Sermon 14 February 2016: “Entitlements & the Kingdom of God”

Text: Mark 10:17-31

I call my early to mid 20s the “Christian” phase of my life.  When I moved down to Charleston, SC after graduating from the Naval Academy, I began living the “Christian” life – listening to nothing but Christian Music on the radio, putting that Christian fish symbol on my truck, reading nothing but Christian books like Joyce Meyers and Rick Warren, participating in every committee and event at church, and dedicating my time to having nothing but Christian friends who would talk about Christian things like being on fire for Christ and dedicating our lives to being more bold in letting people know we were Christian and letting them know what a great life it was indeed.

Standing here today, I don’t begrudge those who choose to do live that same life; it works for some and I suppose there are probably some of you out there that a “Christian” life works for you as well. I suppose it’s not a bad life. In fact, it’s probably a good life……

But it doesn’t guarantee or entitle you to success or even eternal life, for that matter.

When I was on shore tour at the NROTC Unit, one of my students was a prior enlisted sailor.  All he wanted to do is by a pilot.  He was an outstanding performer as an enlisted sailor, high marks on his evaluations.  At the NROTC Unit, he had a 4.0 GPA, was one of the top leaders in the Unit, and worked hard…those achievements weren’t be accident.  It came time for service selection, and he was certain he was going to get his top choice: Navy pilot.  In fact, I remember him saying in his mind there was no way they couldn’t give it to him…..all his hard work, top performance, it HAD to result in his choice.  But when the selections came out, he didn’t get picked up as a Navy pilot.  He was understandably devastated, but also bitter. “I deserved better,” I remember him saying.

You can’t help but hear the hint of entitlement in the rich man and Peter’s words this morning: “Hey Jesus, I’ve done everything you’ve asked, I’ve worked hard at it, I’ve even sacrificed…..don’t you think that’s worth at least even the smallest of guarantees of some reward?”  And while sitting here this morning we might scoff at their sense of entitlement, if we’re being honest, aren’t we the same way?  We work hard, we dedicate ourselves to being good Christians, to keeping our church alive.  Shouldn’t that entitle us to some sort of success?

Jesus’ answer to the man, to Peter, and to us this morning: “That’s not how it works.”

Jesus proclaims that none of this stuff really matters.  In fact, Jesus is entirely disinterested in the whole notion of “goodness” – even dismissing the man when he calls Jesus “good teacher.”  And if we think the point of this story is to NOT be like the rich man and to NOT respond like the disciples, then that’s just another sad attempt by all of us to seize control and once again attempt to take the Kingdom of God by the horns and wrestle our way into it on our own efforts.  And that attempt to inherit eternal life….it’s hopeless.  Jesus says as much.  If that’s how you think, then your only hope is to be last.  Give everything away.  Be a prostitute, a tax collector, a thug, a cheat, be a loser….a sinner.   

Things like salvation, the Kingdom of God, and eternal life are not guarantees or entitlements…..rather, they’re a gift. It is by the grace of God alone, God giving God’s only Son Jesus for no other reason than selfless love, that we are saved.  For humans, it is impossible, but for God, all things are possible.  We know how this works – our attempts at survival, control, and ultimately to save end up being exhausting, impossible lives to live.  It is only by God’s grace that we can hope to gain anything of value in this life, and the next.  In other words….let go. Trust in God.  Because whether it’s our own lives or the church, we ultimately can’t do anything to save it.

But our trust is not an empty one; this God in Christ moves us in a new direction – from death to life.  Endings to new beginnings. Insecurity to faith. Mistrust and secrecy to transparency and reconciliation.  Cross to Resurrection.  So we trust – By grace alone,  through faith alone.  By God’s hand alone. Amen.

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