21st Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, Mercy and Peace to you from God our Father and His only Son, Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.
A few years ago I had a conversation with a friend of mine about the Lottery. You know what I’m talking about; the legalized interstate gambling that, when you give them your money, you have a very tiny chance of winning more money than you put in. In fact, statistics show that a person has a better chance of getting hit by lightning, unless you work in a coal mine every day.
Yet people still put their dollar (or more) down on a chance to get the big payoff. Why do people do this? They like the idea of getting a great reward for very little work. Even though the odds are against them, they still believe that there is a chance it might happen to them.
People even formulate strategies to increase their chances. My friend told me that he doesn’t buy a ticket for the lottery unless the jackpot is over 200 million dollars; because, he says, it isn’t worth it if it is of a lesser amount.
This doesn’t make sense because he has the same chance of not winning when it is one dollar or one billion. Yet people still play the game in hopes of becoming rich and for a dollar they can dream about all the things they would buy and all the things they would do with their newfound wealth.
I can tell that some of you are already thinking about what you would do with hundreds of millions of dollars, but think about what problems such wealth would cause. I am pretty sure there is a good reason why neither you nor I have such riches.
Whenever I read Christ’s words on “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” [Mark 10:23b], I think of how easily a person could deny God in order to horde worldly fortune.
We all struggle for security in our lives. Much of our security comes from the relief from the financial pressures of this world. We work hard to obtain a home that is warm and safe. We work to provide for our family. We save money or buy property in order to insure an education for our children, health coverage for ourselves in our twilight years and an inheritance for those left behind when we shake this mortal coil.
Whether the gain of money is great or small, we all struggle and strive with all our hearts. We work until our backs ache and our sight dims, all so that those whom we love will have some peace and comfort in this world. The melancholy sage of Ecclesiastes states it in this manner:
“Here is what I have seen: It is good and fitting for one to eat and drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labor in which he toils under the sun all the days of his life which God gives him; for it is his heritage. As for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, and given him power to eat of it, to receive his heritage and rejoice in his labor—this is the gift of God.” [Ecclesiastes 5:18-19]
Are these words to tell us we should be happy with whatever our lot in life? Is there a point in which we should be satisfied with our labor whether it produces great wealth or just a full stomach and a good night’s rest?
The same author tells us that, “He who loves silver will not be satisfied with silver;” [Ecclesiastes 5:10a] And Christ tells his disciples, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” [Mark 10:25]
Jesus is not saying that wealth is bad or that to strive for a better life for your family is against the will of God, in fact, it is our Christian duty to provide for our children and to feed the poor and help the oppressed.
Money is a tool just like a hammer. Such a tool can build up as well as tear down. It can be used to provide shelter or to kill, yet the evil is not in the tool but in the wielder of that tool. The Apostle Paul tells Timothy:
“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” [1 Timothy 6:10]
It is not the money itself, but the love of money in which we replace God as the ruler of our lives.
Many of us have never had to worry about great monetary wealth overpowering our faith. It seems that even the man who has nothing is doing better than those of us who are in debt. Many of us would be happy to break even.
Our world has become such an economic behemoth that even entire countries are struggling with their debt. In the past, our children would inherit our wealth, now, when we die, our debt lives on to burden our heirs.
Like Peter, we ask, “Who can be saved?” We look to the powers of this world to redeem us from the evils of this world. We are surprised when they fail. How long must a person suffer before they realize it is not Man in whom we should trust? It is not money or governments or science that can save us because our debt is sin.
This sin came into our lives when Adam transgressed the will of God. From that moment on, the debt of our sin has been growing rapidly. This sin has been compounded daily by the sin of every man, woman and child. Like the fiscal debt of our forefathers, our sin debt has been passed down through the generations.
This debt has become so great that every child born is born to sin. “Who can be saved?” asks Peter. This is a good question. Just as it is impossible for us to pay our share of the national debt, it is impossible for us to pay our share of our debt of sin.
The richest man in the world cannot pay off our debt. The top 41 billionaires combined only have a trillion dollars between them. Not all of the God-fearing Christians in the world combined can pay our debt of sin.
Like Peter, we ask, “Who can be saved?” By the grace of our Father in heaven, our Savior is Jesus Christ. He is the redeemer of His people. Christ Jesus came down from heaven to rescue us from our amounting sin.
He who is holy and righteous, he who is truly God is the only man with the ability to pay our debt and bring us into good standing with the living God of creation, “For all things are possible with God.” [Mark 10:27b]
This payment of our debt of sin was not free. It took the life of the Lamb of God. It took the very flesh and blood of God’s beloved Son, slain on the cross of our making, to free us from an eternal debtor’s prison in hell.
We can all well imagine sacrificing our health, wealth and/or freedom for our children, but how many of us would die for the sake of those who hate us? Better yet, how many of us would sacrifice our only child for the sake of those who hate us? For us it is impossible, but not with God. [Mark 10:27]
This Christ came into the world to die for the sake of those who hate him. He was beaten, tortured and killed so that the account of our sins would be wiped clean. We are no longer in debt. Through our baptism into the body of Christ, our accounts were balanced. Each day we sin, our debt again accumulates, yet every day that we receive the forgiveness of sin through the body and blood of Holy Communion, we are made debt free.
However, our lives do not end here. The reduction of our accounts to zero was not enough for our Father in heaven. He wanted more for His children. He wanted not only freedom from sin but also freedom from death. He wanted a better life, a life eternal in His kingdom.
In order for us to receive this wonderful and bountiful inheritance, Jesus Christ could not remain in the tomb. By his death, sin could no longer keep us from the face of God. By his resurrection, the Devil could no longer keep us in death. We have been freed from sin,
“…from death and the power of the Devil; not with gold or silver but with the holy, precious blood and his innocent suffering and death, that [we] may be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness, even as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.” [Luther’s Small Catechism: The Second Article]
The question now becomes, “What about us?” Peter asked Jesus what will happen to those who left everything, their worldly goods and livelihood, and followed him. [Mark 10:28] We ask the same question in our lives.
We baptize our children. We raise them in the one true faith. We gather together to worship and praise the one true God. We proclaim the Gospel to those who have not heard. We give so that others may know the grace of God. What is our reward?
We know in our hearts and minds that through Christ our salvation is realized. Through faith, we have hope in the treasures of God’s eternal kingdom and our life forever in His presence. But this is not all.
Our God is not a god of fantasy or a mere idol made of stone or wood. Our God is the living God. Each day we receive the blessings of a loving Father who provides for His children.
“I tell you the truth,” Jesus [said], “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. [Mark 10:29-30]
This is the promise of God and it is faithful and true. When we strive for that which is of God and let go of that which is of this world, we gain a hundredfold.
Ours is a faithful God who acts in our daily lives. Ours is a loving God who fulfills His promises, now and forevermore. Salvation through Christ is no game of chance. This love of God is what makes us richer than anyone on Earth and in Heaven. Amen