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“The Needle and the Camel”
Mark 10:23-27


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Twentiy-First Sunday after Pentecost—October 21, 2012

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

Gilbert Highet taught for many years at Columbia University in New York City and is considered one of the founders of modern teacher education.  In his famous book The Art of Teaching, he cites Jesus of Nazareth as the greatest teacher in all of history.  Highet writes, “Sometimes . . . Jesus would give a lesson by telling a story . . . brilliantly clear and memorable. . . his hearers remembered his parables very well.”

Today’s Gospel Reading has one of those very striking, memorable images: “How hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God!  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

When we hear Jesus proclaim those words, we probably think, “Well, he’s not talking about me.”  Because, most of us don’t consider ourselves to be particularly rich.  But, did you know that the majority of the world’s population lives on less than $2 a day?  Everything that most people have is about what we spend each day on coffees and sodas.

“How hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God!  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” And, really, this parable of Jesus applies to everyone, no matter what your economic status.  Because, in the original Greek what Jesus literally says is, “How hard it is for those who trust in things to enter the kingdom of God!  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a man having things to enter the kingdom of God.” 

Well, we all have things, and you don’t have to be rich to make your things into a sinful idol.  Paul warns in Ephesians, “Of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—for such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.”  And he advises Pastor Timothy, “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God.”  “Watch out!” Jesus says.  “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

But, we must all confess that is exactly how we often live.  Making things our idols, arrogantly putting our hope in wealth, greedily living as if our lives do consist in the abundance of our possessions.   “How hard it is for those who trust in things to enter the kingdom of God!  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a man having things to enter the kingdom of God.  And they were greatly astonished, saying among themselves, ‘Who then can be saved?’”

The disciples are so astonished because the reality is we all need things just to survive.  No human has and no human can live the life of perfect self-sacrifice that God requires.  In Adult Bible Class right now we’re studying Martin Luther’s journey of faith.  As monk he nearly killed himself trying to live a life of perfect self-sacrifice, total self-denial, renouncing all worldly goods, starving himself, sleeping in freezing cold on a stone slab without blankets, he even punished himself with self-flagellation, violently whipping himself to the point where he nearly bled to death.

After years of torturing himself Luther came to understand that no human has and no human can live the life of perfect self-sacrifice that God requires.  Luther also rediscovered the Good News that had been largely lost during the Dark Ages, the Good News that God’s Son, Jesus Christ, did live such a life of perfect self-sacrifice, fulfilling God’s requirements for us.

Paul puts it this way in Philippians: “Though being in very nature God, he did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.”

His humiliation for our salvation began when the almighty Creator of the universe graciously stooped to be, “conceived by the Holy Spirit” and “born of the Virgin Mary,” as we confess in the Creed.  The Church’s ancient song the Te Deum says, “When you took upon yourself to deliver man, you humbled yourself to be born of a Virgin.”

The Wise Men journey to Jerusalem and ask, “Where is he who has been born King of the Jews?  For we have seen his star in the east and have come to worship him.”  They rightly think the newborn King of Kings should be ensconced in the magnificent royal palace at Jerusalem, but instead they find him in the little town of Bethlehem, where he was born in a stable and laid within a manger—the animals’ feeding trough—because there was no room for him in the inn.

For some 30 years before he began his earthly ministry he lived in the similarly small town of Nazareth, and the builder of the entire universe followed his stepfather Joseph by humbly working as a carpenter.

For the last three years of his earthly life he was really homeless as an itinerant preacher.  “Foxes have holes,” he said, “and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

At the very end of his life he was literally stripped of everything as he died upon the cross, and he was even buried in a borrowed tomb.  There’s a hymn that puts it this way: “In life no house, no home . . . in death no tomb but what a stranger gave.”

“How hard it is for those who trust in things to enter the kingdom of God!  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a man having things to enter the kingdom of God.  And they were greatly astonished, saying among themselves, ‘Who then can be saved?’  But Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.”

No human has and no human can live the life of perfect self-sacrifice that God requires.  But, the God-man Jesus Christ actually did for us all what Martin Luther struggled in vain to do for himself.  Your sins are all forgiven, because with his life of perfect self-sacrifice and humble self-denial Jesus earned for you God’s love, forgiveness, salvation, eternal life.  Paul puts it beautifully in 2nd Corinthians, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”

By God’s grace, all of us are rich.  Most importantly, we are rich spiritually.  As Peter says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade, for you kept in heaven.”  You will inherit the glorious riches of heaven because Jesus himself fulfilled his own impossible parable and passed through the needle for you.  “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.”

And, by God’s grace, we are not only rich spiritually, but compared to most people in the world, living on less than $2 a day, we are all very blessed materially too.  Peter says, “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”  Christian stewardship is your response to God’s gift of forgiveness in Christ, your response to God’s fatherly love and blessings.  Christian stewardship is faithfully using whatever gifts you have received to serve the Lord and your fellow man, your talents and abilities, your material goods, your financial treasures, your time, your entire life.

Martin Luther puts it this way in the Small Catechism: “He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life . . . out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy . . . for all which it is my duty to thank and praise, to serve and obey him.  This is most certainly true.”

Amen.

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