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The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
October 14, 2012
The Gospel: Mark 10: 17-31
Sermon: "He Who Dies With The Most Toys – Dies!"

The Reverend Dr. Richard (Rick) Miles

Watch the complete video of this service on our YouTube Channel

The Gospel:

As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus said to him, "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.'" He said to him, "Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth." Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." They were greatly astounded and said to one another, "Then who can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible."

Peter began to say to him, "Look, we have left everything and followed you." Jesus said, "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--houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions--and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first."

Mark 10: 17-31

He Who Dies With The Most Toys – Dies!

A rather corpulent couple was observed on a cruise ship. They appeared to live from one meal to the next. They were retired and obviously had plenty of money, but they seemed to be miserable. They were always angry with the table stewards for not giving them super-service. They almost seemed to be afraid that they might starve between courses. They were never observed reading anything, attending any on-board shows, or going on any excursions at destination ports. Their physical appetites were the one thing that mattered to them. They sat between meals and just stared out, apparently waiting for the next meal. One night, the person who was observing all this, saw the couple sitting and staring blankly as usual, when the man suddenly got up, walked over to two nearby vases, looked into them, then returned to his wife and exclaimed, “They’re empty!” The observer came very near to laughing at that moment as a sudden insight hit him. “They are empty,” he thought. But he was now referring to the couple, not the vases. Their souls and brains were empty. They had a lot in their purses, but nothing in their persons. They had expanding girths and narrowing horizons. 

That story was going through my brain the other day when I suddenly saw a bumper sticker I haven’t seen for ages. You probably remember it; it was the rage throughout the 1980’s: “He who dies with the most toys wins!” Perhaps it was the influence of that story, but as soon as I read that sticker, I thought “He who dies with the most toys-dies!” I could almost read it there; to the point that I had to look twice to read it correctly. Most folks aren’t nearly so obvious about avarice these days. Hard times have made us all a bit more circumspect. Yet I wonder if that’s because we’ve changed all that much, or we’re merely embarrassed by such open displays in our current economy. Of course, it could also be lack of ability too, right now. I guess what I’m asking is, have we finally really figured out that ultimate wealth isn’t the point of life? It’s not a new question. It seems to come back at us just when we think that we all understand. 

Consider our Scripture passage from the tenth chapter of the Gospel according to Mark this morning. Jesus and his disciples are traveling in the countryside. Along the way Jesus is teaching about the coming of the Reign of God, The Kingdom. People stop and listen to his message. He challenges them to examine their lives and their relationship with God and others. Sometimes his words strike a chord with someone, and when that happens they seek him out for more.

One day, an unlikely person stays after. He is only indentified here as being wealthy, but the other Gospel writers fill in the picture. He is not only wealthy, but youthful and well-connected. Not a bad head-start on getting the most toys. He asks Jesus, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Three great truths leap out at us from this story this morning; truths that could change our monetary thinking, and our faith thinking along with it. 

And the first great truth is this: There’s more to life than riches. On the surface, it appeared that this man was indeed fortunate. He was wealthy. He probably owned quite a bit of land, and had hired-hands to work it for him. He was young and by all accounts probably fully healthy. He was in a position to use his wealth and youth to full advantage as an official. In the eyes of the world, he had it all. But maybe this man was like that couple on board that ship; he had much in his purse, but nothing in his person. There was an emptiness in his life that his possessions could not fill. Notice that he was a good man who attended the Temple. He not only knew the Ten Commandments, but also lived by them. Still, something was missing.

Maya Angelou, the former Poet Laureate of the United States, once told about her Aunt Tee. Aunt Tee worked as a housekeeper for a wealthy couple in Bel Aire, California. Now I know you know about excessive displays of wealth in Beverly Hills, but by California standards, that’s Old Money. Bel Aire, just to the West, is New Money with all the garishness that goes with it. Of course, if you want the latest in trending extravagance, just keep going west to Malibu. This couple lived in a fourteen bedroom house. Not fourteen room; fourteen bed-room. As they had gotten older they had stopped entertaining their friends, and even spoke less to each other. “Finally,” Maya says, “they sat in a dry silence.” Meanwhile, Aunt Tee, went on entertaining her friends on Saturday evenings in her maid’s quarters. There would always be lots of laughter and joy flowing out of her rooms. 

One Saturday as she and her friends were playing cards, the old couple appeared outside her door. “Theresa, we don’t mean to disturb you…” the man whispered, “but you all seem to be having such a good time…” The woman added, “We hear you and your friends laughing every Saturday night, and we’d just like to watch you. We don’t want to bother you. We’ll be quiet and just watch.” 

At that moment they both won Aunt Tee’s sympathy forever. With all that they had, they’re only chance for joy was vicariously through watching Aunt Tee and her friends. “Money and power can liberate only if they are used to do so,” Maya reflects. That bears repeating, “Money and power can liberate, only if they are used t do so.” “They can also imprison and inhibit more finally than barred windows and iron chains.” 

Someone once wrote: Money will buy: a bed, but not sleep; food, but not appetite; books but not knowledge; medicine, but not health; entertainment, but not happiness; a house, but not a home. This young man had discovered the limitations of riches, and he came to Jesus for help. 

This leads us to the second great truth of our story: Possessing great wealth can cost you your life. Look at verses 21 and 22. Jesus looks right at this young man, full of love for him, and says, “You lack one thing: go sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” The man is grieved by Jesus’ reply. The cost is too great for him. It is inconceivable for him to think of parting with his wealth. He walks away from Jesus, and he walks away from life. Are any of us really surprised? Not many people are willing to part with their wealth, even to follow Jesus. 

Affluence has a strangely distancing effect. It can create barriers and distance us from others. More importantly, it can distance us from God. The one thing this rich young man needs to do is to remove that barrier. But that thought is unbearable. So he walks away. Jesus then says to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”

But this is not the end of the story. We understand that the rich man is shocked when Jesus suggests he give his wealth away. What we don’t always catch is that the disciples are equally shocked at Jesus’ words about the difficulty of wealthy people entering the Kingdom of God. It was an accepted belief of the day that if you were wealthy, that was proof positive that God was looking favorably on you. Besides, it’s so much easier for a wealthy person to serve God; at least that’s what the people thought. So these words of Jesus shock the disciples. They begin asking each other, “Then who can be saved?” The idea that wealth could cost a person their life, and especially eternal life, simply did not occur to them. Yet that thought is the second truth to catch from our story this morning. 

What Jesus says next leads us to the third great truth from this story: Only God can save. Verse 27: Jesus looks at them and says, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” What Jesus is saying is that there is nothing in this world that can save us. Only God can save us. When we put our trust in anything else, we are in trouble. 

It came over the wires from a United Press release. Officials in a Midwestern city had discovered a hospital where the emergency firefighting equipment had never been connected. For 35 years it had been trusted in for the safety of the patients and medical staff in case of emergency. Yet, it had never been hooked up to the city’s water main. The connection line that led from the building extended four feet underground and ended there. Although the costly equipment with its polished valves and well-placed outlets appeared to be adequate, it lacked the most important thing, a source; the water source. The hospital had trusted in an outward appearance of security, but it could have cost them their lives. To trust your life to wealth may provide an outward appearance of security, but that too is to fail to connect with the source; the life source. 

Only God can save us. Only in God is there any real lasting security. That’s the third great truth that comes out of our story this morning. So, now, after having hammered away at the potential evils of wealth, what are we supposed to do about it? I mean, where’s the practical application here?

Well, simply put, do what Jesus suggests. Make your wealth serve to break down the barriers it so often creates. For our rich young ruler today, wealth had so mastered him, he had become its servant so much so, so insulated was he from God and others, that giving it up was his only hope of having life. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “Money makes a good servant, but a dangerous master.” 

What about you and me? Does money, whether in great quantity or small, master you, or do you master it? The only sure way to know is if you are using it most profoundly in Christ’s service to break down the barriers that keep people from God, and keep people from each other. There are many worthy causes and organizations you can contribute to, in substance and in time, that serve God in this way. Yet I know of none better where those very barriers are being broken down than right her at St. Thomas. Put money in its right place in your life, and in its best place in your church. Yes, this is stewardship season, my friends.

Let us reform our thoughts about money again. Dying with the most toys, or the most anything for that matter, may cost you your life. Living for Christ and his love will save it. 

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