Saturday, October 13, 2012

Pentecost 20 - Proper 23

Lord Jesus Christ, whose grace always precedes and follows us; help us to forsake all trust in earthly gain and to find in you our heavenly treasure.

Our gospel lesson concludes with a traumatic and tragic end. Here is one of the few times that a person walks away sorrowful from the presence of Christ.  The man’s face fell. He walked away sad, because he had great wealth. Our prayer for today reminds us of two realities. The grace of God will always go before you. The will of God will never take you where the grace of God cannot protect you. Yet, we pray, for strength and help to forsake all trust in earthly gain only to find in Christ our heavenly treasure. There are plenty of distractions. There are plenty of diversions in our road that would disrupt us.

Give this man credit. Despite his youth, he realized there was something lacking in his life. He wanted something different from what he was experiencing. He needed something more. He simply existed. He wanted a quality life. His wealth was not enough. He needed something which money could not buy. His question is pertinent for our time, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

You can earn it. “You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.” Follow the rules. Obey the laws of God. Convinced of his own righteousness, he replied, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

Do you believe him? Don’t discredit him so quickly. Don’t dismiss him. He was the young man you could only hope your daughter would bring to meet the family for Thanksgiving. He had ethics. He was polite. He was pious; he was one of the few in Scripture who actually knelt before the Savior.  He had an outward form of righteousness, so we may assume that he had acquired his wealth honestly.  

Fulfilling multitudes of religious activities, he had never missed a Sunday service, he had always attended mid- week prayer meetings, he had never defaulted on his tithes. He had been quite meticulous with how faithful he had been in fulfilling the demands of the law. So yes, he was faithful. He was observant. He was a good scout.

Yet religious observance can only get you so far. Jesus alone is able to judge and observe the heart. “Why do you call me good? No one is good – except God alone! Herein lies the man’s problem. He though he was good enough to earn his keep. He was convinced that he had legal ground for him to stand on before God. Convinced he could earn his way based on his performance in the second table of the law he forgot his duties on the first table, his response to God. He forgot the standard placed before all - If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.[1] He struck out on two counts. He believes he could stand upright before God when He would mark iniquity. And with respect to the Father’s forgiveness? He did not need to revere the Lord, for he didn’t really need His forgiveness. He was too proud. He was not about to accept charity.  Only the poor receive assistance. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

You can buy it. There are three ways of understanding the power of money. Some believe money is to be spent. Some believe money is to be saved. The third class believes money is nothing. Those who have it, have it good. Or do they? At what cost is a human life? What is the cost of a human soul? Both are priceless. The wages of sin place upon us a heavy price that none is able to pay except for the One who sacrificed His life for you.  “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Receive it as a gift. This is the only way to receive real and lasting life. Read, and mark those wonderful words most of you have put to memory. Whom -  I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father in eternity, and also a true human being, born of the virgin Mary, is my Lord.  He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned human being.  What - He has purchased and freed me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, How - not with gold or silver but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death. Why - He has done all this in order that I may belong to him, live under him in his kingdom, and serve him in eternal righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as he is risen from the dead and lives and rules eternally. [2]

And how did this happen to you? Again, you know this!  I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him. Instead the Holy Spirit has calls me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith. Just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith.  Daily in this Christian church the Holy Spirit abundantly forgives all sins - mine and those of all believers.  On the last day, the Holy Spirit will raise me and all the dead and will give to me and all believers in Christ eternal life.  This is most certainly true! 

Your life is a gift given by grace. Serve your Savior out of devotion, love and esteem. He has given you the greatest gift, real and abundant life at the price of His own life - Just as I am Thou wilt receive, Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve. Because Thy promise, I believe, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

[1] Psalm 130:3
[2] Luther’s explanation to the 2nd Article of the Apostles’ creed

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