The text of the sermon, based on Mark 10.17-31 with references to Hebrews 4.12-16 and Amos 5.6-7, 10-15, preached with the people of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Spartanburg, SC, on the 20th Sunday after Pentecost, October 10, 2021.
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
We don’t know much about this nameless inquirer. Save for his urgency; running up to Jesus. And his sincerity; kneeling at the feet of Jesus, calling him “Good Teacher.
Although a stranger, he speaks for us. We who know the joys and tribulations of this world also know the soul-deep longing for eternity; both the future and present reality of life lived in the presence of God.
Yes, this man speaks for us whenever we, in the words of the Epistle to the Hebrews, approach the throne of God’s grace with boldness. In the Greek, the word parresίas, translated “boldness” or “confidence”, literally means “to say everything.” And because we have Jesus, our Great High Priest, who has gone before us to heaven, we can go to God in prayer with everything – joy and sorrow, trust and doubt, hope and despair, laughter and tears – seeking mercy and grace in our time of need. And, in the words of this nameless man, who, in speaking for us, is no longer a stranger, but our friend, we, too, ask: What must we do to inherit eternal life?
And Jesus, the proclaimer, the presence of the God of love and justice of whom Amos prophesies, replying to our friend, surprises me: “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”
Yet before I, stunned by Jesus’ humility, can catch my breath, he races on reciting the commandments. Again, surprising me! For Jesus, responding to a question about the eternal life of God, speaks not of the commandments of reverence to God: “I am the Lord your God, you shall none other than me, worship no idols, take not my name in vain, remember the Sabbath day.” Rather Jesus refers only to those commandments concerning human interactions: “You shall not murder, commit adultery, steal, bear false witness, defraud, and honor your father and mother.”
So, it seems that being faithful in our relationships is what we must do to inherit eternal life. Makes sense. The cross, among many things, is a symbol of the inherent, ineradicable connection between, in its vertical dimension, our relationship with God and, on its horizontal plane, our relationships with all. And the Peace that we exchange is the peace of God, who, first, reconciling us with God’s Self in Jesus, reconciles us with all.
Now, our friend, from his youth, has kept all these commandments. However, Jesus’ reaction, recognition, looking at him, loving him, suggests something else, something more must be done to inherit eternal life.
“You lack one thing,” says Jesus. His instruction, straightforward and severe: “Go, sell, give, then come, follow me.” Our friend is shocked! His possessions are the literal substance of his worldly wealth and the source of his sense of his personal human worth. (And, in ancient times, wealth was a visible sign of divine blessing. No wonder the disciples are perplexed when Jesus declares that the rich, the ostensibly tangibly blessed of God, will have difficulty entering God’s kingdom!) Our friend, daring not, daring never to part with his possessions, goes “away grieving.”
Now, if we are not materially wealthy or, even if we are, yet do not make our wealth our god, we are not off the proverbial hook. For immediately Jesus deepens the degree of difficulty to include all of us: “Children” – that is, God’s children; therefore, everybody! – “how hard it is to enter God’s kingdom!”
All of us, whether rich or poor, have the same problem of earning salvation. We can’t! And Jesus, looking at his disciples and us with the same love he has for our rich friend, says, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
This is no cheap grace that allows us to be and do as we choose and God will handle the rest. Though true, there is nothing we can do to inherit eternal life. For inheritance always is a gift of being in a family and never about doing something to earn it. However, there is something we must do to lay claim to our inheritance.
In this is the meaning of Jesus’ word to a worried Peter who protests the great sacrifices the disciples have made. To follow Jesus is to belong to a new family of sisters and brothers unbounded by time and space, unlimited by culture or race. This new family whose surname is Christian is our inheritance. Our inheritance that Jesus died to bequeath to us.
Do we open our hands and hearts to receive it?
Do we live our lives where first and last no longer have any significance?
Do we today love and respect one another as one and equal in the Lord as we will be in glory?
That is all we ever must do!
© 2021 PRA
 Exodus 20.3-5, 7-8, paraphrased
 Exodus 20.12-17, paraphrased
#eternallife #Jesusteachesabouteternallife #obeyingthecommandments #theChristianfamily #theequalityofallGodschildren #ourChristianinheritance #cheapgrace #costlygrace #claimingourinheritance