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10.11.09 Reversing Fortunes, Job 23:1-9, 16-17; Mark 10:17-31 Sermon Summary

by on October 13, 2009

The story of the Older Testament character named Job is our story also. It’s a story of life’s ups and downs. Job was extraordinarily blessed, but his blessings were all taken away from him. His friends blame Job for harboring some secret sin as the cause for his suffering. But Job maintains his innocence throughout the ordeal, and is eventually vindicated.

Our lives also are a series of reversing fortunes. Whether it’s the highs and lows of parenthood (as I’m experiencing anew), or of goal-setting and achievement, or some other cycle of excitement and disappointment, all of us are familiar with the vicissitudes of life.

Is this fact of life a cause for despair or hope? That life can turn on us, one way or the other, at any time, something we should fear or rejoice over? In Job 23, it’s a cause for despair. Job believes if he could only find God, he could make his case for innocence and be justified. The problem is, he can’t find God.

In the Gospel reading for this day, Jesus tells a man that the only thing keeping him from entering the Kingdom of God is his riches. Most people see in this story a statement against idolatry, and this is true. When the man asks what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus quotes the “second tablet” of the Law, those prescriptions and proscriptions that have to do with our relationships with others.

And then, without explicitly referencing the “first tablet,” the laws dealing with our relationship with God, Jesus tells the man to distribute his riches to the poor. Clearly this is a story about idolatry; money was this man’s particular idol.

Jesus addresses us with the same question: what idol of ours gets in the way of our entering the Kingdom of God. We have one, or several, no matter how good our lives might be otherwise. What are our “riches” which we must leave behind in order to enter God’s reign?

But other individual idols aside, the story actually is about our money also. Perhaps it would be better to think in terms of “means” instead of “money.” The rich man in Mark was a man of means. And as he was, many of us today are people of means. We have means to:

  • Personal security and safety
  • A secure future
  • Comfort and health
  • A hope we can envision even without regard to God
  • Contentment
  • Power
  • Pleasure
  • A host of other life-enhancing things

To us, as he did to the rich man in Mark, Jesus says it is difficult for those with means to enter the Kingdom of God. And to us, as it was to the rich man, this comes as a reversal of fortunes. We thought we were blessed, only to find we risk being damned.

But we must always remember that reversing fortunes is the nature of life. Life consists of both mountains and valleys. To remind his disciples of this fact, Jesus points to God’s activity. God reverses fortunes. God can do what for us seems impossible. God can deliver even those with means to God’s Kingdom.

Perhaps the most eloquent evangelical statement of this truth comes from Mary when she discovered she would bear the Christ child: “God has brought down rulers from their thrones, but has lifted up the humble. God has filled the hungry with good things, but has sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1.52-53).

God is in the business of reversing fortunes. Those who believe they are damned can be saved. Those who believe they are saved can be damned. And this because God is the judge; we are not.

And for this reason, that God is able to reverse our fortunes, there is cause for hope over despair. In the midst of reversing fortunes, Jesus calls us to choose hope. Job eventually came to this same conclusion at the end of chapter 23 (here the NIV has the better translation). He maintains hope that IF he could find God, God would be just.

It is this same faith to which Jesus calls his disciples. If we submit to Christ’s lead, abandoning our idols, forsaking our self-reliant, independent means, God can save us. God can reverse our fortunes. Through whatever fortunes we have, and through whatever reversals they experience, we are called to trust God.

For Further Reflection

Think of a time when you sought for God and for answers but could find neither. What eventually happened? How has the issue resolved? If it isn’t resolved, do you have faith like Job that eventually it will be?

If you asked Christ what was keeping you from entering the Kingdom of God, what would he say to you? In what ways can you begin separating yourself from this idol?

Our “means” can hinder our experiencing God’s reign. One way to begin transforming them is to practice gratitude. Today, realize that everything you have is a gift from God. Give thanks, and ask God to guide you into using what you have as means to God’s ends.

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2 Comments
  1. annonymous permalink

    great message, the love of money really messes up one’s live

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. 10.25.09 Jesus Still Heals Today Mark 10:46-52 Sermon Summary « Thinking Faith

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