Senior Vicar Christian Willick - The Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost - Sunday, October 23, 2022

Text: Luke 18:18-30

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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Dear fellow children of God, “What is it that you need?” Some years ago I set out on a quest to ask this question to my close friends, to find out how to be a better friend to them and meet their needs. Perhaps what comes to mind first when you hear this question are the basic “needs” of life, like food, water, clothing, shelter. And while those answer the question I suppose, what I was getting at with my question for them was a bit deeper. “What is it that makes your life whole, that fills that missing piece?” As a result, the answers I got back were all quite deep too. One friend said satisfaction, the feeling that what he did mattered and made a difference to people. Another friend said her close relationships, the ability to share things about her life with certain people in a way she wouldn’t with just anybody. But there was one other friend, no matter how hard I pushed her, who kept coming back with this same answer: “I lack nothing.” She was in effect quoting the words of Psalm 23: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want,” that is, “I lack nothing.” I told her yes, I guess that’s true from a spiritual perspective, but what about physically, emotionally, interpersonally—there has to be something you need? But she would not change her answer.

Dear friends, what is it that you need? What makes your life whole, what fills that missing piece? You don’t have to all tell me at once here and now, but think to yourself. If you’re like me maybe what you need is an oil change for your car, or maybe you need a new car altogether. Maybe you need more consistent sleep. Maybe you need what my friends needed: satisfaction or close relationships to rely on. Or are you like my other friend and can give the honest reply, “I lack nothing”? No matter what your answer is at this point, let’s see first how Jesus answers this question for us in the step-by-step dialogue he has in our Gospel lesson.

Step one: You’re someone who’s kept the law pretty well your whole life. God has also blessed you with material wealth, and you come to Jesus to find an answer to that question for yourself, “What is it I need?” Only you phrase it in a slightly different way that betrays a certain misconception: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Step two: Jesus reminds you first and foremost of that verse you know so well from the Old Testament, even before he lists off the commandments: “There is no one who does good, not even one” – But Jesus expands that a bit: “There is no one good, except one: God.” So while at first it almost sounded like Jesus was correcting you for calling him “good teacher,” now the full impact of his words becomes clear. Whether you realized it or not, your description of him was spot on.

Step three: Okay, granted. No one is perfectly good except God alone. But what Jesus lists off you can say sincerely you’ve kept since your youth. In outward dealings with your neighbor, you are as good as good can be. Is that what it takes to inherit eternal life, because if so, good! You lack nothing.

But Jesus isn’t finished. Everything he has said so far has led to the heart of the issue: your inward dealings with God and with the “good teacher” before you who is God himself and who says to you: “You still lack one thing. I see where your heart lies. Sell all you have, and come follow me. Lose the blinders of your wealth, what you need is me. Then you will truly lack nothing.” That’s the fourth and final step of your dialogue with him. But you are crushed. Although he says it with such grace, what Jesus asks is for you to give up what is nearest and dearest to you—what you thought you needed the most and have used all your life to fill your other needs, to make sure you lack nothing. It’s not the answer you expected, it’s not an answer you can accept. It’s impossible. You go away in despair.

This man relied on his keeping of the law to inherit eternal life, but that law by itself could only drive him to despair. That’s because the purpose of the law for sinners is to show us our sin. But by wanting the law to show himself how good he was, the rich man resisted that crystal-clear mirror Jesus was putting in front of him and was like the fool who after looking at himself immediately forgets what he looks like. When it came to inheriting eternal life through the law, this man thought he lacked nothing. But he couldn’t have been more wrong. Because the law also shows us our need for a Savior. Jesus told him what was lacking. “One thing you lack.” And this one thing was everything. It was Jesus. When you lack Jesus, you lack everything.

We might be tempted to think of the rich man, “How could he get it so wrong? He was this close. He had Jesus in the flesh standing right in front of him. Just lose the blinders and open your eyes!” But how do we stack up against the rich man? Jesus sees where our heart lies. Is he first in your life, in your thoughts, and in your actions, or do the other things you need become what you treasure the most? A new car, new stuff, more consistent sleep, a feeling of satisfaction, or even the closest relationships you have? You may not need to give up all you have, but ask yourself honestly: What in your life is nearer and dearer to you than him? “Come follow me,” Jesus says. But when anything else crowds him out of first place in my heart, it’s as if I’m telling Jesus, “No, you come follow me, follow after me and my priorities, after those things I need more.”

Dear friends, as a people with divided hearts who can’t even recognize their greatest need half the time, tell me what possible hope should there be for us to inherit eternal life? “What must I do?” YOU CAN’T DO IT! You can’t fear, love and trust in God above all things. You can’t do what Jesus says you must do to inherit eternal life. YOU CAN’T DO IT. “Who then can be saved?” With man, this is impossible. We lack everything.

But then comes step five: What the rich man didn’t wait around to hear, but what you have: “What is impossible with man is possible with God,” for all things are possible with God. Jesus looked at you, following all the wrong things instead of him, and loved you. “One thing you lack.” Only “one thing is needful.” This one thing is everything, and he is yours. When you have Jesus, you have everything. He is the missing piece from every broken human life, no matter what else we try to fill that hole with or how much we convince ourselves we don’t need him. He is the true answer to the rich man’s question; the only way to inherit eternal life is through Jesus.

Yes, “how hard it is for the rich…” How hard it is for those who treasure anything more than God… How hard it is for us, for anyone to enter the kingdom of God, impossible even. It would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. So many explanations have been given to explain away the impossibility of this analogy. But that’s Jesus’ point, isn’t it? It IS impossible! Salvation is impossible. With man. But not with God. This is the work of the faith he creates in us. This is the miracle work of God with whom all things are possible, which makes the dead alive and the blind see and calls the things that are not as though they were; which speaks into being what did not even exist—a right standing between you and God.

A camel going through the eye of a needle? No problem for God. The rich entering the kingdom of heaven? No problem for God. Saving you and me? No problem for God. He has done the impossible by giving his Son on the cross to win our salvation. He has done the impossible by sending his Spirit into our hearts to create the faith to receive this salvation. He has done the impossible by making you and me his dear children.

And this is what empowers us to live as such. What this means is: all the possessions, all the priorities, all the uses of our time and all the desires of our heart that would threaten to crowd him out of our life, we sacrifice them—we do whatever it takes to make him the most important thing to us, simply because you are the most important thing to him. And that is the truest thing about you.

So even when needs arise, when riches fly away, when your health fails, even when loved ones leave you or leave this world before you, even when you can find no satisfaction, no rest, no love, no peace, and even if you are left with nothing in this world at all, still you will lack nothing, still you will have all you need, still “our God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” That’s what it means to say, “I lack nothing.” It’s to say that you truly need nothing else this world can give, that you can live your life for him alone and that you could die at this moment with no regrets. And by God’s grace, that is exactly what you believe.

Yes, you and the rich man share a common need, but you don’t share the same ending to your story. “The rich man went away sad.” He couldn’t and wouldn’t accept this answer. But not so with you. You know that on your own you lack everything. But you also know that that is a place you live in no longer. Instead you always have Jesus, and he always has you. With him, truly we can say, we can believe, and we can live with every second of our lives the simple but empowering truth which my friend and yours has taught us to say: The Lord is my Shepherd. I lack nothing! Amen.

And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.