Our Salvation and the Eye of a Needle
Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon at Resurrection on October 14, 2012, the 20th Sunday after Pentecost. The sermon text is Mark 10: 25, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
In our gospel lesson for today, a man asks a question of Jesus and gets an answer that he did not expect. Remember the question? Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?
It’s a question anyone of us here today might ask, because it is a question very much on the minds of many religious folks. The young man expected Jesus to say, keep all the commandments, observe all the religious rituals, be faithful in all your relationships, and you will earn your place in heaven.
When Jesus heard that this man had done everything required to be counted as a really good man in the eyes of the temple and synagogue leaders, he looked at this man and told him something that utterly shocked him: You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me. And Mark tells us what happened on that occasion: When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
How do you hear these words of Jesus today? Was Jesus too harsh on this good man? Do you think that Jesus should have given him a real pat on the back and told him, “We need more people like you"? You are doing great. Keep it up and your way to heaven is assured?”
Does anyone hear think that Jesus is also speaking to us here today? Many of us have lots of worldly possessions. Others among us don’t have so much in worldly possessions. But let’s put ourselves into this Bible story. If instead of the rich young man, I write down that Jim Kniseley came to Jesus and asked, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life. I’m a pastor and a part of the church all my life. I tithe, I try my best to keep all the commandments. Haven’t I have earned my place in heaven?” What would I write next in the story? Jesus, looking at me, loves me and says, “You lack one thing…” I wonder what I would write down, what is something that I value so highly that gets in the way of my relationship with God and endangers my path into heaven? What about you? What is something that you have or want that is so important that Jesus would have a warning for you?
Please look at the image on the front of our bulletins today. We see a camel and a needle with a hole or an eye. Please keep looking at that image as I read the words of Jesus: It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. Why would Jesus say that? What does he mean? If you understand what Jesus means, I have a promise for you today. The promise is that you will understand how to inherit eternal life.
Here’s the truth: It is impossible for that camel to go through that the eye of that needle. A person who depends on their own resources and smarts to get into heaven won’t make it. It is impossible. Here’s another truth: With God, all things are possible. In Jesus Christ alone, God makes it possible for us mortal and frail and flawed human beings to enter his kingdom. In order to get into that kingdom, we depend on nothing else except Jesus Christ.
Let me conclude with a true story. It is not a comforting story, but then Jesus didn’t always care about making people comfortable, as evidenced today in his encounter with the rich man. I’m indebted to Pastor Bill Bouknight for this story… A Baptist minister, really a prophet, The Rev. Will Campbell from North Carolina was invited to preach at the prestigious Riverside Church in New York City. Ever been to that magnificent church, built by John D. Rockefeller? The sanctuary is almost 1/5 of a mile long. That church has long been noted for its activist preachers and liberal, politically correct agenda. Will Campbell was asked to preach on this subject: “What Riverside Church Can Do to Help the Future of Race Relations in America.” Campbell took for his text the same one I am using today, the story of the rich young man. At the beginning of his sermon, he asked, “What can Riverside Church do to help race relations? What can this church do to relate to its next-door neighbors in Harlem?” “Nothing,” said Campbell, “nothing…unless you sell your big building and give it to the poor. Let’s go out on the street and see what you can get for this big building.”
Needless to say, the host preacher and the congregation were not amused. In fact, some of them were down right angry. They wanted an answer that was reasonable, practical, and fashionable; not some shocking, outrageous answer. A liberal congregation had been out-liberaled.
This is what Pastor Bouknight concludes: Will Campbell and Jesus have at least this in common: they shocked people often. Obviously Jesus allowed no committee of political handlers to edit his material. He said things like, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” “If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.” When Jesus met the rich young man, he lobbed another spiritual hand grenade. Jesus had the gall to tell a wealthy person to go and sell all that he owned, without even checking with his accountant, and to give it all to the poor, and then to come and follow him. Whoever heard of such a thing?”
Dear Resurrection People, when you come to church and are offended by something you hear in the scripture reading or in the preaching, I hope you will consider, “Is this God telling me something? Is my conscience being pricked? Am I placing something in my life higher than my relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ?” If the answer is yes, what are you going to do about it?
As the words of the 8:30 hymn of the day say it: See ye first the kingdom of God…
As the words of the 11:00 hymn of the day say it: You will ever be my all in all…
To God alone be the glory. Amen!