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Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Most Bibles today include tiny notations that are called the Critical Apparatus. Since there was no one Bible dating back to the time of the evangelists, variations occurred in the text as it was copied over and over in different churches around the Mediterranean Sea The critical apparatus which is often at the bottom of the page notes these historic variations in the text.
I haven’t submitted my application yet, but I have decided to attend the Ancient Bible Translators Conference next month. And you as a congregation at Lake of the Isles, should be very proud. I have made a rare textual discovery. I have spent all this past week studying the intricacies of one tiny word in this morning’s lesson. “Give the money to the poor.” I have examined the Greek cognates, the Hebrew syntax, and even the most ancient Aramaic traditions spoken by Jesus, and I now believe I can tell you the true answer to the young rich man’s questions. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus didn’t really say, “Give the money to the poor.” No, what he really said to the young man is this, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give the money to… the pastor’s discretionary fund.” Yes, that is what I discovered this week. And I hope to share this with my fellow Ancient Bible Translators.
All right. I may suffer from a faulty exegesis. No, Jesus didn’t say “the pastor’s discretionary fund,” and to the dismay of both our Endowment Committee and the Stewardship Committee, he didn’t say to “give to the Lake of the Isles Lutheran Church” either. Jesus did say give to the poor. But, my friends, as forced and contrived as my study to make “the poor” into a personal, discretionary fund may seem, consider how hard our society and the world seeks to make “the poor” disappear from this lesson altogether.
The late Luther Seminary professor Gerhardt Frost once wrote a little poem called “Don’t Laugh.” It captures the folly of our ways.
They told me today of the chain smoker who read so much about the hazards of smoking , he decided to give up reading. They expected me to laugh. And I did.
But then I thought, “What about me?”
Our Lord says, Love one another, love your enemies, seek justice, forgive as you have been forgiven. Something in me doesn’t like that. So sometimes I read less and less. Don’t laugh.
I rather suspect that the young, rich man wished he could read less and less. He was after all a decent, respectable young man. Wealthy and well connected. The perfect, future husband for your eligible daughter. But most importantly, he recognized that there was something missing in his life. He knew that there was something beyond himself…an eternal life…an eternal life shared with God, and yet he didn’t know where to turn.
My friends, this morning, I would like to share with you two convictions drawn from this chance meeting of Jesus and the young, rich man. First of all, do not be deceived by the dazzling treasures of the world, but seek instead the treasures that will last in heaven. Second, to let go of the worldly treasures may be your greatest challenge.
Saint Mark writes in his Gospel, that as Jesus was setting out on his journey, the young, rich man ran up to him. It is a wonderful scene of contrasts. The young man dressed in his finest Armani suit, Italian leather shoes, bronzed skin, magnificent hair knelt before Jesus. The rabbi stood before him in the tattered, dusty tunic and robe of an itinerant teacher, scuffed sandals, sun-parched and wind blown skin and disheveled hair. The young man took out his leather- bound notebook, and his gold-plated, monogrammed Cross pen and asked Jesus, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” It was a sincere question.
Jesus answered him with a quotation of the commandments, to which the young man responded truthfully, “Teacher, I have kept all of these since my youth.” Jesus stood and studied the young, and as we read in Mark’s gospel, “Jesus loved him.” They were perhaps the same age. Jesus cared for him as a brother and as a friend. The Rabbi’s counsel for the young man was as a friend who wanted only the best for his companion. “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” When the young man heard this, he was disheartened and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
The rich young ruler had come to the right person. He had asked the right question: how do I inherit eternal life? And he had received the right answer: Follow me. Sadly, the young, rich man could not. He turned and walked away from the only true source of eternal life. When Jesus invited the young man to give up his money, the man started to grieve. His riches were the center of his identity. And to lose his money would have been to lose himself.
I’ve seen that disoriented and disheartened look hundred times. I have counseled with students as to their future vocations, they know what they long for, but the pressures of the world are too great, so they walk away grieving. I have visited with couples whose marriage is on the brink of divorce, they know what they desire, but the pressures of pride and ego are too great, so they walk away grieving. I have advised men and women caught in the financial throes of keeping up with the Joneses, who know what they ultimately want, but walk away grieving. The young, rich man too, knew want he wanted. He could even call it by name “eternal life,” but he wasn’t ready to abandon the comfort and security of this present comforts and the identity they had given him.
My friends, the dazzling riches of this world aren’t inherently evil. When Jesus taught his disciples that “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God,” he wasn’t merely offering a prophetic word of warning to those who possess great wealth. No, Jesus was speaking a profound word of truth. “How hard it is for those with wealth to enter the kingdom of God.” Why, you may ask? Simply said, when you have all the comforts, securities, and entertainment amenities that the world offers, and you been nurtured to believe that they are heaven on earth, there will be no need, nor room for the gracious, loving benevolence offered in God’s kingdom.
“So pastor, what must I do to receive eternal life?” It really is rather peculiar question. For in order for you to inherit anything, someone must die. “What must I do?”” my friends, is the question of those who trust in their own character and strength and the power and their own worldly treasures. It is not the question of men and women who have grown to know the God who has died for them in Jesus Christ and offers the inheritance of eternal life freely here and now. For you the question might be, “What may I do to grow in trust in God’s eternal presence?”
So let me offer you three suggestions of how you can learn to let go of earth’s riches and place your trust in God. First of all, simplify your life. It is true that Jesus commanded the young man to, “Go, and sell everything that he had.” That may be a little too dramatic for you, and frankly I’m not convinced that it would necessarily bring you closer to God. Having lived in the former Soviet Union where families were forced to sell their cherished few possessions, I saw more depression and humiliation than faith and trust. No, I cannot believe that God demands that of you. I do, however, believe that God invites you and me to a closer relationship with him by simplifying our lives.
Second, give to the poor. I am convinced there is no greater sense of honor and calling than sharing your gifts. When I was in tenth grade preparing for confirmation, I visited with Pastor Borgwardt. It was perhaps the most haunting moment of my faith journey. We sat together in his dark paneled office and talked about confirmation, high school and future vocational plans. As I was ready to leave he said, “Arden, remember to whom God has given much, much will be demanded.” At the time, I was frightened by those words, but today I recognize these words were intended to be an invitation. Give to the poor, and become dependent on God, and you will experience a new relationship with him, and your treasure will be great in heaven.
Finally, follow Jesus. You will discover that a host of leaders, visionaries and preachers will be waiting at every door. They would all like for you to be a part of their travels. There will be those who will lead you away from the poor and needy. There will be others who will avoid the sick and dying. Others will lead you to kingdoms where only the rich reside. But let Jesus alone be the one who sets your course and direction. When you follow Jesus on the journey, you will grow to trust his grace and presence. And what’s more you will enjoy his eternal life here and now. That is what God longs for you to discover and experience. For where your treasure, there your heart will be also. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.