Summary: Pentecost 19: Many things distract us from the blessings our faith point us toward. But Jesus says to rid ourselves of the things that can harm our faith.
When I first bought my car, it was a joy to keep it up. I washed and cleaned it several times a week. I didn’t like for Sofi or the kids to eat in it. I was careful to park it so that it wouldn’t be damaged by others opening their doors into it. Oil changes were religious experiences. Taking care of that car was important, and it occupied lots of time and attention. Now that car is 6 years old. It doesn’t occupy much of my care and attention any more. It is simply what it probably should have been from the get-go - a means of transportation. The car has settled into a priority among the various other things that compete for my time and energy.
What things are important to you? You see, the things that we value are often the best indicators of what’s important to us. There’s a story of a group of friends who went deer hunting. When they got to the place where they were going to hunt, they paired off in twos for the day. That night one of the hunters returned alone, staggering under an eight-point buck. “Where’s Harry?” the other companions asked. “Harry had a stroke of some kind. He’s a couple of miles back up the trail.” “You left Harry laying there, and carried the deer back?” “Well,” said the hunter, “I figured no one was going to steal Harry.” (Bits & Pieces, March 3, 1994, p. 5.)
This guy had an interesting sense of values, didn’t he? His priorities as determined by his choices demonstrated that his friends better not come between him and an eight-point buck. The way that we prioritize things tell a lot about a person and what they value. In today’s Gospel Lesson, Jesus talks about priorities. He describes how critical and important this life is as compared with the life of the world to come. Let’s read together verses 43 – 50 in our Gospel Lesson. [read lesson here]
There are several critically important truths in this passage. I’d like to point them out this morning. First, Jesus talks about a terrible place of suffering and pain – hell. It isn’t a pleasant thing to have to deal with this topic, but Jesus’ words tell us that it is a real place. It is a horrible place of torment and pain and suffering. Jesus says that it is a place where people go where the fire cannot be put out. “In hell,” says Jesus, “Worms that eat the body never die, and the fire is never put out.” Hell is a real place. It is a place so terrible and so ugly that God has made the ultimate sacrifice for human beings to avoid it. We speak a lot of forgiveness and the Cross of Christ – but why? Beloved, the reason is that without the Cross and without forgiveness, the only other option is a literal, horrible hell.
Here is a second truth from our scripture reading: Nothing in this life is worth hell in the next life. Jesus uses several examples to illustrate this. If it is your hand that causes your faith to be harmed cut it off. If your foot causes you to loose your faith cut it off. If your eye causes you to loose your faith, pluck it out. None of these things is worth spending an eternity in hell, says Jesus. Avoid hell even if it costs you everything here.
In another place in the scriptures Jesus tells of a man who had a particularly plenteous harvest. He gathers it all in so that the barns are full and overflowing and says to himself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” (Luke 12:19) But God saw something very different. He saw a man whose whole life was consumed with greed and self and money. He had no time to think of the future. And so God’s response to the man was: “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” (Luke 12:20)
The cares of this world at times blind us to the coming judgment. It is so very easy to spend more time on the car than on God. It is so easy to value the material blessings more than the one Who gave them to us. There’s a story of a prosperous, young investment banker. He was driving a new BMW sedan on a mountain road during a snow storm. As he veered around one sharp turn, he lost control and began sliding off the road toward a steep cliff. At the last moment he unbuckled his seat belt, flung open his door, and leaped from the car. Seconds later, the car went careening off the cliff and then plummeted to the bottom of the ravine and burst into a ball of flames.