A sermon at Ketchikan Presbyterian Church by George R. Pasley
Then Job replied: “Even today my complaint is bitter; his hand is heavy in spite of my groaning. If only I knew where to find him; if only I could go to his dwelling! I would state my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments. I would find out what he would answer me, and consider what he would say. Would he oppose me with great power? No, he would not press charges against me. There an upright man could present his case before him, and I would be delivered forever from my judge.
“But if I go to the east, he is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find him. When he is at work in the north, I do not see him; when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him. But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold. My feet have closely followed his steps; I have kept to his way without turning aside. I have not departed from the commands of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread.
“But he stands alone, and who can oppose him? He does whatever he pleases. He carries out his decree against me, and many such plans he still has in store. That is why I am terrified before him; when I think of all this, I fear him. God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me. Yet I am not silenced by the darkness, by the thick darkness that covers my face.
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good–except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’ ”
“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”
The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 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.”
The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” Peter said to him, “We have left everything to follow you!”
“I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields–and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
My heart goes out to that man, because he knew what he wanted, and it was something WORTH wanting.
He wanted eternal life- which means, he wanted a life that is full, real, genuine, meaningful, and connected to our origins in God, and to God’s purposes for all of life.
He wanted that- he yearned for it, he heard that sort of life calling out to him, and he thought he KNEW how to obtain it.
From his youth, he obeyed the commandments.
That’s pretty hard to do- to obey them in letter and in spirit.
Some say it’s impossible, though if my memory serves me write, the apostle Paul never actually SAID it was impossible.
And Jesus didn’t, not when this man said he had done that.
As for me, I believe that if anybody could have obeyed them all, for the time he was a boy, it was this man.
I couldn’t do it, I don’t do it. And I don’t know anybody who has. But I believe that this man might have done it.
But still, he knew that he was still lacking the thing he wanted to accomplish: eternal life.
Eternal life- abundant life, Jesus called it somewhere else-
We could explore that subject for a month or two.
Maybe we should.
But I think that when we don’t have it, we know it.
We know it by the feeling, “It ought to be better than this.”
And we know it because our struggle, however we feel it, seems to take us further and further away from feeling connected to important things like purpose, and hope, and belonging.
There’s another story in Mark, about a man possessed by demons.
He had great, great strength and did horrible damage to himself and to anybody who came near him.
He was a lunatic who could not be contained, and he lived in the caves where dead bodies were laid.
But Jesus extracted that man from his struggle, and gave him a healthy mind, and reconnected him to the community that was terrified of him.
That man WANTED to follow Jesus, but Jesus said no.
No, but instead go and tell what God has done for you.
So wat’s the difference between these two men- one who wanted to follow, and one who didn’t?
One who was looking for eternal life, and couldn’t find it- and one who needed it desperately, and had it handed to him?
The difference was Jesus. One man needed him, and the other man didn’t.
Or at least, that’s what he thought.
So let’s talk about inheritance.
That man wanted to inherit eternal life- kind of a weird things to inherit.
You might say, inheritance is what you get when some ELSE dies.
It comes to us by way of a will, or by order of the courts if there is no will.
It either implies a fair distribution of someone else’s assets, or a favored distribution, depending on how much favor the deceased person ahd for you.
But in Jesus’ time, neothe rone of thise situations was true.
Inheritance usually involvd death, or old age. But there was no will, only the law.
So certain people KNEW what they had coming, and they were entitled to it, if the law said they were.
That was one kind of inheritance.
But there was another kind.
There was the kid of inheritance that came from God.
It never really became yours, it was just trusted to you while you lived.
It was the land, the freedom, and the way of life that involved living the commandments.
So when theologians NOW talk about that INHERITANCE, they use a word like covenant.
Covenants were sort of like contracts. Two parties came to an agreement, though it was rarely negotiated. Instead, the party who had the upper hand laid out the terms: I’ll do this, and you’ll do that.
So Israel had a covenant with God.
A covenant to obey the commandments.
They received that covenant- it was given to them- during the Exodus, after they had been given their freedom and before they were given the land. Before he died, before they crossed the Jordan River and entered the land, Moses read them the commandments again, and said this to them:
Be careful to do what the LORD your God has commanded you; do not turn aside to the right or to the left. Walk in all the way that the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess.
If you obey the commandments, you will live long and prosper.
Now, I’m here to say it doesn’t always turn out that way. That was Job’s experience, at least it was his experience if you don’t bother to read the happy ending that seems almost tacked on to the story.
Because plenty of time the righteous and the innocent in our world suffer horribly.
But there’s plenty of them who suffer, and still, yet, they know eternal life because they’re connected to God. They belong. And they trust the ending, whatever it is, to God.
But that covenant, it asks us to obey. And when we obey, well darn- it makes us feel good because we actually accomplished something.
Or it makes us feel good because we ARE good.
Jesus said we are like the 99 sheep that do not get lost, and the lucky shepherd has nothing to worry about.
But the trouble is, we forget that we need God.
And we forget that the life we have came from God, and the future we’re headed towards belongs to God, and to get from one to the other, we need God.
The things is, and I hate to say this- because there are lots of times I don’t like it. But God doesn’t owe us anything, no matter how righteous we are. In fact, God doesn’t even OWE us explanations- not that we’d understand them of we got them.
That’s what Job was struggling with. I don’t think he thought God OWED him anything, except an explanation. Because his suffering was enormous.
But in that suffering he saw the awesomeness of God, a thick dark cloud of mystery that filled him with humility.
And still he knew he needed God.
Which is what the man who came to Jesus didn’t seem to know.
Well, something else was true- something else he did not know, which is very sad.
Jesus lived him. God loves us.
No matter if we’ve kept every single commandment, or broken them one by one.
Rob Bell puts it this way, in a poem:
Gospel is the shocking, provocative,
revolutionary, subversive, counterintuitive
good news that in your moments of greatest
and falling short,
God meets you there-
right exactly there-
in that place,
I am on our side.
So maybe it would have been better for that man if he had fallen on his face while he was trying to keep the commandments,
Because then he might have known he needed forgiveness.
But he didn’t fall on his face.
He never saw with a sinner’s eyes the truth that God loved him.
And he walked away, because he couldn’t let go of what he had
He couldn’t trust God completely.
Not with his life
Not with his future
Not with his money.
But those who do- they know
They know that the same LORD who terrifies us in mystery
Blows our mind in love.
It’s usually the last in line who learn that truth.
Not because God doesn’t love the first ones.
But because they can’t see it.
And Jesus looks at us, and loves us.
Which after all, is the greatest commandment.
So get in line,
It starts with obedience.
But it ends with love
And if you go to the end of the line,
You just might see God from there.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.