the twentieth sunday after pentecost

Mark 10. 17-31
There’s nothing we can do to be saved; god’s done it all!

Almost forty years of preaching and I can’t remember a time when I started a sermon with a content warning, a disclaimer. But, this morning, I will. Hopefully, it’ll help you hear the passage, a little better. First of all, the words you’ve just heard – and the words on which the sermon’s based – weren’t spoken by a communist or a socialist. And contrary to popular opinion, they weren’t spoken by a Democrat or a progressive or a liberal, either. They were spoken by Jesus. This is one of those thus-saith-the-Lord, red-ink moments. And secondly, in this context, they don’t have much to do with economics or with politics. Not first and foremost, anyway. They’re about faith. Believing. So, with that said, I’ll begin by reading again, Mark, chapter ten, verse twenty-three … “Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’”

“How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”

Once every three years, that verse rears its ugly head! We read it and, I’d bet, every time, our reaction’s the same. First, it shocks us, surprises us. And then, it scares us, terrifies us! And we start to wonder if we heard it right. Surely, Jesus doesn’t mean what it sounds like. “How hard it will be for those who have wealth – Matthew says, for a rich person – to enter the kingdom of God?” Seriously? As church, we flinch. Blink. Almost immediately, we begin to dismantle the idea to make it less … offensive. Less … disagreeable. It can’t be the money that’s the root of all evil, after all. Can it? It’s the LOVE of money, not the money itself! Besides, rich people – people with wealth – they need Jesus, too, don’t they?

Unfortunately, that’s not what Jesus says. Not here. Not now. He says, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And three verses later, as if to drive the point home, he says, “It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who’s rich to enter the kingdom of God.” And we’re shocked and surprised, all over again. At least, till the end of the service. Then, we’re on our way, not giving it a second thought, until we crash into it, three years from now. But like I said, this isn’t about politics. And it’s not about economics. It’s about believing. It’s about faith. It’s about what we rely on. What we stake our lives on. You see, the problem isn’t riches. And it isn’t wealth. It’s the god that wears them like a mask. The god to whom we look for all good. The god to which we flee, in all need. That god’s too easy to trust.

We don’t see the rich and the famous in the same light as Jesus does. For us, they’re the dreamers! The music-makers! Just like the poem says! Movers! Shakers! Building up the world’s great cities! Fashioning empires! Going where no one’s been! Above! Beyond! However, they never notice the down. They never see the out! The lowest! The least! Job creators! That’s how we see them! Captains of industry! Titans of business! Building a world – as they like to imagine – with their own two hands! Shoulder to the wheel! Nose to the grindstone! And yet, Jesus says, “It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle …” They can do anything! Everything! Everything, that is, but enter the kingdom! “How hard it will be …” For the wealthy … For the rich … And our jaw drops … And our eyes pop … Surely not! He can’t mean that!

But that’s exactly what Jesus means! And in answering, Jesus says, “That’s not how it works! That’s not how any of this works!” When the man comes running up, when he falls at Jesus’ feet, asking what he must do to inherit the kingdom, he expected a different answer. Instead, he became the contrast, the contradiction – the counterpoint – to the little ones he’s been talking about, these last few weeks! He’s the powerful to their weakness! The shrewdness to their innocence! The success to their … Well, to their nothing! After all, they have nothing! They’re no one! So, when Jesus says, “How hard it will be for them,” it’s just the flip side of saying, “It’s to such as these – the little ones – that the kingdom belongs!” The man asked, “What must I do?” Jesus says, “What CAN you do? To earn? To deserve? It’s a gift! It’s all a gift!”

Of course, that’s not what the man – the rich man, the one who had wealth – wanted to hear. He was hurt. And he was insulted. All he had done. All he had made. No advantage. No entitlement. No privilege. How hard it will be! How hard it is! Here’s the rub … It’s not about what you can! It’s not about what you will! It’s about Jesus! All about Jesus! What he can! What he will! Until you reach down to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps – and discover you don’t have boots – you’ll never need Jesus! Until you reach the end of your rope and can no longer hold on, and you fall … and fall … and fall … you’ll never understand! Until you reach the point where all your riches and all your wealth can’t make it all go away, you’ll never enter the kingdom! Love will mean nothing! The cross offer nothing! We may not love money; but we trust it! We believe in it! If we didn’t, we wouldn’t have the drama and debate playing itself out in the halls of government! The kingdom’s a gift! A gift given out of the goodness and the greatness of the god’s own heart!

We ask the same question. What must we do? When we hear the answer, we, too, go away grieving. Or we change the story. Flip it upside down. Turn it inside out. Making it something we can live with! And Jesus says, “How hard it will be!” For those who have wealth! To enter the kingdom!” Just like the disciples, we hear. And in spite of our best efforts, we know Jesus means exactly what he says. And we – like them – are astounded! Greatly astounded! Who, then, can be saved? Who can save themselves? And Jesus says, no one! Not if it depends on us! “For mortals,” he says, “it’s impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible!”

My friends, it’s not up to us! Doing what needs to be done! Saying what needs to be said! That’s god’s job! Wealth isn’t the problem! The possessions! It’s what we trust! Who we believe in! What must we do? To be saved? The answer is nothing! Nothing, at all! Because it’s a gift! It’s all a gift! We’re saved by god’s grace! We’re saved by god’s charity! We’re saved because god loves us! Because god loves us all!