Sermon for Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Deacon Ben Remmert, Deacon of Children, Youth and Family Ministry  

Amos 5:6-7, 10-15 Hebrew 7:23-28 Mark 10:17-31

How many of you here this morning enjoy shopping? For a lot of us, shopping can be a wonderful experience, especially if you are shopping for stuff you like. When time and money are available for a shopping trip, my family loves going to Target. Once we get there, we see all sorts of things that catch our attention. We look at something that wasn’t on our list and think “hmm…I already have one of those at home, but I could sure use a new one with all the latest features on it!” If you’re like me, sometimes you end up picking up a few things that are not on the list as well. It’s a lot of fun…. until you get to the checkout stand.

The cashier runs your items through the scanner, and then, presents you with your total amount due. That joy and excitement suddenly vanishes. “Wait a minute…how did the bill get to be THAT big? Surely there has to be some mistake!” But nope, it’s right. All those extras added up, turning your wonderful shopping experience a bit sour. Or, for others of you, it happens when you get your monthly phone, internet, or streaming bills. You see the total is more than you expect, and then go through each itemized charge, to find all sorts of extra charges. Or, if you start a home improvement project it ends up requiring more work than expected. There just always seems to be more than we bargained for in life, isn’t there?

The man who approaches Jesus in our Gospel reading for this morning has a similar experience. We read into the text that when this man comes to Jesus, he’s very excited at first. He addresses Jesus “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Seems like a simple enough question, that deserves a simple answer. 

So, Jesus starts His response by saying “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” Jesus can see beyond this question. He sees what is in this man’s heart. He sees the real question this guy is asking. What prompts Jesus’ response. “You know the commandments: Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.” What Jesus is saying, is “Okay, you want to talk about Good and eternal life? Well, we must use God’s definition of good. Have you perfectly kept the commandments?” Jesus gives this man a brief review of the commandments. 

And this man’s response is telling. He says “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” He listens to Jesus’ reel off the commandments on how to treat his neighbor. I can just picture this guy treating this like a checklist as Jesus is reciting these commandments. “Let’s see here….do not murder, check. Do not commit adultery, check. Do not steal, never done that one, so check. And it goes like this on down the list. He’s looking at the list of commandments Jesus is reciting, and treating it as a shopping list, and now, here he is at the checkout counter. He’s ready to find out that all his law keeping has earned him eternal life. 

Jesus looks at this man, and says, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, and come, follow me,” And what happens? We’re told “Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” Right here, Jesus gives this man his “sticker shock” if you will. It turns out, the total is maybe more than this man is willing to pay.  

What Jesus is reminding this man of, is the First Commandment. Up to this point, Jesus was asking if he had kept the commandments that deal with our relationships with each other. Now, Jesus is asking him “okay, so since you think you’re such a good person according to the world, let’s find out if you’re good the way I define it. Do you have any other gods before Me?” Jesus’ response here in saying this man lacks one thing reveals to him that the man has indeed broken a commandment, the first one. In the Small Catechism, Martin Luther gives us the following definition of the first commandment. (Confirmation students, feel free to recite it along with me since we went through this last Sunday.) “You shall have no other gods. What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” This man indeed lacks one thing. He hasn’t put his trust in God. Instead, he’s put his trust in his material things. No doubt, he probably also had a lot of power that often goes with wealth. His god is his wealth. That’s why he walks away from Jesus sorrowful, because he’s may not be willing to give up his false god of worldly goods, in order that he may inherit eternal life. 

The answer Jesus gives this wealthy man, and the reason the wealthy man leaves sorrowful is because Jesus is answering the question “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus was trying to strip this wealthy man of any ideas that he could earn his way into heaven. That was solely Jesus’ work that would get him there. That eternal life was an inheritance, not something that you earn by being good. In other words, Jesus’ ultimate answer to the question “What must I do to inherit eternal life” is nothing because I’m going to the cross to do it all. You can’t afford the price, because if you had to earn it, you’d have to fulfill all the commandments, and you can’t do that. You haven’t even kept the first one.” 

And in a lot of ways, you and I are often like that wealthy man. We approach Jesus and ask Him “What do I have to do to earn your favor? Surely there’s something I must do in this deal to earn forgiveness, life, and salvation, isn’t there? It can’t possibly be all Jesus’ work?” Perhaps some of you had your “shopping lists” out as you heard Jesus recite some of those commandments in our Gospel reading for today and concluded “I’m a pretty good person. God must approve of what I’m doing because I don’t commit any of those bad sins. 

But the truth that Jesus speaks is “you can’t do it.” Even your own personal piety can easily become a false god. 1 John 1:8 tells us “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” Just like this wealthy man, if we boast about our works, our piety, and look to those things as proof of God’s seal of approval, or ways in which we earn our salvation in any way, shape, or form, we’re deceiving ourselves. We’re not honest. We’ve broken the first commandment. We’ve made ourselves or our actions or our piety or our money into our god. 

And this word of God’s Law is hard to hear, isn’t it? Even if you don’t have great material possessions, it’s hard to hear God’s word of Law tell you to let go of something, isn’t it? It’s hard to hear God’s word of Law tell us that certain things that our society is open to is sinful, isn’t it? Especially if we or someone we know is caught up in it. It’s like last week’s Sunday Gospel reading on the topic of marriage and divorce. The word of God’s Law was hard for some of us to hear. That’s because we want to be in control. We want to be the ones who decide what’s right and wrong, especially based on if it is convenient for us or not. We want to be the ones who decide who is and is not truly “saved” or a “true believer”. We want to think our good behavior earns us certain rights or privileges before God that other people don’t have, because they’re not “good” like us. 

But did you notice that when Jesus told this wealthy man this word of Law, that we’re told Jesus “loved him” as he said it? You see, the reason Jesus proclaimed this word of Law was because he loved this wealthy man. He wanted this wealthy man to inherit eternal life. He wanted to strip this wealthy man of any reliance on his own merit for salvation. Jesus sincerely wanted this man to see that he couldn’t by his own reason or strength earn salvation, but that Jesus was doing all the work for him through His life, death, and resurrection. He wanted this wealthy man to see that He isn’t a moral teacher, or someone to seek a “seal of approval” from for your lifestyle, but that Jesus is our Savior from sin, death, and the power of the devil.  

Likewise, when we hear God’s word of Law, He isn’t speaking it out of anger or hatred toward us, or to be exclusive of who can and cannot be in His presence. He’s speaking it to us out of LOVE for us. He wants us to see that Christ has done it all for us at the cross. He wants us to come and confess our sins, including the times where we have put our trust in our own possessions and actions instead of on what Christ has done for us, and then hear the wonderful words that because of what Jesus has done for us, we are forgiven of our sins, and we will inherit eternal life. When we get to the checkout counter, we see that the debt has already been paid, in full. Eternal life is ours! 1 John 1:8-9 tells us “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 

Just as the wealthy man in our Gospel lesson for today heard the truth in love, so have we. We have come to Jesus, asking the question “What must we do to earn eternal life?” And we have heard Him respond to us “You can’t do anything to earn it. That’s why I have done it all. It’s a gift. So let go of all those worldly possessions, thoughts, words, and deeds that you are clinging to, and follow me. Let me forgive you, cleanse you, and pay the price for your salvation by My suffering and death.” We realize when God speaks His word of law, it’s spoken to us in love. It’s spoken so we can truly hear the good news, that Jesus Christ has done it all for us. What better message, what more loving message, could there possibly be to share with our community? Let us go from here into our vocations this week, telling everyone the good news of the answer to the question “What must we do to inherit eternal life? Nothing, because Jesus has already done it all for us! Thanks be to God!” Amen.