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Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!

Disclaimer

Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Our Offerings, A Sign of Faith - October 14, 2012 - Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 23) - Text: Mark 10:17-22

This morning we pick up where we left off last week. Last week you might remember that Jesus spoke to us about the fourfold purpose of marriage including the gift and blessing of procreation, that is that through marriage God gives children so that His Church might grow and be strengthened. We were also reminded of the fact that God never asks children to have the faith of an adult, rather God speaks to adults and tells us to have faith as a child. In our text for this morning Jesus shows us what the faith of a child looks like as He speaks to one of the local synagogue rulers.
 
As we get into our text, we are told that as Jesus was setting out on His journey a man ran up to him and knelt before Him and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus’ response is a good example to us today, as we have said many times in Bible Class, when speaking to others of different faiths very often we need to first define our words. So, Jesus begins with the definition of the word “good.” When Jesus uses the word “good,” He means good in the understanding that God alone is good. Of course we understand that Jesus is God, thus Jesus is good, meaing He is perfect.
 
For the man who approached Jesus, the word good carried with it the implication of “earning” something and in particular, earning eternal salvation. From the man’s question we might rightly understand that he thinks highly of himself, even thinking that he has been good enough or done enough good things to earn eternal life, otherwise, why would he ask the question in the first place and why would he ask the question as he did.
 
As we are told a little later in the narrative, because Jesus loves this man, as He loves all people and as His desire is that all people are saved, He moves to ask another question of the man with the intent of helping him to see that he is not as “good” nor as deserving as he might think he is. Jesus asks him if he has kept the commandments and specifically Jesus mentions the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth and fourth commandments. Notice Jesus does not even ask about the first three commandments which deal with our relationship to Himself as God. Anyway, Jesus asks if the man has kept these commandments, which to this man would most certainly be a test of whether or not a person might claim to be good. Now, we understand that the purpose of the commandments is to show us our sin. As we often confess quoting the epistle of John at the beginning of our divine service, “8If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8,9).
 
Jesus wants the man and us to understand the difference between outward obedience and inward faith. The man believed that his outward obedience was enough, in other words, he believed that since he had never actually broken a commandment through some action that he was a good person and thus merited eternal life. What the man failed to realize and very often what we fail to realize even today is the fact that it is not simply by an outward action that we break the commandments. Again, as we often confess, we sin in thought, that is out of our heart, we sin in our words, and we sin in our actions. We sin by committing and acting against the commandments and by omitting to do what God would have us to do, what we call sins of commission and omission. The point of the commandments is to point out our sin and they accomplish their purpose quite well.
 
Because this man believes that he is truly good meaning that he is without sin and deserves heaven, Jesus proceeds to test his heart. Jesus knew that this man was a wealthy man and that rather than depending on Jesus he was depending on himself, Jesus tells the man to sell everything, give it to the poor and follow me. But notice what the man did not notice, the positive side of Jesus’ test, “and you will have treasure in heaven.”
 
Yet, “disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possession.” This last verse of the narrative tells us that the man was indeed dependent on himself not Jesus. The man was not as “good” as he first thought he was.
 
What does this mean? Last week we were encouraged to have the faith of a child. We were reminded that children trust God through their parents for all that they need. As adults we have become rather cynical and untrusting. We quite easily spout the mottos of our world, “There is nothing free in life.” “If something is free there are strings attached.” We have learned to trust ourselves rather than God, thinking that we are the ones who are earning a wage and making a living, that we are the ones who are providing for ourselves and our families.
 
What is our confession of faith? Are we like the rich synagogue ruler? Are we dependent on ourselves? Or are we dependent on God? Do we think we are good enough, that we have merited eternal life in heaven? Do we believe we have kept all or at least most of the commandments? What would our response be if Jesus asked us to sell everything, give it all to the poor and follow Him? Would we actually sell everything, give it all to the poor and follow Him? Or would we walk away disheartened?
 
As we listen to Jesus’ words, notice that the man did not have a money problem, he had a faith problem. If you can notice this fact, then you can understand why I always say that congregations do not have financial problems, we have faith problems. We are indeed like the man in our text. We have more faith and trust in ourselves and our own abilities than we have in God and in the God who provides for us all that we need in the first place.
 
We live in a world which would suggest that being good is the answer. Movie after movie, television show after television show tells us to look inside ourselves and inside of us we are each really good or pretty good people. There are even churches and preachers that will preach to you that you can be the person God wants you to be, which then begs the question of why would we need Jesus. As we grow from being a child and depending on our parents to being a teenager and getting our first job, to graduating from high school and college we learn to depend on ourselves, it is the American way, after all. Unfortunately we fail to distinguish between our physical world and our spiritual well being. We become like the man in the narrative, thinking that if we have been good enough to not break the law, then certainly we are good enough for Jesus. And so Jesus would ask us to sell everything, give it all to the poor and follow Him and that we will have treasure in heaven. So, what are we to do?
  
Do we give some of what we have, depending on ourselves? Do we recognize that all we have is a gift from God and respond by giving Him our first fruits, even our tithes? Actually, most of the world is somewhere in the middle, which means that we are truly depending on ourselves rather than depending on God. When we understand that we are saved by grace and grace alone, then anything we attempt to add to grace means that we are no longer saved by grace and grace alone, rather we are saved by the thing that is added, usually implying our good works or I should say, what we believe to be our own good works.
 
This morning, then, let me encourage you. I would encourage you to have the faith of a child. I would encourage you to remember what it was like as a child, depending on God through your parents to provide you with all that you needed and notice I said needed, not necessarily wanted. Did you have all that you needed as a child? Why would you think that God would cease to take care of you? God is the prime mover. God gives. God created and provides for us the world we live in. God has created the world with the resources we need to sustain life. God gives each one of us life, a body and a soul, at conception. God gives us new life through the waters of Holy Baptism. God gives forgiveness of sins through confession and absolution, as well as through His Word and His Holy Supper. God gives strengthening of faith through these very means as well. God gives faith, forgiveness and life, even eternal life.
 
God gives us gifts talents and abilities. He gives us a job, work, a career in order to earn a living to purchase food, clothing, shelter, and so forth. As God has provided in the past indeed we can depend on Him to continue to provide for today, tomorrow and the future. I would challenge anyone to name one thing that in one way or another cannot be traced back to God’s good and gracious giving hand. Indeed as I said last week, what we are born with and what we take with us when we die is what is truly ours. Everything in this world is a gift from God and is on loan to us from Him to use in service to Him while we are in this world.
 
Our response of faith is to acknowledge that God gives and we are given to and we do respond by returning a portion of what He has first given to us back to Him. God does not ask that we sell everything and give it all to the poor in order to follow Him. God loves us and so His desire  is that we love Him and that we give ourselves to Him. When we have given ourselves to Him then He has all of us. And we have treasure in heaven.
 
I would challenge you to step out in faith. You cannot out give God, which I believe is obvious since all things are given to us by Him in the first place. God gives and as we respond in faith returning a portion to Him, He gives even more.
 
God loves you. He has given you your life, both your physical body and your immortal soul. He has sheltered, fed and clothed you all your life. He has seen to it that you have been baptized and given faith. He continually offers His gifts through His means of grace. Forgiveness was won on Calvary, it is distributed through His means of grace. All that you have and all that you are is gift. And by God’s grace, through the faith He has given to you, you do have treasure in heaven. All we can do is respond and say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

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