Written Sermons & Bible Studies

Our Response to the Harsh Law of Society Matt. 19: 16-26

Today, we explore our purpose as a church with the value of “welcome.” How can we engage people who come through our doors? How can we make them feel at home? I ask this question not only for the adults that join us on Sunday morning, but also for the young people that attend our student ministry.

If we look at how Jesus treated people during his ministry, we have our model. Jesus was a powerful figure in the first century. Many people followed Jesus as a Prophet of stature. Some followed him for his wisdom as Rabbi. Others followed Jesus as the Messiah. We know Jesus was much more than any of those titles. We know Jesus was God. Prophets of old performed miracles, but no prophet performed miracles like Jesus. No prophet healed blind people. No prophet walked on water. No prophet fed 5000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus was no mere prophet. His reputation was extensive. People from different social positions came to Jesus. They included prominent Pharisees and Roman centurions. The disciples were people of some social standing. Fishing was a profession and required resources. Matthew, the tax collector, would have been well off. Simon the Zealot would have been an elite warrior. Jesus was powerful and famous, yet Jesus was gracious.

Our Bible reading today demonstrates the grace of Jesus. It is the story of a rich young powerful man. He approached Jesus to ask what he must do to be saved.

Matthew 19:20-26

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”  “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.” “Which ones?” he inquired.

Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself. “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you; it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again, I tell you, 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.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Take a moment to ponder the young wealthy man and Jesus. Jesus, the most powerful human to ever walk the earth, encounters a man of substantial wealth, and the man turns away from Jesus. In Scripture, the young man is the only one to walk away from a direct invitation from Jesus. Even to the clueless, Jesus would have substantial stature. Yet, the wealthy young man turns from Jesus, because he has a lot to lose. For the wealthy young man, Perfection matters less than his wealth. Jesus does invite the young man to perfection. It’s ironic because Jesus says that only God is perfect.

The young man could not become perfect. His goal was to work toward becoming perfect. Jesus made it clear – perfection by works means losing everything. The young man didn’t want to make that level of sacrifice. His logic was that if he does everything right, he will gain everlasting life. His logic was flawed. For us to have righteousness, we need only accept Jesus Christ as our Lord through faith. The young man rejects Jesus’s notion of perfection. The man wanted perfection on his own terms, and he chose not to follow Jesus.

Let’s examine three elements of the story and its lessons for us. First, it is the man who asks Jesus how to be perfect. Jesus does not require perfection from the young man. Jesus simply answers him. Sell everything and follow me. Jesus isn’t asking us to be perfect. Jesus knows it is an impossible demand. Jesus is gracious to us.

Second, Jesus says only God is perfect. The young man is attempting to earn his way into the Kingdom of Heaven. We cannot earn our way into the Kingdom of Heaven. We cannot be equal to God. Jesus has compassion for the young man because he knows he is asking him to do something unachievable. Jesus has compassion toward us.

Third, God makes the way for people to have eternal life. Scripture says, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” We are not different than the young man. For people, perfection is impossible. People need a path that does not require perfection. Through Jesus Christ, it is possible for us to have a path to the Kingdom of God. Even a wealthy man finds the path to salvation through faith alone in Christ only.

The grace of Jesus in this story stuns us. Jesus stuns us with grace in the way he interacts with the young man. Jesus stuns us when he lets the young man walk away. A righteous Pharisee would use shame, guilt, force and shunning to make the young man do what he wanted. In contrast, Jesus gives him the freedom to depart. Jesus does not manipulate, force, or coerce the young man. He does not shame or use guilt to motivate the wealthy young man to follow him. Where religion rules by laws, Jesus gives freedom.

In the version of the story in the Gospel of Mark, we see Jesus’s heart towards the young man. Jesus does not withhold his love and approval until the young man becomes worthy and righteous.

Mark 10: 17-22

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 

You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.”  “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Here we see Jesus accepts the young man just as he is. Jesus looks at him and loves him. The man doesn’t understand the freedom he would have, following Jesus. He’s tied down by his pursuit of perfection as much as his wealth.

Many of us are enjoying The Chosen a streaming series about the disciples of Jesus. Jesus did not ask them to be perfect first and then, come follow him. They did not have to have the perfect resume for the perfect religious life. If that were the prerequisite, Jesus would have chosen the Pharisees. He looked at his disciples in the middle of their imperfect lives and called them to follow him. Wouldn’t he have called this imperfect young man to follow him too? In essence, Jesus asks him, why don’t you forget about your focus on wealth and perfection and come, follow me.

Jesus doesn’t reprimand the wealthy young man like a Pharisee. He shows grace.

I want to share a story about a Christian that did not exhibit the grace of Jesus. He was a well-meaning but aggressive evangelist. His approach was a common form of evangelism within Christianity. However, it turned me off.

A year before I was ill with cancer, I met him while waiting for jury duty. He started a conversation, and I knew right away he had an agenda. Sure enough, shortly into the conversation, he asked me if I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. He built no rapport with me. He spent no time listening to me. I said yes, I had accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior. That did not satisfy him. He continued to interrogate me. It seemed that in his mind there was a right way to accept Christ and he needed to make sure I had done it correctly.

Had I said the sinner’s prayer? Did I have a born-again experience? As someone whose faith had started in the Catholic Church, my answers failed his tests. I continued to be pleasant, but he moved on to have another conversation. I didn’t feel like he thought I was important as a person. Only my proper admission as a Christian mattered. Looking back on it, I appreciate him because God used that conversation for my good. I realized that day that accepting Christ meant I would follow him with all seriousness. However, what if I did not know Christ and he spoke to me like he did? How would I have responded when I experienced no grace in that conversation? The jury duty evangelist was not engaging me like Jesus.

Sad to say, I have had interactions with Christians who felt compelled to put me through a righteousness test. Guess what, I’m not perfect! If I didn’t pass in their eyes, my faith was doubted, my beliefs weren’t good enough, and our differences led to disunity. In their world, I became an outcast. In Jesus’ world, there are no outcasts.

How did Jesus evangelize? Jesus didn’t assault people; people approached Jesus. When he sent seventy disciples out to evangelize, if the town did not accept their message, they left. They did not stick around long enough to become annoying. Jesus drew people to him. He showed them compassion, grace and love.

Do you feel the pressure of judgment and scrutiny in your life? The world orders itself by laws both written and assumed. The Kingdom of Heaven orders itself through faith and grace.

Place of Grace Fellowship, we can choose to order our world through faith and grace. Place of Grace Fellowship values being a welcoming community of Jesus followers. A welcoming people are not aggressive or judgmental people. We practice grace when we welcome others. We value unity and compassion for the outcast and imperfect. We believe in the transforming power of the Holy Spirit to guide people where God wants them to go. How do we fulfill the great commission of Christ? We are evangelists through relationship, care, teaching and witness of God’s love in our lives and our church.

Practically speaking, how do we accomplish our goal to welcome adults and students? With adults, we welcome to the extreme. We come to church with a positive outlook on life. We radiate sunshine and positivity. We welcome whoever walks through our door, just like we serve whoever comes through our food distribution line. For the 90 minutes we are at church, we speak no negative words. We push out negative thoughts.

For 90 minutes, we become a worshipping people who radiate positive vibes. We listen to people’s stories and never roll our eyes. Rather than challenge people, we look at them and love them. We maintain positivity in the Lord’s house, and we have energetic conversations. No one is an outsider. We do it for 90 minutes and even longer at the Carry-In Dinner.

If possible, we show up 15 minutes early to church and eagerly welcome anyone new. We love people and we show it with excitement and eagerness as we race to welcome them.

Think of new people walking through our doors as a walking stack of pancakes and we are a bottle of Vermont’s finest maple syrup just waiting to be poured over them. I am asking us to be the sweetest people ever. Maple syrup is way more interesting than sugar syrup. Engage with people. Ask questions. Share a friendly smile and shake their hand. Consider how much respect Christ gave those he encountered in Jerusalem. He honored people and their freedom.

Outside our doors, people are harshly judged by the unwritten laws of society: laws of social norms distributed in social media, news, political parties, advertisements, family, jobs, bosses, friends and even spouses or parents. Everywhere, society waits to shame us, guilt us, wreck us and condemn us. When someone walks through our doors, let’s be a place of grace that offers restoration and repair. A place where people experience love and the possibility of life recreated by Christ.

When it comes to being a welcoming place for students, there is a role for all of us. This past week, I saw this thread on Twitter. The Tweet comes from Anthony B. Bradley, Ph.D. I quote, “Thousands of pages of Psych data shows that “extensive peer contact & loss of adult attachments lead to heightened propensity to (teen) addiction.” …. “Teens need numerous older adult relationships in high school.” End quote. The Tweet goes on to say, and I quote, “The data is clear—more adults, less peers….” End quote.

We built our student ministry to include all of you as facilitators. We built our student ministry to increase the number of adult attachments they have in their lives. Those of you who participate in the leadership rotation for our student ministry give our students positive connections with adults. Our students benefit from the adult relationships our church offers.

To help you feel your importance to our students, I want you to imagine their lives for a moment. Think about the information available to them on their phone. Do you trust students and peers to handle that information properly? Students are under constant pressure to fit in and to be accepted. The pressure of social media and advertisements in a hyper consumerist society can crush students. Students experience gender identity and body image issues. Judgments and questions fly at them at hyper speed. Society provides no stability or certainty. Life is fluid. Some adults in their schools may make the problem worse. Students learn about relationships from sources that were once taboo and unavailable. Now taboo content appears on their phone in an instant. Taboo has become mainstream. Taboo forms definitions of “normal” relationships. If we love our students, do we want them to have only peers as mentors and society as teachers?

Our students need you. They need your interest in them. They need you to listen and share their lives. In a world eager to shame, crush and wreck their lives, they need our adults to affirm them.

They need this church as a refuge from the world. Our students need a place of grace to restore and repair their sense of self-worth. Let’s be the place that encourages and promotes their happiness through relationships with adult spiritual mentors.

In a world that pours psychic acid on our students, I want us to be a place that covers them in the thick rich syrup of love and affirmation filled with the care and power of the Holy Spirit.

We are Place of Grace Fellowship. Can we come together on Sunday, reflecting the light and positivity of our life in Christ? Let our light shine so bright that negative thoughts disappear. Can our love and care pour out like thick maple syrup on members and visitors with the sweet, rich, thickness of the grace and love we have received in Christ?

Can we make Place of Grace a safe refuge for teens from a crushing worldly life? As adults, can we guide students to discover the power of grace to restore and repair their lives?  Can we invest in the lives of our students through relationships and caring love and grace?

About Pastor Tim

Tim Holmes

Senior Pastor

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