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Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Jeffrey O. Cerar, October 11, 2015, 2015


One Thing


Text: Mark 10:17-31

Today’s Gospel story brings to mind one of my favorite old movies called “City Slickers.” This movie has become somewhat of a classic. It is about a guy named Mitch from New York who is having a mid-life crisis. For his 40th birthday, Mitch’s two friends take him on a cattle drive from New Mexico to Colorado. The foreman of the drive is a severe, unsociable cowboy named “Curly." Mitch is afraid of Curly. But gradually, on the trail, Mitch begins to see that Curly is a wise man. One day, when they are alone, Mitch asks him, “What is the secret of life?”

Curly’s answer to the question, “What is the secret of life?” was, “one thing.”

“But what is that one thing?” Mitch asked.

“That’s what you have to find out,” Curly responded. It sounds wise, but it ends up being more of a riddle than an answer.

The man who approached Jesus in Chapter 10 of Mark’s Gospel had a similar question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?" And instead of a riddle, Jesus gave him the whole answer to his question. Jesus told the man the same thing Curly said: “One thing." But He also told the man what that one thing is: Follow me.

We are all familiar with this Gospel story. There are a few things about it, however, that require our closer attention.

The first thing is, what, exactly, was the man asking? It sounds simple: What must I do to inherit eternal life? But what did he mean by “eternal life”? And what did Jesus mean to answer? When we use the expression “eternal life,” we tend to be focusing on going to heaven when we die. But there is more to it than that. Notice that there are three different but related phrases in this story:

1.  In verse 17, the man’s asked what he had to do to inherit “eternal life.”

2.  In verse 23, Jesus spoke about entering the Kingdom of God.

3.  And in verse 26, the disciples spoke about being saved.

Whether the rich young man knew it or not, “eternal life” is about more than what happens when you die. It is about what kind of life opens up to you when you receive God’s gift of salvation.

Do you remember what Jesus said to Nicodemus, who came to ask Him about these matters? He said, “No one can enter the Kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.” (John 3:5-6) He talked to Nicodemus about being born again. He was talking about new life, a life that is only available through an intimate relationship with Jesus. He said often that the Kingdom of God had come near. And He demonstrated that by healing the sick and giving sight to the blind and making the lame walk. He showed His mastery over the winds and the waves and the demons. To enter God’s Kingdom is to step into a kind of life that those who do not know God cannot fathom.

We call that “eternal life." It doesn’t start when you die. It is life that begins when you give your life to Christ. So when we are “saved,” our life is supposed to be different—like living water welling up within us, Jesus told the woman at the well.

The rich young man probably did not have all that in mind. But clearly, his life was not what he wanted it to be. something was missing. It appears that what motivated the man was that he had tried his best and had done a pretty good job of keeping God’s commandments. But he wasn’t experiencing the blessing that he expected. His life was missing something major. Maybe he even assumed that his afterlife was taken care of, because he was one of the Chosen People. He came to Jesus to discover what more he needed to do to find God’s blessing.

This is something for Christians to pay attention to. There are times in our lives when we feel something is missing. It isn’t the question of what must I do in order to be saved. God’s Word assures us that if we confess with our mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord, and believe in our heart that God raised Him from the dead, we will be saved. (Romans 10:10)

• Our question is, why isn’t this Christian life filling me with joy?

• Why isn’t praise for God always on my lips?

• Why do I feel this empty place in me?

• Why do I get mad at God when things don’t go my way?

• Why am I not experiencing the fullness of life?

There are times when this message hits all of us right between the eyes.

Before I get into Jesus’ answer, let me go back to what the man was asking. He asked “What must I do to inherit eternal life?" It is a predictable approach to the problem. What must I do? A rich man would certainly have learned by experience that he gets what he wants by doing things. But Jesus’ answer, and the conversation He subsequently had with the disciples, made it clear that it wasn’t about what we do. He told the man to go and sell everything and give the money to the poor and come, follow Him.

This is definitely not what the man expected to hear. The poor guy was all caught up in his money and the things money could buy and the comfort and security of it all. What he really needed for a life of blessing was to know and love and serve God. And here was his golden opportunity. Standing right in front of him was Jesus, the incarnate Son of God. All he had to do was follow Him. “One thing. And you will have the gift of eternal life.”

But the man couldn’t do it. The text tells us, “At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, for he had great wealth.” (Mark 10:22)

I know Jesus was sad as well. But it was a teaching moment. He turned to His disciples and lamented, “How hard it will be for the rich 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 God.” (Mark 10:25) What a graphic image that is.

The disciples were astonished. Why were they astonished? It probably wasn’t that they admired rich people. None of them was rich, as far as we know. And yet, haven’t people always thought that the rich have it all? Isn’t it hard to let go of the idea that the rich are the ones who are blessed in this life? What Jesus is saying is that we are all tied up in the things of this world that entangle our spirit—that kidnap our loyalties—that dictate our priorities. And as long as that is the case, we are never going to be free to truly follow Jesus.

Remember how He said,

"If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? [Matthew 16:24-25]

That, after all, is the One Thing. “Follow me,” Jesus said. Sell it all! All that stuff doesn’t matter a hill of beans when you stack it up against life with God. Let your treasure be in heaven. Turn from all those things and follow me.

He isn’t just talking about money. He isn’t just talking about mansions and yachts and sports cars and Lear jets. He’s talking about anything of this world that you surrender your heart to.

• It may be your status in the community.

• It may be your self-image as an intellectual.

• It may be your addiction to food, or drugs, or alcohol, or pornography.

• It may even be good things, like your family, or your job, or your public service.

There are many, many things of this earth that can get in the way of turning your life over to Jesus. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for one to enter the kingdom of God when they are wrapped up in earthly attachments, entanglements, obsessions, addictions, worries, overfull schedules, extraneous commitments.

Do you remember the parable of the Sower and the Seed? Some of the seed fell upon good soil, but as the grain grew, it got choked out by the weeds. Jesus said this represented those who “hear the Word of God, but as they go their way, they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.” (Luke 8:14)

• That relationship with Jesus doesn’t deepen and grow.

• That trust in God doesn’t become your worldview.

• That joy and that fullness of life elude you.

This was the same message.

The disciples said to each other in amazement, “Who then can be saved?” (Mark 10:26) They saw the problem. For they recognized just what Jesus had said to the man at the outset. No one is good. And so, are we all lost? No, Jesus said. No, it isn’t your attachments that are going to save you. And it isn’t your own good works that are going to save you.

With man, this is impossible, but not with God. All things are possible with God. [Mark 10:27]

What wonderful news that is.

• “I am weak but thou art strong,” the song goes.

• “God makes a way where there is no way,” the saying goes.

• “With man, this is impossible, but not with God. All things are possible with God.”

No, your Ferrari can’t save you. Your 20-room mansion can’t save you. Your 47-foot Morgan sailboat can’t save you. Your reputation in society can’t save you. Your retirement plan and your bank accounts and your investment portfolio can’t save you.

But Jesus can. You lack one thing. Go, lay all your earthly entanglements at Jesus’ feet, and follow Him.

We have some dear friends who recently gave up their beautiful house on a bluff overlooking the river. They had been there ten years. They loved that house. They praised God for giving it to them. They bore witness as to how God had made it possible for them to own that place.

But when they began to sense God had a mission for them in the city, they promptly put their house on the market and prepared to move. They moved into an apartment. They worked hard to pare down all their stuff to fit into that apartment.

They held their things loosely. And when God called them, they let go and followed Jesus.

Jesus tells us in this story that the secret of life is to follow Him.

• Put yourself at His disposal.

• Let Him call the shots.

• Seek His guidance and follow it.

• Love Him.

• Obey Him

• Make Him the center of your life.

• To do all that, you have to let go of the things that entangle you.

And if that seems impossible, fear not. With God, all things are possible.

That is what Jesus taught His disciples that day, as the rich young man went away sad. Peter pressed Jesus a little further. We see it in verse 28. Well, Lord, we’re on the right track then. “We have left everything to follow you." Jesus answer was encouraging.

"I tell you the truth," Jesus replied," no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields--and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life." [Mark 10:29-31]

So with the lesson comes a promise:

• Blessings,

• Persecutions,

• And eternal life in the age to come.

The blessings Jesus describes are the same things the disciples have left behind—only a hundredfold in quantity. In other words, give me the things that bless you, and I will give them back to you a hundredfold. You will lack for nothing.

The persecutions are something we realistically must expect when we follow Jesus. He described this many times in His teaching. If they hate me, He said, they will also hate you if you follow me. He even told us in the Sermon on the Mount that we are blessed when we are persecuted in His name, for ours is the Kingdom of heaven. [Matthew 5:10-12] In our culture, we haven’t had a lot of experience with this. But it is increasing, and we should not be surprised.

When you think about it, this message is the same one as when someone asked Jesus, “What is the greatest commandment?" He answered,

Love the Lord you God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind. This is the First and Greatest Commandment. [Matthew 22:37-38]

The reason it is the greatest is that:

• This is what we were created for.

• This is where we find true joy.

• This is the door through which we enter the Kingdom of God, and experience the fullness of life.

• This is the way to life everlasting.

“One thing." And, unlike cowboy Curly’s riddle, you don’t even have to discover what that one thing is. Jesus has laid it out for us. He is the one true thing. He is the only thing. Nothing else matters. And when we commit ourselves to Him, we receive blessings a hundredfold, and persecutions, and in the age to come, eternal life.

© 2015 The Rev. Jeffrey O. Cerar

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