20 Pentecost Proper 23B
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Mark 10:17-31 Sermon
October 14, 2012
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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
469 "Glorious Things Of Thee Are Spoken"
442 "Lord Of Glory Who Hast Bought Us"
315 "I Come O Saviour To Thy Table"
376 "Rock Of Ages, Cleft For Me"
TEXT (vs. 17-20): “17 And as [Jesus] was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, 'Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?' 18 And Jesus said to him, 'Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 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.' 20 And he said to him, 'Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.'”
In my position as a pastor, one topic that I have been able to talk about over the years is the importance of wills. I strongly encourage everybody, regardless of who they are or what they have, to have a "Last Will and Testament" properly prepared. This way, a person knows how their estate is going to be settled, and they can be assured that their wishes are being carried out.
Right along with this, the person needs to be sure that their will is current. I encourage people to sit down with their attorney and their family members and discuss everything, so everybody knows what's going on, and so there are no unexpected surprises along the way.
I encourage this, because I have been acquainted with situations where there has been either no will, or a poorly written will, and it has created this huge mess. I went to a will seminar many years ago, where a District Court Judge explained the whole process that happens in probate court.
He said that if a person dies "in testate," which is legal terminology for dying without a will, the state will actually give that person a will. At that time, there were four different "one size fits all" wills that could be assigned depending upon the situation. Now if my memory serves me correctly, the first will is for a person who dies leaving a spouse and children. The second will is for a person who dies leaving a spouse and no children. The third will is for a person who dies with children and no spouse. And the fourth will is for a person who dies alone with either no family, or just distant relatives.
When this judge got done explaining this, he concluded by saying, "I don't know which of the four categories you might be in, but I can guarantee one thing: you won't like the will the state gives you. So you had better prepare a will that is all your own."
There have been numerous tragic outcomes because of this. A farm that had been in the family for generations was lost because the farmer didn't think making a will was important. It wasn't important before, so why should it be now? So instead of his sons inheriting the land, buildings, and machinery like the farmer had anticipated, the court ordered that everything be liquidated. So all of the personal property was auctioned. The land was auctioned too, and it sold for a fraction of what it was worth. And after everything was settled and done, what little was left of the money was divided up equally amongst the family. They virtually lost everything.
Wills serve to do one very important thing. Wills serve to protect a person's inheritance. Many people work hard during their lifetime to build an estate so there is something for future generations. People need a guarantee that their heirs will inherit what is rightfully theirs, and that their final wishes are carried out.
So why am I talking about wills from the pulpit? It all has to do with the very first sentence of our Gospel Lesson for this morning. A rich young man has a question that is burning inside of him. He didn't just mosey on up to Jesus, he runs up to him. Then he kneels down before him. This man knew that Jesus was a man of God, and deserved his respect. Then the man asks Jesus, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
Now, do you see the contradiction in his question? The contradiction is between the verbs "do" and "inherit." In order to inherit something, you must be named in a will and the person who made the will must die. You don't "do" anything. It is the person who makes the will who places you in the will. You have nothing to do with it. You really can't do anything to inherit anything. Either you are in the will or you are not in the will. It's not up to you.
Think of it this way. If you or I were to approach someone the likes of Warren Buffett or Bill Gates, and ask them the question: "What must I do to inherit your estate?" we'd either get a perplexed look from them, or be met with laughter. They'd probably tell you something to the effect of, "What can YOU do? Now that's a good one! You're not part of my family, and you're not even remotely related to me. There is no reason that you should be included in my will. You're not my heir."
As contradictory and as ridiculous as this man's question was, he still had a legitimate reason for asking it. Irrespective of the religious school that a person follows, that question or one similar to it is what every person wants to know. All the religions of the world, including Christianity, have guidelines for living. The Bible has the Ten Commandments, Islam has the Five Pillars, and Buddhism has the Eight Fold Path. Each and every religion in the world has teachings that tell us what we must do in order to justify ourselves before whatever ultimate authority it believes in. The man in today's Gospel was asking the question that gets to the heart of any religion.
If we were to examine any non-Christian religion, they all have one thing in common. Everybody has to actually do something. Non-Christians all have some sort of system of works and merit. A person does something good, and that person is rewarded. For example, the fundamentalist Muslims have convinced people to be suicide bombers, telling them that the ultimate sacrifice will reap them the ultimate reward. This is what we call a religion of the law.
If we examine our Gospel Lesson for today, this was the rich man's frame of mind. He wanted to know what he had to do. He had money, so he was quite prepared to pay whatever the monetary cost would be to guarantee eternal salvation. In his way of thinking, money was the thing that talked. Surely Jesus would be impressed with that.
But to show him how worthless his money was in the eyes of God, Jesus tells him in verse 21, "...go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me."
Money had become this man's god, and it controlled his thinking and his entire way of life. So when Jesus asks him to part with his wealth, it literally turned his world upside-down. He couldn't reckon how he could survive or do anything else if he was flat broke.
The Apostle Peter had a similar encounter with a man by the name of Simon the Sorcerer. Peter was very abrupt with him. We read the account of their meeting in Acts chapter 20, verses 18-23: "18 When Simon [the Sorcerer] saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money 19 and said, 'Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.' 20 Peter answered: 'May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. 23 For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.'"
If we go back to our Gospel Lesson again, one of the first things that Jesus tells this rich man is a reference to the commandments. "You know them," Jesus says. And what does this rich man answer? In verse 20 the man says: “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.”
Do you see what is missing here? This rich man does not acknowledge his sinfulness at all! He's more intent on telling Jesus how well he has kept the commandments; even from the time he was a little boy. It's like he's saying, "Okay Jesus, I've kept God's commands perfectly, and I've got tons of money. So now how can I buy this eternal inheritance?" And we already know the answer to that one.
So let's take some time to look at the inheritance itself, and the reward of it. If we go to Peter's first general Epistle, right away in the first chapter we read some selected verses: "3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time....8 Though you have not seen [Jesus], you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls."
I don't think that God could have made things any more plain and straightforward. The inheritance of eternal life happens when we are born again children of God. We are born again from above when the Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts to accept Jesus our Saviour. Through faith alone we are now his heirs! We are named in Jesus' will, and we will inherit what he has promised.
In describing this inheritance, the writer to the Hebrews in chapter 11 talks about Abraham's faith in this inheritance in verses 9-10: "9 By faith [Abraham] made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God."
The story of this rich young man is a sad one, because our text tells us that Jesus loved him, and yet he still didn't get it. He wasn't ready to turn his thinking around so he could see things from Jesus' perspective. And so, he went away sad. Many people today aren't any different.
What would have made a huge difference was the man's first response to the Commandments. Instead of saying how well he had kept them from his youth, he should have fallen on his knees and asked Jesus for forgiveness for the times he had broken them. He needed to see his life as a sinner, and not as a financier. Through faith, he could have become an heir of the promise, just like Abraham and all other believers. It was right there, and he missed it. It was indeed a sad situation.
As sinful human beings, Jesus wants us to be his heirs so we can inherit eternal salvation. That's his desire for you and me. That's why we need to look at those commandments and say, "Lord have mercy upon me, a sinner."
This morning, we are celebrating the Lord's Supper, or Holy Communion. Theologians down through the years have called it: "Jesus' last will and testament for his Church." And that's a beautiful way to look at it.
To inherit something, a person has to die first. The heir is a family member who receives the benefit of what the grantor left for them in their will. In an earthly sense, an heir receives monetary wealth. In the heavenly sense, an heir receives eternal bliss and paradise.
To make this happen, our Lord Jesus Christ on the night in which he was betrayed, took bread, and said: "This is my Body given for you." And then he took the final cup of wine at that supper and said: "This is my Blood shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins." And then the very next day, he went to the cross where he gave his body and blood into death, so that through faith alone we might have life.
Each and every time we celebrate the Lord's Supper, we do so in remembrance of him. This means that the event that happened so long ago is brought to us right here today, and it happens for us again just like it did the first time for the disciples. We eat his true body and drink his true blood for the forgiveness of sins and the strength for our faith.
Yes, we are heirs in the truest sense of the word. We are guaranteed of our eternal inheritance, not by what we possess or by what we have done, but by faith alone in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Therefore we can exclaim with the hymn writer: "Break forth my soul for joy and say, what wealth is come to me this day, my Saviour dwells within me now, how blest am I, how good art thou!" (SBH 284, v. 2)