Summary: Ordinary Proper 23: A sermon looking at three erroneous ways we often attempt to inherit eternal life: religion; good works; riches. Set in the context of a fair that has many things from which we can pick and choose.
If you all didn’t make it to the Pan American Fair, you missed a good time! You could buy yourself a bunch of tickets and take them from place to place and play a game or buy a drink or get yourself some good food. Let me tell you a bit of what I tried yesterday: I started off by eating a couple of Argentinean turnovers (empanadas) with a Diet Coke. Then our Pakistanis brethren let me sample a bit of the Halwa (a desert with almond, pistachio and coconut). Then I had a couple of tamales. After that, a pupusa – a very tasty dish from El Salvador. Then I had a samosa – a Pakistani treat! And it was all topped off with a wonderful flan. And let me tell you that was just the food part of the experience. There were a few medical screenings. I played a round of miniature golf with Carlos and Charlie and Mario and Marcos and Adrian. Got a yoyo from Verizon and my face painted by Monica… what a ball! I had a chance to try anything that seemed good to me!
You know – that is one of the blessings we have in this life! God richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. (1 Timothy 6.17b) But there is a problem with being able to pick and choose from so many wonderful things today. As we get accustomed to making our own choices, we can confuse what we see and have in this world with the world to come. This sort of confusion can lead us to conceive of the things of God with the same value system that we perceive the things of this world. And that can be deadly.
So listen, I’d like for us to take a trip to the all too real fair of human experience. We’re going to visit three booths at this fair: The religion booth; the self-disciple / good works booth; and the riches and treasure booth.
The first boot that we’re going to visit is the religion booth. We’ll get a first-hand look at each of these through the eyes of a young man who came to visit Jesus. Let’s read about it:
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” ”Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.” (Mark 10.17-18)
The first way that we try to find acceptability before God is through religion. We need to understand that there is a huge difference between having a relationship with Jesus Christ and religion. The dictionary defines religion as:
“A set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.“ (Definition number one from dictionary.com)
There’s a huge difference between religion - as defined here - and Christianity. Religion as conceived here is very anthropocentric – that is, it is focused on us – what “ I “ must do to be acceptable to God. It is about living a certain way, being moral and upright, conducting our affairs properly. And that simply isn’t the main teaching of Christianity. Christianity is not all about what we are to do but about what God has done for us in Christ Jesus.
The young man that approached Jesus was religious. He wanted to know what “ I “ must do to inherit eternal life. You see, even the foundation of the young man’s question was off base. You don’t inherit anything because of what you do. You inherit something because you are in a relationship – because you are an heir!
Another thing that tells us that the young man was shopping at the religion booth is how he approached Jesus. “Good teacher” – he called him. Have you seen how tempting it is for people to tie their fate to a particularly charismatic or strong leader? It has happened throughout human history – often with disastrous results: David Koresh; Jim Jones; Marshall Appelwhite… So Jesus points the young man to God. “Only God is good,” Jesus tells him. Jesus was trying to get the young man away from the religion booth. He was trying to bring him into relationship with God – by getting him to recognize who it was that was standing right in front of him!
The next booth that we need to consider is the self-discipline / good works booth. Let’s read about it:
“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.’ ” “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” (Mark 10.19-20)