4501 Waller Rd E
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
October 11, 2015
Ascension Lutheran Church, Tacoma WA
Paul Naumann, Pastor
THE LORD WANTS TO SEPARATE YOU FROM YOUR MONEY
May the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body
be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Today we turn our attention
to the Gospel of Mark, chapter 10, beginning with the 17th verse, as follows:
Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, "Good
Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?" 18 So Jesus said to him, "Why do you call
Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. 19 "You know the commandments: 'Do not commit
adultery,' 'Do not murder,' 'Do not steal,' 'Do not bear false witness,' 'Do not defraud,' 'Honor your
father and your mother.' " 20 And he answered and said to Him, "Teacher, all these things I have
kept from my youth." 21 Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "One thing you
lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in
heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me." 22 But he was sad at this word, and went
away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. 23 Then Jesus looked around and said to His
disciples, "How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!" 24 And the
disciples were astonished at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, "Children, how
hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God! 25 "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." 26 And they were
greatly astonished, saying among themselves, "Who then can be saved?" 27 But Jesus looked at
them and said, "With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible."
So far the holy Word.
In the Name of Jesus Christ, Whose Word assures us that godliness with contentment is great
gain, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
If I've heard this once I've heard it a hundred times, and you probably have, too: "I'm not interested
in going to church - the only thing those people care about is separating me from my money!" Of
course, it's hard to blame people for feeling that way, since so many churches nowadays do seem
to focus almost exclusively on money and fundraising. To make matters worse, a new business
model seems to be emerging among evangelical mega-churches in which the pastor himself owns
the church. The preacher himself - usually a charismatic personality - owns the church, runs it like a
business, and makes big profits whenever member offerings go up. We don't do anything like that
here, of course. In fact I'd be astonished if anyone ever accused our church of trying to "separate
people from their money."
We don't want to separate you from your money, but the Lord does! And I'm not talking now
about stewardship, the money you contribute to church. Rather, today I want you to look at
something broader, and examine the role that money plays in your whole life. Jesus had a lot to say
about this, mostly about the risk that money and riches pose to your spiritual wellbeing. In our text
for today we meet someone who seemed to be the ideal young man in every respect but one: he
loved money more than God. Our Lord wants to keep us from suffering his fate. So in a good sense
- in a beneficial sense - we can say, in the words of our theme,
THE LORD WANTS TO SEPARATE YOU FROM YOUR MONEY
I. In order to free you from the crippling service of self
II. In order to set you apart for an unencumbered service of Christ
In the account for today, Jesus was approached by a crippled man. "Wait a minute," you say, "I
don't remember any crippled man in this story." And in fact the young man who knelt before Jesus
seemed a fine figure of man. The parallel texts in the other Gospels tell us that he was wealthy, and
of such good reputation that he had already, at his young age, been made a ruler of the synagogue.
- A devout young man, a churchgoer, lots of money, respected in the community - what's not to
like? Sounds like the kind of fellow most of us would like our daughters to go out with. But there
was something desperately wrong with this young man. Something hidden and unseen in his heart
that was crippling him spiritually.
The question he asked Jesus indicated his problem right away. "Good Teacher, what shall I do that
I may inherit eternal life? Which is a little like asking, "What highway do I take to get to Hawaii?"
There's no highway you can take to get to Hawaii, and there's nothing you can do to inherit eternal
life. That's not how you get there! Clearly the young man didn't get it. Jesus said, "Why do you call
Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. (Any you don't believe I'm God, just a "good
teacher".) And so many in our day do the exact same thing he did. They just don't get it. God has
already told them how to inherit eternal life, right here in the Bible. It's been here all along! But they
can't be bothered with the Bible, they bypass God's Word and want to do something, themselves,
in order to be saved. But Jesus won't allow us to bypass God's Word. What does he do with the
young man? He snaps him right back to the Bible. "You know the commandments, " He said, "Do
not commit adultery,' 'Do not murder,' 'Do not steal,' 'Do not bear false witness,' 'Do not defraud,'
'Honor your father and your mother.' " Jesus had just laid whole mountains of God's Law before
him, summits impossible to scale! These are requirements that no one can keep. That we haven't
kept. But that didn't faze this young man for a second: He answered and said to Him, "Teacher, all
these things I have kept from my youth."
Now there's a good Pharisee talking. Because you see he was satisfied with his outward
appearance, with a superficial keeping of the Law. Which only went to show that He didn't
understand God's Law at all. He didn't understand that lust in the heart is as damning as the act of
adultery. He didn't understand that hatred in the heart is as bad murder, that coveting is as bad as
stealing. He still didn't get it.
Finally, Jesus found it necessary to confront the young man with his sin in a way so obvious that
not even he could fail to see it. Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "One thing you
lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in
heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me." It's clear what Jesus was doing, isn't it? For
the sake of his own eternal salvation, HE WANTED TO SEPARATE HIM FROM HIS MONEY in
order to free him from the crippling service of self.
People will do extreme things, sometimes shameful things, when there's a possibility that they
might be separated from their money. I knew someone a long time ago, a nice person. I would have
said "a person of integrity." Well, a situation came up in which a lot of money was at stake, and this
person was confronted with a choice: do the right thing and lose the money, or do what we both
knew was a dishonest and unethical thing and get the money. To make a long story short, he went
for the money. After that I was always a little embarrassed whenever he and I met - I was
embarrassed and ashamed for him, because he'd demonstrated so clearly that money was more
important to him than integrity. That was the rich young ruler's problem, too. He knew what was
right, he knew that what Christ was telling him to do was the right course for him, perhaps the only
course that would save him. But he wouldn't do it. Our text says, He was sad at this word, and went
away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
He arrived at Jesus feet eager and happy, wanting to inherit eternal life. But he went away
sorrowful. What happened? What was it that made him sad? He hadn't lost a nickel yet. No one had
kicked him out of the church. When he woke up the next day he would still be the same respected
young man whom everyone was proud of and whom everyone looked up to. Only one thing was
different. The Law had done its work. He knew now that he wasn't right with God. After all of Jesus'
gentle probing he finally saw that, from God's point of view, he fell far short. It couldn't be more
obvious if Jesus had painted it on a sign in letters six feet tall: he did NOT love God above all
things. It was painfully evident, even to him, that there was at least one thing he loved more than
God, and that was money. In this young man was fulfilled almost to the letter what Jesus had said
in the Parable of the Sower: "Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who
hear the word, 19 and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other
things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful." - Mk 4:18-19.
It's not surprising that the young man was sad. Self-discovery can be a devastating thing,
especially when what we discover about ourselves is something ugly and shameful. And what
about you and me? Theoretically, I think all of us would say that our Christian faith is the most
important thing in our lives. I think all of us would say that we would be willing to make any
sacrifice, give up anything else in our lives in order to preserve that saving faith. That's the theory,
anyway. But what a sad day it is when you have to make a choice in your life and you choose
wrong. How ashamed you feel when you look back and realize that when you had a choice to make
between serving Jesus and serving yourself, you chose to serve yourself.
That's when God's Law convicts us, like it did that young man. God's Law is a little like your
bathroom scale. You dieters know what I'm talking about. When you know you've been "bad",
when you've been overindulging for a period of time, you tend to avoid stepping on that scale,
don't you? Why? Because you know what it's going to say, and you know you're not going to like
what it has to say. Some people avoid listening to God's Word for the same reason. They know
what it's going to say to them if they do listen, and they know they're not going to like it. It's
painful! It hurts to be brought face to face with the realization that you are in fact a sinner, and that
you've fallen far short of God's requirements. It hurts to face the fact that money may have played
too big a part in your life as well. That a preoccupation with money and getting more of it has
distracted you as well from following Jesus as you should. Have you at times allowed a personal
obsession with finances to put your very faith at risk? It can happen! The danger is there! Paul tells
Timothy that "…those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish
and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. 10 For the love of money is a root
of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced
themselves through with many sorrows." - I Tim 6:9-10.
It's hard for us to hear God's Law. But it's a lot better than the alternative! "If we but knew it,"
wrote one theologian, "that dark night of the soul when the Law convicts us of sin is one of God's
greatest gifts. Far better to confront our sin now and repent, than to go blithely on without
repentance and later be cast into hell."
And that's the reason Jesus reached out to this young man and tried to bring him to repentance.
He wanted to save him. In love, He wanted to SEPARATE HIM FROM HIS MONEY, the thing that
was crippling him and keeping him from forgiveness and eternal life. And it's the same thing the
Law does for us, guarding lest we be enticed by money and begin to love it, and our money and our
possessions start to cripple us spiritually. But you know, God has another, more positive reason for
wanting to separate you from your money. He has glorious things planned for your life. In your life
as a Christian He has joyful work for you to do, and a love of money would just hold you back. You
see, The Lord wants to set you apart for an unencumbered service of Christ
Jesus said "Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God! 25
"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." Would you ever try to thread a camel through the eye of a needle? No. That's one of those
things that's so obviously impossible that no one would even attempt it. And that's how impossible
it is for someone who trusts in money, rather than God , to get into heaven. 26 And the disciples
were greatly astonished, saying among themselves, "Who then can be saved?"
About now you might be feeling just as astonished and discouraged as those disciples did. Like
you're even worse than that young man was. Like it's impossible for you to be saved. You say,
"Lord, I'm a wretched sinner, and my past is filled with mistakes and shortcomings. There are plenty
of times when I've trusted money rather than God. Plenty of times when I focused on my finances
and forgot about my Father in heaven. Is it possible that even someone like me can be saved?" Fear
not. For Jesus says to you today, With man this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible.
You say, "But Lord, I've broken your commandments, not seven times, but seventy times seventy
times seventy. Sometimes I'm so disgusted with myself. How can I possibly stand with the
righteous on Judgment Day? How can I possibly inherit eternal life?" My Christian friend, don't be
afraid! For Jesus says, With man this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible.
In fact, not only is it possible, but when you come before God in repentance, confessing your sin
and seeking His pardon, He cannot turn you away. He cannot, because by the very blood of His
Son He has promised to forgive your sins. When did He make that promise? At your Baptism,
which is why Peter says, 'Baptism doth also now save us!" [KJV]. Because at the baptismal font
you entered God's kingdom. There He washed you in the blood of His Son and freed you from the
punishment and control of sin. And there at that font he set you apart, he joined you to this tiny,
elite group, the Christians, the members of the household of God. And that's one of the reasons
that The Lord wants to separate you from your money, that is to separate you from the evil love of
money and seductive influence of money, so that you can be set apart for an unencumbered
service of Christ.
What do I mean by "unencumbered"? We had a church softball league in my previous parish. I
could hit pretty well, but I wasn't a very fast runner. In fact, when I ran the bases my teammates
would often holler, "Unhook the plow!" That's a vivid mental picture, isn't it? Well you know, there
are a lot of Christians with that problem. That is, they're hooked to the plow of their money! They
could be running like the wind, they could be doing great things for Christ if it weren't for that
constant preoccupation with money slowing them down and holding them back.
Of course it needs to be said, too, that money isn't necessarily evil all by itself. If the Lord has
blessed you with an abundance of it, then by all means thank Him for it, and use it responsibly. Use
it in God-pleasing ways -- to support your family, to support the work of the church and the
preaching of the Gospel, to extend the kingdom of Christ. But do be on your guard, won't you? If
money gets to be a plow, unhook it! Don't let it slow you down and hold you back. Respect God,
not money. Love God, not money. Trust in God, not in money. And serve God, not money.
Remember the words of Christ, " No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and
love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and
mammon. -- Mt 6:24.
The account of the rich young ruler is a sad one, because it's a bad news example. This is what
happens when things go wrong and money gets in the way of faith. But what if it had ended
differently? What if, when Jesus told the young man to sell all he had and follow Him, what if he
had smiled at Jesus and said, "I'll be right back!" How wonderful that would have been! Well my
Christian friends, Jesus is saying the same thing to you today. Just like that young man, THE
LORD WANTS TO SEPARATE YOU FROM YOUR MONEY, in a good sense. He wants to free
you from the crippling service of self, and to set you apart for an unencumbered service of Christ.
He wants to empower you, through the mighty working of His Holy Spirit, to make good choices.
To put faith where it ought to be, above everything else. To lay up treasures not on earth, but in
heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. May God
grant to us all the strength of faith so that, no matter what sacrifice He may ask of us for Jesus'
sake, we can smile and say, "I'll be right back!" AMEN.