(watch here: https://youtu.be/KG1lWBLPoN8)
17As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ 18Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You know the commandments: “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.”’ 20He said to him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.’ 21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
23Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’ 24And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’ 26They were greatly astounded and said to one another, ‘Then who can be saved?’ 27Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.’
28Peter began to say to him, ‘Look, we have left everything and followed you.’ 29Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.’
I like the one about a young woman who brought her fiancée to meet her parents. After dinner, her father asked the young man into his study for a chat. “So, what are your plans?” he began. “I’m a theology scholar,” the young man replied. “Admirable!” the father said, “But what will you do to provide a nice home for my daughter?” “I will study and God will provide,” he explained. “And how will you afford to raise children?” “God will provide.” The men left the study and the mother asked her husband, “How did it go?” “He has no money or employment plans,” the father said. “But on the other hand, he thinks I’m God.”
Ahh, theology scholars, so trusting in God to provide…or at least their fathers-in-law! What would we do without the support of our loving family?! Over the last 20 years, I’ve gotten into plenty of situations that I relied on my family to help get me out of. But not all situations can be fixed by family though…I’ve had plenty of those situations too! Some situations must simply be endured. We must rely on nothing more than our faith in God’s goodness and graciousness to provide for us in those times. Invariably God does provide, hopefully in ways we’d expect and prefer. Our God is a good and gracious God that works nothing but good for those who love him. And sometimes our faith and trust in this and in him is tested. Life has a way of testing our faith in God’s ability to provide. Sometimes by taking away everything like in the case of poor, old Job. Sometimes by providing new and foreign situations like marriage or child-rearing or sickness or unemployment. Life throws all sorts of curveballs. We try to be prepared for them but we can’t be prepared for all of them. There are just too many unknowns in life to be fully prepared for all of them so must all eventually rely on faith to endure.
Which is at the root of our reading for this morning. The young rich man approached Jesus seeking the key to eternal life. He had kept all the commandments and lived a life worthy of eternal reward but for whatever reason needed assurance from Jesus that he had done all that was necessary to redeem his reward. Jesus took a look at him and saw that his wealth was his obstacle. He needed to get rid of his wealth so that he’d once again understand what it means to live a life of faith. Wealth has this amazing ability of providing false security. The wealthier we become, the more we think we can overcome the unknowns in life. We no longer worry about how we are going to feed ourselves or clothe ourselves or provide shelter for ourselves or for those we love. Without that worry, we start to believe that it was by our own efforts that we overcame such worry. We fail to recognize God’s hand in our wealth, that God made it possible for us to obtain our wealth. We fail to consider that God gifted us with the abilities to obtain such wealth. Perhaps most importantly, we fail to understand that just as God so graciously gave it to us, God can so graciously take it away. Indeed, there is a false sense of security that wealth provides. There are plenty of things money can’t buy—love, happiness, peace, and contentment are but a few. And without these things, is life even worth it? Sure, we might not have to worry about our basic needs but is life worth living without love or peace or happiness or contentment?
You see, the false sense of security that wealth provides is particularly insidious because it not only makes us place our trust in it but it pulls our faith and trust away from God. Or it becomes an obstacle that keeps us from placing our faith and trust in God. Jesus’ invitation to the young man was two-part: go and sell your belongings THEN come follow me. The young man’s wealth kept him from living a life of faith and trust in God. He couldn’t see that or at least he couldn’t accept that. Jesus wasn’t simply telling the young man to sell all his belongings as a sign of great generosity. Jesus was freeing the man from the false sense of security he was deriving from his wealth. Jesus was enabling the man to live a life of faith in him which is ultimately the key to eternal life! Recall John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Belief and faith in Jesus is the key to eternal life and wealth can pull us away or create an obstacle from such faith.
Can we be wealthy and faithful? Of course! We don’t need to live lives of poverty to faithfully follow Jesus. But we need to recognize that everything we have is a gift from God. We mustn’t place our faith and trust in what we’ve been given but rather in him who gave it. As the prophet Jeremiah warned, “Thus says the Lord: Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the Lord.” (17:5) We are cursed if we trust in ourselves and our worldly possessions more than God. Instead, we are wise to heed the wisdom of Proverbs: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (3:5-6) It is God and God alone who provides for our every need. It is God who creates opportunities and relationships. It is God who sustains and nourishes all those who acknowledge him. It is God who blesses us so that we might bless others.
As we continue along our journey through this sermon series on stewardship, let us remember that all that we have is a gift from God. Let us not be lulled into a false sense of security that our worldly possessions can provide. Our wealth is nothing more than an instrument to bring him glory. Let us be good stewards of our wealth, both tangible and intangible, and put it to use in helping create God’s kingdom. Perhaps most importantly, let us place our faith and trust in God alone and heed the wisdom of 1 Chronicles: “Seek the Lord and his strength, seek his presence continually.” (16:11)
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.