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Sermon – 20th Sunday after Pentecost 2021

Psalm 22:1-15 Job 23:1-9, 16-17 Hebrews 4:12-16 Mark 10:17-31

A minister told his congregation, “Next week I plan to preach about the sin of lying. To help you understand my sermon, I want you to read Mark 17.” The following Sunday, as he prepared to deliver his sermon, the minister asked for a show of hands. He wanted to know how many had read Mark 17. Several hands went up. The minister smiled and said, “Mark only has 16 chapters. I will now preach on the sin of lying.”

Simply saying we adhere to the commandments is not enough. God requires everything of us in our discipleship, including the letting go of earthly things and the loving and adoring of heavenly things instead.

So, in the gospel reading – here is a guy, kneeling and wanting to inherit eternal life. He asks his question carefully and respectfully. Jesus explains the commandments. The reply is that he has observed these commandments since his youth. Jesus digs a little deeper: what is really holding this man back? Jesus hits the bullseye. “You are addicted to things – you love shoes, toys, gadgets, boats, vacations, your investments.” Yes, that was it. The ethical, devout guy is in trouble. He misrepresented himself.

The disciples are shocked. If a Torah-observant, faithful, blessed man (after all he is rich, so God must have blessed him) isn’t in the Kingdom of God, then who is? Jesus explains the love project is indeed hard. Attachments that distort our vision of the world have to be challenged. Peter then offers himself as an example. And Jesus explains, “You are right: start the process of loving here and now and it bubbles out with rewards of all different forms here and now and in the life to come.” Uniquely in this gospel, the question from the outsider invokes in Jesus deep affection. It is the only place where Jesus listens to the rich man and “loved him.

Well, I caught a break this week with the rich young man as we continue talking about our stewardship campaign. The lectionary fairies were looking out for me. In Mark’s Gospel, this young man wanted to be sure he would get eternal life, so he asked what he could do. He said that he never once broken any of the laws Jesus mentioned and perhaps he had even kept the Pharisees’ fine-tuned version of them. But Jesus lovingly broke through the young man’s pride with a challenge that brought out his true motives. “Go sell everything you have and give to the poor.” This challenge exposed the barrier that could keep this young man out of the kingdom of God, his love of money. Money represented his pride of accomplishment and self-effort. Ironically, his attitude made him unable to keep the first commandment, let nothing be more important than God. He could not meet the one requirement Jesus gives – to turn his whole heart and life over to God. He misrepresented himself. The man came to Jesus wondering what he could do. He left seeing what he was unable to do. What barriers are keeping us from turning our lives over to Christ?

What does our money mean to us? Although Jesus wanted this man to sell everything and give his money to the poor, this doesn’t mean that all of Jesus’ followers should sell all their possessions. What a relief! We know that most of his followers didn’t sell everything, but they changed their mind-set, their heart-set, to use their possessions to serve others. This story shows us that we must not let anything that we have or anything that we desire keep us from following Jesus. We have to work at removing all barriers that keep us from serving God fully.

To be able to live as faithful stewards, we need to know God’s will and purpose for each of us. Sometimes we have to learn our purpose through very hard, very difficult lessons, in painful ways. Maybe sometimes, until we’re at the bottom, we don’t realize that God is the answer. Often we think that our lives are good, and, most of the time, we don’t have a clue how empty and unfulfilled we really are without God. We’re so busy with all our things in life, that God fails to rank in our top ten. But nothing is impossible for God!

We are so much like the rich young man in not wanting to make major changes – not wanting to give up anything that we have. When we do look for meaning and purpose in our lives, we tend to look in the wrong places, in the wrong directions – money, power, fame. Maybe we believe that we need a better job, a different place to live, and some new toys in our lives. Somehow, we don’t seem to get it; we don’t understand that we’ve been created for a relationship with God. It is through this relationship that we discover that we are to glorify God, to serve God, and to give to God through the giving to our church and to God’s people.

We give God praise and glory during our worship services when we sing songs of praise and offer our prayers to God. However, the purpose for our total being is to give God glory at all times and in all places. All our thoughts, words, actions, and deeds are meant to glorify him. Yes, that is a challenge when someone cuts you off in traffic, or someone is yelling at you out of their pain. Our goal is to please God and to bring him glory in the way we live our lives. We are not only to glorify the Lord in living our lives, but also in our work. Whatever we do, we are to work for furthering the kingdom of God. God doesn’t look at the insignificance of any act but at the intentions of the heart to serve God.

Heartfelt service to the Lord is an integral part of our stewardship. We serve the Lord by serving others. Jesus tells us that when we help those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, and homeless, we are serving him (Matthew 25:40). Jesus didn’t come to be served but to serve (Matthew 20:28). Just prior to his death on the Cross, Jesus gathered his disciples for the Last Supper. When the disciples were around the table, Jesus rose and washed the feet of the disciples. After Jesus finished washing the disciples’ feet, he said, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (John 13:14-15). That is always so meaningful on Maundy Thursday.

Jesus’ directive couldn’t be much clearer. We know he was not talking just to the disciples but also to us. What Jesus did will always be our example and our encouragement to serve others. Regardless of who we are or what we’ve accomplished, God calls us to serve. The evil one, Satan will use our selfishness or laziness or self-centeredness to try to deceive us by encouraging us to deceive ourselves as we justify our inaction, rationalizing that we are too busy or too important, or too inadequate to fulfill the tasks God places before us. God’s instruction is clear that we are to render service and not sit in idleness.

We give because God first gave. “God so loved the world that he gave…” (John 3:16). By nature, God is a loving and giving God. Because God is love, God gives and keeps on giving. The natural response of love is to give. Love is never close-lipped or tight-fisted. Love never asks how little must I give, but how much can I give. When we are filled with the love of God, we give, we give from the heart.

As we grow in our relationship with Jesus and our purposes in life become clearer, we become God’s channels through which he can give. He gives us enough so that our surplus will supply the needs of people and to extend his kingdom here on earth. At times, we may be the recipients of people’s gifts, and, at other times, we will be the giver of gifts.

When God opens our eyes and hearts to the needs of others and God’s causes, we will, by God’s grace, make every effort to give because we are his vessels. When we give our time, talent and money, we are fulfilling one of his purposes for us. If we choose to close our channels and stop giving, we withhold from others what God wants them to have. And, we miss the blessings that God shares with those who give faithfully. God loves a cheerful giver.

Through faith, we can see our self-serving ways and seek forgiveness. God has seen our need for a Savior, and he sent his Son to the cross. He took away our sin. So for those times when we have failed to glorify God, failed in our service, or failed to give, we, by God’s grace, are forgiven. God’s love is there for us always. God’s love is proven by his sacrifice on the cross. Because of God’s great love for us, we can trust in God no matter what. We can trust in God’s promises, God’s forgiveness, for new life, for redemption and reconciliation. It is in giving that we truly receive.

One of my favorite quotes comes from John Wesley, who said, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all ways that you can, in all the places that you can, to all the people you can, as long as you can.” Amen.

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