[This message was shared with the people of Friendship Lutheran Church during worship celebrations on October 15 and 15, 2006.]
Based on Mark 10:17-31
What must I do to inherit eternal life?
This is the question brought to Jesus one day by a wealthy man. Now, of course, the accurate bottom-line answer is that there’s nothing we can do to inherit eternal life.
Eternal life is a free gift from a gracious God to all who believe in Jesus Christ. We simply choose to receive Christ and His gifts...or not.
Eternal life is a standing offer to all who turn from sin and let God save them.
But of course, just because I can receive eternal life doesn’t necessarily mean that I will receive it. The telephone on the wall at home and the cell phone I keep in my pocket means that I can talk with people pretty much anywhere any time. But when one of the phones rings while I’m using one hand to put dirty dishes in the dishwasher and the other to wipe off the countertop, something’s got to give. I can only get the call if I empty my hands and grab the phone.
The person who wants eternal life needs to learn a similar truth. As preacher Stacey Elizabeth Simpson put it a few years back, “What must we do to inherit eternal life? We must let go of all that we have and all that we do that gets in the way of seeing that there is nothing we can do to save ourselves."
Is there anything getting in the way of your seeing that there’s nothing you can do to save yourself? This is a healthy question to ask ourselves from time to time.
Jesus understood that what stood in the way of the questioning man receiving eternal life was the man's addiction to wealth. Mind you, it wasn’t his wealth that was the problem. It was how he related to his wealth.
Jesus observed that the man bought into the common assumption that having wealth meant that God loved you more and you were closer to God. Jesus stunned His disciples when He told them that it will be harder for a wealthy person to get into heaven than it is to cram a camel, the biggest animal any of them had ever seen, through the eye of a needle, one of the smallest openings they’d ever seen.
But don’t misunderstand. God’s people are allowed to be wealthy. Look at the Bible: Abraham was wealthy. So were Solomon, James and John, the sons of Zebedee; Lydia, the dealer in purple goods; Matthew; Joseph of Arimithea, who donated the tomb in which Jesus was buried; and probably Peter and his brother Andrew, because most fishermen were wealthy. Wealth isn’t the core problem Jesus addresses here. The Bible doesn’t teach, as some erroneously claim, that money is the root of all evil. It teaches that the love of money is the root of all sorts of evil.
Wealth isn’t a sin. In fact, I think Jesus urges us to honestly make as much money as our talents and opportunities allow. That way we can provide for our families and give to the cause of Christ in the world, not only through the Church, but other agencies and organizations. That includes, as Jesus says in our lesson and in other places repeatedly, efforts aimed at helping the poor.
But when we let wealth define our lives, it becomes our god. And when that happens, we walk away from the true God Who gives eternal life as surely as the rich man did after his encounter with Jesus. Wealth is the most common religion of choice, our most popular addiction. No wonder Jesus talked more about money than He talked about heaven and hell combined.
The Christian recognizes that she or he is called to be a good steward, managing all of their time, talents, and treasures, as well as that portion of the earth over which they exercise influence, with awe and gratitude toward God.
So, how do we make sure that we exercise good stewardship over our money?
How do we ensure that we use whatever wealth we have in a way that expresses our awe and gratitude to God and that puts God first?
Jesus, through His words to the wealthy man, answers those questions for us in our lesson for today. No, He doesn’t necessarily want us to go sell everything we have and give our money to the poor. That was what the man Jesus met needed to do.
But for the rest of us, Jesus is making a larger point: To take hold of the free gift of eternal life, let go of the things that prevent you from doing that. This makes sense. If you were among those who jumped from the Titanic as it sank, you’d have preferred latching onto a life preserver rather than an anvil. Dependence on God will lift you up; dependence on money (or anything else) will drag you down.
Use your money (and your whole life) to glorify God; don’t let it (or anything but the real deal) be your god.
The next few weeks are critical to the life of Friendship Lutheran Church. You and I have opportunities to glorify God and to share Christ of which I pray you’ll take full advantage. I want to mention two of them.
First: October 29 brings Friend Day. It is critically important to the future of our congregation that you go to and invite your spiritually disconnected friends to be with us on that day. Not just because the church, like all living organisms, must either grow or die, but because it’s the very nature of one saved by God’s grace to want to share Him with others.
Don’t fall prey to excuses, the kinds of excuses I'm prone to make. "Oh," I tell myself, "the time isn't right." Or, "I don't have the right words." Or, "They'll just say, 'No.'" I’m sure that the Evil One loves it when we make excuses for not going into the world to share Christ. Prayerfully resolve today that you will be responsible for bringing one unchurched friend to worship with us on October 29. You can tell them that we’ll have some special music that day and that they’ll meet Jesus then.
Second: November 19 brings us to Consecration Sunday. Please make it a point to prayerfully consider how you will use your time, talents, and treasures in the coming year to glorify God through the ministries of Friendship Lutheran Church. Consider too, enrolling in Thrivent Financial Services for Lutherans’ Simply Giving program so that even on those Saturdays or Sundays when you’re unable to be here, your offerings for the work of God that we’re involved with at Friendship can go forward. Then, be with us on Consecration Sunday as we renew our dedication to our common mission out there in the world together.
What must we do to inherit eternal life?
We let go of those things that block God’s grace and power from our lives!
That includes letting go of the fear of having our invitations rejected and the fear of consecrating our time, talents, and treasures to Christ’s cause.
As we move toward both October 29 and November 19, prayerfully remember that, please.
[THANKS TO: Dan at A Slower Pace for linking to this message.]