Tuesday, May 02, 2017

The Bethany Bullet - Week of April 30, 2017

Sermon: “Grace + Gratitude = Generosity”
Text:    Luke 18:18-27 – The Rich Ruler
            Luke 19:1-10 – Zacchaeus

Two men stand at the center of a pair of wonderful and connected stories.  Both men are rich, both men are powerful; both men come looking for Jesus. 

One is, in everyone’s eyes, a “good guy,” probably the president of his congregation, possibly a national officer of his religious body, a volunteer with the trustees and someone who would do just about anything.
The other man is universally seen as a “bad guy,” he is seen as a liar, a cheat and a thief; his is despised by others and called a sinner right to his face.

But there is a twist that surprises everyone and a lesson that is just right for us as we look at our own Renaissance project.

Here is part one of the story.

Luke 18:18-27 (The Rich Ruler) – GW®
An official asked Jesus, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good?  No one is good except God.  You know the commandments:  Never commit adultery.  Never murder.  Never steal.  Never give false testimony.  Honor your father and your mother.”

The official replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was a boy.”

When Jesus heard this, He said to him, “You still need one thing.  Sell everything you have.  Distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then follow me!”

When the official heard this, he became sad, because he was very rich.  Jesus watched him and said, “How hard it is for rich people to enter God’s kingdom!  Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom.”

Those who heard Him asked, “Who, then, can be saved?”
Jesus said, “The things that are impossible for people to do are possible for God to do.”   

Kind of a sad story about such a nice guy...This is the kind of person most pastors would love to have as a member of their congregation: pious, dependable, beyond reproach—Oh, and did I mention, he was rich? The perfect person to make a financial contribution to a capital campaign, don’t you think?

This is also the kind of person who, when he dies, people come to the funeral home and say, “He was a good man.  If anybody is going to be there in heaven, he surely will be.  He was such a good guy!”

And that was the problem with this man.  He was a good man. But even he, in his heart, must have known that he wasn’t good enough.  You see, being good doesn’t cut it with God.

That may have been what was behind that little exchange at the beginning of the story where Jesus says, “No one is good except God.” (Luke 18:19b)

And the only way goodness comes to us is if God Himself gives it as a free gift through the merit of Jesus Christ alone.

But the rich young ruler was not looking for a gift from God.  He was looking to bargain with God. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 18:18)

It was a question of the Law, and so Jesus dealt with him according to the Law.  And to those who heard the conversation, it would appear that if anyone could gain eternal life by the Law, this good man could certainly do it.

So, Jesus starts listing all these commandments: no adultery, no stealing, no murder, no lying, honor your parents.  And the rich young ruler says, “I’ve obeyed all these commands since I was a boy.” (Luke 18:21)
Now, be honest, do you think YOU could say that?  Never even told a lie to his mother when he was a kid?  Always came when he was called?  I couldn’t!

This was a good man.  Jesus didn’t even argue with him on that.

The Rich Young Ruler followed the Law, but he was in pursuit of his own agenda not God’s.  He was doing good to get himself somewhere. It was not living under the “kingdom” rule of God that he desired.  It was being in control of his own life and destiny. 

How often have you done the same?

So Jesus says, “You still need one thing.  Sell everything you have.  Distribute the money to the poor…then follow me!” (Luke 18:22)

And suddenly it was as though all the air was being released from this proud, good man, and he collapsed in a pile looking up with sadness into the eyes of Jesus who said, “How hard it is for rich people to enter the kingdom of God!” (Luke 18:24)

Remember that stanza from the hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”?
And take they our life, goods fame, child, or wife
Though these all be gone, they yet have nothing won.
The kingdom ours remaineth.

You know, it was a lot easier for me to sing that song when I had no goods, fame, child or wife.

The potential problem with wealth is that it makes you less willing to be under the kingdom or rule of God.
And it makes you more desirous to be under your own rule and control of all your goods, fame, children and spouses. 

And so our story closes with these words, “Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:25)

And those who heard Jesus’ words said, “Who then can be saved?” (Luke 18:26) because they all thought the same way.

Jesus’ response?  “The things that are impossible for people to do are possible for God to do.” (Luke 18:27)
Now, don’t get distracted here, thinking, well, how does a camel fit through a needle?  Head first?  Tail first? Does the camel have one hump or two?  That is not the point.

The point is, in the end, it is impossible.

It seems that Jesus leaves us with no hope.  But just a few verses later we find hope in the story of another rich man.

Luke 19:1-10 (Zacchaeus) – GW®
Jesus was passing through Jericho.  A man named Zacchaeus was there.  He was the director of tax collectors, and he was rich.  He tried to see who Jesus was.  But Zacchaeus was a small man, and he couldn’t see Jesus because of the crowd.  So Zacchaeus ran ahead and climbed a fig tree to see Jesus, who was coming that way.

When Jesus came to the tree, He looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down!  I must stay at your house today.”

Zacchaeus came down and was glad to welcome Jesus into his home.  But the people who saw this began to express disapproval.  They said, “He went to be the guest of a sinner.”

Later, at dinner, Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Lord, I’ll give half of my property to the poor.  I’ll pay four times as much as I owe to those I have cheated in any way.”

Then Jesus said to Zacchaeus, “You and your family have been saved today.  You’ve shown that you, too, are one of Abraham’s descendants.  Indeed, the Son of Man has come to seek and to save people who are lost.”

Did you catch what happened in that story?  Did you see the twist?  A camel just went through the eye of a needle and a rich man entered the kingdom of God, and what is impossible for people to do became possible for God.

And it all happened with little Zacchaeus sitting there like a fig in a tree waiting to be picked by a gracious God, reaching out to seek and to save even what the world would consider the worst of sinners.

It is the same grace of God that claimed you and me in baptism when, sitting in our sin, we were either helpless infants with nothing to offer God or helpless adults who realized we were bought as Luther said, “not with gold or silver, but with [Jesus’] holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death, that I might be His own and live under Him in His kingdom.”

That is how we enter through the eye of the needle into the kingdom of God, and that’s what motivates us to serve Him. 

The crowd that day just didn’t get it, grumbling and mumbling because Jesus was going to share a meal with sinners.  They were still back there with the Rich Young Ruler, lying like a deflated balloon in a pool of sadness, more interested in having good works serve them than in serving God.

But Zacchaeus got it.  He knew he was being offered a gift, the gift of forgiveness of sins which brings life, hope, and salvation, and all he could do was celebrate it.

This is the story of God’s math Grace + Gratitude = Generosity.

Zacchaeus’ reaction to Jesus’ invitation and gift of grace was one of deep gratitude.

He knew he did not deserve this visit from the Lord.  He heard the mumbling of the crowd, and he knew they were right. 

But he also saw the love of one who would risk the mocking of the crowd and the wrath of the “good” people to seek out someone like him. 

The son of Man had come to seek and to save the lost, and now salvation had come by God’s free gift to Zacchaeus’s house.

The result of grace and gratitude was generosity.  Jesus never told Zacchaeus “You must make restitution” or “You need to give this much to the poor”.  Zacchaeus’s generosity flowed out of gratitude for the grace of God.

The Rich Young Ruler asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Zacchaeus, on the other hand, knew he had been given eternal life as a gift from Jesus.  His question then was, “Since God has given me eternal life in Christ, how shall I live that life now?”

You and I have been given the same gift that was given to Zacchaeus by the grace of God.  Your sin is forgiven on account of Christ.

Today we sit in the place of Zacchaeus.  On our own, unable to gain heaven let alone go through the eye of a needle.  But God has given you new life in Christ so you can ask, “How can I live that new life now?”

You heard this morning the report of where we stand with the commitments to our Renaissance project.  You have heard the need this congregation has. 

In our two stories today we see that approaching this based on the Law and duty will result in grumbling and sadness. This is no way for this congregation to move forward with the Renaissance project.
We endeavor to move forward by seeing the grace that God has upon us, the free gift that came, purchased and won on the cross and we seek to live generous lives that flow from thanksgiving and a sincere desire to live our lives under the kingdom of God.

In the season of Easter we reflect upon the significance of God’s grace in our lives and we seek to respond with gratitude for what was accomplished on the cross and through the open tomb and in so doing we desire to learn once again what we find in Luther’s Small Catechism “to live under Him in His Kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness. This is most certainly true.”

Our desire is to live by God’s math Grace + Gratitude = Generosity.  May we do so with the help of God.
Let us pray…

-Pastor Seth Moorman


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