2021-10-17 21st Sunday After Pentecost
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Franklin expedition way back in 1845. The boys set out to find and chart out the illusive Northwest Passage through the Arctic Archipelago. If you are familiar with the history, it didn’t end well for Franklin or for the entire two ship crew. Everyone of them met a miserable end. It was nothing less than denying the Boy Scout’s motto to “Be Prepared.” Indeed, by the list of stuff they brought, you’d have think they were going on a pleasure cruise than a risky expedition. They brought an enormous library of 2900 books, a hand crank organ capable of playing 50 different tunes and 10 hymns, china place settings, mahogany writing desks and all of Shakespeare’s plays. Not to mention the sterling silver flatware. But they didn’t bring enough coal for their steam engine ships. The bodies from many of the crew eventually were found, most likely dressed in fine attire, but dead all the same. It’s hard to imagine in the moments when they starved and froze to death the crew members saying, “boy, I sure wish we’d brought more fine china!”
What does this have to do with anything? Well, as we continue our march through Mark’s Gospel, this week’s sermon text comes right after the story of the rich man, after just having an exchange with Jesus about eternal life. He turns his back and walks away from our Lord Jesus in a dark cloud of sadness. He was rich and he loved his possessions and wealth – more than he loved God. He couldn’t come to terms with Jesus’ spiritual direction to sell it all and give it to the poor. It was a stark reminder for us about how much money and stuff can and do corrupt the soul. When our lives are chock full of affluence and wealth and money, we burden ourselves with things that don’t matter and won’t count for squat in God’s Kingdom. Revelation tells us that gold is nothing but pavement in Heaven! But the seductive power of money and stuff seeks to control our hearts and minds. We hold fast not to God, but to our stuff with a white knuckled grip. We desperately want to hear that we can be stingy hoarders of money and material stuff and yet still follow Jesus into eternity.
And that is where we jump into the Scriptures this week. “And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words” (10:23-24) They were amazed because having money and wealth and lots of stuff were all deemed to be signs of God’s favour and blessing. It was the poor who were to be pitied, they had nothing! Yet it was the poor who were and are often more open to the Good News of Jesus. When people are doing well and thriving financially, the churches are empty. People have “no need for God.”" All the people become like Franklin and the crew – “We’ve got everything we need!” You might think that way and believe it with all your heart, soul and strength. But in the end you don’t have what you need at all. And the stuff you did bring is useless.
“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!” (10:24) says Jesus. Much ink has been spilled over the years by Pastors and Bible commentators about what this means. Some have said that the word wasn’t really “camel” but “rope.” Others have said it refers to the “needle gate” in Jerusalem which was a smaller gate you could go through, but you first had to unload all your stuff, then go through. It’s all unclear at best though. Undoubtedly it displays the difficulty of salvation for those who are attached to riches and cling to them.
“And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “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.” (10:26-27) Salvation, our salvation and that of the whole world, takes a miracle. It takes something not of our doing, but something that God does. We cannot by our own strength or power even come to God, but He calls us by the Gospel. It takes a miracle for us to wake up and see that our wealth and all of our worldly possessions belong to God, not to us. It takes a miracle for us to repent and not make idols of our homes, portfolios, education, cars or motorcycles. It’s truly impossible for us to do this without Divine intervention. And, it’s truly amazing that our God specializes in threading camels through needles and doing miracle after miracle to bring people His kingdom.
St. Peter is quick to chirp up at this point and say “See, we have left everything and followed you!” (10:28) It’s as if to say “We’re the best! We did what that rich young man could not do. Yay us!” To which Jesus answers ‘You’re earthly sacrifices will be returned to you in full a hundredfold’ be they lost relationships, houses, or possessions. How comforting this is! Even though our faith may cost us everything in this life, tremendous eternal rewards await! But so do persecutions, lest we go believing that all will be hunky dory after we give everything up for God. Many of the early followers of Jesus experienced these persecutions first hand from the Roman authorities who would burn the Christians alive at night for torches or watch them in the Colosseum being torn apart by wild animals.
We have been blessed abundantly until just recently to go through life with minimal persecutions for our faith. At one time, pretty much everyone you knew went to church at least somewhat, knew the Lord’s Prayer, and even apologized when taking the Lord’s name in vain! But that’s all changed now. Typically when we think of persecuted Christians we think of people living in China, North Korea, Sudan or Afghanistan. And traditionally, Communist and Islamic countries have been the worst for trying to snuff out the Christian faith. Our minds tend to think of the Holocaust when it comes the “crown jewel” of human atrocity. But under the Soviet Regime in Russia it is estimated that anywhere between 12-20 million Christians were murdered by the so called “scientific atheism.” Whole new scope to the term “trust the science,” right?! Over 100,000 Russian Orthodox clergy were executed between 1937 and 1941. It’s staggering to say the least.
When our eyes are wide open to this it’s downright alarming. But then, we remember the words of Jesus. “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). By another miracle, the miracle of the cross and empty tomb, our Lord has assured us that as we trust in Him – not in politicians or policies and not in wealth or riches – but solely in the Good News that Jesus is risen from the dead, we will be more than conquerors in Him. And, the greatest rewards are waiting for us in His heavenly kingdom a full hundredfold what has been lost or endured in this life for sake of Christ. It is in Christ alone that we are truly prepared for life here on this earth and in the life of the world to come. On our own riches and merits, we have no hope – for “with man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God” (10:27).
The Kingdom of God overthrows all the standards and statuses of this world. Many who are first and important here will be last in the age to come, and the last and the least in this age will be first in our Lord’s Kingdom. Seek those true riches where they may be found. Amen!