Scripture reading: Mark 10:17-21
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When you pack to go on a trip, how much do you take? If you’re going for a weekend, you know you can probably pack pretty light. You check the weather forecast and see what you can get away with. Maybe you can even get away with a small bag.
But if you go away for a month, how much do you pack? It’s hard to predict the weather for a whole month. Can you get away with only one sweater? Maybe, but what if it’s a cold spell and you need a sweater every day? Will it rain? Do I need a raincoat and boots? What about hats? If it’s summer, how many pairs of shorts and pants will you need?
And if you pack anything like we pack for summer vacation, you come home with clothes you never wore once the whole time you were away.
It’s a challenge to pack. But if you don’t know how much to pack, it’s better to overpack than to take too little, even if it does take up extra space in the car.
Then as you travel you have everything you need right there with you. But is it always the best way to travel? Is it the most efficient way to go on your journey?
We will spend the next few weeks on a journey. We call this journey Lent.
It is a time of taking a good look at ourselves as we walk with Jesus toward the cross. Sometimes we like what we see, sometimes we don’t. It’s all part of the journey. What’s most important to remember, whether we like what we see or not, is that we recognize we are walking with Jesus. We’re not alone.
In our scripture reading this morning, a man runs up to Jesus and asks him a question. “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
It must be of great concern for him to rush to Jesus to find out right away.
Jesus replies, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’”
In his response, Jesus lists 6 of the 10 commandments for him to consider. It’s interesting that Mark has changed one of them. He changed, “You shall not covet” with “You shall not defraud.”
One might wonder if this is a bit of a query to find out a bit more of the man’s history. We find out later he has lots of possessions, so maybe Jesus is causing him to consider how he accumulated them.
But it does not seem to be an issue at all, the man replies, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Those 6 commandments Jesus offers, he says he has done them all for his entire life. For as long as he can remember.
What’s interesting is that Jesus only mentions those 6 commandments. What about the others? Which ones has he skipped.
The 6 Jesus mentions are the commandments where our actions impact others. You could name these as “external commandments” because they impact the world around us. Stealing, lying, respectfulness, adultery, murder, these all impact our relationships with other people.
The commandments Jesus skipped over were the ones which are in regard to our relationship with God. You could call these “internal commandments.” These are things which are often the harder to master.
However, they all have an impact, don’t they?
Having a right relationship with God and also a right relationship with those around us, is not an easy task. Ok sure, the “do not murder” seems like a no brainer for most of us, but when we think hard about it, there are things in our lives we are not proud of.
For the man in our reading from Mark, he says he’s kept all the commandments since his youth. Yet he still isn’t sure he’s going to inherit eternal life. Somewhere inside of him, there are doubts. Somewhere deep inside he’s still not quite sure he’s done enough, or believes enough, or has done all the right things yet.
I’m sure we all have those thoughts at times. It’s natural to experience some self-doubt, or even outright guilt over something we have done.
For the man, it sounds like his possessions are the problem. Jesus tells him to sell all he has and give it to the poor. Then he’ll have eternal life. He goes away sad because he has lots of possessions, so we’re told. Is this the one thing Jesus could have asked him to do that is just too hard to consider? We don’t know the end of his story… except that he left and he was sad.
Jesus goes on to say that those who have wealth will find it hard to enter the kingdom of God.
Now having wealth is not a sin. How you treat that wealth could be a sin. If you treasure your wealth more than your relationship with God and the people around you, then there’s a problem.
What’s the first commandment? “You shall have no other god before me.”
That includes our stuff. We can make gods out many things, wealth and possessions included.
It sounds like the man must have put his possessions ahead of his relationship with God. Is this why he walked away sad? Does he realize his sin when Jesus mentions it? Maybe… again we don’t really know.
Sin can cause many issues in our life. Some of them are obvious, because it clearly has impacted our relationship with someone. But others are more subtle, we can’t see the impact clearly, or we choose to ignore the signs.
But the reality is, sin is bad. It hurts our relationship with God and it hurts our relationships with other people. Lent is a really good time to start to examine what makes up the sin in our lives.
Jesus talked about how it would be easier for a camel to walk through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter heaven. Camels are large, and they were often used as pack animals. There is some debate about whether Jesus was being literal or figurative. There are some who feel he was talking about a particular narrow gate. If someone overpacked their camel, it would not fit through the gate, and even unpacked it was a tight squeeze. Others believe the more literal, it would be easier for a large mammal to pass through the tiny eye of a needle.
Either way, this should cause us to stop and think. We should ask ourselves, “Where am I when it comes to entering the kingdom of heaven?”
Now, of course you are all saints and don’t need any help, right?
No, we all make mistakes. We all have sin in our lives. It’s the sin which builds up around us which is the problem. Like when we pack for our trips, we carry all this extra weight, it burdens us, it tires us out, after a week of vacation, we don’t want to carry it any more.
In our daily living, this extra baggage is our sin. Even sins from our distant past can weigh us down. Things which have happened to us long ago can still have significant impact on us today. Some of you likely know what I’m talking about. You think about it often. It keeps coming back to you when you’re trying to go to sleep at night.
Some of this is your own sin, some of it is the sin others have done to you.
Either way, it burdens you. It weighs you down.
Some of you may even be holding on to it tightly, because it’s become such an integral part of who you are. If someone were to take it away, you get scared of how you might feel. In some sick way, you treat it like it’s a security blanket. Because this thing has happened to you, you use it as an excuse to do the things you do today that maybe you aren’t particularly proud of.
During this season of Lent, why don’t we seek to be set free from our sin?
Why don’t we shed that baggage in our lives so we can be better people? Why don’t we let God heal us of these things so we can become closer to Him?
I’m not saying we need to forget our past, not at all. What I’m saying is we need to let God heal us of these things so we can move forward in our relationship with God and with those around us. We need to move towards becoming better disciples of Jesus by taking to heart those words of love: Love for God, love for our neighbours and love for ourselves.
Sometimes we need to take a few moments and let God speak to us about our sin, because there may be things in our lives which are impacting others and we may not even realize we’re doing it.
When Bev and I were in Steinbach for the Church Renewal conference, we were to spend some time praying for people on our hearts who we wished would come to know Jesus more.
A person immediately came to mind for me that I should pray for. As I prayed God made it known to me that my actions and the words I use in conversation with this person were hindering this person’s ability to know Jesus.
This is a person I’ve known a very long time. He was someone I was once close to, but when I became a Christian our relationship changed. We once had common goals in life, but mine changed when I came to know Jesus. We still talk often, but because of our differences, we aren’t as close.
I wish this person would know Jesus like I do… but God told me my actions have pushed him further away. I’ve judged this person and have not shown love. He never changed, I changed, and I allowed that put push us apart.
When God showed me this, it was a very hard pill to swallow. I wept. I was the problem, not the other person.
And it’s true; undeniably true!
But now that I know this, I know I can work to heal this relationship. I still very much want to be close to this person, and now I feel like we can be like we once were, because I can start to treat him the way he deserves to be treated; loved, and not judged.
God is in the process of healing this relationship, and if I hadn’t opened myself to letting God speaking to me, I would have never realized the errors of my ways. Thank you, Lord, you have helped lift a burden from my heart, and I feel much lighter now, along all the other things you have healed in my heart over the last few weeks.
If you are carrying burdens of your own, and some of them you may not even realize, this is the perfect time to start the healing process.
Over the next six weeks we will walk with Jesus towards the cross. A cross he will die on for me… and for each and every one of you.
In the Gospel of John Jesus says to his disciples, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
My friends, Jesus laid down his life for you.
He wants you to be freed from the bondage of your past and the sin in your life so you can know him even more.
How hard is it to get into heaven?
It’s impossible if we think we can do it ourselves. A large camel has a better chance fitting through the tiny eye of a needle if we think we can do it on our own.
When Jesus told his friends this, Peter said, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” And he did. Peter left his family, his family fishing business, everything to follow Jesus.
And Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age… and in the age to come eternal life.”
Let’s let the baggage go, for Jesus’ sake. For your own sake.
Let’s let Jesus heal us of our sin so we can do great and wonderful things in his name, and receive the blessings of being in true relationship with him.
If you want something to give up for Lent, what better than the things which keep us from knowing the full love of God in our lives?
Jesus is asking us to come to him, to drop our burdens, to leave behind our excess baggage, and come to know freedom in him.
Let’s not be like the man, walking away sad because what Jesus asks is too hard. We never hear the end of the story. What did the man ultimately decide to do? Did he remain sad, staring at his possessions the rest of his days? Or did he sell them off and come to know God even more?
What if we put ourselves in the place of the man? What if we make the story our own?
Jesus is asking something of you. He is wanting you to give up something in your life so he can work miracles in you. Will you walk away sad?
Or will you walk towards Jesus with your arms wide open, joining with him in a new life only he can give?
Jesus has done what he can do. He’s given the invitation, whether or not you RSVP is your decision. But know this: He will be waiting, whenever you are ready.
The choice is ours to make. Let’s spend Lent deciding how we want to respond.