20th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, Mercy and Peace to you from God our Father and His only Son, Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.
Over the years we collect stuff. I am guilty of it. I still have clothes from 20 years ago. I think that maybe they will come back into style. Eventually I do have to throw something away because it has too many holes in it or it is frayed so thin a person can see through the cloth. Even after I get rid of some item I sometimes look for it thinking I still have it and I wonder, “What happened to my favorite sweatshirt?”
Tools, nuts & bolts, old electronics are the stuff, or as I call them ‘treasure’, that collects in my house. Old college papers and even phonebooks seem to hang around forever on my shelves and in my drawers. One habit I got from my mother is saving paper bags from the grocery store, just in case I need a paper bag some day. It is hard to get rid of stuff, especially if it is your stuff.
We are conditioned by society and the media to collect and own more and more. Even if what you have is well maintained and useful. Algorithms and A.I. software watches what you purchase and what you own to determine if you fall into the right demographic of being susceptible to buy something new. My cell phone works just fine, but apparently, it is too old and so I receive emails and text messages encouraging me to get the latest and greatest ‘new’ smart-phone.
Ever since human beings started trading goats and sheep wealth has been developed more by some over others. It seems that the ungodly flourish obscenely while those who follow God are beaten down and constantly struggling.
The prophet Amos spoke to the wealthy and rich judges of the line of Joseph, the remnant of Israel. They taxed the poor in order to build fancy houses and rich, full vineyards. Amos warns them of their avarice:
“…because you tread down the poor
And take grain taxes from him,
Though you have built houses of hewn stone,
Yet you shall not dwell in them;
You have planted pleasant vineyards,
But you shall not drink wine from them.” [Amos 5:11]
Yet while the rich seem to get richer, by putting their wealth above God, they are actually walking on a path that leads to their own destruction.
This is what the good Dr. Luther has to say on this:
“Let us, therefore, not be offended by the good fortune of the ungodly; but let us open our spiritual eyes and keep in mind that such people are enjoying transitory and deceptive advantages in this world. We, however, who are afflicted and who live in the fear of God, have the hope of an eternal kingdom, when the ungodly will be subjected to eternal punishment.”
We can plainly see the gap between those who have and those who have not. “But”, as Dr. Luther tells us, “…if the one who is in want has an upright heart, he is wealthier than the rich man; because he is satisfied with what little he has and gives thanks to God for the most important possessions. And what are these possessions? They are the knowledge of God and the grace revealed in Christ. But the rich man, as the tragic poet says, “is poor among his accumulated gold; and in the midst of the greatest abundance he feels want.”
I have no need to tell you what is the outcome of thinking only of the riches and treasures to be gained here in this life. In this country, we have consistently witness what has become of the philosophy of greed. It has become such a common practice that entire nations have come to the brink of financial collapse. Just as we have the top 1% and the other 99% so do the countries of the world have a top economic leaders above the rest – all because of greed.
We have no one to blame but ourselves, for this is not a new concept. We read in Amos of the market traders who criticized and bemoaned the Sabbath because it interrupted their buying & selling and their ability to increase their wealth through deceitful practices.
“When will the new moon be over that we may sell grain? And when will the Sabbath be over that we may offer wheat for sale, that we may make the ephah small and the shekel great and deal deceitfully with false balances?” [Amos 8:5]
These merchants became so avaricious that they even marketed human beings as commodities. I am sure you are able to see the many points of evil that arise from these kinds of actions.
We see selfishness and covetousness in more than just the financial or business institutions. Whether it is fame, power, glory or money, this greedy need for self satisfaction has invaded all aspects of our lives. We justify our actions in order that we may sleep at night while knowing we are breaking the very first command of God, which is, “You are to have no other gods before me.”
Oh, we are clever. In order for our selfishness and greed to be more palatable, we have ever so slowly chipped away at the very foundation of our faith. This is why we see a decline in attendance in our churches, and those churches that are growing have often modified the truth in order to fit our selfish greed.
We see our youth indoctrinated not in the ways of God but in the ways of worldly avarice. We cheat, rob and steal from what is God’s so that we may reward ourselves with earthly pleasures. We’d rather sleep in than go to worship. We’d rather go fishing instead of reading scripture.
These kinds of justifications, or as I like to call them, excuses, remind me of an old Russian proverb – “Church is close, but the road is slippery, [the] pub is far, but the road is easy.” What are we teaching our children and what are we teaching ourselves?
God indeed commands us to set aside a day of rest, but we are to rest in the comfort and security of His house. We are to find our rest in Jesus Christ and not the world.
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is relating to us what is truly important, and it is not the wealth of this world. He is saying that if what is most important to you is not God, then you will not inherit eternal life. When we move the subject of our love from God to money, we cannot help but despise God and will only look upon Him as an interruption in our lives, or as an inconvenient moral belief.
We may think we have it all figured out. We may think that we can gain riches for ourselves first and put God second; but it doesn’t work that way. Jesus is telling the rich young man where he has erred in his thinking. The rich young man could not give up his wealth.
Dr. Martin Luther, in a sermon preached at his parish in 1532, put it this way:
“We ought to learn from this that just as a greedy person goes after money ...so we ought zealously apply ourselves to things eternal. But where is the Christian who does that? Where is the Christian who jealously walks a quarter mile to church in order to hear the Word of God, as a merchant travels far and wide in order to become wealthy? Where is the Christian who, for the sake of Christ, is prepared to encounter peril and to suffer, as a trader ventures into all kinds of perils and dangers for temporal gain? Where do you find the person who finds joy in helping a poor, needy fellow [human being] to the best of his ability, as a wealthy moneylender rejoices when he cuts a good deal in profitable investments?”
Because we are children of the light, we have the consolation that God will not sit in judgment over us, as he will the children of the world. God wants us to serve him faithfully and not unjustly. However, because God knows that we fail in our own sinfulness, He covers us with the white robe of grace and forgiveness.
This is the same clothing cleansed and purified by the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. We need that grace and if we are to be greedy for anything, it must be for this grace. The salvation that has been bought for us through the sacrifice of God’s only Son, is not only what we desire for ourselves but also for those who have yet to hear the Gospel.
Our responsibility and duty to all people is to give the words of eternal life in the proclamation of Christ’s death and resurrection for the forgiveness of all sins. We are to seek out all nations in order to baptize them into the death of Christ so that they will also be made alive again in the resurrection of Christ.
This is the trade that God has made for our salvation. He knows the true ‘art-of-the-deal’. He has taken the scales which weigh out our sin and eternal destruction, scales that have been deceitfully altered by the devil, and has balanced them in our favor with the crucifixion of His Son. Christ’s defeat of sin, death and the devil was a payment made by God so that we may enjoy the profit of eternal life in His kingdom.
By the Holy Spirit, we are able to be trusted with the Words of salvation. The Spirit’s work in us guides us in handling not only earthly wealth, but also spiritual treasures. The treasures of this world will not follow us into God’s kingdom. Therefore, “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” [Matthew 6:20-21]
Martin Luther, vol. 2, Luther's Works, Vol. 2 : Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 6-14, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehmann, Luther's Works, 2:196 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c1960).
Martin Luther, vol. 2, Luther's Works, Vol. 2 : Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 6-14, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehmann, Luther's Works, 2:348 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c1960).