October 18, 2015: Basic Christianity

Let us pray: Dear Savior, Your way of truth is all about stripping away our arrogance and foolish pride and humbling us so that we trust only in Your grace instead of our own righteousness. And when that happens, the glorious breeze of appreciation over a gift not earned by us, but by You in our place, wafts into our hearts and uplifts us. Make that happen anew this morning. Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE GIVER OF UNDESERVED LOVE

TEXT: Mark 10: 17-27

Dearly Beloved By Christ:

Most of modern life is all about marketing. But, then, you can say it’s always been that way. How you package a product, or yourself, determines how others receive it. Ancient warriors dressed up in scary clothing and armor to promote themselves. Business people “dress for success.” I won’t ask how many of you have padded, or perhaps “massaged” your resume. And as to the products we buy, well, if you believe everything the commercials tell you I’ve got some real nice swamp land in Louisiana you might be interested in! Technology is the current buzz word used to sell products. I shake my head over those financial commercials that promise huge gains via their technological insights. I’ll let you in on a secret: if you want to save money—spend less than you take in! Live within your means and don’t ring up the credit card.–Common sense.

Today Christ takes on this lie of personal marketing. And in the process, He shows us that the only way to heaven and a blessed life with Him is BASIC CHRISTIANITY not self-marketing.

I

Go to any funeral and you’ll hear a lot of stories and flowery language about how wonderful the departed was in life. Sometimes it’s laid on so thick you don’t even recognize exactly who they are talking about. And it eventually boils down to something like this: “Well, St. Peter will certainly welcome so and so into heaven because they were kind of children, tried to be a good person, and generally helped others in need.” We all reinforce that same mindset in our own lives. We hold up our external good deeds to God and believe that those good deeds are the chief reason He should accept us as His children and bless us. But, if that were true, there would be no need for a Savior, no need for Jesus to suffer and die on a cross for our sins in order to save our souls. Basic Christianity is this: We’re all sinners who are rebellious and unholy before God. He’s perfect and we’re not. We sin every day via sins of commission (actively doing bad things) and also those pesky sins of omission (ignoring those hurting around us); because we don’t want to be bothered. But, basic Christianity teaches us that God, in pure love sent His Son to save us. It teaches that He gives us His totally undeserved love, His grace, and makes it ours through faith. It teaches us that life is about living in gratefulness and appreciation of that blessing and not glorying-in our own personal marketing strategy. That’s the meaning behind Christ’s words when He says: “God humbles the proud and exalts the humble.”

II

Today we come across Christ and a rich young man who tried to market himself and his lifestyle to Christ and failed miserably. This conceited young man asked Jesus: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” The key words there are: “What must I Do?” Basically, this fellow thought he could save himself through his own deeds. Christ responds with a recitation of a few of the 10 commandments: “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.” This arrogant young man now seeks to justify himself (self-marketing) with an extremely superficial answer: “Teacher, all these I have kept since I was a boy.” What a crock! Even if he were able to outwardly not engage in such behavior, inwardly he had done so. Sin isn’t just doing external “bad stuff” it’s also thinking about it and playing with it and plotting it. Eve’s original sin wasn’t just eating the forbidden fruit and violating God’s directive, it was in deciding to do so after much temptation.

“Jesus looked at him and loved him.” Not because the fellow was correct, but because he desperately needed Christ’s help—just like all of us. It was a look of loving pity over his self-delusions of personal grandeur. We see that played out by Christ’s answer: “One thing you lack. 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.”

III

Basically, Jesus plays along with him and his superficial understanding of a Godly life and then nails him with this answer. By telling him to sell everything and follow him, Christ was revealing the man’s cold heart while dealing with those pesky sins of omission. True acts of love are to be ever-present in our lives. They are to be a lifestyle, done when no one but God sees them. By being not willing to share and give His all in helping others, omitting countless good deeds, this man shows his sin. He shows that personal marketing (pride) doesn’t cut it with God and never will.

Although Christ uses this man as an example of the corruption that comes via greed and money, the greater truth is: if we’re rich in our egos we’ll never gain heaven. Again, “God humbles the proud and exalts the humble.” Or, as He says in the sermon on the mount: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” So, what, or who, should we be rich in? Or, as the disciples ask: “Who then can be saved?” And the answer is terribly simple. It’s basic Christianity. “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

All things. Did you hear that? All things. Little Julia was baptized earlier this morning. She had really nothing to offer God for His gift of salvation. In fact, like the rest of us, all she could offer Him were her sins and her failures to be a perfect baby every minute of every day. And yet, in pure love God sent the Holy Spirit into her heart, worked faith within her, and made her His eternal child through baptism. God did all the giving and she and we did all the receiving. Why does God act like this? Why is He so diametrically opposite our thoughts about how to be saved and blest? The answer is: because that’s the nature of undeserved love, or grace. None of us asked or deserved to have God’s Son die to save our souls. Certainly Julia didn’t. But in pure love, Jesus has done exactly that! It’s His gift to her and to each of you. Basic Christianity teaches us to always rely on Christ alone and never on our own personal marketing strategies or our supposed good deeds when it comes to God’s favor. In pride we ask: “Is that all there is to it?” And in profound wisdom, God answers back: “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” Indeed! Amen