October 21, 2018
“All things are possible with God”
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Considering all the buzz about the 1.6 Billion dollar Lottery Jackpot…today’s Gospel reading, which follows immediately after last week’s, when Jesus lovingly tried to call the rich young man to repentance is quite relevant for us today. Last week Jesus told the rich young man to “Go sell everything you have” if you want to enter the kingdom, and the man went away sad, for he was very rich. And now, Jesus comments on the incident, and on the broader problem of those with great riches entering the kingdom. And his disciples are amazed.
Why were they amazed by this? Perhaps because then, like now, we look at those with wealth and riches in a certain light. We see wealth and riches as a mark of success and perhaps even a sign of God’s favor. How many do you think are praying that God would let them win this huge Lottery jackpot…right now…even in churches across our nation this morning?
We Americans are especially susceptible to this kind of thinking. We are the world’s superpower and our standard of living is among the highest in the world. We enjoy many physical blessings just by living here. Even our poor people are quite well off by a worldly standard. So the easy thing to think is, God must favor us. He must be rewarding us, as a nation, for our great values on freedom and equality. We’re so wonderful aren’t we? God must really love this country the most.
Well maybe you’re not so convinced. But what about when we look at worldly success in the church? Look at the churches that are successful, and have it made – in terms of money and people. The happening places, the bigger the better. Yes, they have the newest buildings, the best parking lots, the most expensive sound systems. And the people are going there in droves – look they have so many young people and now they need to build and expand again and…. you might think… that God is really blessing that congregation because of its worldly success, its wealth. A sign of God’s favor. But be careful. Bigger isn’t always better, more isn’t always more favored, and these outward trappings of success can easily be as much a sign of problems in the church.
Or even as an individual. Even when we look at ourselves. For many others might consider us to be wealthy. But don’t we think we’ve earned it? Don’t we tell ourselves we deserve the nice things we have? We’ve worked for them. We take care of our things. We give back… somewhat… We know how to handle money. We have lots of handy reasons and rationalizations- but in the end it’s the same lie – that God likes me better, that he’s giving me all these good things because I deserve them. That whatever success and wealth and “stuff” I have in life is mine and I earned it.
But Jesus throws a monkey wrench in all that. For those rich people, for those successful people, and even for you and me. How difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! And if you’re rich – well – all the more. It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. It’s a ridiculous thought. It’s physically impossible.
And notice the disciples’ reaction. “Then who can be saved?!” See, it’s not that they considered themselves rich, but they thought that wealth was a sign of God’s favor. And if even the ones God blesses with riches can’t enter the kingdom, than what about poor little old me? If those who are successful can’t even do it, then what about me – I struggle from day to day. I can’t keep my ducks in a row. I can’t handle my problems. I can’t even control myself. I’m a mess. I’m a sinner.
This is what Jesus is looking for. They are starting to realize the problem. They need him. You need him. Despair of your own efforts, your own works, your own value and worth. If even the rich and powerful and successful and glamorous are shut out of the kingdom, if not even those far “better” than you and I can get in… then we are sunk. On our own, we are lost. Without God, it is impossible.
“With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”
Yes, it is impossible, on your own, for you or even for the rich man, to enter the kingdom… But! with God, it’s possible. It’s possible, and it’s a reality, in Jesus Christ… but Peter interrupts….
“Lord, we’ve left everything to follow you…” Maybe this is the trick, Peter reasons. Maybe it’s not being rich, but being poor that earns God’s favor. Maybe it’s leaving everything behind. Maybe it really is selling all your stuff, just like Jesus told the rich young man to do. Maybe it’s moving a million miles away and sharing the Gospel in a foreign land, to a foreign people.
But it’s not that either. It’s never been about having the things or not having the things. It’s never been about being rich or poor, successful or not. Or about where you live and how big your house or small your checkbook. God desires all men to be saved. God blesses rich and poor alike with the blessings that truly count. It’s about the heart, it’s about the faith, it’s about Jesus.
Jesus, who truly left everything behind, when he left his throne in heaven to be born a lowly human and laid in a lowly manger. Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the son of man had nowhere to rest his head. He had no wealth or beauty that we should regard him, but humiliated himself – stricken, smitten, afflicted, chastised and condemned. Even his garments were stripped from him. A man of sorrows, well acquainted with grief. Hardly a worldly success story. He who was first became last of all… at the cross.
This is how God does the impossible. This is how God gets the rich and the poor and even you through the eye of the needle into the kingdom of heaven – through the cross. Through the impossible thought of God becoming Man, and the Creator dying for the creature, the one without sin, taking the sins of all. And through death, bringing forth life. Impossible? Not with God. Not with Jesus Christ. Not with silver or gold, but with his holy precious blood.
Dear baptized, in the kingdom of God things aren’t always as they seem. The rich aren’t always the ones with God’s favor. And the persecuted and troubled aren’t always the ones out of favor. The last are sometimes first, and the first are sometimes last. And even the extraordinary, the incredible, the impossible…. is possible, and very real. God became man; the innocent died for sinners, Jesus rose from the dead and through Jesus sinners, you and me, are made perfect, forgiven, adopted as God’s children, and inherit the kingdom of heaven. And right there…there in Christ…we have God’s favor for eternity. Amen.
Now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. Amen.