrews 4:12-16, Mark 10:17-31

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

What does it mean to be a Christian? What do we have to do to be true followers of Christ? How do our words and our actions make the difference between us having life in the Kingdom of God and death? These are questions we need to be asking of ourselves constantly; every day of our lives!

Does believing that Jesus Christ is our personal Lord and savior make you a Christian? If so, then what does it mean to “believe”; is it simply a matter of “believing” that Jesus is the Son of God? Is that enough to be granted a place in the Kingdom?

As far as what we need to do, is it a matter of worship and prayer; or is there more to it than our religious rituals.

Isn’t it interesting how, when we ask a question, more questions come up; each one demanding to be answered first before we can come to the answer we originally sought.

I came upon this dilemma when reading today’s Gospel lesson in preparation for my sermon. The first question was “how do I present this as “Good News” to a congregation of people with “many possessions”. The next question, perhaps the more obvious one, is “do we have to give up everything we own to be true followers of Christ”? Then, if we do that, have we made the poor we give our money to, who now have more than we do, ineligible for a place in the Kingdom?

The point I hope I’m making is not that we have to know all the answers to inherit eternal life, but that we must always be open to more questions that, when answered, will lead us in the right direction.

Throughout all the questions we have about what it means to be a Christian, and I think we can all agree on this, is that we should, to the best of our ability, imitate the life and teaching of Jesus Christ with full confidence that his way, which is God’s way, is a much better way to live than anything we humans are able to devise.

Still, that very statement circles back with even more questions, especially in the context of today’s Gospel reading where Jesus tells the rich man to sell all he has, give the money to the poor, and follow him.

Clearly, we cannot all follow this instruction. Jesus and his Disciples indeed had nothing of possessions save the clothes on their backs; they had all given up everything, walked away from possessions and family, and wondered about for the sake of spreading the Gospel. But, logistically, if every one of us, all humanity, did exactly this, who would be growing the food we need, who would be raising sheep for wool, who would be spinning the wool into the clothing that we also need?

So, maybe we can’t perfectly imitate Christ in all things. Or, maybe it is possible as far as “for God, all things are possible”. But while we wrestle with that question, there is another part of the story that enlightens us as to the meaning of being a follower of Christ through his teaching and, particularly, his actions.

Earlier in the Gospel we learn that Jesus is aware of the condition of the hearts of those who approach him; he knows who is sincere and who is being deceitful so we can assume that when Jesus addresses the rich man about keeping the law, even the one Jesus added “do not defraud”, he already knows the heart of the man. The statements are not a test of the man’s knowledge of the law, rather an opportunity to open a conversation with him (much as we saw in last week’s reading in which Jesus used questions to open conversation with the Pharisees who came to “test him”).

The conversation goes well, Jesus even “loves” the man enough to offer him a place at his side; a personal calling into Discipleship that also comes with the command to give up everything he owns. The rich man walks away from that calling.

It’s easy for us to believe that the rich man didn’t inherit eternal life as he sought to do, he vanishes from the story never to return. And, with our binary way of thinking about eternal life in the kingdom against the option of condemnation and hell, it’s easy for us to think that he did indeed end up in hell.

But that would be our conjecture; it’s not what the story tells us and it’s not what Jesus’ words and actions tell us!

To understand this more clearly look at the question the man asked Jesus; He did not ask him how to avoid going to hell, he asked how to inherit eternal life. He had obeyed all the commandments since his youth but he wasn’t sure that was all that was required.

When Jesus tells him that he lacks one thing, it isn’t a condemnation but an invitation. And even after the man walks away (notice here, Jesus doesn’t drive him away) Jesus doesn’t condemn him to hell but reflectively tells his Disciples how hard it is for a rich person to enter the Kingdom. And then, when the Disciples are asking “Then who can be saved” Jesus makes sure they understand that not the rich man, nor them, nor anyone else is locked out but that the door is still open with those beautifully reassuring words “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

Jesus does not condemn, even after the man is out of the story Jesus doesn’t tell his Disciples that he is condemned and we are left with the question “Did the rich man ever inherit eternal life”? We don’t know, we’re not told. But as followers of Christ trying to imitate his life and teaching we do know that it is not for us to determine by analysis or by conjecture.

There will always be questions for us to ponder but it is important to keep this lesson in mind when we’re questioning the righteousness of another, Jesus doesn’t slam the door in anyone’s face and neither should we; Jesus doesn’t lock anyone out of the Kingdom and neither should we.

Christ always leaves the door open! That is the Good News! And the really Good News is that what applies to others applies equally to us; we, you and I, will never be locked out either! Praise be to God!

Amen.

 

Job 23:1-9, 16-17
23:1 Then Job answered:
23:2 “Today also my complaint is bitter; his hand is heavy despite my groaning.
23:3 Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his dwelling!
23:4 I would lay my case before him, and fill my mouth with arguments.
23:5 I would learn what he would answer me, and understand what he would say to me.
23:6 Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power? No; but he would give heed to me.
23:7 There an upright person could reason with him, and I should be acquitted forever by my judge.
23:8 “If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him;
23:9 on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see him.
23:16 God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me;
23:17 If only I could vanish in darkness, and thick darkness would cover my face!

Psalm 22:1-15
22:1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
22:2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.
22:3 Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.
22:4 In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.
22:5 To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.
22:6 But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people.
22:7 All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
22:8 “Commit your cause to the LORD; let him deliver– let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”
22:9 Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
22:10 On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God.
22:11 Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.
22:12 Many bulls encircle me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
22:13 they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.
22:14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast;
22:15 my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.

 

Hebrews 4:12-16
4:12 Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
4:13 And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.
4:14 Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession.
4:15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.
4:16 Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Mark 10:17-31
10:17 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?”
10:18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.
10:19 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.’”
10:20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.”
10:21 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.”
10:22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
10:23 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!”
10:24 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!
10:25 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.”
10:26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?”
10:27 Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
10:28 Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.”
10:29 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,
10:30 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.
10:31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”