Sunday 27th October 2013 – Faith like a child

The Word this Week:

Luke 18:15-30

Jesus Blesses Little Children

People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. But Jesus called for them and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’

The Rich Ruler

A certain ruler 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 commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honour your father and mother.” ’ He replied, ‘I have kept all these since my youth.’ When Jesus heard this, he said to him, ‘There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ But when he heard this, he became sad; for he was very rich. Jesus looked at him and said, ‘How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, 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.’

 Those who heard it said, ‘Then who can be saved?’ He replied, ‘What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.’

 Then Peter said, ‘Look, we have left our homes and followed you.’ And he said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not get back very much more in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.’

The Gospel this week is one that is often split for the purposes of preaching.  Either you preach on having the faith of a child, or you preach on the rich ruler, and being prepared to place the kingdom of God first – even if it means selling all you have.    Today though I want to do things a little differently – I want to tell you that these two themes are not different at all, but both find there foundation in faith and trusting God – And that both carry a message for us to heed with regard to our relationship with God, and with the world.

In the first part of the Gospel story Jesus tells us that it is having the faith of a child that will get you into the kingdom – the second part of the story however, where the young man asks what he must do to gain eternal life sees Jesus respond by pointing to the commandments.  In the first part Jesus points to faith as our way to heaven, in the second to obeying the commandments – isn’t there a contradiction there?

I mean which is it? Is it faith or following the commandments which gets us to heaven?  The answer is that they are both the same thing.  You will note that when the man asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life that Jesus recites back to him some commandments – he says  You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother.’  Did you count them? There were five – five out of the ten, and the five he names are all those that deal with our relationships with other people, they are all commandments,  that are visible. 

This young man is clearly very religious – he keeps the commandments after all! At least the ones that are outwardly visible.  He isn’t a murderer, or a liar – he is respectful to his parents, and faithful to his wife – by all accounts this ruler is a ‘good person’.  And good people are all going to get eternal life right? NO!

‘There is still one thing lacking’ Jesus tells him.  What is it? What is it that is lacking, which is preventing this man from inheriting eternal life? Let’s examine what Jesus asks him to do –  Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

Why has Jesus asked this man to sell all that he has? He didn’t ask that of Peter, he didn’t ask that of any of the others – but for this man, he does.  He does so because the response of the man betrays where his heart is.  Instead of rejoicing that the Messiah, the promised saving King, has told him how he might enter into eternal bliss in the Kingdom of God – he is sad.   He is sad because he is very wealthy and in order to inherit the promised eternal life he is being asked to give it up… he is sad because his heart, his hope is in the material wealth that he has accumulated.

When Jesus says this man is lacking one thing – he is talking about faith!  If this man, this rich ruler had faith, if he had the faith of a child – he would have rejoiced! He had the answer, eternal life awaited him!  Jesus exposed him for what he was – a very pious, religious man, who lacked faith.  He was outwardly doing all the right things, he was a ‘good man’… he no doubt attended the synagogue regularly.  But he lacked that most fundamental of things – he hadn’t put his trust – his hope, his faith in God.

Brothers and sisters, we must not allow ourselves to become like the rich ruler, we must not focus on just being a good person, but lack the fundamental of faith.  Who here hasn’t thought  – or heard others say – oh they’re a good person, they’ll be ok, I’m sure they’ll go to heaven…  What our Gospel reinforces for us today is that it is not about being a ‘good’ person.  It is not about keeping up appearances – coming to church, ticking the boxes , and ensuring you do all the ‘right things’.  No matter what we do outwardly, what matters more than anything is where we have placed our faith – is it placed in God? Or in our own abilities? In God, or in material possessions?  

You will remember that Jesus pointed to the Commandments in his interactions with the ruler.  He listed those five that are about interacting with people – the ones that could be summed up as love thy neighbour.  He didn’t mention the commandments about our relationship with God, but he exposed that the man did not keep them…

Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

Thou shalt not make for yourself any idol…

The rich ruler had set up for himself a false idol, in material possessions, he had placed his hope in his own abilities and talents instead of in God – he had made himself a god.   The rich ruler had half the picture – he was loving his neighbour, but without faith he wasn’t loving God.

Faith is what counts.  And What kind of faith is it that Jesus calls us to have? 17 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

What kind of faith does a little child have?

Think of a small child laughing hysterically while they are thrown into the air by their father… even as a small child, they know that if they fall from up there its going to hurt… yet they aren’t fretting, they aren’t concerned about what could happen if they fall – instead they trust – unconditionally – that their dad will catch them.  They have so much trust, so much faith in their father that instead of focussing on what could go wrong, they are able to relax and enjoy flying through the air – they experience a great joy.

That joy, that sense of freedom, is available to all of us.  It doesn’t mean being naïve or blindly following, it means instead making a choice to trust, to place your hope and faith in God. To give ourselves over completely to our heavenly father, and relax in the knowledge that even when it seems like we are tumbling towards a devastating crash, that He will catch us – that His hands are safe and sure. 

Brothers and sisters, faith is not an intellectual exercise, of just saying I believe, it is not an exercise of ticking the right boxes and being a ‘good person’.  Faith is about handing over your very being to the creator and sustainer of the universe.  It is about placing all of your hope and all of your trust, and all of your love in God.

When we hand ourselves over in complete faith as a child would, then we will meet the commandments, we will Love the Lord our God with all of our heart, and with all of our mind and with all of our soul – and in experiencing his love we will also love our neighbour as ourselves… we will fulfil the commandments, but it is not their fulfilment that makes us an inheritor of eternal life – it is the faith in God that sets us free.

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