Tuesday, October 16, 2018
I-dolatry. . .
St. Mark tells us that Jesus was setting out on His journey. What journey might that be? Read a few verses further and you find Jesus saying, “See, we are going to Jerusalem and the Son of Man will be delivered over the to the chief priests and the scribes to be condemned to death, mocked and flogged and crucified by the Gentiles, and after three days rise again. . .” Oh, that journey.
For that journey, Jesus packed no suitcase full of extra clothes and shoes and toiletries. He did not put in an extra cloak or steal away some cash just in case. This is the Lord who has no place to call home though birds have nests and foxes have holes. This is Jesus who brings to Jerusalem the only thing needful – His blood to cleanse us from all sin.
Perhaps the man did not know Jesus was heading out on a trip. It is likely he had no idea that Jesus was headed to the cross where He would suffer and die to redeem a world lost in sin, death, and error. But the man ran up and knelt before Jesus. “Good Teacher,” he said. It is an awkward form in Hebrew. Rabbi is good teacher so he is saying “Very good teacher.” We might call it sucking up or another even more obvious but less nice term.
Jesus immediately calls him on it. You cannot suck up to God. Nobody but God is good. Jesus is fishing in the man’s soul. Are you calling me good because you are calling me God? It is but a hint left hanging out there so the man might redeem himself. Just in case.
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” There for all to see is the I in IDOLATRY. What must I do? The man was less interested in Jesus than in himself. Aren’t we all? It is, after all, the mark of the sinful heart. It is the I that is like a log in our eyes and a shibboleth by which we reveal our hearts, no matter how hard we have worked to cover them up with the thin veneer of righteousness. What must I do indeed!
You know the commandments. Of course, he does. They were written into his heart just like they have been inscribed into yours and mind. In addition, he has sat in the Temple and in the synagogue. He may be a fool but he is not ignorant. Jesus gives him the chance to redeem himself again. The commandments are great and only a perfect man could keep them. What does the man think of himself?
Note the word good is dropped. Geez, teacher. I know thaaat. I have kept these since I was a kid. Let me put it in Lutheran terms. Geez, Pastor, I went through catechism when I was 12. I think I know what it means to be Lutheran. All those I’s. Idolatry is all about the I’s. So Jesus looked at him again. Notice what St. Mark has written. Jesus loved him. Our Lord did not hate the man nor was He bothered by him. Jesus loved him. He loved him enough to strip away thin veneer of righteousness and show him his sin.
“Go, and sell all you have and give to the poor for you have treasure enough in heaven. And then come and follow Me. . .” Ouch. Why does money always have to get into the way? Just like sex, money is the thing that exposes our weakness and sin. So it does here. And the man walked away disheartened because he really wanted to inherit eternal life; he just did not want to give up everything else for this greatest treasure.
Is that not the problem? We want to be good, we just don’t want to give up sinning to be good. We want to be holy, we just don’t want to give up our fun little pleasures to be holy. We want the heavenly treasure, we just don’t want to give up every other treasure to possess it. We want it all. We want to be bad and get away with it and to be good but never have to work at it. We are this man. Each of us. We have been busy for God, we have tried hard, we have given up a lot, we have risked a lot. What more could God want from us?
Jesus loves us even as He asks for all of us. He will not settle for 10% of our money or all of our Sundays. He has laid claim to everything we are and everything we have. He paid for us with His holy and precious blood shed in suffering on the cross. He kept the Law so that the commandments could no longer accuse us. He has covered our sin with His righteousness. He has given us new birth in Holy Baptism and He feeds and nourishes this new life in us with His flesh and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar. He has done everything to save us and He refuses to be a God only of our hearts or our heads; He is Savior of all of us.
Such love can be positively scarey. We are not used to this kind of love. We are used to jobs that take part of our time and leave the rest to us, of families that demand a great deal but allow us time for ourselves, of commitments that can be rescheduled when we feel too busy or overwhelmed. It can be frightening to meet the kind of love that completely empties itself for you in order that you might belong to it wholly and completely. It is not the cost of redemption that we must pay that is so scarey but the cost He has paid. For if Jesus has paid for us by giving Himself up completely, how can we possibly withhold anything from Him?
Jesus was calling the man to repentance. He gave him several opportunities to speak with the voice of contrition and sorrow. Teacher, you are good, the only good, because you are God in flesh. I have not kept the commandments with my whole heart, mind, body and strength. Lord, I have nothing to offer you. Can you still love me though I can give you nothing in return for all Your love has accomplished for me?
Jesus is calling you to repentance. He gives us the opportunity to confess Him as Lord and Savior. He gives you the chance to reflect upon your life in the mirror of the holy Law that detects every failing and evil. He loves you enough to ask you to surrender your most sacred treasures in order that His treasure may fill you completely. He calls you to follow Him, where He had led the way, receiving from Him grace upon grace, mercy beyond measure, love without end, redemption that requires nothing for you to finish, and hope big enough to carry you through the darkest days. Come, follow Me. . . he says.
Our hearts are filled with the Idolatry of all that I have done, all that I think I know, and all that I am willing to do to get what I want. But there is no room for I in the redemption of Jesus. There is only room for Him. He has looked upon you in love, seen the weakness of all that are your sacred things, paid for all your sins – both the secret ones and the obvious ones, and He has given you the full fruits of His atoning work on the cross. He asks you simply to trust Him and He promises that this mercy will remake you anew.
The only room for the I word in Christ, is “Lord, I believe. . .” “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof but only say the word and I shall be healed. . .” “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” In every other context, the I is short for idolatry and our hearts unable and unwilling to give up control, to give up our treasures, and to give up our desires in order to be saved.
There is a choice. This account can either be about money, about the Law and its requirements, and about salvation by works; or, we can listen to Jesus who gently but bluntly schooled a young ruler of the synagogue in love and who gently but bluntly schools us in the same love that offers heaven to us through His own obedient life, His life-giving suffering and death on the cross, and His resurrection which prefigures our own resurrection to eternal life.
Just remember the I in IDOLATRY. It is what gets us into trouble every time. It is what steals our joy, empties our hope, and leaves us with uncertainty where Christ wants us to be confident. There is only one who is good, good enough to keep the Law for a world of sinners. There is only one who loves, loves us enough to stand in our place in suffering and to die the death we earned by our sins. There is only one cross, one cross that speaks hope to the sinner and life to the world. Let us not be disheartened by the words of the Lord. We have our treasure in heaven, we do not need to hold onto the treasures of this world in fear, and set free in Christ, let us follow Him.
On this day when we recall the good work of the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League, we survey the quilts laid out before us, and we see the waste of it all. All this time and effort for a people who do not even know or appreciate the sacrifice. But that is the point. Our Lord stretched out His arms upon the cross for a world that did not understand or appreciate the gift He was giving, solely out of His great love for us. Even quilts can give a small witness to this abundant and profound love in Christ.
As we consider the commitment banquet for our Blessed, Chosen Generation campaign only now weeks away, we will point to the Lord and His goodness, to faith and its hope, to grace and its sufficiency, and to the work of the Lord and its great reward. A time when we remember Him who labored for us before we knew or understood the treasure of His great love for us. We will pray then for courage and strength, to let go of the treasures of this life that seem so precious and to hold onto and hold up the priceless treasure of His salvation given to us freely. To receive the gift that He has given, to let go of those things not eternal, and to let go for His purpose and glory those things that He has entrusted to us. To rejoice in the gift that will never be taken from us and to willingly surrender the things that were never ours in the first place. Amen.