Sermon for the Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost
October 21, 2018
Hurtful or Beneficial
Were you praying our Collect this past week? “Lord, put away from me all things hurtful and give that which is beneficial. And you know that me winning the Mega Millions would be beneficial. I could do so much good with that money. Amen” Were you already imagining all the good things you could do with it? The people you could help? The ministries you could support? Even the new building you would build for the church? Of course, a new car wouldn’t cost much and having a somebody else doing the shoveling this winter wouldn’t be a bad idea either. Even with all that you could do with what will now be well over a billion dollars, would it truly be beneficial for you or even the people and organizations you would fund?
We have a way of thinking that money can solve a lot of problems; that it is almost like a cure all elixir. Just apply it to what ails you and the problem goes away. Our Collect began with the statement that God’s wisdom sets in order all things in heaven and on earth. Part of that order on earth is a system of exchange that works on bartering valuable things in exchange for other valuable things; a service for some grain; some labor for some meat; the good faith of the US government for electricity, water, heat, and shelter. The monetary denomination may change from location to location, but the principle remains the same: work, wage, purchase, eat.
We have learned that the heavenly order works in a similar fashion, at least, as it applies to us. The difference is that that labor is not done by us. The purchasing power is never possessed by us. The goods are never earned by us. This order was established even before any of us were a glimmer in Adam’s eye. It is an order that was set in stone for the Son of God to demonstrate and accomplish. The work is done by Jesus. The labor is His earthly life and Passion. The exchange is His life for yours. And the end result is still that you enjoy the luxuries and comforts of this order. You, as well as God, receive the blessed enjoyment of each other’s company for eternity. It is all yours as gift, received by faith.
If that heavenly order works so well to your benefit; if it is so wonderfully designed to guarantee your bliss, then surely riches in the earthly order would be in your best interest and God would want you to have it, right? Not necessarily, and in most cases, probably not. That was a common way to think among the Jews of the first century even as it is common among Christians today. Too many are looking for the best life now to the great neglect of their faith in the great life that is to come. The reward that is desired by far too many is temporal comfort at the expense of eternal bliss.
Our Gospel reading comes on the heels of last week’s reading concerning the rich young man that claims to do all that the Law requires but could not part with his wealth and follow Jesus even if it meant he would inherit eternal life. He chose to live his best life now instead of securing an eternal retirement in the mansion prepared by God. As that man went away disappointed, Jesus looks around at His disciples and said, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples thought it a kind of cruel joke. If God blesses the faithful with riches that they might live well now, why would it be hard for them to attain to the kingdom of God? You know the answer. It is because those that depend upon their wealth above all else in this life, depend upon that wealth and its security even above what they know to be true about the life that is to come.
You may be thinking, at this point, that you are thankful that you are not rich and that material things could never get in the way of your fear, love, and trust of God. Well, you may not be a billion dollars rich, but you are richer than all but a few elites when looking at history. Very few in the history of the world have live in the luxuries that we now consider commonplace. We are blessed but with that blessing comes the terrible temptation to depend upon that blessing rather than God who provided it.
There have been many through the ages that have discovered that they too were so comfortable in life that God was easily displaced in their daily lives by money or the pursuit of it. Many had taken vows of poverty; forsaken the pursuit of earthly goods; and lived lives cloistered from the world’s trappings thinking that they had somehow overcome their idolatry. But even there, they found that they had not truly escaped or protected themselves from the devil’s temptations. The idol of wealth that provides comfort was too easily replaced with the idol of poverty and individual sufferings as merits to prove their worthiness of God’s grace. Like Peter, they gave up everything in this life to pursue God’s grace by their own doing.
We note the words of Jesus as He declares that, “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,” and then we sigh, half-jokingly, as we thank God that we are not rich. We wouldn’t want that impediment. As difficult as it is for a rich man to enter heaven, Jesus doesn’t limit the difficulty to him, for when the disciples, in their astonishment, ask who then can be saved, Jesus replies that, “With man it is impossible, but not with God.”
Dependence upon wealth is dependence upon an idol. Dependence upon the vow of poverty is dependence upon an idol. As difficult as it is for a rich man to enter heaven, it is just as impossible for a poor man to achieve the same. Yes, comfort in this life can make it difficult to rely upon God, but the self-righteous nature of man’s heart makes it impossible for him to attain eternal life. It is impossible for man. It is impossible for us; impossible for you and me. But, it is not impossible for God.
It is the Son of God alone that has abandoned the riches of His abode for the poverty of man’s depravity. It is Jesus alone that has left everything in order to give you everything. It is Jesus alone that took a vow, forsaking His right as God that He might be known as the man of guilt. It is the Father in heaven that has forsaken His Son that He might turn to you in favor. It is not possible for you to achieve the kingdom of God but it is very much possible for God to give it to you all for the sake of His Son that has won that kingdom for you.
What is it that is hurtful and what is it that is beneficial to you? Hurtful is every way that you contrive to earn God’s approval and grace. Beneficial is trusting by faith that God approves of you because you are baptized into His Son and that He gives you His grace through faith. Hurtful is every thing in this world that you try to use as barter with God for the world that is to come. Beneficial is the flesh and blood of Jesus that has purchased you from sin, death, and devil. Hurtful is every dependence upon the comforts in this life over and against the comforts promised in the life that is eternal. Beneficial is your dependence upon the riches and comforts given in Jesus Christ alone. “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Lk 12:32), and He will put away from you all things hurtful and give you those things that are beneficial for you.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.