Don’t let your wealth get in the way of your treasure

Based on: Mark 10:17-27

Are you ready for the trick-or-treaters?  Halloween is this Saturday and, depending on where you live, you may have kids coming to your door expecting candy.  Don’t forget, it is also Reformation Day, the day when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses regarding indulgences to the church door in Wittenberg – more about that next week. 

Today I want to mention something about kids and candy. This is just my observation.  It seems that if I have a bowl of candy and I am going to give some of it to a child, the first reaction of the child is to put a hand into the bowl and grab the candy.  What usually doesn’t come to mind is that if the child would simply hold out that same hand, I can fill it with more candy than they could ever hold in a clenched fist.  Isn’t it part of human nature to want to take rather than receive?

Here is another illustration.  Imagine a large glass jar with M&Ms in it.  You put your hand into the jar and grab some M&Ms, but when you try to pull your hand out you find that the mouth of the jar is too small.  Your hand full of M&Ms is too large to fit through the opening of the jar.  You can see the great wealth of delicious chocolate right there in your hand, but that wealth is really getting in the way.  It is preventing you from enjoying a much greater treasure, namely, the use of your God-given hand.

This illustrates our theme.  Don’t let your wealth get in the way of your treasure. That is what Jesus told the rich young ruler who came to him.

When we first see this young man, he is running to Jesus.  He is excited to meet Jesus.  He gets on his knees out of respect and he asks his question, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Right away, do you sense a problem. Of all the ways he could have addressed Jesus, Son of David, Lord, Christ, or others, he chose to call him “good teacher”,  a title that says little more than, “I admire your work, Jesus.” 

In his question we see a man looking for advice.  He doesn’t want the eternal life that the Savior of the world would so freely give him.  He wants to do it himself, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  He is just an adoring fan coming to Jesus in the same way someone might go to Justin Bieber and ask “How can I sing like you?”  Or to Stephen King and ask, “How can I write books as popular as yours?”  By the way, if you want to know more about Justin Bieber, you have to ask someone younger than me!

The question needs to be asked.  Why do you come to Jesus?  Why are you here in church this morning?  Are you looking for advice on how to live a good life?  Perhaps you, like this rich young ruler, think, “Oh yeah, I’ve kept all those commandments,” and you want to feel good about yourself, and you expect a pat on the back from Jesus.  Or do you come to church because you know how morally bankrupt you are and you need the treasure Jesus has to offer as your Savior? 

This young man who came to Jesus did not understand his financial status before God.  This man thought he was pretty good – “I have kept all these [commandments] since I was a boy,” he said.  He had not.  He had not even kept the first commandment.  He had not loved God above all else.  Jesus made that clear. 

Jesus said, “One thing you lack.  Go sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me.”  It wasn’t what this wealthy man wanted to hear.   Can you just picture his jaw drop, “Are you serious, Jesus, sell everything?”  Yes, that was what Jesus said.  If he gave everything to the poor he would have treasure in heaven.

The choice is obvious, right?  Of course he must do exactly what Jesus said.  He must sell everything, give it to the poor, and then follow Jesus.  After all, what good will his wealth do him after he dies?  And the treasure in heaven that Jesus talked about is certainly far better anyway. But no, the man turns away.  He holds on to his wealth, and, as far as we know, he is now in hell.  Why? He loved his wealth more than he loved God.  His earthly wealth got in the way of real treasure.  To use our M&M illustration, his hand was in the jar with fist full of M&Ms, but he was unwilling to let go of the candy to save his hand.

I could ask you what you would say if you were that rich young man, but you already know the right answer.  Instead I will ask you if you have done what God asks of you.  Jesus doesn’t ask you to sell everything and give it to the poor, but the first commandment still exists and the question still remains, “Do you love God more than anything else?” 

How have you used your money?  Do your financial decisions show that you dearly love God? Or do your financial decisions reveal a love for the things of this world.  Don’t we all have a natural preference for the things money can buy, things we can see, touch, and taste – things that seem so tangible, and an aversion for the promises of God that come to us simply as print on paper and as words spoken?  If left to ourselves we would always reject heavenly treasures and choose the world.

That is why Jesus said, ”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.”  I know there are people who say that the “eye of the needle” may have been a small gate in some city, and that a camel could go through only with difficulty.  That is not what Jesus is talking about.  The surprise of the disciples and Jesus’ own words tell us that Jesus is talking about something impossible.  It is impossible for anyone to hold God above our earthly wealth.  On our own it is impossible for us to enjoy heavenly treasure.

That’s why Jesus looked at this rich young man and loved him.  Did you catch those words in our Gospel reading?  Right after this man made that arrogant statement about keeping the commandments, the Gospel writer tells us that Jesus looked at him and loved him.  This man didn’t deserve it, but Jesus loved him.  Jesus came to earth for this man and while this man didn’t give up his wealth for Jesus, Jesus gave up the riches of heaven to live on earth for this man.  Jesus even died for this man’s greed.

Jesus looked at you too and loved you.  You and I certainly don’t deserve it, but Jesus lived a life where everything had it’s proper priority, with God at the top.  He lived that life to replace our own life of mixed up priorities with our own wants or desires at the top.  He died for us and for every time we decide to hold on to what we think is ours.

Now, as children of God we understand that everything we have really belongs to God.  Even we belong to God.  We belong to him twice – the first time because he created us, the second time because, after selling ourselves to Satan through our greed and selfishness, he redeemed us, bought us back, with his own blood.

We also know why God gives material possessions.  We know that when we use them in a God pleasing way all our possessions become on offering to God.  First, we show our love for God by taking part of what he gives us and giving it back to him.  We decide in advance a certain amount or a certain percentage.  We give regularly and generously and our giving shows we understand the treasure our Savior gives us.

Second, God gives us material possessions to take care of our needs and the needs of our family.  We could also include helping others who are in need.  Third, our possessions are also meant for us to enjoy.  In his great love for us he gives us good gifts.

When it comes to being rich we might think that a little baby has very little.  Yet, the baby baptized this morning has a greater treasure than the wealthiest man on earth.  When our wealth gets in the way of our treasure and we are tempted to grab for the wealth of this world instead of the treasure in heaven, there is a solution.  The solution is Jesus Christ.  He says, “Hold out your hand.  Let me fill it to overflowing with blessings for all eternity.”

Amen.

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