THE 22ND SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST AD 2018
TRINITY EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH
REV. KURT E. REINHARDT
Ecclesiastes 5:10-20 He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes? Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep.
There is a grievous evil that I have seen under the sun:riches were kept by their owner to his hurt, and those riches were lost in a bad venture. And he is father of a son, but he has nothing in his hand. As he came from his mother's womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand. This also is a grievous evil:just as he came, so shall he go, and what gain is there to him who toils for the wind? Moreover, all his days he eats in darkness in much vexation and sickness and anger.
Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God. For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.
Hebrews 4:1-13 Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said,
“As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall not enter my rest,’”
although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” And again in this passage he said,
“They shall not enter my rest.”
Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted,
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.”
For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.
Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two- edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
Mark 10:23-31 And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 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.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.
Difficult. Yes, getting a camel through the eye of a needle that would be difficult, to say the least, even in our day and age. Sure, we could make a needle big enough. We have the technology. We might even set our guys to work at genetically engineering a camel small enough to make it through. But to get at what Jesus has to say to us this morning, you have to hear His word in the time that He said it. This is true of all scripture. We don’t tear it out of its context. Its truth is found in its simple meaning understood in the time that it was spoken.
Difficult. Yes, that is the point. I’d say that I get that in a whole new way, as time has marched on causing me to squint all the more when I come across fine print and try to use things like needles. The arms of my glasses have a few more teeth marks in the ends of them from when they seem to be more use hanging out of my mouth rather than on the bridge of my nose. Forget about camels, thread is a big enough challenge these days. Not that I do it very often, which is perhaps why I notice how bad it has gotten. I almost despaired of being able to sew the buttons on to the sweater that I finished this summer.
Difficult. Yes, entering the kingdom of God is difficult. For everyone. Period. As good Lutherans we all ought to know that. But Jesus does highlight one group in particular for us today - those who have wealth, which, remember, we have to hear in context to know who He means. Jesus is not talking about the Bill Gates’ of the World or even the Donald Trumps or Justin Trudeaus. No, no we can’t weasel out from this word by thinking He can’t possibly mean us. No, beloved, You and I are the precisely the people He has in mind when He speaks today.
Besides the fact, that every Word that Christ speaks needs to be heard personally - Jesus is never just speaking to other people, He is always speaking directly to you. Looking around you when the Lord speaks to see who He might mean is never a good idea. He is always looking right at you. But yes, besides this fact, we need to also know that the poorest among us, no matter how high the debt and no matter how meagre the savings, is rich beyond measure by first century standards. You and I are right beside the young man who ran up to Jesus last week. I’ve got a basement full of tote boxes to prove it. You might have the odd one or two yourselves.
Jesus couldn’t be any clearer to us this morning, that all that stuff is not helpful, when it comes to entering the kingdom of God. It weighs you down and makes it hard to make your way to and through the door - like trying to get a camel through the eye of a needle. The more that you pile up in your life, the more that there is to keep you from seeing the Way. The more that you try to haul with you, the harder it is to make it through the Way. It all gets in the way of seeing Jesus, fixing your eyes on Jesus, coming to Jesus. This is not the first time that I’ve heard this, beloved, as I am sure its not the first time for most of you either. And yet, how much of our time and energy is spent on trying to get more of the very things that according to Jesus are such hindrances to our salvation.
Indeed, and how slow or reluctant we are to let them go, when we are asked to part with some of them. Is it not a wonder, beloved, that among the Children of God who know the wisdom that Solomon sets before them - that chasing after riches is nothing but vanity … that as they increase those increase that devour them … and that as we came from our mother’s womb so shall we go… Is it not a wonder that among the children of God who know the teaching of Jesus that makes it clear that riches are a great hindrance to our salvation… Is it not truly a wonder that our treasurer would be at his wits end because as much as he might try to highlight how our giving is not covering our expenses, few are looking to let go of some of that hindering wealth to meet the needs of their mother the Church?
Knowing all that we know, how can it be, beloved, that our international mission efforts have to be largely funded by outside money? Why does our Synod have to apply year by year to the foundation set up by an ice cream magnate, so that we can give two hundred dollars a month to each Nicaraguan pastor, so that they can put a little food in their mouths as they devote their lives to proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom in a land where they are so desperate to hear it? There’s absolutely no question in my mind, that with at all that the Lord has poured into our hands, that He looks at us questioningly saying, “Such things ought not to be so.”
If we will not part with these things willingly, beloved, would it be any surprise were our good God to take them from us? Would it not be the deepest of love for us to take them out of our hands? And yet if He did, would we not be tempted to doubt Him and even put His goodness on trial for delivering us from such dangerous idols? “God must be angry with us” is the go to place for many, when fire, wind, thieves or market down turns force our clutching hands to let go - it might even be our go to place - “Why is God punishing me?” But truly, beloved, if we were to understand what grave danger we are in, when we cling to the gifts greater than we do to the Giver, then we might just begin to recognize the love of the One who helps us let go of them.
Difficult. How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God. Difficult indeed. Near impossible - in fact just plain impossible. Not because of the wealth. Wealth itself is a good gift of God, as are all the good things God gives me to earn it - my body, my reason and all my senses. No, it’s not the wealth’s fault. It’s what’s in here that’s to blame - my heart. A heart that was conceived in sin … lived in sin … turned toward sin from youth has a hard time handling wealth, and will always have a hard time handling it. And so what should we do? Get rid of it all? Will that solve the problem? No, beloved, it will not. Because that sinful heart will remain, and pinning for what it has lost, will find something else to put in its place, like self-righteousness - “O what a holy person I am because I gave everything away!”
Jesus gives us the only answer to the problem this morning, with that beautiful truth that, although its impossible with man, not with God. For all things are possible with God. We might not be able to fit a camel through the eye of a needle but God certainly can - the prove is plain to see in the One who speaks to us today. If the One who is greater than all things … greater than the universe itself can fit Himself into the flesh and blood of a man, who is little better than a speck of dust in this universe, then getting a camel through the eye of a needle? Piece of cake, beloved. And so you into the Kingdom of heaven? Easy peasy. For you? For me? Impossible. But not for God. Not in Jesus.
To keep you mindful of this truth, and hoping in it, He comes to you in the bread and wine today. Earth and heaven cannot contain Him, and yet here He is as He promised, and He as Himself says, that you might not doubt but believe that the impossible is possible with Him. At the altar He lives it out in the bread and the cup, but even more wondrously in each bite and sip. A small wonder it is for me to be taken in to the infinite One, but for the infinite One to come and abide in me? A camel through the eye of a needle? Even a wealthy person into heaven? That’s small potatoes compared to that! A wonder beyond all wonders, indeed!
Difficult? Yes, even impossible with me … with you, but not with the God that was made flesh for us, beloved. Not with Him. Hear Him today, as He comes to abide in you, telling you how small He was made to save you and be your way into the Kingdom of God. Hear Him tell you how He took up life in a tiny seed for you in the womb of the Virgin. Hear how He who holds the universe in the palm of His hand laid aside everything for you, walking this earth in poverty, without even a place to lay His head, that there might be a room for you in His Father’s house.
Yes, hear Him, beloved, how He had everything taken from Him for you as He was stripped bare and nailed to a cross so that He could be your way into the kingdom. Hear how heaven’s door was slammed shut on Him as He hung there in your place that it might be thrown open wide for you to enter in. “Look,” He says, “on me today, and know what is possible for you with your good God. See what I did and know what I can do … even for hearts that were conceived in sin … live in sin and are turned toward sin from youth.” Amen.