Sermons That Work

Then Who Can Be Saved?, Proper 23 (B) – 2009

October 11, 2009

“Then who can be saved?” they asked Jesus.

How often we ask ourselves that very question. Oh, yes, day to day we put on a good face and project an image of confidence to the world around us. Like the man in today’s gospel reading who seeks Jesus to ask how he might inherit eternal life, we like to believe we know all the answers and have done all the right things.

Jesus asserts that when the rubber meets the road, one must give it all away and follow him; but that strikes us as simply impossible. And like the man in the story, we are shocked and go away unhappy at best, frustrated and defeated at worst.

How true are the words from Hebrews:

“The word of God is living and active, sharper that any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.”

Deep down inside we know this to be absolutely true. We just wish Jesus, the Word made flesh, would save his ability to judge our thoughts and intentions for someone else. Anyone else.

Can’t it be enough simply to love Jesus? The disciples thought it was enough to follow him around, to have left home – family, friends, support, a bed of one’s own, the means to make a living.

It is curious, isn’t it, how Jesus is always upping the ante? And yet, from beginning to end, his program hinges on the foundational belief that in God’s reign the last will be first and the first will be last.

Now if Bill Gates with all his billions represents the first in this world, let’s say at number ten, and the poorest of the poor are at number one on a scale of one to ten, can we even begin to imagine, as Jesus urges us to do, what it would look like if this world were turned upside down? That is the first task here.

The second task is to imagine what it would be like to live at number five. Why number five? Because those who live at number five will feel the least disruption in their lives as the Kingdom of God turns everything upside down.

So the ultimate question may be, How do I get to number five? What does the journey to number five look like?

Now on a global scale, most of us in this country, not all of us, live somewhere nestled in around number nine. So what does an individual or a culture need to do, how do we need to change, to scale things back to number five?

This may be where the power of the Word of God comes in: time spent reading, listening to, and meditating on the Word of God will work like a two-edged sword, dividing soul from spirit – judging the intentions of our hearts. For as the author of Hebrews observes, Jesus has in every respect been tested as we have, and is willing to offer us grace and mercy to find help in making this journey from nine to five.

One suspects it will be a journey about common wealth, rather than individual wealth; about the salvation of the whole world, rather than individual salvation.

The man in our gospel reading today who came to Jesus evidently felt his salvation was in all that he had, not in all that he was. At the end of the day, says Hebrews, and Jesus, it is who you are that matters more than what you have.

This is very difficult to grasp – especially in a culture that urges us to acquire as much as we can get. It is difficult to grasp that letting go may be the most important lesson of all on this journey from nine to five.

We just might discover as we read, listen to, and meditate on God’s Word, that God’s own economic plan, a plan that revolves around the tithe and the Sabbath, is truly the meaning of life that we have been looking for.

Bishop Walker of Long Island recognizes four Holy Habits: tithing, weekly corporate worship, daily prayer and study of God’s Word, and keeping the Sabbath. These habits enable us to draw near to God, and as Paul’s letter to James urged a few weeks ago, “Draw near to God and God will draw near to you.”

Perhaps this can lead us to a closer understanding of what Jesus answers when they ask, “Who then can be saved?”

“For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

Drawing near to God seems to be the best way to make the journey. In the end, the meaning of life cannot be learned or understood. What is needed is fidelity to a way of living that transcends understanding.

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Christopher Sikkema


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