Pentecost 21c

Preached: October 25, 2009

We Follow Our Heart's Treasure
Mark 10:17-27

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Word from God through which Jesus speaks to our hearts is Mark 10

As [Jesus] was going down the road, a man ran up and fell to his knees before him. He began asking, “Good teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?

Jesus said to him, “Why are you calling me good? No one is good except One, namely God. You know the commandments: Do not murder. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do give false testimony. Do not defraud. Honor your father and mother.”

He said to him, “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.”

Looking at him, Jesus loved him and said to him, “There's one thing you're missing. Go. Sell as much as you have and give to the poor. You will have treasure in heaven. Come, follow me.”

He became gloomy at this message and went away grieving. For he had many possessions.

Looking around Jesus says to his disciples, “How difficult for those having wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples were amazed at his words. Jesus again responded and says to them, “Children, how difficult it is for those who trust in wealth to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

They were greatly astonished, saying among themselves, “So who can be saved?”

Looking at them Jesus says, “With people it's impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:17-27)

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

King Midas got what his heart longed for. How he loved gold! Now everything he touched turned to gold. An oak twig. A rock. He had what his heart treasured, until his little girl comes running into his arms. How fatal the Midas' touch!

How often don't our hearts fool us into pursuing what truly isn't worth it? For whether we realize it or not, we follow our heart's treasure. What does your heart treasure? Is that really what you want to be following? Jesus' words here led the young man to examine his heart, and Jesus' words expose our hearts as well.

A. Jesus' words expose our heart's god

1. What becomes a person's god?

This young man thought that he treasured eternal life, just as you and I would say we do. In fact, he treasures eternal life so much that he goes running after Jesus and kneels before him. He was an up-and-coming, respected member of the community. Luke refers to him as a ruler. But he falls to his knees before Jesus. He wants eternal life. But has he done enough? “'Good teacher,' he asked, 'what must I do to inherit eternal life?'” (Mark 10:17 NIV).

“'Why do you call me good?' Jesus replies. 'No one is good -- except God alone'” (Mark 10:18 NIV). The man thought he treasured eternal life, but where was he really looking for it? What was he following to get it? All good come only from one Source, only from God. He alone is good, the Giver of all that is good, including eternal life. “Did you come running after me because your recognize that I am the Son of God, who came to make the Father known, that only through me flows the good the Father gives? Is that why you call me good? Or do you just see me as a teacher, hoping that I can teach you some good thing to do for eternal life, since you're still really looking only to yourself rather than to God?” Jesus wants the man to examine his heart. For what his heart looks to as the source of good, that's what he treasures as his god.

Yes, what we look to for all that is good becomes our god. In the Large Catechism under the First Commandment Luther writes, “We are to trust God alone and look to him expecting nothing from him but good. He's the One who gives body, life, food, drink, sustenance, health, protection, peace, and all that's necessary for time and eternity. In addition, he protects from misfortune, and if something troubles us, he rescues and helps out. Therefore, it's God alone from whom we receive all good and are freed of all misfortune.”

2. What had become a god in this man's heart?

Where was this young man looking for good? What about you? Where are you looking? What does your heart treasure and trust to bring you good? Jesus continues to expose what our hearts treasure as if it were our god.

We could expand Jesus' words here: “If you think you're able do enough good to inherit eternal life, you don't really need me.” “You know the commandments. 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother'” (Mark 10:19 NIV).

“All these I have kept since I was a boy” (Mark 10:20 NIV), the man replies. Yes, he had been good to his neighbors, a model community member, a Boy Scout, so to speak. This goodness wasn't simply a show trying to manipulate those around him. No, he honestly had done his best. He'd done his duty. “'All these I have kept . . .' Jesus looked at him and loved him” (Mark 10:20, 21 NIV). So earnest, so sincere was this young man. Yet so misguided.

In love Jesus speaks to him. This is not the wishy-washy-I'll-say-whatever-makes-you-feel-good love. Jesus speaks what this man needs to hear, no matter how much it might darken his face. Jesus says, “One thing you lack” (Mark 10:21 NIV) -- not some extra commandment or some extra work, but one thing deep inside. He lacked a heart that let go of everything and followed Jesus, holding on to him alone as his God and Savior, the Bringer of all that is good, the Bringer of eternal life.

Jesus exposes the false god this man's heart still treasured. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor” (Mark 10:21 NIV). “But how can I? How will I take care of myself? My wealth provides for me. It protects me. It bring me good.” That's why his face fell, and he went away sad. Jesus had exposed the god in this man's heart. He trusted his wealth.

3. How does the idolatry of wealth show itself in your life?

Last Monday I was packing our van with things for GSI, the thrift store for Great Plains Lutheran High School in Watertown, SD. It struck me how much stuff we have. We take pleasure in our stuff and then discard it for new stuff. We feel better for a while, and then we need other stuff. What stuff are you looking to for contentment and happiness?

This past week a sales clerk said to my wife, “Who knows? You might win the lottery and be back here tomorrow to buy this.” How often don't we think that extra money will ease our troubles and bring some security, whether that's winning the lottery, getting a bonus or inheritance, having an investment pay off. How many lottery tickets, pull tabs, or scratch games are sold because of that empty hope that money will make things better? Where are you looking for your hope? What are you trusting to bring you good?

When money is tight, do you feel more tense? I do. Does your stomach turn when income you expected to be there doesn't come in? Mine does. Does having an emergency fund to fall back on just in case times get worse help you sleep better at night? Does worry fill your mind when the checkbook balance drops lower and lower or the credit card debt goes higher and higher?

All these are signs that my heart is divided. There's another throne besides Christ's. You and I, we can pretend we're whole-hearted followers of Jesus. We can even fool ourselves, as the young man convinced himself that he really wanted eternal life more than anything else. But then in love Jesus exposes our hearts. He shows you and me the god of wealth that competes with him, that god of wealth that our hearts so often treasure instead of Jesus. Will you turn away from Jesus with your face downcast unable to let go of what money can do for you? Or will you follow Jesus?

B. Jesus' invitation works the impossible

1. How does Jesus make it clear that we cannot save ourselves?

Before you answer, know that the god of wealth is too powerful for you or me to dethrone with our own strength. The disciples clearly recognized this. They were not among the wealthy. What they did have, they left behind to follow Jesus. But when Jesus said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:23 NIV), they were amazed because they realized Jesus wasn't simply talking about those whose net worth was in the top five or ten percent. He was talking about all whose hearts are attracted to riches, no matter how much or little they had.

Jesus elaborates, “Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God! 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 10:24, 25 NIV-footnote). I have a hard time threading a needle, but I can do it if I try hard enough. But get a 7-foot, half-ton camel through it? Impossible! The disciples got the point. “Who then can be saved?” (Mark 10:26 NIV), they ask. And Jesus answers: “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27 NIV).

2. Describe the change in you when God works the impossible.

So leave behind your human power and your pride in your own goodness. Abandon the world's promises. Forsake the earthly delusions of hope and the endless pursuit of happiness. Let go of your money and stuff. Don't treasure any of these in your heart. For it is impossible for any of them to bring you the kingdom of God.

Rather,dear friend, treasure the holy, precious blood of Christ, the royal Lamb without blemish or defect, sacrificed for you. Grasp his cross with the hand of faith, dressed in his righteousness, not your own goodness. Look on the righteous One who was forsaken in your place, your King crowned with thorns. Dwell in his magnanimous promise of forgiveness and life, for it alone brings you true peace and joy, happiness and hope. Run to the empty Easter tomb and witness his power conquering death to bring you life, eternal life. Follow him, dear friend, follow your King.

“With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27 NIV). Confess, dear Christian: “Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to thy cross I cling. Naked, come to thee for dress, Helpless, look to thee for grace. Foul, I to the fountain fly -- Wash me, Savior, or I die!” (Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me” 389:3). Leave behind all earthly wealth and self-imaged goodness. Follow him.

3. What do our hearts treasure now so that we have heavenly treasures forever?

For what treasures await you, when your heart treasures Jesus! “ . . . and you will have treasure in heaven” (Mark 10:21 NIV), Jesus promised. There no thief breaks in and no moth or rest destroy. Heavenly riches never perish, spoil, or fade. Rather mansions are prepared for your home, a city of gold, each gate a single pearl, a land free of pain and woe, free of hatred and war, free of death and destruction, a land where angels dwell before the throne of God and of the Lamb, and our hallelujahs join theirs with all God's holy people from every age and place. There God himself wipes every tear from your eyes.

We follow what our heart's treasure. So treasure Jesus, dear friend, treasure Jesus. Treasure his Word and Sacraments, for he comes to you through them. Treasure the water and word that made you an heir of heaven, a citizen of his kingdom. Treasure the Supper that brings you your King's body and blood. Treasure his promises of forgiveness and life. Treasure his manger and cross and empty tomb. Treasure Jesus and follow him. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313