IN NOMINE JESU
Our text for today is not about social classes. It does not give us the opportunity to make claims that the rich keep getting richer and the poor poorer; such claims are inappropriate within the context of the text for today's sermon, within the context of Mark 10, and within Scripture as a whole. Such comments are inappropriate for the sermon in particular and within the liturgy of the Church as a whole. In Mark 10, from whence our text comes, our Lord is teaching us where our priorities are to be. The rich young man wanted to inherit eternal life. He kept the Law; that is, he obeyed the Ten Commandments—at least in his own mind he did. Jesus told him to sell his possessions, and he could be Jesus' disciple. The man turned away sad because he had great wealth. He loved his possessions. He feared, loved, and trusted in them above God. He was guilty of breaking the First Commandment, whether he chose to realize it or not. His heart was not in the right place. He relied on his great wealth for his happiness rather than on the Lord for his salvation. After the man left, Jesus reiterated to His disciples that it is difficult for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. The disciples were incredulous. Some ancient manuscripts of St. Mark's Gospel note that Jesus said to the disciples in verse 24: "Children, how difficult it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God!" At issue here is not possessions in and of themselves; the issue is the priority we place upon them. How important are the things we own and the money we have, and are we willing to leave these behind for Jesus' sake and for the sake of the Gospel? Our Lord calls us to follow Him, even to the point of even being willing to leave behind what we own and the people we love because we are to love Him more than all of these. True discipleship to Christ demands total obedience on our part.
All that we have and everything we own does not belong to us. These all belong to God. We do not own anything. God has given these things to us, as Martin Luther teaches us in his explanation to the First Article of the Apostles' Creed: "I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life." We are but stewards of what God has given us. He is the Creator, and we are His creation. Yes, we are to thank God for giving us each day our daily bread...and pray that He continues to do so. We also need to be mindful of what the Lord has given us, lest we go to extremes in misusing what God has given us. The ancient Church Father, Clement of Alexandria, writes, "Let this teach the prosperous that they are not to neglect their own salvation, as if they had been already foredoomed, nor, on the other hand, to cast wealth into the sea, or condemn it as a traitor and an enemy to life, but learn in what way and how to use wealth and obtain life." Material possessions can exist in the life of the Christian, being good stewards of what God has given us here on earth, using these things to His glory. Clement also writes, The Savior by no means has excluded the rich on account of wealth itself, and the possession of property, nor fenced off salvation against them, if they are able and willing to submit their life to God's commandments, and prefer them to transitory things. Let them look to the Lord with steady eye, as those who look toward the slightest nod of a good helmsman, what he wishes, what he orders, what he indicates, what signal he gives his mariners, where and when he directs the ship's course. ...If one is able in the midst of wealth to turn from its mystique, to entertain moderate desires, to exercise self-control, to seek God alone, and to breathe God and walk with God, such a man submits to the commandments, being free, unsubdued, free of disease, unwounded by wealth. But if not, "sooner shall a camel enter through a needle's eye, than such a rich man reach the kingdom of God." [Salvation of the Rich Man 26]
You see, there is an even greater gift that our Lord has given us, the gift of faith, for without faith in Christ it is impossible to enter the kingdom of heaven. Trust in material things rather than in the blood of the Messiah is a recipe for certain condemnation. Things come and things go. A dear, sweet lady at the congregation in Minnesota where I served as a vicar put this in the proper perspective for me. She said, "It's just stuff."
And stuff is all our stuff is...just stuff. Heaven and earth will pass away, and all the stuff therein. But God's Word will not pass away, and that is the important stuff. Yet we fix our eyes on what we see, the things around us, and not on what is unseen: heaven and the eternal life there for all who believe in Jesus Christ and follow Him alone. We make mountains out of the molehills of our material goods and ignore the mountain on which our Lord died. We pore over our bank statements; yet we do not remember and live our Baptism. We make sure the cattle are fed; yet we do not allow the catechesis to feed our souls on the Word of God. We go to great lengths to have a hearty and healthy supper at home; yet we dismiss the forgiveness and free grace found in the Lord's Supper here in the Lord's house as something we merely "do" in the liturgy. We go to great lengths to save the farm; yet we starve our faith. We forget the words of Abraham, when his son Isaac asked him where the lamb for the sacrifice was. Abraham said, "God Himself will provide the lamb." God did provide the lamb for Abraham's sacrifice, just as He provided the Lamb for the sacrifice on our behalf; yet we forget God's promises and stray like sheep without a shepherd. God has given us all that we need to support our bodies and lives; yet we fail to thank God for what He has given us, and we fail to ask for His protection that we may hold on to, and be good stewards of, what He has entrusted to us. This so-called North Dakota spirit of independence, of pulling oneself up by one's own bootstraps, works against us where our faith is concerned because we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ our Lord or come to Him.
While it is impossible for us to make the effort or the decision to believe in Christ the Lord, it is not impossible for God to bring us to faith in Him. All things are possible with Him. And it is God's desire that all people be saved. To this end the Holy Spirit calls us by the Gospel, enlightens us with His gifts, sanctifies and keeps us in the one true faith, for Christ has redeemed us, lost and condemned people, purchased and won us from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death. The work of God is to believe in the One whom He sent, as Jesus tells us in St. John's Gospel. It is God's work to bring us to saving faith in Jesus Christ. This faith is a gift from Him, so that our boasting may not be of ourselves but of the riches of God's grace. You are rich, rich in the forgiveness of sins won on the cross by your dear Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. You are rich, rich in the gifts of His grace He offers to you though His Word and Sacraments. You are rich, even though you may not have much money, even if all you are able to give to the Lord is a widow's mite, because God has given you the greatest gifts of all. He gives you the forgiveness of all your sins. He gives you the promise of eternal life in heaven through your God-given faith in Jesus Christ. He gives you salvation in the Name of Jesus Christ unto life everlasting. We have nothing greater than these gifts that only the Lord can give to us. Even if we lose our earthly possessions, it does not matter, for God Himself will provide us with a way out from underneath our burdens. Our stuff is just stuff, yet stuff given to us by God. But by the Holy Spirit we fix our eyes on what is unseen: eternal life in heaven with our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Let the bank take the car and the people buy our stuff at auction, for, as we sing in the great Reformation hymn: "The Word they still shall let remain / Nor any thanks have for it; He's by our side upon the plain / With His good gifts and Spirit. And take they our life, Goods, fame, child, and wife, Let these all be gone, They yet have nothing won; The Kingdom ours remaineth" [TLH 262:4]. Thanks be to God! In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
Pr. Mark Schlamann Our Savior/Redeemer Lutheran Churches, Pettibone/Woodworth, ND
We treat of the forgiveness of sins in two ways. First, how it is achieved and won. Second, how it is distributed and given to us. Christ has achieved it on the cross, it is true. But He has not distributed or given it on the cross. He has not won it in the Supper or Sacrament. There He has distributed and given it through the Word, as also in the gospel, where it is preached. He has won it once for all on the cross. But the distribution takes place continuously, before and after, from the beginning to the end of the world. For inasmuch as He had determined once to achieve it, it made no difference to Him whether he distributed it before or after, through His Word, as can easily be proved from Scripture. (Luther)--
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