“Going Deeper”


Pentecost 20

October 11, 2015

 

Text: Mark 10:17-31; Hebrews 4:12-16

         

          One day a man ran up to Jesus, knelt before him, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” After reminding him that only God is good, Jesus said, “You know the commandments: Don’t commit murder. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t steal. Don’t give false testimony. Don’t cheat. Honor your parents.”

          The man replied, “But Teacher, I’ve kept all these things since I was young.” He had done all of the basic things the Law of Moses required of him. Yet somehow this wasn’t enough. He was looking for more. He wanted to go deeper in his faith.

          So Jesus, looking at him with the eyes of God’s love, made him an offer: “You lack one thing. Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.”

          The man couldn’t do it. He was dismayed and went away saddened, because he had many possessions. He was attached to them and didn’t want to give them up.

          What this tells me is that if one wants to go deeper in one’s faith, in one’s relationship with God, one must confront the things that get in the way of that happening, the things that we are tempted to put ahead of God.

          God has given us a wonderful means of going deeper and confronting our substitute gods. God has given us his word—both the word of Scripture and the Word-made-flesh, Jesus. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that “God’s word is living, active, and sharper than any two-edged sword. It penetrates to the point that it separates the soul from the spirit and the joints form the marrow. It’s able to judge the heart’s thoughts and intentions. No creature is hidden from it, but rather everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of the one to whom we have to give an answer.” With more precision than a surgeon’s scalpel, God’s word cuts to the chase in our lives. It cuts through our excuses, our pretenses, our posturing, and the masks we use to hide ourselves from others. Nothing in our lives is hidden from God. God sees all.

          Jesus, the Word-made-Flesh, cut to the chase with the rich man. He made it plain to this inquirer that if he wanted to go deeper in his relationship with God, he had to do something about his devotion to his possessions, for he was so attached to them they had become a substitute god. In order to go deeper, he had to let go of them and follow Jesus. The idea was more than he could bear.

          Jesus went on to reflect on how hard it is for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven—as Jesus put it, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Jesus understood that most people hold their possessions in a death grip. I find I become very attached to my stuff, and find it very hard to let go of it, fearing I will fall into some kind of ruin if I do. I start to worry about what will happen to me if I can’t pay my bills or can’t provide adequately for my family. The disciples also knew how hard it is to relinquish one’s stuff. When they heard Jesus say this, they responded, “Then who can be saved?”

          Jesus replied, “It is impossible for human beings, but not for God. All things are possible with God.” We cannot save ourselves. Although we are invited to go deeper in our faith, we can never go deep enough to save ourselves. Nor are we expected to. We are not saved by what we do. We are saved by what God has done for us in Jesus, our great high priest who passed through the heavens. He sympathizes with our weaknesses. He was tempted in every way we are, yet did not sin. He died for our sins, rose victorious over sin and death, and is ascended to the right hand of God where he reigns forever. We can draw near to him with confidence and find grace when we need help.

          I find one of the reasons I have a hard time letting go is that I focus on what I stand to lose. Jesus focused on what we stand to gain. He offered the rich man “treasure in heaven”, God’s true riches, if he gave up everything and followed Jesus. As I recall, Jesus said elsewhere that treasure in heaven cannot rust, cannot become moth-eaten, and cannot be stolen. It is valuable beyond measure, and always available to us whenever we need God’s strength, courage, hope, comfort, and guidance.

          Likewise, when Peter reminded Jesus that his disciples had already left everything and followed him, Jesus responded: “I assure you that anyone who has left house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, or farms because of me and because of the good news will receive one hundred times as much now in this life—houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and farms (with harassment)—and in the coming age, eternal life.” Here, too, Jesus focused on what we stand to gain. In not putting our earthly families ahead of God, we become part of a far larger family of all those who belong to God through Jesus Christ. In not putting our possessions ahead of God, we inherit a far greater treasure in the long run, even though we may suffer in the short term for it.

          Jesus invites us into a deeper relationship with God through him. What stands in the way of that for you? What are you putting ahead of God in your life? What are you hanging on to that you need to let go of? What is it that, if you don’t have it, you fear you will be ruined? How do you need God to help you? If you are not sure, God’s word can help you. It cuts through all the clutter to reveal what is really happening inside us. Let us turn to the Holy Scriptures, and to God’s Living Word, Jesus Christ, to help us go deeper in our relationship with God through Jesus Christ, who intercedes on our behalf. Amen.

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