Mission Impossible

October 21, 2018 / Twenty Second Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 24)

Texts:  Ecclesiastes 5:10-20 / Hebrews 4:1-16 / Mark 10:23-31

By Deacon Rex E. Watt

Mission: Impossible

+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit +  Amen.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Many of you may remember the television program Mission: Impossible.  In that show, a special agent, Mr. Phelps, received daring and dangerous government assignments.  If you remember the beginning of the show, it always started with a tape recording that said something like, “Your mission, Mr. Phelps, should you decide to accept it is…”  And then, after describing the seemingly impossible mission, the tape would self destruct “in five seconds.”  The show would have you on the edge of your seat as you watched Mr. Phelps and his team pull off the mission.  These missions were certainly difficult, but apparently not impossible, as the team of agents week after week pulled off the “impossible.”

In our Gospel lesson today, we are continuing the story of the rich young man we heard about last week.  In it, Jesus is talking about entering the kingdom of God.  In one case, He describes it as very difficult, like the Mission: Impossible assignments; not really impossible but really, really difficult.  In another, he describes it as truly impossible.  So which is it?  Is the mission just difficult, or is it impossible?

If you remember last weeks Gospel, when Jesus told the rich young man that he lacked one thing: he needed to sell all his belongings, give them to the poor, and then follow Jesus; the text says, “Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”  Our text for this week picks up right there, “And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.”  The rich young man’s problem was that he trusted in his wealth.  Trust.  What does that word mean?  Luther tells us that that in which we trust, has become our god.  What do you trust in today?

Are you trusting in your wealth?  Oh, I know what you’re thinking, “I’m not wealthy.  I barley have enough to pay my mortgage, my second mortgage, my two car payments, let alone car insurance, homeowners insurance, my heat, lights, grocery, cable TV, internet and of course my cell phone bills.  Why I hardly have enough left over to pay for my Seahawks or Mariners tickets!”  I know that you’ve heard some of these statistics before, but just to put our thinking about “wealth” in perspective; one article I read this week said that if your family income is $10,000 a year, you make more than 84% of the rest of the world.  And if it’s $50,000 or more, you make more than 99% of the rest of the world.  Kind of sobering isn’t it?  (https://www.oregonlive.com/hovde/index.ssf/2012/08/income_in_perspective_americas.html)

But my question wasn’t, are you wealthy; my question was, are you trusting in your wealth?  Do you spend more time, energy and effort in figuring out how to preserve your income for the future than you do thinking about how you can use what God has given you for your neighbors benefit?  Do you put more into your savings accounts each month than you give toward the Lord’s work?  Money is a good gift from God, but “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.” (1 Tim 6:10)  The story of the rich young man warns us today about the danger of allowing our riches to get in the way of trusting God who “clothes the grass of the field” (Mt 6:30), and gives all living creatures “their food in due season…who opens [His] hand and satisfies the desire of every living thing” (Psa 145:15-16).  Repent!

Are you trusting in your doctors and/or the medicine you are taking?  People are shocked when the doctor says there is nothing more that can be done.  But the truth is that doctors eventually lose all their patients.  While doctors themselves can be quite trustworthy, the issue here is: are you putting your trust in the physician’s skill and/or resources rather than the One Who put those healing gifts in the doctor’s hands?  Physicians, no matter how good they are, are fallen creatures just like you and me.  To put your trust in them, rather than the God who gave them their vocation, is idolatry.  Repent!

Some people trust in their “stuff.”  You know them.  You’ve seen them.  Are you one of them?  The rich young ruler, exhibiting a common belief of his day, believed that the presence of wealth in his life was evidence that God was pleased with him.  That same belief is all around us today.  The purveyors of the “prosperity gospel” hawk the idea that personal wealth, big homes, fancy cars and even having airplanes is a sign of God’s blessing upon them.  And, of course, if you’d just sow a little (or big) ‘faith seed’ in their direction, God will bless you also!  Hopefully, you’ve never fallen prey to their false gospel.  But is the Mall your temple?  It has lots of little chapels in which you can make sacrifices.  And all those promises which are made in the ads that adorn the windows; they lead you to believe that if you just make the appropriate sacrifice here, you will be happy, fulfilled, or beautiful.  Of course, when we get back home and look in the mirror, we discover that all those promises are empty.  But then we go back, and back again, and again.  This acquiring of stuff, much of it unnecessary, is also idolatry.  Repent!

Maybe you are trusting in yourself; in your own piety.  The rich young ruler trusted in himself; in his piety.  When Jesus answered his question about what he needed to do to inherit eternal life by telling him that he needed to keep the Commandments, he had the gall to say to Jesus, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth!”  How are you doing with that?  Do you think that if you just keep your nose clean and don’t break any of “the Big Ten” that God will be pleased with you?  Do you think that if you just spend a little more time in prayer each day, or read your Bible more each day, or go out and tell three people a week about Jesus that God will be pleased with you?  Do you realize that the Scripture tells you that “…all [your] righteous deeds are like a filthy garment.” ? (Isa 64:6 NASB)

After Jesus told his disciples how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God, the text tells us that they were amazed at his words.  He goes on to   tell them, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person (or any person for that fact) to enter the kingdom of God.”  Upon hearing this, the disciples “were exceedingly astonished” and they said to Him, “Then who can be saved?”  That, dear Saints of Redeemer is the correct question!  Not “What must I do to inherit eternal life” but “who?”  Jesus’ answer is the key to this whole dilemma, “With man it is impossible, but not with God.  For all things are possible with God [even your salvation!].

You see, the truth is that no one can save himself.  It is impossible.  And unlike “difficulties” there are no grades of “impossibility.”  With man, it is simply impossible!  There are no exceptions; no matter what race, no matter how smart, no matter what age, no matter what gender, no matter how rich or poor, man cannot and does not do it, even with a little help from God.

The true Rich Man, your Jesus, has made himself poor on your behalf.  He came to your earth and lived His whole life, tempted in every respect as you were, yet without sin.  Are you willing to believe in the impossible?  The Gospel is the Good News that God does the impossible for you.  He paid the price that was impossible for you to pay.  He paid for your sin, my sin, the sin of the whole world.  In Jesus, God became man so that you and I might be saved.  In Jesus, God died for you.  The impossible is possible with God.

The True Physician, your Jesus, has borne all your infirmities (Mt 8:17), “He himself bore [your] sins in His body on the tree, that [you] might die to sin and live to righteousness.  By His wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24)  You have died to sin in your Baptism the Apostle Paul writes.  He goes on to say with respect to baptism that if “we have been united with Him is a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him is a resurrection like His.” (Rom 6:2-5)  Each and every Sunday that you kneel at this altar for Holy Communion, your Jesus, your true Physician, gives into your very mouths the medicine of immortality.  Jesus said, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (Jn 6:54)  These are words you can trust.  Jesus won’t lie to you!

My dear Saints, as you listen to this living Word of God that is “sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit…discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart,” and as you continue to live in the grace of God given to you in your baptism; feeding on the body and blood of our Lord Jesus whenever it is offered to you, God will continue to do the impossible for you.  He will continue to drown that Old Adam in you and cause the New Man/New Woman created in Christ Jesus to come forth to the praise of His glory.  Life may seem difficult at times, but remember, no matter how difficult it gets, the Mission: Impossible is Mission: Accomplished because the Lord Jesus, your Jesus, has completed His mission for us.  We are assured of the victory in Christ because He did the Mission: Impossible.

And by the way, this promise of God will not self-destruct in 5 seconds!  Amen!

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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