17 October 2021††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† †††††† ††Saint Athanasius Lutheran Church
Pentecost 21††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† †††††††††††† Vienna, VA
ďLife on the Other Side of the NeedleĒ
Text: Mark 10:23-31; Ecclesiastes 5:10-20; Hebrews 4:1-16
race, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
ďIt is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.Ē And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, ďThen who can be saved?Ē
I have trouble even getting a little piece of thread through the eye of a needle its supposed to go through! So a camel . . .
I googled it though. The average weight of a camel is around 1,000 pounds, itís average height is seven feet, and the ones Iíve seen are about four foot wide. And the eye of your typical sewing needle is measured in millimeters.
So obviously, a camel isnít getting through there.
But I say to you: it can.
But not the way some so-called scholars have tried to remake and re-interpret these words of Jesus. Maybe youíve heard their argument: that there was a gate into Jerusalem called ďThe Eye of the NeedleĒ and a camel heavy laden with goods wouldnít be able to fit through it. One would have to unload the camel, take off all its cargo, before it could fit through. Thatís what Jesus meant.
If it was, the disciples would not have been so astonished at what Jesus said. And not just astonished, but exceedingly astonished! No, they would have nodded their heads in agreement. Of course! But they knew what Jesus was saying here. Just as we know what Jesus is saying here. It is impossible. Jesus even says that in response to the disciplesí question, Then who can be saved? He says, With man it is impossible . . .
But I still say to you: it can. A camel can get through the eye of a needle. It is possible.
Curious? I know, itís dangerous to contradict Jesus. Iím on shaky ground here. But I think I know how to do it . . .
Of course, itís not by pulling really hard. Itís not by using grease to make the camel slip through. Itís not finding a pygmy camel and a really large needle - see? No, itís by putting that camel through one piece at a time. Hair by hair, piece by piece. Skin, organs, hooves all cut up small enough to pass through. It would take a while. It would be pretty messy, pretty bloody, pretty gross. But I could do it.
Thereís only one problem: would I have a camel left after all that? Not really. Just a bunch a dead camel parts. Actually, not even that. Shredded camel. What would wind up on the other side of the needle is nothing like what started. Because the only way that camel is getting through that needle is to die.
Well, if thatís easier . . . Then who can be saved? the disciples asked. Because Jesus said the same kind of thing about us, when He said: Strive to enter through the narrow door (Matthew 7:13). The eye of a needle qualifies. And youíll have just as much trouble as a camel. So to get you through, youíll have to die, too?
But thatís not much good. What good is being saved if youíre just a saved corpse? Then youíre just like that dismembered camel - what winds up on the other side is nothing like what started.
Oh, but Jesus said that only about the rich! Well, you are. Compared to most of the rest of the world. So no out for you there.
So weíre back to the question: to get you through, to enter the kingdom of God, youíll have to die, too?
But we donít want to die. Death isnít natural. Death isnít what we were designed to do. Death is because of sin. God created us to live. So we try to live. We look for life. We look for life in all kinds of things in this world. And money, wealth, is one of those things. A very popular one. Money can get me what I want. Money will improve my life. Money will buy the best doctors. Money will fund the latest medical research. Money can get the best treatments. Money can make me live longer. And certainly happier, right? Happier than those who donít have it; than those panhandlers we see on all the street medians.
Well, Solomon thought so. Solomon who wrote the book of Ecclesiastes, which we heard from today. King Solomon, who was far more wealthy than we will ever be. Solomon had it made . . . until he didnít. Until he realized that his wealth didnít give him, couldnít give him, what he wanted. He wasnít happy. The richer he got, the more miserable he got, the more people became fake friends just to get his money. He lost sleep. He worked hard, but for all that, he didnít have the life he wanted. He was staring death in the face, and his wealth couldnít help him. He realized that as he came from his motherís womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand.
He realized: money, or wealth, makes a really lousy god. He called it a grievous evil.
Good choice of words. When your wealth becomes your god, that is anti-God, so it has become evil. And a grievous evil if it keeps you out of the kingdom of God.
But just like with the rich man last week, so too for us, the wealth of this world, the things of this world, are so hard to let go of. Whether that wealth is a wealth of the riches of the world, the admiration of the world, the popularity of the world, the power of the world, the acceptance of the world. Life is easier when you have those things, with the world on your side, and much harder if you donít. We see that happening today, when the world turns against people and what they believe.
Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! Jesus said. Difficult at the time of Jesus. Difficult for those early Christians who were persecuted and martyred. And difficult today. Easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle!
So that brings us back to the question again: to get you through, to enter the kingdom of God, youíll have to die, too?
And then your wealth canít help you, your friends canít help you, your power or whatever else you have canít help you. As Solomon said, that all gets left behind. When you die, thereís only one who can help you: the one who came and died with you. The one who came and died for you. That He be that one on the other side of the needleís eye who could bring to life again. Who could raise that camel back to life. Who could raise you to life again. That you enter the kingdom of God alive. That you have hope.
So thatís what Jesus came to do, and did. He wanted that rich man to follow Him to the cross and witness His death and resurrection, how he would inherit eternal life. And He wants you to do the same. To find your life not in anything in this world, not in anything that cannot give you life, but to find your life only in Him. In Him who died and rose to life again. In Him who promised the same for you.
So for you who must die, Jesus baptized you into His death and resurrection. To get your eye-threading death and other-side-of-the-needle resurrection over with. To give you life already here and now in the kingdom of God. Thatís how great baptism is. It gives you everything you need - the forgiveness of your sins, eternal life, the kingdom of God - everything! Promise after promise after promise. Gift after gift after gift.
But you realize what we keep doing? In baptism, Jesus has brought us through the eye of the needle with Himself, through His death and into a new life in the kingdom of God . . . but what do we keep doing? Reaching back through the needle for the things of this world! Thank you Jesus, but I really need this. I really want that. I know what you said, but . . . Canít I just have this too? And maybe itís just one part of us that squeezes back through first, but then another, and another, until weíve squeezed back through the needle to death in this world? That doesnít make any sense! And yet . . . do you see yourself reaching back, grasping, coveting . . . ?
So Jesus calls us to repent. That is, to drop whatever it is weíve reached back through the needle for this week. To drop it here, to drop it at the altar, to drop it at the foot of the cross, and confess. Why did I do that? My lifeís here, not there. Forgive me. And Jesus pulls us back through the needle again. I forgive you, He says.
And then He holds out His Body and Blood and says: here. Reach for this instead. Reach for what gives you life, and strengthens you in this life. The food and drink of eternal life. Donít reach back, reach forward. Take and eat.
Live in this world but donít find your life in this world. Enjoy the things of this world but donít find your life or hope in them. I am the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). And Iíll provide all you need, Jesus promises.
And thatís what Jesus tells Peter. For Peter says: See, we have left everything, we dropped everything, and followed you. And they did. They really did. Peter, Andrew, James, and John all left their fishing business. Matthew left his tax collecting career. Weíre not told what the others left, but surely they did, too. They left family and friends - Peter had a mother-in-law that Jesus healed so we know he at least had a wife. Maybe a family. Maybe the others, too. And Jesus says in response: whatever youíve left, Iíll give you more. But it wonít be easy. Youíll have persecutions, too, here and now. From an evil one who hates you and a world that disagrees with you, trying to pull you back through the needle to their side, the side of death. Theyíll make it feel like, and theyíll try to get you to think that Iím the one taking life away from you! But it is exactly the opposite. Thatís what theyíre doing. Iím giving you life. A life that will never end. Life that only comes on the other side of the needle. So donít listen to them. Donít follow them. Follow ME. To the cross, through the cross, to life again.
So as we heard in the Epistle from Hebrews: Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. That is, hold fast to Him, the one we confess, the one who made it through death, through the eye of the needle and rose to life again. Hold fast to Him and donít reach back through the needle! For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, tempted to stay on this side of the needle, or tempted to reach back through the needle, yet without sin. Yet He didnít. He made it. For you. Let us then with confidence - in Him and what He has done - Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, the grace offered here, drawing near in repentance, dropping all that weíve reached for this week, that we may receive that we may grab hold of mercy that is, Jesus, and find grace to help in time of need. Grabbing hold of Jesus who has grabbed hold of you and pulled you through the needle to eternal life.
Impossible for you, but not only possible for Jesus, God made flesh, our great High Priest, but done. Accomplished. For you. It is finished. So you have life on the other side of the needle.
In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.