Without a Doubt

This sermon was preached on October 14th, 2012. It is based on two texts, Mark 10:17-31 and Hebrews 4:12-16. It’s the first time I’ve really talked about Hannah in a sermon, and she took it very gracefully. She was a total champ. It’s also the first time I’ve returned to preach on a text that I’ve preached before (I did a first-person perspective sermon on this in seminary), and I found that I saw the text in a completely different way. That’s a relief for me, because goodness knows what would happen if I discovered that after going through the lectionary once I didn’t have anything else to say.

Without a Doubt

At this point in the book of Mark, Jesus is beginning the next stage in his journey towards Jerusalem. And while he’s getting ready, a young man runs up to him, and kneels down before him. Now this rich young man is the kind of guy who has it all figured out. First of all, he’s rich (we learn that from Luke’s version of this story). Not only does that make life a little easier, at the time it was widely regarded as evidence of your piety, that you had earned God’s blessings. He’s also well-educated and well-bred. He knows the laws and has kept them since childhood. In other words, he is exactly what you’d think of when you think of a righteous and successful man. He is on the board of several important industry organizations, runs three fundraisers a year for the Make-a-Wish foundation, all while expanding his small business and cooking sumptuous and healthy dinners every night for his family. He comes to Jesus, and he kneels down in a great show of piety, and he says, “Good teacher {never hurts to lay it on a little thick} What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

I think we know the answer he was looking for: “What, you? With the number of charity golf tournaments you’ve played in, your salvation is assured!” He has heard that there is a new holy man on the block, and has come to seek his approval, he is looking for confirmation of his goodness. It’s strange how you can have everything and still be looking for something, and perhaps stranger still how often we go off looking for the wrong thing.

It’s easy to find ourselves in this position. To get caught up in our own righteousness, making sure that no good deed goes unseen by our neigbors. To talk about all the good things we’ve done instead of listening for the good things God is calling us to do. We all do it, those of us who regularly attend church perhaps worst of all. And Jesus looks at the young man, loves him, and says something the man did not want to hear, “You lack one thing: go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and then you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” The young man is shocked. He has nothing to say, and he walks away grieving. Jesus has seen right through him. Instead of his praising him, Jesus challenges him to store up his treasure in heaven instead of seeking the adoration of people on earth. His grief tells us everything. He has been exposed, his real motives are laid out for everyone to see.

The book of Hebrews tells us that this is what the word of God does. It is sharper than a two-edged sword. It pierces us, and our real motives and intentions are laid bare before the Lord.  When the author talks about the word of God, he isn’t just talking about the scriptures, but the real, living word of God that still calls to us today. A couple of years ago the UCC denomination launched an ad campaign, with bulletin boards, print ads and commercials, that said, “God is still speaking.” Its easy for us to forget that revelation did not end with the book of Revelation and that the word of God has not been silenced, but still speaks to us today, if we are willing to hear it.

The problem, of course, is that the Word of God is often hard for us to hear. Even when we do manage to hear that still, small voice over the noise of all the loud, shouting ones, we don’t always get the word that we want to hear. We walk away grieving, like the rich man, for we don’t receive the comfort and approval that we were hoping for. Instead, we are exposed for what we truly are. We are hoping for comforting truths, but the truth is rarely comfortable. As Georges Bernanos wrote, “Truth is meant to save you first, and the comfort comes afterwards.”[1]

True to this pattern, our passage from Hebrews does not leave us naked and pierced, but delivers good news. Christ has promised to intercede on our behalf, like the high priest who offered sacrifices on the behalf of the people. But Christ is no ordinary priest. He went through everything that we go through, all of the trials and temptations, the pain and misery of human life, and yet he remained perfect. His pedigree is impeccable, no fault can be found with him for he took on our weakness, but remained perfect. And he has chosen to clothe us in his perfection, because he loves us.

This is hard to believe. I mean, really believe. We can talk about God’s love being unconditional, because this is what we’ve always been taught, but it’s hard to shake the idea that we’ve earned it by being good. It’s hard to avoid thinking that we deserve God’s love. The danger here is that if we begin to believe that we can earn God’s love by being good, we might also believe that we can lose it by not being good enough. And that is a lie and a scandal to the true gospel of Jesus Christ.

I remember when it finally clicked for me: Hannah and I were chatting on the computer. This was back in the day when you had to walk all the way across the house to talk to  your girlfriend, you couldn’t just pull a cell phone out of your pocket. We had been dating a while, and we’d reached the point in our relationship where you can no longer get away with always presenting your best self, and you have to acknowledge your flaws and failures, and mine were beginning to show a little bit too clearly. I was embarrassed and uncomfortable, exposed that way. But she told me, “I love you absolutely. With all of your weirdness and wounds, and without any doubts.” I can’t tell you how high I was in that moment. I realized that I was far too late to hide my failures. She knew them. And she loved me anyway. And I remember staring at the computer screen, and realizing for the first time, this is what it means that God loves me unconditionally. That before God, all my selfishness and sin is right out in the open. And I’m loved anyway. Grace. I never got it, until that moment.

When the rich young man came before Jesus, Jesus saw right through him. His real self, was laid bare before Jesus eyes. Let me tell you again what Mark says about this moment “Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” Jesus sees us and he understands and he loves us anyway. He knows our weaknesses because he took them on when he took on flesh. And he gave up his life that we might be forgiven. Because of that we can approach God’s throne with boldness, without being afraid that we aren’t good enough, without trying to hide who we are or put our best foot forward. The ransom has already been paid. God’s promise has already been made. We are loved with all our weirdness and our wounds, and without a doubt.

[1] Bernanos, George. The Diary of a Country Priest. New York: Carroll and Graf, 1983. p. 54


About Drew

I'm the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Pitman, NJ. I love camping, rhetorical criticism, and classic movies. I'm passionate about God's love, and the messy, beautiful ways it shows itself in our communities every day.
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