Monday, October 15, 2018

Lacking, but Loved

In Nomine Iesu
St. Mark 10:17-22
October 14, 2018
Proper 23B

Dear Saints of Our Savior,

What do you think of the Ten Commandments? Can you remember all ten of them? Do you view them as an irritating inconvenience? Or do you receive the Ten Commandments with thanksgiving—as a helpful guide along life’s way? And perhaps more importantly, do you know why—do you know why God gives us the Ten Commandments? I’ve asked that question in many and various ways over the years. And I’ve received many and various answers. But behind every good answer lies the best answer: God gives us the Ten Commandments because He loves us.

The Ten Commandments figure prominently in today’s Holy Gospel. Those five verses center on a man who is traditionally known as “the rich, young, ruler.” Given that title, he seems to have it all. His life contains all the necessary ingredients for happiness. First of all, he’s rich. His bank account is bursting. His IRAs runneth over. With that kind of wealth, he doesn’t have to settle for second best. But not only is he rich; he’s also young. No thinning hair, no wrinkles, no aches and pains. And to top it all off, he’s a ruler. He’s got power and authority. What he says, goes. He’s rich. He’s young. He’s got power. What more could a person want?

Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? He has everything you could want in this life. But he’s not so sure about the life of the world to come. He’s got a great life, but something’s missing. There’s an emptiness—a void—a nagging lack. There’s something troubling him that his wealth, his youth, and his power cannot address: It’s his mortality—the unavoidable truth that death comes to all.

And so he seeks out someone who can help him. Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? And before you critique his question too severely, let’s acknowledge that he’s making a good move here. He’s coming to Jesus for help. And please note the man’s sincerity. He doesn’t come to the Savior casually. He comes running and kneeling before this good Teacher. His question is genuine. He’s not out to trap Jesus or trick Jesus. He really wants to know: What must I do to inherit eternal life?

Jesus takes him to the Ten Commandments: Do not murder. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not bear false witness. Honor your father and mother. The temptation for us is to think that Jesus is just setting him up to fail—using the Ten Commandments as a trap—taking him to the Law just to show him how bad he is—to show him his sin. Certainly the Law does that—has that effect at times. But let’s not forget why. Why does God give us the Ten Commandments? God gives the law for reasons of love—because He loves us and wants the very best for us.

Too often, we think that, because we cannot keep God’s commandments perfectly, we’re somehow free to view them as ten strong suggestions—or as ten helpful options to consider. No, God gives the Ten Commandments because he loves us. Things will go immeasurably better for you if you don’t hurt or harm your neighbor in his body—and if you lead a sexually pure and decent life—and if you do not despise or anger the authorities in your life. The Ten Commandments are serious business. God is serious about you obeying them. Anyone who chooses to “opt out” of these divine requirements—or views them as “optional,” that person is answerable to God.

And speaking of answers, the answer of the rich, young ruler sounds surprising: Teacher, all these [commandments] I have kept from my youth. Now, I don’t think he’s claiming to have kept all the commandments perfectly and flawlessly. The verb “to keep” has a broader meaning—as in, to observe. In fact, I think it’s possible that the rich, young ruler is a lot like you. He knows the commandments of God. He honors them. He observes them. He takes them seriously. And given that you are here this morning—that you are listening to the words of this sermon—I suspect and hope that you, too, observe and honor and take seriously all of God’s commandments.

But . . . you lack one thing. That’s what Jesus said. You lack one thing. Go, and sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me. Jesus isn’t making a new commandment here. He’s not prescribing poverty as a prerequisite for all who would follow Him. No, this is a precise and personal prescription for the rich young man who knelt before Him. In love, Jesus uncovered and exposed the man at his weakest point. Jesus was applying the Law at the point of greatest resistance—which, for this man, was his love of money and possessions. And he went away sorrowful.

What’s your “one thing?” What do you lack when it comes to following Jesus? What’s your point of greatest resistance to God that prevents you from following Him more closely? What’s your favorite idol? At what one point do God’s will—and your will—clash and collide?

What’s your “one thing?” Do you honor and obey all the authorities in your life—your parents, your boss, your teachers, your pastors? Or do you despise them, treat them with contempt, and delight to point out their shortcomings? Do you honor marriage by avoiding adultery and other sexual sins that separate sex from marriage? Do you give in where gossip is concerned—delighting in the downfall of others? Or do you do the hard work of defending your neighbor, speaking well of him, and explaining everything in the kindest way?

Jesus wants you to see the sin that separates you from Him—not to embarrass you—not to shame you—not to delight in your discomfort—not to drive you away. Jesus exposes your sin for reasons of repentance—so that He can forgive your sin—so that He can draw you even closer and use you more effectively—so that you can have your share of treasure in heaven. Jesus does the difficult work of diagnosing our sin with but one motive—love. In fact, it was so obvious that St. Mark wrote it down. One little sentence. Right before Jesus skewered the rich, young ruler for his love of money, Mark records this simple sentence: Jesus looked at him and loved him.

You, too, can know that look of love from the Savior. The love of Jesus is patient and kind. Jesus is at work in you for the long haul. Jesus looked at that rich, young sinner and loved him. But make no mistake, this love is a tough love. Jesus allowed the man to walk away with sorrow and sadness. Jesus allowed the law to do its work. We don’t know what happened with this man—whether the law Jesus spoke eventually drove him to despair, or to repentance and faith. Did he go home and continue to delight in his possessions? Or did he look at all his stuff and conclude that, “This isn’t worth it,” that nothing can compare with following Jesus in faith?

Jesus doesn’t make it easy to follow Him. His love is a tough love—a love that is as tough as nails. Jesus works to expose our sin because He delights to forgive our sin. He demolishes with His Law so that He can resurrect with His Gospel. He doesn’t want any “one thing” to separate you from Him. In fact, He’s already paid the penalty for your sin by the nails that pierced His hands and feet—by the blood He shed on His holy cross. That is tough love.

You can see the Savior’s love for you not only in His dying, but also in His living. From His mother’s womb to Joseph’s tomb, Jesus of Nazareth kept all of God’s law perfectly. We all fall short when it comes to commandment-keeping, but Jesus—He gets an A+. And He earned that A+ on your behalf. He was your substitute. His perfect record of commandment-keeping counts for you, and for all who follow Him in faith. None of us is perfect. We are all found to be lacking—lacking, but loved by Jesus. He shares His perfection with you in the waters of your baptism, in the comfort of absolution, and in the bread that is His body and the wine that is His blood. With a Savior like this, who gives gifts like these, you lack nothing. You are perfectly positioned to inherit eternal life.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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