St. Paul's Lutheran Church
Proper 23B 21st Sunday after Pentecost
Mark 10:17-22 (23-31)
October 13th and 14th, 2018
"Your Best Trust Now"
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you, from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Our text for today’s message is the Gospel lesson, Mark 10:17-31.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
The Curtain Opens
The man paces backstage. It’s a big night. He peeks out from behind the curtain. The place is packed! Place…it is a 44,000-seat arena. It didn’t seem to long ago that he was running his ministry out of a little store front shop in a run-down part of town. Now look at him! He has come a long way. God has blessed him. God has given him this large ministry. And he has blessed him in other ways. Family. Status and success. He has money in bank…more than that…he is liquid. But he believes that his success should be viewed as a sign of God’s gracious favor towards him. Anyone could see this! And he has worked hard. Harder than anyone else. You don’t get a ministry this big, this fruitful without tireless days and nights. And his gift, his special talent is that he really connects with people. His message. “Your best life now.” This is what people need to hear, in times that we live. People need a hope-filled message. They need to know that if they unlock their God-given potential, God will bless them, like He has blessed me, the man thinks. And he was sent by God to give this message.
He looks down at his shoes. Oh! Someone smudged his right one! These are Testonis! If people knew how much these Italian babies cost, they’d be a little more careful where they walk. He moves to clean it off, but then he hears the music swell. “Oh well, it’s time,” he says. His time. The curtain opens. He says a quick prayer to himself. And he walks out on stage…
Please Don’t Say Such Things…
…and he walked onto the road. There he is! This is the guy everyone is talking about. Oh…he’s going on ahead—I’d better run. “Running,” the man thinks, “This is something I haven’t done for a while!” The townspeople were staring at him. Let them stare! I want to talk to this teacher.
He finally catches up with him. Wow. He was breathing hard. The Teacher turns and looks at him. The man, out of respect, kneels down on the dusty road. He was getting his best chiton dirty! Oh well…it’s worth it. And besides…he has plenty others at home.
Finally, he’s here. He has looked forward to meeting this man. He’s looked forward to asking him this question. “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” A great question. He had thought about it long and hard. You see, it was clear to all around that God has blessed him. His wealth was a sign of God’s favor, God’s blessing! But is there more? “Is there more I can do,” the man wonders.
And then, this teacher having turned, was still looking at him. A look that seemed to say, “Oh…don’t you know…” The rich man was a bit unsettled by the look. He straightened up and smoothed out his wrinkled robes. The teacher said, “Why do you call me I’m good? No one is good…except One—God.” The man paused a moment. Okay, this teacher is sharper than I thought. But the teacher continued. “You know the commandments: never kill, never commit adultery, never steal, never bear false witness, never defraud; honor your father and mother.” The man smiled inwardly. Okay. This is okay. I am okay. For he knew since he had been of age, since his youth, he had kept these. “Teacher (dropping the ‘good’) …teacher, all of these I have kept for myself from the time I was a young man.”
And then the teacher, the Good Teacher, looked at him again. It wasn’t annoyance, or exasperation, or anger even…but His look was one of love.
“One thing you yourself are lacking…go, as much as you have, sell it, and give to the poor. And you will have treasure in heaven, and come on! Follow me.”
The man felt sick. A lump formed in his throat. His palms began to sweat. “How could this man, this teacher, say these things?” Sell…what I have? Give it to the poor?” The back of his neck began to burn. “This is outrageous! My possessions, my wealth…they are blessings from God! Who does he think he is, to tell me to sell it, and give it away? That is like saying, thanks God for the blessing, but no thanks! And follow him? To where? To do what? Rumors are this…teacher is not long for this world.” But as angry as that man, that rich man was, he couldn’t bring himself to say any of these things out loud, or even to look at the teacher…whose look of love was still there, burning a hole in his heart. He could feel his gaze. All he could do is turn and walk away. In indignation, in anger, and a little bit of sadness. He had expected such a different interaction, but as he walked back home, he just felt empty.
A Cousin’s Request
He couldn’t shake that feeling. Emptiness. Things had gone well tonight, he thought. Packed house. His business manager said the offerings combined with the electronic giving were up 18% over what they took in Dallas. Still. He felt like…oh, it was hard to put his finger on it. Emptiness.
He made his way through the service exit. He always went this way to keep from getting caught up in hangers on and people who always seem to want to talk after a show. He had just preached for and hour and fourteen minutes! What do want! To chat? Then he saw her. His cousin on his mother’s side. Second cousin. The one with the child in the hospital in Houston.
Her eyes brightened up when she saw him approach. “Oh…hi! It’s you! I caught the…program tonight. What a big crowd! You really are a good speaker. People were saying how inspired they felt. There was a lot of energy, too.” Her heaped-up platitudes fell flat as they mingled with his muttered, “Thank yous” and “Glory be to Jesuses”. He was just waiting for the other shoe to drop. “Listen…I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind going to see my little Joshua at the hospital. He would really like a visit from you. I thought if you would do that, it might really help.”
Boom! There it is. He knew she couldn’t just be here for the event. The noIcantImbusy began to form on his lips, but then he looked at her. She was looking at him. Intently. Pleadingly. Tearfully. He said, “Sure. I’d be happy to.” He regretted it the moment he said it.
The Little Boy Joshua
A few days later, he walked through the elevator doors and onto the pediatric cancer ward. The smell always hits him. The place is bright enough, cheery enough, but it’s always the smell. No matter how many millions he’d given to this hospital, they never could do anything about the smell. The irony hit him full in the face as he walked by the giant granite sign with his own name chiseled in the stone.
The truth is, he hadn’t been here since the dedication. That was over eight years ago. His ministry didn’t take him to hospitals much. He walked down the corridor. What room? There it is…7 east, room 415. He knocked lightly on the partially closed door. “Come in,” a little voice called.
When he walked in, he saw why the voice was little. The boy was 14 years old, but the voice belonged to a body that had been ravaged. Ravaged by cancer, then ravaged by the poisons they put into him to fight the cancer. He looked gaunt and yellow and weak…dying, but the rich man noticed a brightness in the boy’s eye that betrayed his feeble condition. “Oh…hello! It’s you! My mother said you’d be stopping by.” The man scanned the room. He saw a vase of flowers on the nightstand, and sitting right next to them…was his book. His bestseller, actually. New York Times. It looked like it had been a gift, but unread. The boy caught his gaze. “Your book. Someone gave it to me. I haven’t gotten around to it.” The man looked at the bed tray in front of the boy, Joshua. It was completely cleared expect for another book—a well-worn bible. It was opened. “What are you reading?” The boy looked up at him. A look that said, “Oh…you know don’t know you?”
“Oh, I know that! What specifically?”
“Mark chapter 10.”
“Oh. That’s a good one.”
“Really? I thought that might not be one of your favorites.”
“Oh…I don’t know…forget I said anything. Well, I’m glad you’ve come…pastor. I’ve been wanting a visit.”
The boy pushed his bible away slightly, straightened up in his bed, and looked expectantly at him. Such a look! It was a look of, well, of love. But it burned a hole in his heart. The rich man looked down. He felt his neck redden. His palms started to sweat. What could he say to this dying little boy? He scanned his memory for all the sermons he’s preached of late. All the messages of prosperity. All the exhortations to living a blessed life. But he had nothing. He was embarrassed. Because he has nothing he could share. His mind was blank. And as he was looking down…he stared at his expensive, Italian, leather shoes, his Testonis. The smudge was still there. And his face burned with shame.
He looked up at Joshua. “What’s that?”
“It’s okay. I know it’s…awkward for you. To be here. I’ve been thinking about you ever since I’ve been here in your wing of the hospital.” The way he said your made the man’s face grow a shade redder. “That’s why I had mom go and find you. To ask you to come. I’ve been wanting to talk to you.”
The man gave a start. The boy smiled. He continued on, with difficulty. It hurt him to speak. He took a sip of water. “Ever since I got sick…I’ve had time to reflect. For a long time, I felt like God had abandoned me. Like he didn’t love me. I mean, how can I, to use your phrase, “have my best life now” if I’m dying of cancer? And I was angry. God gives so much to others and I’m not going to see my 16th birthday. And I thought, ‘What must I do? Am I not praying enough? Am I not praying rightly? Do I not have his blessing?’ But then, I started reading the Scriptures. I mean really reading them. And I found tremendous comfort.”
The boy paused, if only for a second. The man looked up. “And then, I had the chaplain come and talk to me. He talked to me about Jesus. He said that if I believe in Jesus that I would be saved. He asked me if I was sorry for my sins. I said, ‘Yes’. And then he said something to me that changed my life. He said, ‘Child…your sins are forgiven.’ Just like that. And I asked him, ‘But doesn’t God love me? Why am I going to die, chaplain?’ And he said, ‘I don’t have the answer to that question…specifically. We are all going to die, because of sin. But…Jesus came to give his own life to pay for sin, for all sin, for your sin and my sin. And you are His child, no matter what happens.’”
“The chaplain actually saw your book on the nightstand. He said, or he quoted, ‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” It’s then that we read Mark 10 together. It was after that, that I asked my mom to go find you when she heard you’d be in town.”
The man remained quiet. Joshua broke the silence by reaching out and touching the sleeve of his jacket. “It’s so tempting to trust in worldly things! It’s so hard, because we have so much…and we know everything comes from God, every good gift is from him…but our trust (this is the word the chaplain kept using over and over) is so often misplaced. We trust in everything but God. We trust in wealth. In riches. In medicine. In science. In ourselves. In our own abilities.” The boy emphasized these last words and again, looked intently at his cousin. “But these things, this misplaced things, lead us away from trusting in God and entering His kingdom.”
And the man, for the first time in a long time, asked a question that he wasn’t sure about the answer. “But Joshua, then who can be saved?” The boy smiled. “That’s just what me and the chaplain talked about. With man it is impossible. But not with God. For all things are possible with God.” The man felt something wet drop on his shoes, right on the smudge. It was a tear.
“I’m so sorry…for all of it.” And at that moment, the least in the kingdom of God served the rich man. “Cousin…brother, Jesus forgives you. Trust in Him. Follow him.”
The man looked up at this dying boy, this little child who is so dependent on so much, on doctors, nurses, machines, drugs, chemo…but ultimately, this little child is dependent on His Savior. The man looked at him. And he felt a huge weight off his shoulders. And he smiled. “Thank you, Joshua. I will. I will follow Him.” Amen.