You’re going to the kingdom of God (heaven). In fact, it’s already all around you… But will you like it?
20th Sunday after Pentecost – October 11, 2015 – Mark 10:17-31
St. Jacob’s-Spaders Lutheran Church, Harrisonburg, Virginia
Preparing for the Kingdom – Pastor Evan Davis
How’s your elbow feeling? Your knees? Your shoulder? Because today Jesus has a living word for you, sharper than any two-edged sword, dividing soul from spirit and joints from marrow….sell what you own, and give the money to the poor! There’s a tendon-poppin’ word that’ll send us all to the surgeon. Glad they opened that new Orthopedics building at RMH…
Sell everything you own? Aren’t you as perplexed as Peter and the disciples, saying, “look, we’ve left everything and followed you….” Many of us have. Many of us are all-in on this congregation. We’re all-in on this Jesus thing. We’re working pretty hard for Jesus here, and now you want us to sell everything we own. Look, Lord, I’ve got a walk-in closet. There’s a lot of stuff in there! Not to mention the garage…I’m not sure I can even sell all that stuff – I’m not sure I could give it away!
Imagine if this was a requirement for membership here… Alright, now that you would like to be a member here, we’ll assume you’re not murdering, cheating on your spouse, stealing, gossiping about your neighbors, defrauding anyone, and that you are honoring your father and mother. Great. You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Maybe that’s why God made me an accountant before I became a pastor – so I can keep track of your progress!
The bulletin artwork for this Sunday has this camel just looking at the eye of a needle. Sizing it up. To me, he’s thinking, “I got this.” A little WD-40 and some speed, and I’ll be right through the eye of that needle. And here we are, a bunch of camels sizing up this impossible demand, wondering how we’ll squeeze through.
The man’s problem, and ours, comes when we assume this is a test. Pass the test, you’re in the kingdom. Squeeze through the eye of that needle. Fail it, you’re in the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. You see, the man is interested in proving to Jesus that he’s good enough. That’s his game. He’s sizing up the salvation game thinking, “I got this.” I got all the commandments down. So Jesus gives him one he can never keep.
I assume all of us here are also interested in the question, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Now most of us, at some point in our lives, have trouble maybe with some of those commandments this one man has kept. And there’s that first commandment, “you shall have no other gods.” Martin Luther explained this commandment in his Small Catechism, saying, “we are to fear, love, and trust God above all things.” Above all things. Including above yourself. Above your own ability to keep commandments in a way that impresses God. There’s one we can never keep.
Then who can be saved? It’s a good question. Jesus looked at them, looks now at you, and says, “for mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” For God your salvation is possible. Indeed it is already done, and that’s something this man couldn’t accept. Because he wanted to get it done himself. He’s got this, he thought. But he doesn’t, and neither do you. What must you do? Nothing. Because it’s already done. Jesus died and was raised as God’s last will and testament, and he’s left it all, his whole kingdom to you. Each of you.
Sometimes we think of salvation or eternal life only as “going to heaven” after we die. And that is good news, and a sure promise for you and all who are baptized into Christ. But when Jesus talks about the coming future reign of God, that thing we’re waiting for, he calls it the kingdom of God. You can more or less equate “heaven” and “kingdom of God” and “resurrection” in your mind. It’s where you will be, and how things will be, when God has God’s way finally and forever. And amazingly, Jesus said, “the kingdom of God is at hand.” It’s here, even though it’s not fully here yet. Heaven is for real, and you don’t need to have a near-death experience, because it’s here, in part, right now.
The issue is not whether you’ll be in the kingdom, in heaven, inheriting eternal life. You’re already written into the will. The issue is whether you’ll like it. Because the kingdom of God is not like the kingdoms of this world. It’s not at all like our life right now. Jesus is preparing this man, preparing you and me for the kingdom, because he’s bringing us there and he wants us to get ready for what it’s going to be like.
The kingdom will be hard for the rich to experience, because rich will no longer be the best thing you can be. This perplexes the disciples and us because we both assume the wealthy are especially blessed. Jesus knows what he’s talking about, and Jesus is just telling us the way it’s going to be, whether we like it or not, the kingdom will be a place where the privileged ones will be those who are last now, but there they will be first.
Consider your possessions, however much you’ve got. Do you own them, or do they own you? How much influence do they have over your life? Try selling some. Try giving some of that to the poor…and we have many good ways to give.
Now if we give all the proceeds, all this money, to the poor, we might wonder, won’t they become rich? Haha!! This is not a budget Jesus is proposing. There are no spreadsheets attached. Jesus is proposing a new, liberating perspective toward wealth and security. Jesus loved this man – did you catch that? – he loved him and wants him to be unburdened by his possessions. He wants him to experience instead freedom from possessions – treasure in heaven, indeed.
A treasure that we are experiencing, in part, right now, just as Jesus promises. Here there are no ranks. Everyone is equal. Everybody gets the same portion and the same place around this table. People with houses, people with trailers, people just keeping their heads above water…people with brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers and fields, and people with nobody in this world….here receive new brothers and sisters, in this house. They receive a whole new family in Christ, and that family will only get bigger as we transition from this world to the next, cause there’s a whole lot more brothers and sisters waiting for you there. A hundredfold.
Jesus isn’t kidding. In the kingdom, in heaven, the guy beggin’ for change won’t be nobody anymore, he’s going to be a somebody. And the real good news is that, through the power of the Spirit alive now, he’s already a somebody for those who see with eyes of faith. We are called to be a people who live by a different set of rules, who see with a different set of eyes than the culture around us. We are called to be a Jesus movement, not just a community assembly. We are called to make heads turn – by the way we love people we don’t like, by the way we include those the world discards, by the way we do not value possessions like the world does. And maybe we’re called to take Jesus at his word, and trust that when we empty out the closet and the garage and even unload those possessions which really mean something to us for his sake and for the sake of the good news, we will find he is giving us everything we really need. That’ll turn some heads. Amen.