Sermon for October 18, 2015

Sermon for the Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

October 18, 2015, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas

Sermon Text:  Mark 10:23-31

Sermon Theme:  “Is It Mission Impossible?”

 (Sources:  Brokhoff, Series B, Preaching Workbook; Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 25, Part 4, Series B; original ideas; Nelson’s Three-in-One Bible Reference; Online 25 Inspirational Quotes on Wealth and Money; Online Revelation.Co, Regarding a Rich Person Entering Heaven; Online Charlie Brown Quotes; Online Religious Jokes; Believer’s Commentary)

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

           It is not uncommon for Jesus to say something that really slaps us in the face.  In reading today’s sermon text from Mark, some of us felt a pretty hard whap!  And so did the disciples.  Jesus made this jaw-dropping statement:  “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.”  We have to take this in context of the entire Bible and its teachings, and understand it in context.  Otherwise, we might promote a welfare state, and that’s not what God wants.  Folks during the time of Jesus would have seen wealth as a sign of God’s favor, so it’s no wonder His statement would have startled them.  Let’s see what we can make of this.

Keeping in mind that 1 Timothy 6:10 says the LOVE of money is the ROOT of all evil, not that MONEY per se is EVIL, let’s first look at the world’s wisdom on this subject before we plunge into a theological explanation.

Jim Rohn says, “Time is more valuable than money.  You can get more money, but you cannot get more time.”

One of my favorite quotations from the world’s pool of wisdom was written by an anonymous commentator:  “The person who doesn’t know where his next dollar is coming from usually doesn’t know where his last dollar went.”

Norman Vincent Peale once said, “Empty pockets never held anyone back.  Only empty heads and empty hearts can do that.”

I saved Eleanor Roosevelt’s for last:  “He who loses money, loses much; he who loses a friend, loses much more; He who loses faith, loses all.”

The world’s wisdom understands the importance of money, as well as the limitations of money, but you could read a thousand quotations about wealth and money and not understand what Jesus meant.

In the text, Jesus seems to say it is impossible for a rich person to enter heaven.  Impossible or difficult?, you ask.  Jesus would answer, “Impossible.”  But then, if we asked Jesus, ‘Is it possible for ANYONE to enter heaven by himself, He would also answer, “No, it’s Mission Impossible!”  Just as the camel cannot make it through the eye of a needle no matter how hard he works at it or how much he struggles, so we cannot work our own salvation.  We can enter heaven ONLY by God’s grace through faith.  

Some students of the Bible argue that the “eye of a needle” referred to one of the gates into the city that may or may not have been called “the Eye of the Needle,” and that it was a struggle for a camel to squeeze through it.  However, Jesus uses the word “impossible” rather than “difficult.”  We know from other of His sayings He had a sense of humor that involved hyperbole, — such as when He told us not to point out the sawdust in someone else’s eye when there was a plank in our own.  So He’s calling a needle a needle!

You see, in the text, when the disciples asked who then could be saved, Jesus answered that what is impossible with a person is possible with God.  It is not necessary to be poor, to give away all your goods, and take the vow of poverty as a monk or a nun.  This passage must be seen in perspective with other teachings of our Savior.  Zaccheus, Joseph of Arimathea, and Matthew were wealthy, but yet followers of Jesus.  Lydia was a very wealthy merchant who was a dealer in purple cloth, which was very expensive and sold for a big price, But Lydia gave a great deal of her time and money to help the early Church.

I don’t mean to always pick on Lucy van Pelt, but . . . I guess I do.  Lucy upgraded her lemonade stand where she sold lemonade for five cents a glass to a psychiatric help stand where a session with her as doctor also costs five cents.  She made more money this way, as there was too much overhead with selling lemonade.  No overhead in psychiatry.                                                                                                             Once she said to Charlie Brown, “What a beautiful sound!  How I love hearing that old money plink.  That beautiful sound of cold, hard cash!  That beautiful, beautiful sound!  Nickels, nickels, nickels!  That beautiful sound of plinking nickels!”

During another Christmas season, Lucy complains to Charlie about never getting what she wants for Christmas.  She didn’t want stupid things like toys, clothes or a bicycle.

“What do you want?”  Charlie asked.

“Real estate,” Lucy replied.  What’s the difference between Lucy and Lydia?  Lucy is selfish; Lydia shares with others.

Many well-to-do Christians feel uncomfortable and guilty when they confront this text.  They need to be assured that it IS possible for a person of means to enter heaven.

There is also the danger some people without money, property, or a job might look upon this passage as a justification for their lethargy and idleness.  If we look in the context of the entire Bible, we find these words in 2 Thessalonians 3: 6-10 by St. Paul:  “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.  For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example.  We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it.  On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any on you.

“We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow.  For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘If a man will not work, he shall not eat.’”

I was brought up on that verse, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.”  Lydia not only worked and provided food for herself, but she also provided food and housing for others in the Christian movement.  She is a model for all of us.

The wealthy man in last Sunday’s gospel text loved his money more than he loved God, but the Christian is called upon to love God more than anything else, including money.

What God wants us to learn from all this is:  One, wealth is not the master but the servant in a Christian’s life; two, the Christian must trust in God rather than in wealth, and three, the Christian should use wealth for service for God and humanity.  Good stewardship, not renunciation of money, is what God desires of all of us, rich or poor.

Since we just had a new roof put on the church, I have to tell you this story about the rather frugal little congregation whose church desperately needed a new roof.

One day, after the end of his sermon the pastor announced to them:  “I have bad news, I have good news, and I have more bad news.”

The congregation got very quiet.

“The bad news is the church needs a new roof.”

The congregation let out a corporate groan.

“The good news is:  we have enough money to pay for the roof.”  A sign of relief was heard rippling through the gathered group.

“The bad news is:  It’s still in your pockets.”

In our sermon text, Jesus explains to His disciples that the benefits of being a Christian are enormous:  Eternal life!  But in the meantime, God’s blessings come with persecutions.  The difficulties are great – we might lose family members because of our faith.  At the same time, we will have great blessings, as fellow believers will make up our new family.  There will also be many temptations, not the least of which will be looking for security and comfort in wealth.

Yet, no matter how difficult being a Christian gets, the “Mission Impossible” is Mission Accomplished,” because Jesus has completed His mission for us.  Rich or poor, we are assured of the victory in Christ because, in dying for us, and arising from death, He did the Mission Impossible.  Amen.