Sermon manuscript for Green Lake Church of Seventh-day Adventists for Sabbath, September 16, 2017.
The first is a classic tale of almost but not quite, of could of, should of, of a free choice that was immediately and always regretted.
A man came to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good deed do I have do to have eternal life?” 17 “Why ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. But to answer your question–if you want to receive eternal life, keep the commandments.” 18 “Which ones?” the man asked. And Jesus replied: “‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. 19 Honor your father and mother. Love your neighbor as yourself.'” 20 “I’ve obeyed all these commandments,” the young man replied. “What else must I do?” 21 Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 But when the young man heard this, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
If we’re going to “get” this story, it’s important to feel the weight of the young man’s angst. He did not walk away laughing. He wanted what Jesus offered. He wanted it badly. He could almost taste the excitement, the drama, the deep satisfaction ahead on the path Jesus mapped out.
Unfortunately, he already owned a great treasure—money. He was rich. Usually, I think of wealth as an advantage. Money is helpful. Your plumbing springs a leak, money will bring a plumber to your house, and the leak will go away. When I’m hungry, just a little bit of money can obtain a blueberry milk shake. If I’m sick, money will obtain the services of a doctor. Money is a very helpful thing and more money is even more helpful.
Except when I have to choose between hanging onto my money and some grand adventure, some great and noble cause. When I have to choose between my money and something else I really, really want, then the more money I have the more difficult the choice.
Jesus offered this man the chance of a life time, a wild, holy adventure. But to buy into the adventure he would have to give away all his money. The man wanted the life with Jesus. He wanted the wild, holy adventure, but he couldn’t bring himself to pay the price. What he had was too good. He couldn’t let it go. So he went away sad and conflicted, still feeling the allure of the Jesus adventure but choosing to hang onto the good stuff he had.
The Gospel of Matthew tells another story, and tells it multiple times.
From then on Jesus began to tell his disciples plainly that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that he would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead. 22 But Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things. “Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to you!” 23 Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.” Matthew 16:21-23 NLT
Jesus told his disciples he was going to pay the ultimate price as part of his participation in the mission of God. Peter understood the implications of Jesus’ words and began to remonstrate. “Don’t talk like that. That can never be! You are too good for that.”
Jesus immediately pushed back. “Peter, you sound like Satan talking. I’m going to pay the ultimate price and I’m okay with that. I have no interest in “saving my life” from some meager, uninteresting future. I see clearly my mission and I’m good with it.
The young man saw the high price of the wild, holy adventure and finally decided it was too high a price, a decision that he immediately and forever regretted.
Jesus saw the high price of the wild, holy adventure and boldly announced he embraced the cost. Bring it on. Jesus was ready to pay with his life for the privilege of participating in the mission of God. Sure, there was the moment of indecision in Gethsemane. This was no easy choice. But he did it and triumphed.
Because we are Christians, we see this bold embrace of suffering in pursuit of the goal of salvation as an expression of the character of God. While people in our culture sometimes have great difficulty making sense of the Bible’s telling of the story of God, this much is clear: God spent the richest treasure of heaven in pursuit of the salvation of humanity. We can appropriately say that God would rather die than live without us. He spent everything he had to buy us.
And he is satisfied. God has no second thoughts about his investment.
The young man who came to Jesus counted the cost and decided he couldn’t pay. God counted the cost of saving humanity and said, yes, I’ll do it. That’s how much God treasures humanity.
Who are we? The objects of divine desire and yearning and pleasure and happiness.
As we become engrossed in this vision we make our own investments. We provide care:
Health care professionals do their thing.
Business people build financial systems that enable people to benefit from their labor. Seattle has billionaires, but the people who make our milk shakes at Kidd Valley Burgers cannot afford to live here. Altering this in the direction of equity is complicated and very difficult. We need brilliant business people with heart to figure it out and make our city a better place to live.
Social workers and counselors and psychiatrists provide the specialized, extra help that some people need just to stay alive. These people with special needs cannot take care of themselves. Still they are humans. They are part of our family. We count on specialists who have the skills to help these complicated humans to live the best they can given their limitations and disabilities.
Firefighters. Right now the Norse Peak Fire is still burning out of control in the dense forests thirty miles from our house. We honor the people who work to limit the raging fires all over the West.
We rely on engineers to create and maintain all the apparatus of modern life. Phones. Bridges. Tunnels. Cars.
The wheat harvest. I read an article this week in the Seattle Times about the wheat harvest happening on the other side of the state. Those farmers are feeding the world. But it’s more than farmers. Feeding the world takes a thousand skills from farmers to machine creators and manufacturers and dealers to rail companies and shipping companies. All are partners with God in investing in human well being.
Some of our members are working at the Gates Foundation, working to change the world, to make it better. To cure or limit malaria and other strange and scary diseases. To increase access to healthy food and clean water.
Families care for each other, especially for family members with special needs. This is so many of us. In every family there are people who need a bit of extra care.
Writers who have caught the vision of Jesus, the satisfaction of God in saving humanity, use words to make the world better.
All these are ways we can join with God in his investment in humanity. The story of the rich man highlights the question: will we choose the richest, sweetest life or will we hang onto something of lesser value because it seems to offer security? The question is will we? Not can we. Not are we able. But, will we?
One of the marks of a wise decision is that after we have made the decision we are still glad. That afternoon. The next week. The next year or decade. Wise choices leave us feeling glad over the long haul.
The rich man who sought Jesus’ advice made a choice and then regretted it.
God, the ultimate rich person, made a choice to spend wildly to save humanity. And God is deeply satisfied with this choice.
Let’s choose joy and satisfaction. Let’s be about our father’s business.