Sunday, October 18, 2009

An Alternative Way

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
Luke, Evangelist
October 18, 2009
Mark 10:23-31

The man who came to Jesus in last week’s Gospel reading asking how he could gain heaven walked away from it all because He didn’t want the way Jesus offered him. In today’s Gospel reading Jesus fleshes out what it means to follow Him.

In one word it is humility. Jesus doesn’t tell us how to be humble. He doesn’t even tell us to be humble. But that’s what He’s preaching. The way Jesus gives us is a different way than the world offers us.

What does the world offer you? Why not get the most out of life you can rather than submitting to the demands or wishes of others? Even so, there are many people in the world who are not Christians who are very kind and generous. They help others and even put others before themselves. But what happens? The world points to those people and says, See how humble they are! They’re enamored with the person, which kind of takes away from the humility. The world offers in the form of many religions a system in which you attain reward because of who you are or what you do. This way is no more possible than passing through the eye of a needle, something you no more can do than can a camel. What is demanded in all these religions is not humility but perfection. There is no point in even attempting to meet the demands of these religions because you’re sunk before you even begin.

Jesus offers an alternative way. It’s getting out of the way. He embodies this Himself. He is the embodiment of God. God doesn’t sit on His throne and command us to be humble. He humbles Himself to come to us. We entered the House of God this morning in His Name, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Moments ago we confessed our faith of who He is in the Nicene Creed: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is the true God, the only God. And the thing about the true God… He gets out of the way. He humbles Himself by passing, so to speak, through the eye of a needle knowing that we cannot. In other words, what is impossible for us, but demanded of us in order to be saved, He accomplishes, because all things are possible with Him.

The Holy Spirit is fully God, the Lord and Giver of Life, and yet gets out of the way. He points to Jesus, delivers Him to us. Jesus is true God—God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God—and yet points us to the Father. Jesus’ concern is glorifying His Heavenly Father. The Father is God—Almighty, maker of heaven and earth—and yet points us to His Son, Jesus Christ. This is My beloved Son, listen to Him.

In a sea of people boasting of their humility, looking for ways to humble themselves, attempting to be more humble, God offers an alternative: Himself. The Lord above all humbles Himself and gives Himself to us. In our attempts to gain recognition for what we do either by others lauding our efforts, or our listing our accomplishments to God, He simply shows us one thing that has been accomplished. And it has been accomplished by Him. It is truly the greatest accomplishment and yet done in the humblest of circumstances. Our Lord suffering in our place, taking upon Himself our sin.

It’s really hard to talk as Christians about humility. Once you point it out it becomes the focus, and that kind of takes out the point. The way to be humble is to get out of the way. What is our tendency? The disciples don’t want to take Jesus’ way as the way, so they exclaim: “Then who can be saved?” Humility would simply accept Jesus’ word for what it is. Peter doesn’t want to get out of the way and focus solely on Christ so he mentions a fact his Lord apparently wasn’t aware of: “We have left everything and followed You.”

The amazing thing about God is that He really gets out of the way. He knows that we’re constantly wanting to go back to our own notions of how we’re in the good favor of God, and He still uses us for His eternal will of accomplishing salvation for the world.

I like to give the Confirmation kids quizzes. And I think they like them, but you can ask them. So here’s a quiz, but don’t answer them out loud, just answer in your head these two questions, true or false:

1. You don’t do the works God has called you to do in your life.
2. You do the works God has called you to do in your life.

In a humorous vein, you can test out your humility by seeing your reaction if you get both answers right whether you congratulate yourself or not. Or, conversely, if you get one or both wrong, if you congratulate yourself on your humility because you failed the test.

But to the serious point of the answers to the two questions, the answer to the first question—you don’t do the works God has called you to do in your life—that’s true, you don’t. The answer to the second question—you do the works God has called you to do in your life—that’s true also, you do.

This is God offering an alternative way of humility, some would say nonsensical. And they would be right. Jesus doesn’t spend His time explaining that His way is logical, He just says it. The truth is, we don’t do the works God has called us to do. We fail miserably. We try. Sometimes we don’t even try. But try or not, we don’t accomplish what God demands. If trying were all that were needed the Bible wouldn’t have been nearly as long as it is. But in the manifold pages of Scripture it becomes abundantly clear that what God demands is perfection, and that is where you come up short. Convince yourself all you want to the contrary, but the answer to number 1 is No, you don’t do what God has called you to do.

But there’s another truth. And that is the truth of statement 2. You do what God has called you to do. You do the works He commands of you. And this is not some sort of trying thing either. You do them perfectly. Exactly as the Law of God demands. God the Father is as pleased with your works as He is with His own Son, Jesus Christ. And this is the key to it all. Jesus is the one who brings about humility in us, not our attempts at it.

Jesus is the reason we can say without doubt that we don’t do what God demands of us. Otherwise, why did Jesus suffer eternal condemnation in our place? Jesus is also the reason we can say in full confidence that we do what God has commanded us. Otherwise, why did Jesus accomplish the perfect fulfillment of the Law in our place? The way Jesus talks in the Gospel reading shows us how both of these things are possible at the same time. “There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for My sake and for the Gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time.” On the one hand, when you stand before the altar of God to confess your sins, can you honestly say that you have done what Jesus demands, what Peter was convinced of that he did? Instead, haven’t you put all of these things before God in your life? At the same time, as you stand before the altar of God and hear His proclamation of the Absolution of your sins, can you not but thank Him for the amazing opportunities He gives you in your life to serve Him right where you’re at? In your home, loving and taking care of your family. Helping out your neighbors when they’re in need.

There is no one who has not left “houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life” who has not done so by Jesus Christ Himself accomplishing it. It is indeed no longer you who live but Christ who lives in you. No wonder you’re able to live as God has called you to live! He accomplishes even this. He frees you up to serve Him. He frees you from the constraints of the Law to practice the Law of love, humbly, joyfully serving those God has placed in your life. When you get out of the way the Holy Spirit has a field day working through you to serve others.

But if you wonder at the many ways the world offers; the appeals of your sinful flesh; the temptations of the devil; know that there is an alternative to all of that. It’s not just another way. It’s the way. The way of humility is not trying to be humble, it’s simply the way of Christ. It’s Christ being humble on your account. “Many who are first will be last, and the last first.” Christ is first of all and became last for all. Christ is Lord of Creation and yet humbly offers you His body and blood in a simple meal at this altar. The Holy Spirit fills you up with the righteousness of Christ so that the Heavenly Father may look upon you and be pleased and pour out upon you all His eternal blessings. Amen.


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