Sermon for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 23)


Text: Mark 10:25
"My children, how hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God. It is much harder for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle."

Humps and big hairy feet

Sometimes you hear of people doing the impossible.

In 2003 an Indian man swallowed 200 earthworms each measuring at least 10 cm long in 30 seconds. This same man can put small live cobras into his mouth and passing them out through his nose.

In the UK a man ate a 3 course meal in 45 seconds in 1999. The meal consisted of 500ml of oxtail soup, 454g (1 lb) of mashed potatoes, 227g (Ĺ lb) of tinned baked beans and sausage, and 50 prunes.

A shearer in NSW in April last year sheared a sheep is 45.41 seconds.

There was the group of students who played Snakes and Ladders for 108 hours. And then there was the man who played the piano for 45 days and 11 hours,
and the barber who shaved 130 men in an hour with a cut throat razor.
A politician gave a speech that lasted 6 hours and 43 minutes, but that is nothing compared to the preacher whose sermon lasted for 48 hours and 18 minutes.

And then there was the camel that tried to go through the eye of a needle - and failed. And on his second try, his third try, his fourth try - he failed again - because camels don't go through eyes of needles. It's an impossible task. It can't be done.

The story was told by Jesus. A rich young man had just come to him with a question: "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then, come, follow me." We are told that the young man went away sad because he was very rich.

Jesus turned to his disciples. "How hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the Kingdom of God. It is easier for a camel to go through the eyes of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God."

Letís be clear from the beginning that Jesus isnít against having wealth, or owning lots of things, or striving to own a house or a car. What he is saying is that being blessed with lots of material possessions can be a trap. Itís a trap to own things and to want to possess things in such a way that they get in the way of striving for a life that is focussed on Jesus and the kingdom of God in much the same way as humps, long necks, and flat hairy feet get in the way of a camel trying to get through the eye of a needle. The camel was the largest animal people knew in Jesus time. There were no elephants and no knowledge of dinosaurs - only humpy camels. Not only were they big, but they were also the grumpiest and needed a far bit of coaxing to do anything, let alone squeeze through a tiny opening.

Trapped - that's how the camel felt as he meditated on the situation with only one whisker halfway through the needle. Trapped because he was so bulky and big - he had such a huge frame and couldn't get rid of it. Trapped - that's how the rich young man felt as he sat outside the door of the Kingdom of heaven. Gradually the cares of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desire for more things to come, adds to our bulk so that the door of heaven is dwarfed. There are so many things hanging on to us that it is impossible to fit through the narrow door into the Kingdom of God. That doorway is just big enough for us to fit through let alone all kinds of additional baggage that would hinder our progress.

The point needs to be made that Jesus isnít just talking about millionaires and the big business people who have loads of money and spend big on business deals and leisure. He is talking to ordinary people like you and me. Our text is talking to all of us who are in danger of being so focussed on the good things of this world that we lose sight of what is truly important.

The philosophy adopted by many Australians is happiness is a beer, a house, a car in the garage. Security is a job, and happiness is Queensland beating NSW in the State of Origin. Itís easy for us, people who come here to church every Sunday, to adopt a material based view of life.

The young man in the text had everything. He was well to do, he had a good income, he had food on his table every night, in fact he could afford to dine out whenever it pleased him, he was well clothed, he had a holiday house overlooking the Sea of Galilee, and the latest BMW chariot. He had everything. Well almost everything.

"One thing you lack. Go sell everything you have and give it to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven." Jesus said. And the young man couldnít do it. He was trapped by all the things which he had surrounded himself in life. He couldnít surrender the first place in his heart to Jesus. That place was already filled with his possessions. And he went away sad. The young man may have had everything, but he lacked the most important thing of all. He still needed the treasure that is more valuable than any other possession, and that is Jesus Christ.

This whole teaching goes against the grain. Doesnít the world judge a person as successful when he/she has a big house, or flash car or successful career? Arenít people judged by the way they dress, the way they run their business, and by their popularity and fame? When the world talks about security it talks about the comfortable lifestyle a person has and his/her ability to win friends and influence people because of their successes.

We say without thinking that we donít want to get left behind in the race for possessions. Itís so easy to become fearful that if we donít put material things first in our lives than we will somehow be disadvantaged. Iím not saying that material possessions are wrong but Jesus is getting us thinking through this text about what our true priorities are. As you know our daughter has been in India with students from the Maroochydore State High School the past 3 weeks helping and interacting with some of the poorest people. She has text messaged us a number of times telling us that even though the children there have very little or nothing as far as material things are concerned, they are so happy. People can be happy without a widescreen TV.

We may become great in the eyes of the world but when our priorities are all wrong then, as far as the kingdom of God is concerned, we are the poorest of the poor. Jesus says, "Watch out and guard yourselves from every kind of greed, because a personís true life is not made up of the things he owns, no matter how rich he may be Luke 12.15).

And I donít think Jesus is just talking about material things. He is talking about anything that gets in the way of putting Jesus first in our lives. He includes our leisure activities, our work, our hobbies, our sport etc. When we misuse the gifts God has given us and regard them as more important than the Creator then they become a curse. A beautiful house is good, having money is good, but when these become all consuming they squeeze Jesus out of first place.

We all get it wrong, and I include myself here. Whether we are rich or poor, we are constantly in danger of filling our hearts with everything else except Jesus. Luther explains the Commandment ĎYou shall have no other godsí like this, ĎWe should honour, love, and trust God more than anything elseí. I can say quite confidently that there isnít one person here who has done just that. "We are as guilty as sin". In fact if we kept this one commandment perfectly then there would be no sin in our lives or in our world. Our honour, love and trust for God would not allow us to put anything as more important than God and our relationship with him Ė and that includes worshipping him, praying to him, reading and studying his Word, doing deeds of love and kindness for others. Because we carry a load of sin on our backs we are like camels trying to squeeze through the eye of a needle - an impossibility.

Jesus looked at his disciples straight in the eye and answered their question of "who can be saved then?" saying, "This is impossible for a human being, but not for God; everything is possible for God." The only way we can possibly enter the kingdom of God is to be pulled through that needleís eye by God. He loves us, he sent his Son to die for us, so that we could be forgiven for all of our sins against the First Commandment and for all of sins that have put other things first before Jesus. Jesus says, "All those who live and believe in him will have eternal life." He is saying -

Ask yourself this question. Are you all humps and big flat hairy feet? When it comes to getting into the kingdom of God are you all weighed down with the problems and worries of possessions that are in danger of taking control of your life? Do you have Jesus in number one place in your life, or are there all sorts of other things that squeeze him out?

There are times we are more aware of the way we have decentralised Jesus in our lives but today letís hear Jesus speaking to all of us. We are told Jesus loved the rich man who had everything upside down in his life. He loves you and me. There can be no doubt about that. On the cross he demonstrated just how much he loves us and at our baptism we experienced that love as he changed us from overloaded camels into heirs of eternal life. He forgave us for all of our selfishness and our misplaced priorities. He welcomed us into his kingdom. He now challenges us to look at ourselves and our lives and take note of how often we are like hairy humpy camels trying to get through the eye of a needle.

Through the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives letís confess our sin, trust God who welcomes us into his kingdom, and live us people who know and appreciate what God has done for us. This will change your life. God can do what is impossible!

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
15th October, 2006

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