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Sunday, December 4, 2016

Called in Love (LOVE) (Mark 14.27-27)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; December 4, 2016
Text: Matthew 14:22-33

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell."  

:: Testimony :: Melissa Katibah testimony (audio link)

:: Scripture and Music ::
Gathering Music: Rick Bean, jazz piano
Song of Praise: Let Your Kingdom Come (Kauflin, Sovereign Grace)
Hymn of Praise: Lo, How a Rose (arr. Austell)
The Word in Music: Choir, The Yearning (Boersma/Courtney)
Music during Communion: Rick Bean, jazz piano
Hymn of Sending: Of the Father's Love Begotten (DIVINUM MYSTERIUM)
Postlude: Rick Bean, jazz piana; Linda Jenkins, organ

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks  the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript.  Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

Today is the second Sunday in Advent, a season of church life that anticipates the coming of Jesus. This year we are looking at several different invitations of Jesus to know God through him. We are specifically following the Advent themes of hope, love, joy, and peace and today look at an invitation Jesus gave in love. My hope is that you will also hear or be reminded of God’s love for you and His desire for you to know Him in a personal and meaningful way. Today we will also look at what gets in the way of that.

After last week’s sermon, a friend who follows the sermons online asked me about how I zeroed in on the theme of hope in the story of Jesus walking on water. I thought my reply might be helpful to mention in this current series. I normally select a text to preach on and my guiding principle is to find the main idea of the passage in the context in which it was set. It is easy to zero in on a single verse and miss the actually context (and meaning) of scripture, and I am very careful to not do that. Sometimes, however, a passage has a lot going on and I will choose to highlight what I might describe as a secondary point, like the role of hope in Peter’s response to Jesus last week. I will still try to set that in the context of the main idea, which, incidentally, I saw not as even being about Peter’s faith or the miracle of walking on water, which are what we are often drawn to in that story. Rather, I believe the main idea of that story is Jesus coming to us in God’s power to raise us up, to save us, even when our faith falters and is weak; therein lies our hope!

Today’s story offers a similar opportunity to figure out what exactly the main idea is. It is easy for us to fixate on wealth as an obstacle to salvation or at least to knowing God. And that is at play in this story. But there is something much bigger going on, and that bigger thing – what I believe is the main idea – is anchored in the love of God for us. Let’s walk through the story.

The Question of Eternal Life (vv. 17-20)

“What shall I do to inherit eternal life?”… How can I go to Heaven?… How can I truly know God? These are some of the big questions that come up when we ponder what else there might be beyond this life and our lifetime. And it is the presenting question of this exchange with Jesus. It’s easy to get thrown by Jesus’ initial response. Picking up on the man calling him “Good Teacher,” Jesus replies, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” And we think, well, Jesus WAS good, wasn’t he?

Yes, he was! He is not addressing his own goodness; he is calling into question the man’s understanding of who Jesus is and anticipating the key to the man’s original question about eternal life. After calling to mind Psalm 14, which says there is no one who does good and God is looking down from heaven to see if anyone understands and seeks after God, Jesus begins quoting from the Ten Commandments from Exodus 20: do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, and so on. And the man says, “Teacher (see, he’s listening!) I have kept all these things from my youth up.”

Jesus goes on to say, “One thing you lack…” Well, he actually says several things. He tells the man to go and sell all his possessions, to give to the poor, and to come and follow Jesus. In his response, Jesus illustrates something very important about the Ten Commandments (and God Word in general); the Commandments are mostly stated as prohibitions – do not murder, do not commit adultery, and so forth. But those Commandments have a positive command implied with them. To obey them, to be ‘good,’ it is not enough to not murder, but one must also cherish life. Earlier in his ministry, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus makes clear that the Commandments are intended not just negatively, but positively, and at the heart level. So do not commit adultery also means DO be faithful and also do not cultivate lustful thoughts in the heart. Likewise, Jesus is expanding on the commandment not to covet other people’s possessions and says that goodness also involves not clinging to one’s OWN possessions, but caring and showing charity to the poor. And the man’s response shows the limits of his goodness. He had refrained from evil, but had not fully embraced the good.

But Jesus said even more. He did more than reveal the limitation of the man’s goodness. He also began to answer the original question of “How do I inherit eternal life?” He didn’t say, “sell all you have, give it to the poor, and you will be saved” but “come, follow me.” The answer to the original question wasn’t “goodness” but knowing and trusting God through Jesus. This is what Psalm 14, that Jesus referenced, teaches as well. That Psalm says that no one is good and that God is looking to see if anyone understands that and is seeking Him. And then the Psalm ends with the declaration that God is the one who will bring salvation (not the goodness of human beings).

It is good to be good, but  goodness doesn’t save us. Rather, God saves us; and God says we must know and trust Him through the one He has sent.

Letting Go of What Keeps us from God (vv. 21-26)

The man turns away from Jesus then and we read that he was “saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.” (v. 22) Jesus then follows up with some commentary with the disciples on the encounter. The problem wasn’t the wealth or property in and of itself, but that clinging to it kept the man from truly following God’s teaching AND from following Jesus. Don’t miss the second part. It’s not just that he didn’t want to part with his wealth and give it to the poor, but that he also didn’t respond to Jesus’ invitation to come and follow.

Reflecting on the encounter, Jesus comments, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” It sounds to me like the man was trying to do good, but had some definite hold out areas that were standing in the way. I can relate! For you and me it might be money or may be something else. Really that’s the broader point here; money is just the specific example. More broadly, we are not good because we fall short at some point or another; we cling to something that stands between us and God. But most importantly, these things – these idolatries, lusts, stubborn areas, addictions, dependencies, sins, or whatever else you may struggle with – they keep us from following Jesus well or even at all. Sometimes we just turn away sad; other times, we try to follow and find ourselves sinking like Peter in the story last week.

No wonder the disciples were astonished; I think what he was saying registered with them. They asked, “Then who can be saved?” Perhaps they, too, were considering where and how they fell short of God’s Commandments and being truly good.

Now remember what I said previously… our goodness doesn’t save us; God saves us. And here’s Jesus bottom-line answer – truly, a Good News answer – “With people it IS impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.”

Impossible Love (vv. 21,27)

I want you to hear three things today:

1.    All things are possible with God.
2.    God is the one who saves.

Those two things are the main idea. But there’s a third thing, not presented as the main idea here, but essential to the whole. It’s in verse 21.

3.    And God loves you.

Jesus heard the man’s claim to goodness, knew what he lacked, and nonetheless “felt a love for him.” His response and invitation to the man was motivated out of love and that is our focus today. And do you understand the power and strength of taking those three propositions together? All things are possible with God; God saves; and God loves you. To the extent that you can do good things, it is a blessing to you and those around you and honors God.  But goodness has its limits; and OUR ability for the good has its limits. Good thing, then, that God comes after us; Jesus invites us to come and follow; and such a thing is not impossible if God is behind it. And it is motivated out of love.

It reminds me of another well-known verse of scripture, John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Good News, indeed!”

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