Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost
October 21, 2018
“The Best Thing About Money”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Do you know what the best thing about money is? Well, you didn’t win the Mega Millions on Friday, but I bet you’ll get it and the 1.6 Billion this week and then you have to really make some choices about what the best thing about money is.
Do you know what the best thing about money is? It reveals our heart and soul. Do you know what the worst thing about money is? It reveals our heart and soul. If you want to really know what is important in life – mix life with some money, or even the lack of it, and we will find out who we really are.
Last week’s Gospel reading about the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-22) and this week’s Gospel account from the words right after that – (Mark 10:23-27) form the text for the sermon. Let me read that to you. (You can find that on Page 1030 in the pew Bible.)
A rich, young man, a millennial, ran to Jesus and asked quite an important question, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” I know the answer! You know the answer! The answer is Jesus. Believe in Jesus. In Acts 16 the jailer in a terrible predicament asked Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” The answer? “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved – you and your household.” (Verses 30-31) In Acts 2 after Peter’s convicting sermon on Pentecost we read about the reaction and the solution. “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Verses 37-39) Or what about John 3:16? That is pretty clear! “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
I would have known what to say to that millennial and so would have you. But Jesus doesn’t answer that way. He points to the commandments of God. Murder, adultery, stealing, false testimony, defrauding, honoring father and mother. They are all what we call second table of the law stuff, commandments 4-10, loving our neighbor as we love our self.
This rich, young ruler has done this since he was 13, that is the age when a Jewish boy becomes responsible for his actions. Jesus then gives him the answer. “One thing you lack. Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21)
The best thing about money for this man, and he had lots of it, is that it revealed where his heart was. His heart was empty. His life was not free. He just couldn’t do what Jesus asked him to do. He couldn’t leave all of that and follow Jesus. It says, “At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad.” (Mark 10:22) Jesus had heard that he had kept the commandments of loving his neighbor, but the one thing he couldn’t do was to love the Lord his God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength. His money was most important to him.
In Matthew 13 Jesus tells the Parable of the Sower. “A farmer went out to sow his seed…” Some seed went on the path, some on rocky places, some among the thorns and some on good soil. Later he tells us about the seed that was among the thorns. “The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it out making it unfruitful.” (Verse 22) The seed, God’s word, died. The best thing about money is that it demands of us a choice about what is most important in life. As Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart shall be also.” (Matthew 6:21)
Years ago when we had all the choices we needed on TV – ABC, CBS and NBC, there was a creepy show called The Twilight Zone. There was an episode called “The Rip Van Winkle Caper”. An evil scientist, Farwell, and his three buddies apply sleeping gas to a train loaded with gold bars. It works. The guards all go to ‘never-never land.’ After stealing all that gold the robbers go to a cave, hide the gold, and Farwell is able to put each of them to sleep in their own chamber for 100 years. By the time they wake they will be able to wake and spend their money without fear of the authorities finding them.
But when they wake a hundred years later, things go downhill fast. All that remains of one of them was his skeleton, the chamber he was placed into developed a crack and he died. DeCruz, the worst of them, kills one of the three remaining by running over him with the getaway truck, which then crashes into a ravine. Farwell and DeCruz must walk through the desert in blistering heat, carrying as many gold bars as they can.
During the trip, Farwell, who is older, heavier and less athletic forgets his canteen. (He’s a scientist and doesn’t always mind the details!!) The greedy DeCruz offers Farwell a sip of water from his canteen – for the price of one gold bar. Later, it cost Farewell two gold bars for a sip. So, Farwell kills DeCruz with one of those gold bricks. Farwell then continues his journey, pulling all the gold he could behind him. He would not abandon that gold. Well, finally, he is weak and dehydrated and collapses. A man appears hovering over Farwell, and Farwell offers all his gold to him in exchange for some water and a ride. Before the man can speak, Farwell dies.
As the man gets into his car, he shows a gold bar to his wife and wonders why the poor man had offered something so worthless to him – just a lousy gold bar. His wife recalls hearing that gold once was valuable. Yeah, maybe a hundred years ago, her husband remembers – before they learned how to mass produce it. He simply tosses the gold away. Just as our young man in the account from Mark 10, these four thieves all left sad. Their endeavors had been meaningless.
The best thing about money? We see its limitations. We understand there has to be something greater to our life than simply our financial worth. Jesus used that account of the rich, young ruler to teach about things greater. “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God…Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” (See Mark 10:23-25)
Just so you don’t think that it is only that winning Mega Millions person, or those in the 1%, who Jesus is talking about, I think he is talking to us. We have stuff, lots of stuff. In a world where many people have to make it on a dollar or two a day, we are rich. We may own a house or two, a place to call home, food, plenty of it, and if we don’t like it, we throw it away. We are among the rich.
The best thing about money? God can save even those who have it. It is not possible for the biggest animal that they knew to go through the little eye of a needle (I can’t even get a thread to go through that little hole, no matter how many times I lick it!). So the rich won’t make it into heaven – unless God does the impossible. After Jesus spoke “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” the disciples react with some bewilderment. “The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, ‘Who then can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.’” (Mark 10:25-27) God does the impossible – He saves us in Jesus.
We often think that the opposite of rich is poor. Not so. The opposite of rich is free. The ruler was controlled by his money. Do you remember that verse that says, “A man is a slave to whatever has mastered him.” He couldn’t let it go and he couldn’t follow Jesus. It had him. His money dictated his life. Jesus wanted to make him free. It says of Jesus’ heart toward him, “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” (Mark 10:21a)
I don’t believe that this demand on this young man is the demand that He makes on all of us. Jesus knew this man’s heart and knew what ruled and directed his every event. The demands for this man to release him from spiritual blindness and even from his captivity to his god, money, were tailor-made for him.
But for each of us, there is something that keeps us captive, makes us slaves, takes away the fullness of life. Jesus, the greatest treasure, desires us to know His grace, the richness of His love and calls us daily to follow Him. He seeks to destroy the false gods so the rule of the true God, the only God, can reign in us.
The best thing about our God is He knows our soul, He knows our needs and meets the greatest needs in the fullest of ways in Jesus Christ. He says to us also, “Follow me.” There is no other way for us to go. Amen!!