Thursday, January 14, 2010

Sermon Preview, January 17, Oberlin Cogregational

I'll be preaching Sunday morning at Oberlin Congregational Church, in Steilacoom, Washington, service at 10:15. Text is Luke 18:18ff, Jesus' encounter with the rich young ruler.

...II Corinthians 8:9 “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that(A) though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”

Jesus is in effect saying, “I am your treasure in heaven; sell all, come, and follow me.” The treasure is Jesus, not our good works, not our money.

But here’s the tragedy: The rich young ruler went away sad. A page or two before this text we read the words: “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Luke 16:13

The rich young ruler went away sad because he had come face to face with this absolute truth about serving masters: it’s one or the other. His life was consumed with laying up treasures for himself, both moral treasures with which he believed he could win God’s favor, and material treasures which were his idol.

He was a slave—a willing follower--of his money and his morality, and you can’t follow Jesus while following your money and your morality. You must come like a little child (Luke 18:17), like an infant, who must have everything done for them—that’s the gospel of grace alone.

Someone has described following Jesus like this: “I throw all my sins on a pile and then all my good works on the pile—and flee to Christ and him crucified.”
That is the gospel of grace alone. Add “and throw all my money on the pile—anything I am trusting in instead of Jesus”--and we have the solution for the rich young ruler. But he didn’t get it.

The gospel is really good news for the lost, for folks who are poor in spirit, who are morally bankrupt, for those whose lives are in freefall and they know it, for people who see that they have and are nothing in themselves. This was not the RYR. He clung to his riches.

Novelist John Steinbeck explores this wrong-headed human problem with wealth in his book The Pearl. You probably had to read it in an English class—or you will. In the story, Steinbeck convincingly creates a poor but contented pearl-diver named Kino—and then his baby is bitten by a scorpion—distressed, Kino sets out to find “the pearl of the world” so he can afford medical care for his son. And then he finds it, a great big goose-egg of a pearl, worth more money than Kino can imagine. Elated, he was certain that now his problems would be over.

As the action rises, Steinbeck masterfully shows how the pearl takes over, and Kino quickly becomes its slave. “The pearl has become my soul,” he realizes too late. “If I give it up I shall lose my soul.” Perversely, his inability to give it up destroys his livelihood, the tender relationship with his wife, and his son’s life. Finally, when his pursuit of temporal gain to solve his troubles has utterly failed, he listens to his wife. “This thing is evil. This pearl is like a sin! It will destroy us.” And together they throw it back into the sea.

I know what you’re thinking:
…surely there was some way to keep the wealth from the pearl and not lose everything else. Pearls aren’t evil in themselves, and think how much good could be done with all that money.

Of course, the same argument could be used about the rich young ruler’s wealth--and Jesus told him to get rid of it. Still you and I are inclined to believe the devil’s lie that wealth solves problems, and that you alone of all people in the cosmos won’t be corrupted by it. Precisely what Steinbeck’s character Kino thought.

And judging from the outcome of this biblical account, that’s what the rich young ruler thought too---I suspect it’s what most of us think--down deep where it really counts...

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