A Homily for Trinity V
July 12, 2020
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: Matthew 19:16-30
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
I recently found myself thinking about something that I had to let go of, something that I hoped and longed to have for quite some time. But at this moment it is better to let it go. The thing I was longing for, and being called to let go of is a good thing to desire. For whatever reason, it wasn't the right thing, it wasn't the right time, and it was clear that the Lord was saying – let this go – you know where I am calling you, follow me.
As I thought about this, I became sad, and I thought of the rich young man we read about this morning. We know little of him, except that he seems to be a reasonably decent person and had many possessions. When Jesus told him to be perfect, to be complete, he had to sell all his possessions and give them to the poor he left and was sad.
Over the past couple of months, we have met three people who Christ called to himself. First, we met Nicodemus who came to Jesus at night. We don't know exactly when he ended up following Christ. Still, we know that he was present at the end of Jesus' life, and it would seem that he had become a faithful disciple of Jesus by that time.
Next, we met St. Matthew, who was doing his job, minding his own business, and Jesus simply said to him, "follow me," and he got up, threw a party, and left his old life behind.
And now, this morning, we meet the rich young man. He comes to Jesus desiring what seems to be a good thing, desiring eternal life. But in that – his question is odd. He asks, "what good deed must I do to have eternal life?"
At first, he shows little interest in what the young man wants – instead, he challenges his use of the word Good.
And what is Good?
Jesus says, "there is only one who is good." There is only one who is good, and that is God – the creator of the universe, the sovereign God, the King of kings, and Lord of lords. God alone is good. And as we contemplate God's attributes, we can be overcome with amazement of who God is. We can be surprised by His infinite goodness. God is infinite, never-changing, has no needs, is all-powerful, all-knowing, wise, faithful, just, merciful, gracious, loving, and holy. How can we be anything less than amazed by our Lord? How can we say anything less than that he and he alone is good, truly good? Let us be convinced of the incredible goodness of our Lord.
Then, Jesus answers the young man's question – he tells him that he must keep the commandments.
It is interesting – we often get the Law and the Gospel entirely backward. We think, "if I am good, God will love me." "If I am obedient to the law, I can earn his grace." "if I muster up enough righteousness, then I shall be saved, then I shall be worthy of Christ's love."
Luther and others rightly taught that the Law stands to condemn us. We possess it to show us our weakness and our desperate need for God, our urgent need for the grace of Christ.
How can we ever imagine that we can muster up enough perfection to earn the love of God? It's like thinking that if we shine a flashlight at the sun, we can get it to shine.
God is the creator of the universe, who fashioned you, who knows the hairs on your head, who is all knowing – God loves you immeasurably, and sent His Son to redeem you. We do not earn the love of God, we do not earn His grace. But it is by that love and grace that we are transformed, that we are taught to love God and neighbor. It is by God's grace that we can pour out good into the world. It is by His common grace poured out on humanity that we see such goodness in the world.
So, we need to understand the order – the Law convicts us of our sin – but grace opens the door to a relationship with God. Christ – who is Good – allows us to pray and offer worship to the Father.
By grace, we are saved, and by grace, we are sanctified.
But the young man asks Jesus which commands he must keep. Here is one of those places which, as I read the gospels, I kind of laugh. I think, "Jesus must have wanted to throw his hands up in the air in frustration." But, Jesus doesn't get upset, doesn't laugh at the young man, doesn't call him a fool.
Instead, he lists the commandments about how we relate with one another – and then, in summary, says, "you shall love your neighbor as yourself."
One of my prayers for our church is that we would grow in how we reach those who desire to know Christ but don't know Him. I pray that we would reach our neighbors and those in our community who caught in the bondage of sin.
As I've been praying this, I've been convicted that I am not terrific at even knowing my neighbors. This conviction has grown as I've been reading "The Gospel Comes with a House Key." Here, Butterfield reminds us that we are called to love our neighbors – no matter who they are. This is especially hard when you wonder if your upstairs neighbor is taking dance lessons off of YouTube at all hours of the day. Or when your neighbor is overly friendly and talks incessantly, and you just want to go into your house and have a quiet dinner. Or when your neighbor decides to blast the bass for several hours when you want nothing more to nap. Or when your neighbor is nothing like you, and you wonder how you could ever love them.
But these are not excuses to get you out of the command to love them, for Christ first loved us. To love them, we simply mirror the incredible love we have seen from God. To love them is like lighting the darkness of your house – by using a mirror to reflect the light of the sun.
The young man is pretty sure he's kept these commandments. He happily tells Jesus this – but Jesus bursts his bubble and tells him, "if you would be perfect, go, sell what you would possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me." Go and sell all your possessions and give all that you have to the poor.
This brings us to the big question of the day, to the question we need to ask ourselves from time to time: Are there things that you're holding on to that is preventing you from following Christ? Are there things that you need to let go of? That you need to sell and give away so that you, too, can follow Christ more closely?
These may be habits that are inhibiting you from walking with Jesus. These may be little gods that you have created in your heart. These may be beliefs that are not firmly rooted in scripture.
The call we are given – is that we would trust in Christ wholeheartedly – that nothing would stand between following him and our lives.
He clarifies a little more that it is tremendously difficult for a rich person to enter into heaven. We shouldn't take this as an anti-wealth statement. Instead, we need to grapple with the reality that when you have enough money – it is tremendously easy to trust your wealth. Affluence allows you to trust in yourself and your possessions, and it is much harder to see your need for God, your need for redemption, and to depend upon him.
I remember a few years back, I was curious about wealth and the world. I discovered that even with my modest salary, I was part of one of the world's top earners.
While we may not feel incredibly wealthy, we live in a society where it is a lot harder to see God moving. We have all kinds of ways to solve the problems we face. You get sick, go to the doctor, want something, dip into your savings, or charge a credit card.
Because we have been so fortunate to live in an affluent society, it seems as though we don't need God. It looks as though we can do this all on our own.
This attitude, this sentiment is what Christ is condemning. It is far easier for a rich man to trust in His own wealth than to trust God.
But rich and poor, happy and sad, lonely and popular – each one needs God, one needs to know Christ. We need Christ, not only so we will enter into the kingdom of heaven, but so that we will start to participate in the kingdom in the here and now.
Is all lost then? Is it all hopeless in our present age? Absolutely not.
Undoubtedly, if we seek our hearts, we discover a thousand things vying for our attention, a thousand pet projects, pet plans, pet hopes and dreams that we desire to accomplish in this lifetime, and that we find it so hard to let go of.
"With man," Jesus says, "this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." God in Christ has made a way for sinners like you and me to enter the kingdom. By the Holy Spirit, we learn to trust completely. God has made a way – and it is through Christ. God has made it possible to follow in his steps – and it is by the Holy Spirit.
And then sweet St. Peter, who was never afraid to ask whatever question came to mind or share whatever thought passes through his head, says, "we have left everything and followed you! What then will we have?" We get an eschatological vision, a vision of how the world will be when all is complete. Christ is enthroned, waiting to judge the living and the dead. The apostles will have a glorious place and will stand by Christ as He judges.
This is the great hope of those who have seen injustice in this world. This is the great hope of those who mourn for unrepented sin. This is the great hope of those who long for something better than the incredible brokenness that we see in the world. This is the great hope that Christ has died – Christ is risen – Christ will come again.
Let us not grow despondent when we see evil. Let us not grow angry when the world does not go as we think it should. Rather, let us trust in the Lord. Let us hope in the Lord. Let us remember, the call to fidelity and assurance that someday Christ will return to judge all people, and draw his faithful children to himself.
Then Christ says, "And everyone who has left houses or brothers or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life."
For many – to leave behind so much for the sake of Christ – to leave behind their reputation, to leave behind friends, to leave behind families that ridicule and mock because one loves Jesus can be a terrifying and difficult experience. And why should we even bother?
Sam Albury tells a story of talking with someone about the call to follow Christ – and the person asked, "but why should I leave behind this life I have? It's pretty good, after all." And he wasn't entirely sure what to say – but he prayed, and this verse came to mind. This is really an eschatological promise. The promise of the kingdom of heaven is great. What we leave behind for the sake of Christ pales in comparison. That which we leave behind for His sake is but a shadow of the goodness to come.
But both Albury and Rosaria Butterfield challenges us as the church to grow in how we create community. We are asked to grow in how we love the other. Grow in how we tenderly care for those who have sacrificed so much to know Jesus. Butterfield beautifully summarizes this when she says, "Our brothers and sisters need to function as the Lord has called us to – as a family. Because Christian conversion comes in exchange for the life you once loved, not in addition to it, people have much to lose in coming to Christ – and some people have more to lose than others." People have much to lose in coming to Christ, and yet Christ says – he will return them a hundredfold what they have lost.
Our call as the church is to create a home – create a good place for those who have left behind so much to follow Christ. Our goal and call as Christians is to be a taste of the coming of the kingdom of heaven for our brothers and sisters. Christ's promise today is a future promise – but it is also a promise that is fulfilled in part today by the emissaries for his kingdom – the church.
Jesus' final words for this morning are the first shall be last, and the last shall be first. Immediately before the rich young man comes on the scene – Christ rebukes his disciples to allow the little children to come to him. Undoubtedly, the disciples saw that if this rich man joined them, it would be a real coup for their cause. But they wondered what good could children bring to their cause? What good could rambunctious, little ones do, for this amazing revolution they were participating in?
But Christ ends with this simple reminder – ends that we may not see the intrinsic earthly value of someone, but God does, and there we must rest. We are not called to judge in the here and now but to share with them the inestimable love that we have found in Christ. We are called to love no matter who the other is. To love those who are radically different from us. We are called to love the other no matter how rich or poor, no matter how sweet or angry, no matter if they are an outcast or popular. We see them as God sees them: incredible, and beautiful image-bearers of our creator and Lord, with whom we are to extend the grace that God has already extended us.
My friends, I started this morning with a personal story – a call to leave behind and let go of something. I honestly do not know how that story ends. I do not know what the Lord will do with it. I do not know how the Lord will work amidst all of this. There is much that I do not know. But I do know, I do trust that obedience to Christ is better than bucking against Him. I do know, and I do believe that following him, no matter the cost, is better than any earthly reward.
My friends, having received so great a gift of life in Christ, and the kingdom of heaven, let us count the cost and have assurance that to follow Jesus is a far better than anything the world can give, to abide richly in Him is a far more joyous thing than we could ever hope for from a flesh driven life.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.