Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sermon -- 23rd Sunday after Pentecost (October 27, 2013)

LUKE 18:18-27

In the name + of Jesus.

     Lot was a good business man.  The Lord had blessed both Abraham and his nephew, Lot, with so many flocks and herds that they could not graze the same land together.  So Abraham gave Lot his choice of land, and Lot chose the choicest of the land.  Lot continued to prosper on the outskirts of Sodom.  But soon, Lot moved into town.  By this move, Lot and his family got to enjoy the protection of the city and the perks of commerce in the community.  A bit later, the Lord had decreed that Sodom and several other cities would be destroyed because they were so wicked.  In his mercy, God saw to it that Lot would not be destroyed with the city.  He sent angels to deliver Lot and his family.  The angels found Lot sitting in his place at the city gate, which meant that Lot had become quite influential in his city.  Business had apparently been very good, and Lot had become a rich, young ruler.  
     Rather than flee from Sodom, Lot tried to make deals.  He did not leave as he was told.  When the angels began to drag Lot and his family out of town, he bargained some more.  He asked that God would spare one small town so that he would not have to flee as far as the mountains.  Lot bargained, “Behold, this city is near enough to flee to, and it is a little one.  Let me escape there—is it not a little one?—and my life will be saved.” (Genesis 19:20)  God granted Lot his request.  But Lot’s wife could not part from the city and the life she loved.  She turned and gazed upon the city marked for destruction, and she was destroyed with it.  Lot had been a good business man, but he was not a very devout believer.  And his wife, swept away by the affluence and influence their family enjoyed, was not a believer at all.
     Now, Lot’s business decisions and actions did not guarantee that he would stray from God’s promises.  But they certainly did not help.  Lot’s decisions were based on what was best for his wallet, not for his faith.  Lot was a good business man.  Lot had become a rich, young ruler.  And he proves the point of our Gospel lesson today: “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!  For 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.” (Luke 18:24-25)
     A rich man came to Jesus to ask what he had to do to gain eternal life.  Don’t presume that he was some slimy, conniving business man.  He claimed that he had kept the Commandments, so he was likely a decent, honorable man.  But even so, something was gnawing at him.  He knew that he lacked what he needed for eternal salvation.  But what could it be?  He was obedient.  He was respectable.  He was helpful.  What else did he have to do to seal the deal and secure his salvation?
     “One thing you still lack,” Jesus answered.  “Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”  But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. (Luke 18:22-23)  Jesus showed this rich, young ruler that he was not as good a judge as he thought; for, he had misjudged himself.  None of us is as good as we judge ourselves to be.  As honorable as this man may have appeared to others, he was an idolater.  He boasted that he had kept the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th Commandments, but he had not even kept the 1st! He harbored in his heart a deep love for power and wealth, and he was not willing to part from them.  He had yearned to know what he had to do to enter the kingdom of God.  But he would not enter at that cost.  The rich man would not give up his affluence.  The young ruler would not give up his influence.
     These are hard words—scary words!—for people living in and near the city of Novi.  Whoever has gained wealth and goods is always in danger of being ensnared by them.  You know what purchasing power resides in your wealth.  You know the pleasure of enjoying newer gadgets, bigger toys, and fancier amenities.  They are nice.  And they aren’t inherently evil.  But how easy it is to love and cherish these things!  Do you equate creature comforts with true comfort?  Do you feel secure because of your wealth and goods?  Are you afraid of losing them?  Beware: They can be lost, and quickly.  And they will perish one day.  If your security goes as your wealth goes, you are not secure at all.  And your trust is wholly misplaced.
     The rich, young ruler walked away sad.  The people who remained stood there alarmed; for, they envied the rich, young ruler.  They wanted to be like him.  They hoped their children would grow up to be like him.  Rather than feel smug, the people were scared: “Then who can be saved?” (Luke 18:26) 
     Understand the lesson: Salvation is possible only through Jesus.  You cannot gain your place in the kingdom of God.  It cannot be attained by accumulating wealth or by sacrificing wealth.  It could be earned by keeping the Commandments, if only you could keep the Commandments.  But just like the rich, young ruler, you are idolaters.  You love and trust earthly wealth and support systems.  You are terrified that your money may fail you.  You do not fear and love and trust in God above all things.  God does not honor idolaters.  Repent!
     The rich, young ruler who came to Jesus recognized that he could not do what it takes to gain the kingdom of God.  You do well to take that lesson to heart too.  But do not walk away sad.  And do not wonder: “Then who can be saved?” (Luke 18:26)  For, you have a Savior.  Salvation is possible only through Jesus.  And with God it is not only possible, it is certain. 
     Jesus is the rich, young ruler who saves you.  Though he reigns on high, this supreme ruler of the universe gave up all things to deliver you from your sins.  He subjected himself to the same Commandments which you must obey.  He submitted to his Lord and rendered humble and perfect obedience.  Though he is true God, Jesus did not boss his way around.  Though he possesses all power, he lived in weakness.  Though he is the judge of all mankind, he submitted himself to the mockery of liars, schemers, and connivers who made themselves his judge.  They condemned Jesus for saying he is the Son of God, and they crucified the Lord of Glory and the King of the universe. 
     Salvation is possible only through Jesus.  You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor so that you, so that you by his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9)  Jesus possesses all things, yet was born in poverty and died in poverty.  But Jesus’ death means that the riches of salvation and of heaven are yours.  His holy precious blood has paid the price for sins and has purchased your salvation.  In your baptism, Jesus poured upon you the everlasting riches of forgiveness, mercy, and compassion.  He has made you heirs of a kingdom whose glory does not fade, whose benefits cannot be taken away, whose worth is never devalued, and whose riches are beyond measure.
     While God grants you wealth to employ and to enjoy in this world, he urges you not to fear, love, or trust these things.  The one who gives them is far more trustworthy.  Unlike your wealth, the Lord loves you.  Unlike your wealth, Jesus has paid the price to redeem you.  Unlike your wealth, Jesus gives you better gifts with everlasting benefits.  Salvation is possible only through Jesus.  God is your Savior; and therefore, you lack nothing for your salvation.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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