This morning, I want share with you a little video clip that will become for us a parable about what it means to trust in God’s word.
If we each took some time, we might each find ourselves relating to one of these characters just a little bit more than others. We could ask who we each as individuals are, or we could ask who we as this congregation is most like.
The character that I relate to the most in this clip is probably the father.
You see, we have good intentions but are so wrapped up in the things around us that we are just going through the motions. We’re doing something just because we think it’s the right thing to do. And then, in our attempts to be faithful we stumble and we fall back into old patterns.
The father in our holiday dinner is trying his hardest to bring his family to the table and to offer thanks for what they have received. And after his wife makes a meager attempt to give thanks – I think Nordstroms and Neiman Marcus were on her list – our dad himself flounders around with his thankfulness. He hasn’t really thought it through all the way. We are disappointed by his focus on things and in the end we have a feeling that he has set a bad example for his kids to follow.
More often than not – no matter how good we are or how hard we try, we are like that dad. We are like the rich young man in our gospel reading from Mark. We can cross all the t’s and dot all the I’s, but then Jesus shows up and cuts straight to our hearts. Deep inside, are we really ready to leave it all behind and trust in the God of the universe?
We are going to journey a little bit farther into the book of Hebrews this morning. Last week we skimmed over the beginning of this letter. So I want to touch on it again. In chapter 1 we are reminded that God has been reaching out to us throughout all of history… first through the prophets… and then through his Son.
The Son of God – Jesus Christ – has finally brought God’s message of love and salvation to us. He is greater than even the angels – who helped us to hear this message in the past.
In chapter 2, we find the same question raised that we did when we studied Isaiah – presented with God’s glory and majesty and power… we start to compare ourselves to that glory and find ourselves utterly unworthy and feel as tiny as ants. If you remember in Isaiah – this leads to confession and it is why we confess our sins together in worship after we praise God in our call to worship and opening hymn.
But in Hebrews – there comes a slightly different answer to this question. The author of Hebrews goes back to Psalm 8 and while we might question why God cares so much – we are reminded that God made us just a little less than the angels – that all we see is a gift and it has been placed in our hands. While we don’t always see the power in this statement – we do have control over this world. We have control over how we treat one another. We have control over our children and the animals that surround us. We have harnessed natural resources for power. And In this day and age as we see the impact that humanity has made on the climate of our world – we even recognize our power over the wind and the rain and the sun.
We have lots of power… however sometimes that power spins out of control and we do hurt one another, and we are hurt by one another and by the planet. What gets us through those times is knowing that Jesus humbled himself and took human form and became himself a little less than the angels for a time. Christ entered fully into our human experience so that the one who saves and us who are being saved might all become one. Christ took our lives upon himself – so that he might redeem us, restore us, heal us, from all of the mistakes we have made with our gift of control, power and free-will.
God in Christ came to save us and calls us to follow… but first, there is a warning.
You see, God has tried to save us before. In chapters 3 and 4 of Hebrews, we are reminded of the failure of the Hebrew people to respond.
Our writer in Hebrews is very familiar with our Old Testament and he quotes from Psalm 95… Hear these words again from the Message Translation:
“Today, please listen; don’t turn a deaf ear as in the “bitter uprising,” that time of wilderness testing! Even though they watched me at work for forty years, your ancestors refused to let me do it my way; over and over they tried my patience. I said, ‘They’ll never keep their minds on God; they refuse to walk down my road.’ Exasperated, I vowed, ‘They’ll never get where they’re going, never be able to sit down and rest.’”
Because of their stubbornness, because of their unwillingness to trust in the God who was leading them, because of their foolish attachment to the “golden years” of slavery in Egypt – the Hebrew people refused to accept the gift that was right in front of them! All they had to do was trust in the power of God enough to cross over a border into the land of the Canaanites. And they would have found themselves in the land of milk and honey.
But they couldn’t let go of the security of the past. They couldn’t let go of the things that they knew. They wouldn’t open themselves up to the possibility of what was lying ahead.
The same could be said of our father in the clip we showed at the beginning. He wanted to show some kind of faithfulness so he was trying to express his thankfulness. But he was so tied to the things of this world like cars and HDTV that he found himself grasping for straws…. Did any of you think that he really meant what he was saying?
As the older son chimes in – his thankfulness extends to things like piracy and music groups and the internet. He is focused on himself and what he can get and how quickly he can get it.
The younger son follows up with being thankful for the food that is right in front of them. He rattles off the items on the table because he knows that if he says something he will finally get to eat them. He might actually be thankful for the food – but he has no spirit of thankfulness for those who have prepared it or made it possible for him to sit down and eat.
In our gospel reading – our rich young man falls in the same boat. He has said all the right words and done all the right things and he has gone through the motions of faithfulness – but is his heart really in it? Does he really believe?
You see, belief is the difference. In the message translation, it might be called “ a deaf ear” and in the text as printed in your bulletins it might be called “ a hardened heart” – but in either case, it is an unwillingness to accept the truth.
There are a couple of ways that the truth escapes us.
First, we might not look beyond ourselves. Like the older son, we see and feel only our own truth and our own reality. If you noticed in the clip, he actually interrupted someone else who was speaking to quickly rattle off his list of items. This perhaps was also the greatest sin of the Hebrew people in the desert, because they were so focused on what was in it for themselves that they forgot the blessings they had received from God and looked only at what they lacked – what they were missing.
Second, we might be unwilling to go past the surface level of things. Like the boy at the table, we see only what is right in front of us and don’t look any farther. We put our blinders on to the reality that is just beyond our fingertips. All he sees are mashed potatoes and red stuff – and he misses the time and energy his parents put into making the meal, the people at the store who worked so they could buy the ingredients, the farmers who raised the crop, the sun and the rain and the earth that nurtured his food, and the God who is behind it all.
Third, we might be fooling ourselves by going through the motions. Here, the father at our dinner and the rich young man have a lot in common. They are doing all the right things – they might even be saying all the right things, but are their hearts really in it? Do the dad really understand what thankfulness is about? Does the young man really understand what the law is about?
In Hebrews we are warned about the deceitfulness of sin – it blinds us, it tricks us into thinking that we can do it on our own.
But what we really need – all we really need – is faith. We just have to believe and trust in God’s promises. We just have to believe and trust and God’s goodness. Today – Please listen – the psalmist implores us – don’t turn a deaf ear!
God means what God says. The promises are sure. The invitation is real. And when Jesus calls out to the rich young man asking him to leave all of his wealth behind – he means it. Because he is cutting to the heart of what is holding him back. The Word of God, both as we see it on the page and as Christ speaks it, knows who we are and it cuts through all of our defenses. As put by the Message translation – the word lays us open to listen and obey – nothing and no one is impervious to God’s Word – to the truth. We can’t get away from it – no matter what.
Jesus has compassion on that rich young man… even more than that he loves him. And so he has to tell him the truth. And Jesus’ words cut straight to the heart of the matter. You are just going through the motions, my friend. You have built for yourself a wall of deception through your wealth and you trust in your things more than you do in me. So trust me. Leave it all behind. I will take care of you.
The rich young man hears the truth. He sees the promises. But just like the Hebrews in the wilderness who could almost taste the honey that awaited them across the border, he turned a deaf ear. He walked away. He thought it was impossible – because he wasn’t ready to believe that with God all things are possible.
Which brings us back to the person at the dinner table we haven’t talked about yet. The daughter among the group – who was hesitant to even speak opens her mouth and out pours truth. Her words cut to the heart of the matter, and you can see that each person around that table has to stop for a second. The truth gets through – even if just for a second – the truth gets through that God loves us… even if we don’t deserve it… even if we turn a deaf ear and harden our hearts and ignore him. The truth gets through.
Today – Please listen – don’t turn a deaf ear. Take the mercy, accept the help, trust in God.