Has anyone here this morning ever ridden a camel? I never have ridden a camel, nor do I have a huge desire to do so, but I remember someone telling me once how getting on a camel in the first place is a quite a different experience from getting on other animals, like a horse, for example, because that huge camel generally waits for you with it belly flat down on the round, so that you just lift your leg over the top of the camel’s back, and then wait for the camel to put its hind legs up, causing you to have to hang on a bit, while the camel then lifts up its front legs so it’s all set and ready to go. It seems that God created camels in such a way to make it fairly easy to get on one, no matter how easy or difficult it might be to actually ride one. What God did not create camels with the ability to do, no matter how flat on the ground their belly might be, is to make their way through the tiny, little eye of a tiny, little needle.
Still, in our lesson for today it becomes clear spiritually that God wants us to be camel Christians who truly can get through the eye of a needle. In fact, God would like there to be an entire caravan of people who follow Jesus through the eye of a needle. Let’s today ask God to help us to be that and to do that here in this Christian congregation – a caravan of camels at Christ the Lord – something that I pray can mean more and more for us in our day by day life.
Day by day in his life Jesus was now getting closer to his death, because he was getting closer to Jerusalem, where he had been telling his disciples that he would be treated horribly – and then killed — and then rise again – even though those disciples did not really grasp at the time much of what he was talking about. But along the way Jesus was also talking about many things they would need to know in order to go on in life after he was no longer with them. Last week, for example, Pastor Casmer told us about Jesus’ words to be like little children in hanging on to our Savior’s forgiving love with trusting, childlike hearts and living in the joyful, childlike way he wants us to live.
Jesus so much wanted the man who came up to him with the simple, childlike question about how to live forever to live forever. “Good teacher,” the man asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” From what we can tell by Jesus’ reaction, it certainly seems that this man was very sincere in coming to Jesus with his question, but what was obviously wrong with the question? You can’t “do” something to “inherit” something. To inherit something means that someone else has done it for you. You just get to receive it. Isn’t that exactly what knowing that our sins are forgiven and that we are going to live in heaven is like? We didn’t do anything to get our sins forgiven and to make sure we can live in heaven, but God says that that is indeed the inheritance of everyone who believes that that is what Jesus has done … simply because he loves us.
So why do you think Jesus told him to sell everything he had and to give the money to the poor and to then come follow him? Is that what Jesus wants all of us to do – to sell everything we have? And, if so, how can that possibly be true when there is no command in the Bible to do that? Well, what was Jesus’ point? Jesus had just answered the man’s question about what he needed to do to inherit eternal life by telling him to keep the commandments: Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, and so on, to which the man replied that he had kept all those commandments since he was a boy. Notice that Jesus did not at that moment prove to the man how that was not true. Instead, he asked him to do so something that would itself prove to the man himself that he had not kept all those commandments – not even the very first one to trust God with all his heart and to not put anything above God. Jesus told him to do something that the man’s lack of trust in God would not allow him to do – to sell everything he had and to depend on Jesus for everything he needed. “He went away sad,” St. Mark, tells us, “because he had great wealth,” about which Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
How do you know that Jesus is not only talking about financial wealth – our money — or the amount of things we have – our possessions — when he is talking about how hard it is for rich people to get to heaven? It seems the disciples caught that the point was not really money or possessions, because they asked Jesus, “Who then can be saved?” If the only people who couldn’t get to heaven were those who earned over a certain amount of money as their salary or those who had a certain amount of money in their retirement account, at least those people who earned or had saved less than that would stand a pretty good chance, right? But who would determine what that magic level of too much was? That, however, was not at all Jesus’ point. The disciples asked the right question, “If that is true, Jesus, that we have to sell all and follow you, then who in all the world can be saved, because there is something in all of us that none of us wants to give up. That’s just part of our sinful nature.”
What would be the tipping point for you? “If you want to inherit eternal life, leave your family and never see them again; if you want to get to heaven, walk away from your friends and never enjoy their company again; if you want enter the kingdom of God, let someone scar or disfigure your body and never enjoy your youth or your beauty or your health again.” Some of those things are almost too painful to think about, aren’t they, and Jesus does not ask us, of course, to literally do these things. But in the Bible Jesus does talk about not loving father, mother, son or daughter more than me, and Jesus does talk about it being better to go into heaven without eyes or limbs than to use the members of our body to follow the lust of sin. … And what is the irony about all of this? What will someday be gone for every single one of us? Our wealth, our family, our friends, our youth, our beauty, our health. In that sense, Jesus does tell us all, “Sell all you have – sell any thought in your mind that anything you or I have in this world — which God has truly given us to enjoy – is worth enjoying to the exclusion of God.” All we can is what the disciples asked, “Who then can be saved?”
Those kinds of thoughts can really make us sit up and think, and those are the kinds of thought we are told a couple of times in this lesson “amazed” the disciples. They overwhelmed them; they took their breath away. How do I stand a chance to live in heaven with Jesus after I die if I have to confess how important I consider the things of this world while I am alive? Jesus’ answer to comfort his disciples is the same answer he gives to comfort us. “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
Do you see what Jesus is saying? It is impossible to get God to love you…; it is impossible to get God to forgive your sins against him…; it is impossible to get God to let you live in heaven someday by looking at yourself or by depending on yourself, no matter how much you say about any of his commandments, “All these I have kept since I was a little boy — since I was a little girl.” But what is impossible with us is not only possible with God, but has been done by God, and it has been done by God in a way that seemed impossible to a young girl who was told that what had been conceived was by the Holy Spirit and was the Son of God. “How can then be,” Mary said some thirty years before Jesus talked to this young man on the road, “since I am a virgin.” “Nothing,” the angel said, “is impossible with God.”
What Jesus wanted that man on the road to Jerusalem to believe – and what God wants you and me on the road to the heavenly Jerusalem to continue to believe – is that Jesus is the impossible possible. Jesus is both man and God – man so he could live like one of us and God so he could live like none of us; man so he could be put to death for sins he did not commit and God so he could put to death the devil’s power to hold our sins against us; man so he could let a grave contain his lifeless body and God so no grave could contain the living Lord. I don’t ever have to worry about what I must “do” to inherit eternal life. I can put my hand in the hand of the One who did everything to give me eternal life. I don’t ever have to wonder what Jesus will tell me to give up so he won’t give up on me. I can bow before him in awe and wonder that he gave up all so I can be certain without any question at all that he will never leave me or forsake me. And if in his wisdom for me he does take things away from me – and when in fact he does take things away from – whether through heartache or my own foolishness or the sin of someone else or the reality of old age – I can know that what has not been taken away from me is the love of the One who showed such love to a man who wanted to know about eternal life – love which has been shown to me in not just showing my sins and failures, but by putting in my heart the faith to believe what should be impossible: because of Jesus, my Savior and Lord, God loves a person like me – and he always will.
And believing that is what allows camels to go through the eye of a needle. What a joy it is to be part of a body of believers with a whole lot of camels – a caravan of camels at Christ the Lord which have been made so by Christ the Lord so we can live for Christ the Lord until we get to live with Christ the Lord. Christ the Lord, please use us in whatever way you wish to help make your caravan bigger, because there is a lot more room in that eye of a needle for people who believe the impossible through Jesus Christ our Lord! Amen.