Summary: In life there are so many different forces pulling on us. We are pulled one way by fear, and another by self-righteousness. But thank God that the Cross is always at the center, and nothing is more powerful than the pull of God’s mercy and grace.
This week we are going to be looking at our Gospel lesson. I wanted to preach on the Gospel last week (maybe you wished I did too), but I held off, because this week and last week’s reading need to go together. So really, we are going to be looking at both lessons and hopefully not having a sermon that is twice as long. And what we’ll come away with is an appreciation of the centrality of Christ in our lives. Because that is what we need, we live in a world where we experience all kinds of forces, and temptations, and pressures pulling on us. And sometimes these pressures are obvious, sometimes they are subtle, but no matter how they come to us, it’s easy to take our eyes of the cross, and the empty tomb, and the Gospel, and get bogged down in stuff that isn’t nearly as important.
Now I know what some of you are thinking. I’m pretty good at staying focused, I don’t let the culture, or music, or ads, or anything get into my brain and heart. If you lived on a deserted island, I might agree with you. But we can’t help internalizing the messages we get from all around us, we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t. We learn and remember so much stuff we never intend to learn and remember. If you don’t believe me, just take this little quiz I designed. It’s on your bulletin insert, just shout out the answer if you know it.
Number 1, finish the line of the song, “Jeremiah was a _Bullfrog_.” Number 2, what company has this logo (AT&T)? Number 3, When the Hindenburg crashed in 1937, reporter Herbert Morrison at one point cried out, “oh the _Humanity!__.” The animal representing Aflack Insurance is a Duck. How about Geico (gecko)? A few months ago, a woman had 8 babies, what nickname did the media give her (Octomom). Did you get those? How much time did you spend trying to memorize that information? Probably zero, but it still managed to get in your head somehow, and you probably didn’t even realize that it had happened until I pointed it out. That’s the way it goes sometimes. All this information is relatively harmless, but that’s not true of everything that gets into our minds, and hearts, and tugs us in certain directions.
This is defiantly true of the man who ran up to Jesus and asked him an important question in last week’s Gospel lesson. I put the reading on the insert, so let’s turn to it now. This guy very respectfully and earnestly runs up to Jesus and asks, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Now, I am conflicted when it comes to this guy. He likes Jesus, he respects Jesus, he is earnestly seeking his wisdom, so he gets some good credit in my book. HOWEVER, he is so clueless about his own weakness and dependence, that he asks a pretty wild question of Jesus. A question about what HE can do to receive the ultimate prize of eternal life.
The assumption is that Jesus will tell him something that he will be able to do. That getting eternal life is something he ALMOST has, and just needs a little help getting over that last hurdle. Jesus gets the guy to admit his delusional view of himself: “You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And instead of seeing how he has fallen short of all God’s standards and designs in each of these areas, the guy responds, “no problem, I got all those covered!” Really?! “And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.””
So Jesus, we read, has pity on the guy, he looks right at him, and loves him, and says essentially, I will make you aware of your sinfulness. “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” For as much as the guy thought he had everything figured out, there was something that was pulling on him, tugging at his heart and mind, and he wasn’t even aware of it. He thought he was doing so well on his own, but he wasn’t. He put his trust in something other than God, he put his focus on stuff. He found is value in what the world calls valuable. He had been led pretty far astray in sin, and really had no idea until the word of Jesus came to him.