Sermon for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 23)

Text: Mark 10:26
The disciples were completely amazed and asked one another, “Who, then, can be saved?”

 

“Who in the world can be saved?”

“Who, then, in the world can be saved?”  -  a good question asked by the disciples.  A young man approached Jesus and said, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  The question of course implied that there was something the young man could do to win eternal life for himself.  

Jesus replied telling him to go and keep the Ten Commandments.  He knew exactly what the young man would say in response, “That’s no problem. I’m doing this already.  I’ve been keeping the commandments since I was 12 years old.  That’s kid’s stuff.  Eternal life is a big deal. Surely, Jesus, there must be something else that I can do to be certain of having life forever”.

“Well actually there is,” Jesus replies.  “There is the matter of the heart.  The matter of true discipleship, self-sacrifice and love.  Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”  Jesus has no intention of shaming the man or putting him down because he is rich but to help him see that entering the Kingdom of God is not just knowing about God and following a set of principles or teachings, but that it is Jesus himself who is the way to eternal life and nothing should stand between Jesus and what he offers.  When Jesus calls his disciples, he wants them to let go of the old securities.  He gives the commands – go, sell, give, come and follow – and there are no if, buts and maybes.

The man went away sad because this is a very radical demand and he couldn’t handle the fact that Jesus’ answer left him with a choice that he didn’t like – either enjoying the comforts and riches of this life or giving his wealth to the poor, following Jesus and having the true riches of heaven.

Jesus then uses a little bit of humour to get the point across when he explains how hard it is to get into the Kingdom of God.  He uses the picture of a camel that was not only the largest animal in Palestine but also a carrier of big loads.  Jesus imagines this camel trying to get through a small opening.  He says, “It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!” 

It is just then that the disciples have a horrible “Aha” moment or should I say “aaahhhh” moment.  “Who, then in the world can be saved?”
Don’t we all get caught up in the formality of our Christianity;
knowing the right things to believe;
saying the right things;
singing the right things to the point that knowing Jesus and the life he gives seems to fall as second place or even worse third or fourth behind everything else that happens in our church-life? 
Don’t we get caught up in the busy activities of the church and forget what is at the heart of it all – God speaking to us through his Word as we come together as his Church in worship and then sharing that Word with the world?
Don’t we all get caught up in the material things of this world, the leisure times, the fun things, the making money activities that our relationship with Jesus somehow comes behind all these things? 

We say Jesus is more important than anything else. 
We talk the talk but we don’t walk the walk.

I don’t think there is anyone who can escape feeling like the disciples and remember they weren’t very wealthy and yet they recognised that the material things of this world played a very important part in their lives.  They saw themselves as camels trying to get through the eye of a needle. 

The image of a camel carrying a heavy load reminds us of the baggage that we carry through this life – the emotional and spiritual baggage – the stresses and worries, the anxieties and sadness, the lack of confidence in ourselves and others, our apprehension about the future, the relationships that have turned bad and whatever other baggage we carry with us.  With all of that baggage strapped on our backs passing through the eye of a needle becomes impossible.

In Jesus’ time for a camel to get through one of the smaller gates in the city walls it had to be first unloaded.  If the camel became cantankerous and difficult, its baggage had to stay on its back.  It had to suffer the conditions outside the city.

Aren’t we a bit like camels; loaded up with all kinds of baggage and stresses and worries and the gateway to freedom and peace and calmness and confidence in Jesus is just too small.  We are like the overloaded camel who would like to be inside but refuse to let go of the baggage.

We end up saying,
If only I could let go and leave what upsets me in the hands of God!
If only I could trust more!
If only I could be closer to God but it seems the closer I want to get to him the further he seems to be.
If only I could be more devoted, more committed, more like Christ.
If only I could find it easier to love others.
But when we have finished with all our “if onlys” we are still like “camels trying to go through the eye of a needle”.

Jesus’ conversation with the rich young man is a hard teaching. 
It really goes against what the rest of the world is telling us, namely to get as much of the world’s goods as possible and make sure that you are secure and well-off and look after your own needs first. 
It really goes against our human nature which urges us to be selfish and greedy.
It goes against our need to always be in control, to know our future, to be in charge of our own security.
It goes against our innate need to worry and stress.

When it all boils down – any of these can come between Jesus and us.  They can prevent us from following him.  They can interfere with our commitment to him and make our following mere words and lip-service.  And if we are brutally honest with ourselves, we would have to say that there is not so much difference between the humpy camel and us – big and humpy, carrying heavy loads, and trying to get through the eye of a needle – impossible.  “Who can be saved?” the disciples asked.

Jesus answered simply, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God.”

For a moment let me turn to today’s reading from the Letter to the Hebrews. It began with these words,
“The word of God is alive and active, sharper than any double-edged sword. It cuts all the way through, to where soul and spirit meet, to where joints and marrow come together.  It judges the desires and thoughts of the heart.  There is nothing that can be hid from God; … it is to him we must all give an account of ourselves” (Heb 4:12-13).  These words just add to our concern, “Who in the world can be saved?”  The writer is describing how the Word of God is like a sharp sword and cuts deep like a surgeon’s knife exposing all that is evil and corrupt in us.  Nothing is hidden from God. 

That’s cold comfort indeed.  Just as Jesus could see into the heart of the rich young man and see the desires and thoughts of his heart, likewise nothing is hidden from God in our lives.  As we have talked about the story of the rich young man, the Word of God has cut us deep and challenged us, “Hey, are you a humpy camel overloaded with this world’s cares trying to squeeze through the eye of a needle?” 

We heard Jesus say, “How hard it is for rich people to enter the Kingdom of God”.  We are rich people.  We live in a place that is truly blessed.  We lack nothing and still we carry around our fair share of worries and concerns.  The Word of God cuts us deeply and exposed our lack of willingness to let go, come and follow Jesus. 

Jesus calls us to be his disciples and yet we are hot and cold, we flap and fluster, are weak and strong, doubting and faithful, so inconsistent in our commitment. How can we be saved if all we do is mess things up all the time? 

There is Good News.  We read in the Letter to The Hebrews – in Christ we have a high priest who is able to understand our weaknesses.  He knows all our flaws and imperfections.  Because of his goodness and grace, we are confident that we will receive mercy and forgiveness when we are humpy camels who need to get rid of a lot of baggage. The writer concludes, So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most” (Heb 4:16).  He will help us and pull us through the eye of a needle into his kingdom.

Yes, it’s true we can so easily decentralise Jesus, sideline him and make room only for the things that are less important or only have temporary importance.  It’s interesting to note that when the rich young man indicated to Jesus how out of focus his thinking was, the gospel writer says, “Jesus looked straight at him with love”.  Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves and when we mess things up “he looks straight at us with love”.
This is a calling love,
a forgiving love,
a changing and challenging love. 
It’s a love that calls us into his community
and sends us out as his people.
It’s a love that embraces us even when we are weak and heavy laden.
It’s a love that loves us even when we are at our worst.
It’s a love that we don’t want to disappoint.

With God all things are possible – even getting humpy camels like us through heaven’s door.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
11th October 2015
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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