21st Sunday after Pentecost 2015

Bible Text: Mark 10:23-31

In the moments just before the Gospel text today a rich young ruler asked Jesus what he had to do in order to inherit eternal life. He wasn’t a Pharisee, or one of those folks just trying to catch Jesus off guard. He actually seemed like a pretty good guy. He honored his mom and dad, and he didn’t lie about his neighbor or cheat on his taxes. But Jesus knew there was something holding him back, and so He told the man to get rid of his possessions, give to the poor, and follow Him. It’s not what the man was hoping to hear, and so he walked away very sad. And as he departed, the disciples were standing there shocked.

All of that prompts Jesus’ words this morning. With the rich young ruler still in earshot, Jesus says to His disciples, “’How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’” And that baffled them. They’d never heard anything like it before. It had never occurred to them that your wealth could come between you and God’s Kingdom, that it could make entering God’s Kingdom difficult.

But to be fair, “difficult” isn’t the worst word possible. Certainly no one expected it to be easy. Which leaves us wondering with the disciples, “How difficult is it?” Jesus says, “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.” The illustration isn’t meant to show us that it is difficult; it’s impossible. I actually conducted a survey, and asked people why it’s impossible. And the unanimous response was that a camel is too big. Not one person said that the needle is too small; only that the camel is too big. The point is this: that riches and wealth have a way of changing us, of making us too big and too important to enter a Kingdom that is child-sized.

It happens this way: You receive gifts from God, but wouldn’t more be so much better? And there are all sorts of more. A nicer house, a bigger paycheck, a faster car, a better performance from your investments – because all of that makes us feel big and important and secure. So we want more and more until wants become needs, and suddenly more is never enough.

There’s nothing wrong with God’s gifts – it’s the relationship and trust we put in them. As Pastor Luther says, “Possessions belong in the hand, and not in the heart.” When we let money and stuff define who we are, when we depend on them and cling to them more than to the One who gave them to us, we turn God’s gifts into shackles. In short, we become too big to enter God’s Kingdom, and too weighed down to follow Jesus.

But there are plenty of things we treasure, and so Jesus’ words go beyond money.

In a world where there never seems to be enough hours in the day, and demands come from so many directions, your time and your attention are precious commodities, too So why is it that silly, temporal things that don’t really matter end up robbing so much time and attention from things and people who really do matter? Why is it so much easier to watch a game the Red Sox are going to lose anyways than to play ball with your children? Or on the one day a week when Church and Bible-study is without a doubt the place for you to be, so many other options seem reasonable?

For many of us it is our reputation and position that we cling to. That’s especially true when we’ve worked hard, stayed late, put our time in, and enjoyed success. It’s why when someone asks you to say something about yourself, it sounds like you’re reading your resume. To this day, I’ve never heard those first words be, “I’m a Christian.” And that’s not surprising.

Clinging to things like our money, our time, and our egos make it very difficult to be Jesus’ disciples; to hear what Jesus is saying, see what Jesus is doing, go where Jesus is going, and enter the Kingdom of God. How difficult? It would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. It is so difficult that despite a personal invitation from Jesus own lips and the promise of treasure in heaven, a good man with good intentions would still walk away in golden chains.

What Jesus described with the camel and the needle was a hopeless situation. And if that sounds distressing, you’re not alone. The disciples were just as troubled when they implored their Master, “’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.’

To make yourself into Jesus’ disciple and enter the Kingdom of God is impossible, at least it’s impossible for you. But it is possible for Jesus, who became small and humble for you who are big and proud. That started at the Annunciation, when Christ took Flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary; when He left His heavenly home to make His home among you. And in taking on your flesh to be with you, Jesus relinquished the glory and honor that belonged to Him with the Father and the Holy Spirit from forever, and He traded it for the glory of a cross. That’s where Jesus is going next.

Immediately after today’s text, Jesus tells the disciples once again He is going to His death. He is marching to Jerusalem with His face set toward the cross, where, in a moment when it seems everything is being taken away from Jesus, Jesus takes everything away from you. He takes your greed and your selfishness; He takes away your pride, your self-righteousness, and your so-called riches. All the things that make you too big for God’s Kingdom and too weighed down to be His disciple – Jesus has taken them away from you. He took them to His cross, was crucified with them, died with them, and was buried with them. Jesus has taken all you have, but He did not leave you with nothing.


Jesus took away your pride, and gave you His humility. He took away your selfishness, and gave you his selflessness. Jesus took away your riches so that He could give you His poverty. It is, after all, the poor who will inherit the Kingdom. He took away the home you would build for yourself here, and gave you a new home in Him, a home that lasts forever. Jesus took away everything that would keep you out of the Kingdom of God, and then He picked you up and put you in the Kingdom of God.

Right there, in the font, at your baptism, Jesus took away all you have and gave you all He has. His Father is now your Father. His life is your life. His death is your death, and His resurrection is your resurrection. Between now and then, between earth and Eden, Jesus gives you His Holy Church, where His voice speaks absolution, and grace, and beauty, and joy. It’s the voice that bids you come to the altar where He who has given you all He has, will feed you with all He is: Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, all gift – here for you today.

So now that Jesus has taken everything away from you and taken you away from everything else, you can say with St. Peter, “See, we have left everything and followed you!” And that’s true. You’re His disciples. You hear what Jesus says, you do what Jesus does, and you go where Jesus goes. Which means that crosses and losses are in your future, too. You don’t need to go find them; they’ll find you. But when they do find you, crosses and losses, I’d encourage you to not stay up late worrying about them.

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.”

This is the place where Jesus, the One who made Himself last, puts you first. This is the place where He who is the Kingdom of God comes to you at pulpit, font, and altar. This is the place where Jesus takes away what you have, and gives you everything He has. Which, I suppose means He also gives us each other: mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters – and all of us children at home in God’s Kingdom, even Jesus Christ. To Him be all glory, honor and worship, now and to the ages of ages. Amen.

About Pastor Hopkins

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