November 29, 2020

Sermon – The Thirteenth Sunday of Luke 2020

PASTORAL SERMON
The Thirteenth Sunday of Luke
By V. Rev. Timothy Baclig
November 29, 2020

The encounter that Jesus had with the rich young man began with him addressing the Lord as a “Good Teacher.” The implication from the man’s compliment, based upon the teaching of the Law, is that the young man was patronizing the Lord as a good man without any acknowledgement of Jesus as the Lord. The dialogue therefore begins with the young man considering Jesus to be nothing more than a good person – like himself. His purpose was to “compare notes;” to check with someone who was recognized as a “teacher.” This was not an uncommon practice in the context of first century Judaism. In fact, it is still very much a common practice among any serious minded inquirer today.

The fact that the young man was blessed with personal material wealth is not as much the issue of today’s lesson as is the matter of his self righteousness. It was not a sin that the young man was rich. His greatest challenge was in knowing what being rich toward God meant. His question: “…what must I do to inherit eternal life?” in the context of the lesson could easily be reworded: “…what more must I do to inherit eternal life?” His curiosity, tainted with a little sarcasm, seems to also indicate that he doubted the notion of eternal life.*

Moreover, the fact that this was a young rich man should not go unnoticed. His experiences were limited. And while he may have been responsible, it is possible that by also being young and wealthy, he may have considered himself to be very accomplished and successful.

Furthermore, from the perspective of a young person who sees and views unjust suffering as unexplainable and without clear reason, doubting God as a righteous Judge is very common. It ignores the central message of the Christian Gospel; disregarding the meaning of the Cross.

If we had all of the answers to the questions that puzzle us like, if God is a God of love, why is there hunger, wars, disease, and great suffering in the world, then we certainly would have no need for the Cross. God would not have sent His Son into the world to also suffer a horrible death. We would surely be in heaven! The way of the Cross, however, is the path of sacrificial love. Its focus is on “the other.” It begins with humility, is prompted by mercy, and is fulfilled with joy.

We have begun the Nativity Fast that prepares us to celebrate the Feast of Christ’s coming: “Good news of great joy!” His coming to save us, to fully enter and identify with our human experience and to demonstrate His sacrificial love is what brings joy into the world.

How difficult is it to identify with persons of need? Some of us would prefer not thinking about it. It is not always easy to relate to a “beggar” at a street corner or to respond to the many appeals for the needy: There is doubt and skepticism about needy persons. We have growing concerns about those who have learned how to “use our system” of “entitlements;” those who may have psychological needs or be plagued by an addiction. Does that “get us off the hook” from helping or responding to the needy? Some of us prefer choosing who we help and want “the needy” to meet our personal definition.

The young man was not naive to think that selling all of his possessions and giving it to the poor would accomplish or solve the problem of hunger in the world. If the young man truly believed in eternal life, what do you think was the real reason for his question and curiosity?

In predicting His own death on the Cross, Jesus said to His disciples: “For whoever wants to save his soul will loose 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 [looses] his [own] soul” (Matthew 16:25-26).

You may recall last week’s lesson of the Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:16-21) who defined his life in terms of the things he possessed. Greed motivated him to tear down his storage facilities and build new ones in order that he could accumulate a greater quantity of his abundance. The man’s foolishness was made clear when, in light of suddenly facing death, he could no longer benefit from his possessions.

Christian stewardship goes far beyond knowing what to do with their material things that we are so fond of or attached to. In fact, Christian stewardship helps us to better understand what things are. A Christian steward knows that material things are not ends in themselves. God’s eternal gifts to us are far greater and more valuable than the things of this world that are passing away… We offer to God what was always His. Not because He needs them, but because it is God who provides everything. We offer Him thanks and ask Him to bless what He provides… that which is not ours to possess but to manage.

In writing Timothy, St. Paul the Apostle says this: “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be haughty (which is also translated: arrogant), nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.”

Notice St. Paul’s careful choice of words. He is not saying that the material benefits are not provided for our pleasure and enjoyment. He says the opposite. However, his message leads up to a much more important point in the following verses: “Let [the rich] do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share. In this way they will store up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life (eternal life)” (verses 17-19).

Prayer

O Lord our God, who is the giver of every good and perfect gift, save us from all manner of greed and every form of idolatry. Trusting in you as our Source and the sole Provider of all things, we ask you to bless the offerings of our time, talent, and possessions that we may truly acquire the treasures of your Kingdom in the age to come, where neither moth nor rust does corrupt and where thieves neither break through or steal. May we know the meaning of contentment in doing your will. Fill our homes with your presence, especially at this season when we gather together with our families to offer our thanks for your bountiful goodness. Keep us all safe under the shadow of your wings. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory: of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; now and ever, and unto ages of ages. A-men.

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