Proper 23 · Mark 10:17-22 · October 11, 2009
By Dale Meyer
W.I.I.F.M.? That’s the question we always asked when we were preparing scripts for Lutheran Hour Ministries’ TV show, “On Main Street.” What’s in it for me? What’s in this program for the viewer—or in crafting a sermon, what’s in it for the hearer? The question isn’t intended to cater to the selfishness of people but rather to lead the preacher to prepare a sermon that will make the listener sit up and think, “This is about me! I need to hear this!”
“Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus rebuts the word, “good,” beginning to humble the rich man before the transcendent greatness of God. He does understand that eternal life is a gift, “inherit,” but has yet to learn that the gift is Jesus. So Jesus draws him into deeper introspection, “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.” Now the word was working. “The man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.”
A sermon becomes compelling when it gets into the intersection between God’s word and what’s going on in life. There’s more for the hearer in this text than the traditional line of thought: Jesus teaches that we should not rely on commandment-keeping for eternal life but follow him. Ask W.I.I.F.M.? and that truth can get deep into the hearer’s soul just as Jesus’ word went deep into the rich man.
“A Premium Goes with This Pile of Junk”
1. How have you felt during the recession? Last summer when General Motors declared bankruptcy and closed 14 plants, Don Skidmore, president of the United Auto Workers local in Willow Run, Michigan, said, “I was angry at first, then I cried, then I got angry again” (New York Times, June 2; Al). Can you identify with his feelings? But might God use your loss for your eternal life?
2. The rich young man sensed that keeping the commandments wasn’t enough for a spiritually satisfying life. He was right. Jesus told him to sell everything, literally, not figuratively, and follow Jesus. That made the young man sad, just as our losses during the recession have saddened and angered us. In painful loss we look for deliverance, for something more than a spiritualized religious lesson for our souls. We need a flesh and blood deliverer.
3. That deliverer is the Savior who loves us. “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” The Savior’s love is a patient love. He didn’t force a decision from the rich young man. He let him leave in sadness so that he could think through the satisfaction that comes from possessions and the satisfaction found in following Jesus. We can avoid focusing on our Savior by wallowing in the sorrow and anger that come from changes in our circumstances. God will let us do that (Rom 1:26), but God looks patiently through the Spirit who wants to draw us to Christ. “Whom have I in heaven but You? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps 73:25-26). “Jesus, priceless treasure!” (LSB 743). “One thing’s needful, Lord, this treasure teach me highly to regard. All else, though it first give pleasure, is a yoke that presses hard” (LSB 536).
4. In The Grapes of Wrath John Steinbeck describes dust bowl victims selling off their implements to move west. “The men were ruthless because the past had been spoiled, but the women know how the past would cry to them in the coming days. Harness, carts, seeders, little bundles of hoes. Bring ’em out. Pile ’em up. Load ’em in the wagon. Take ’em to town. Sell ’em for what you can get. Sell the team and the wagon, too. No more use for anything. There’s a premium goes with this pile of junk … a packet of bitterness to grow in your house and to flower, some day” (chap. 9).
5. A premium that goes with possessions. When they’re taken from us, the Spirit gives us a deeper look into what “savior” means, “We pray … that our Father in heaven would rescue us from every evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation, and finally, when our last hour comes, give us a blessed end, and graciously take us from the valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven” (Small Catechism, Lord’s Prayer).