The Living Word - Sermon 10-10-21

Sermon Text

Sunday September 10, 2021 
Lectionary 28 B 

Mark 10:17-31

This Gospel text is the 7th of a twelve-Sunday chronological walk we’ve been taking through the Gospel of Mark. Today’s text is in the middle of a major transition in Mark’s story. In earlier chapters we hear the Kingdom of God proclaimed by Jesus, we hear of his acts of compassion that grow out of the kingdom, and we hear the establishment starting to notice and to challenge the message of the Kingdom. In chapter 8, the transition starts, as Jesus begins his way to Jerusalem and the cross.

A key part of these transition chapters is that Jesus has begun telling his disciples that he is going to suffer and die. The disciples, as is typical in Mark, didn’t get it. Transitions are hard I agree, but really, replying to the words “I’m going to suffer then die a horrible death” by having a fight with each other about which disciple was the greatest, perfectly demonstrates how far they had to go in their understanding.

This past Sunday our confirmation class discussed hearing Bible and the Word. Introduced the phrase Living Word. Through the Holy Spirit, Living Words happen anytime when stories and encounters and events break into our lives. Living Words call for repentance and redirection. Turn a 180 if you will. New life, new values, new commitments. Living words shatter the walls we put up - walls of old ways, walls of selfishness and fear and illusions. And in all Living Words you find in the center Jesus, the Word made flesh.

Did you catch that first line from that Hebrews text?
(Hebrews 4:12-16)

The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Sounds like wall smashing…. And transformation.

Turning back to the Gospel for today, the man who knelt before Jesus was obviously was a nice guy who lived an exemplary life of doing what one is supposed to do to be faithful. But also obviously, he didn’t feel as if it was enough; there must be something else he could do.

So, with this missing piece of his heart, he decided to check with this traveling rabbi he had heard about. He came to Jesus because his heart told him that no matter how nice he acted, no matter how many rules he followed, he was still missing something. Jesus listed off several commandments and this man said yep checked all those boxes off since I was a kid.

Then the Gospel says Jesus looked at him and loved him. Wow.

You don’t hear that in the other Gospels. In John we repeatedly hear about the disciple that Jesus loved, who could be the disciple writing that book. But in the other two Gospels, Jesus looks with compassion on people… which is born out of love. But it never says quite so directly that Jesus loved someone. I was curious which of the Greek words for love Mark uses for this sentence. So, with my extremely minute seminary training in Greek, I decided to do a word study and found the word translated here as love is in fact connected to agape – that sacrificial love of God that we hear about in Jesus’ death and resurrection and the start of the new church.

So, looking at this man with God-love, Jesus tells him that he answered correctly – only one thing was needed: selling everything he had, and giving that money to the poor, and joining Jesus on the road. That will give him the treasure he lacks. This story is about as good of an example as anywhere of someone confronted by the Living Word. He is actually face to face with the Living Word made flesh who is asking for repentance, to turn around, and have his life transformed.

I picture a long dramatic pause at this moment in the story. That man is standing in a spotlight of Jesus’ love.

I’m guessing that the moment indeed felt like at 2-edged sword was cutting through his central core of identity get to that empty spot in his heart. Our fellow was shocked by the answer and he left in grief because he had many possessions. Confronted by the Living Word, he said no. Also, the only time in the Gospels someone said a direct no to Jesus.

Jesus turns to his disciples who were I’m sure trying to figure out what just happened. Jesus refutes and clarifies the common belief that wealth comes as a reward, a blessing, from God for living a good life doing good things. He used the camel and needle to illustrate how difficult it would be for a wealthy person to enter the kingdom. I don’t think that helped them much. The disciples were perplexed and astounded by this and said Well, who will make it in? Jesus says no one, for humans it is impossible. But not for God, for God all things are possible. You’re looking in the wrong place folks, it’s not what you own, it’s not what you do, its God, God’s love opens the Kingdom. We leave disciples pointing out to Jesus that they left everything follow him. I can see a smile as they again miss the main point as he commends them and assures them the reward will be theirs. And one more time the first will be last and the last be first.

Just one more word about last week’s confirmation class. We discussed present day concerns and challenges that bring Living Word moments to each of us like our man in our text. The class identified issues like racism, sexism, homophobia, hunger, conflict, economic injustice, and climate change. Transformation is certainly needed. Invite to ponder to what challenge do you hear the Living Word’s call?

But we heard pretty clearly that doing is not the ticket we seek. And the Living Word shatters old ways and brings transformation to new life. Camels can fit through needles because With God all things are possible. Jesus looks at us and loves us.

We can’t do anything but with God’s help, we have been freed to do something. As many theologians have said, "What do I do... now that I don’t have to do anything?"

The Living Word waits for you, waits for me. And loves us.

May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Deacon Pamela Larabee-Zierath
 Gloria Dei Lutheran Church
  Iowa City, IA

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Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Iowa City

Gathered by grace. Scattered for service.

123 E Market Street
Iowa City, IA 52245