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Sunday Message for 14 October 2018: “The Greatest”

Today’s lesson involves an anonymous man who asked Jesus about gaining eternal life. “‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ “(Mark 10:17). The question is fair, although Jesus seemed to have a problem with the way the man addressed him. “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone” (Mark 10:18).

Jesus’ odd response about God only being good strikes some readers as a caution against deifying Jesus. The term “good” doesn’t seem particularly strong to us, but it must have been the inquirer’s intended use that upset Jesus. Perhaps the questioner was trying to patronize Jesus with a flattering word. Jesus corrected the man and said that God alone deserves such honor.

Now, back to the heart of the first question about gaining eternal life, which takes a twist when Jesus tells the man to keep the commandments. The man replies, “. . . I have kept all these since my youth” (Mark 10:20b). What could be wrong with someone who follows all the rules? Quite a bit! Slavish rule-following is not enough to please God, who prefers an inside-out spiritual transformation. Perceived this way, people do what’s right not because law demands it but because love motivates them. Some people follow rules to a fault and yet there is nothing alive on their inside. A mechanical adherence to the law and rules is not a worthy substitute for a healthy, soul-empowered love.

Moreover, Jesus chided the man for his love of money. The man walked away sad when Jesus advised him to sell what he had, give his money to the poor, and follow him. Amid the drama the man missed an opportunity to become a disciple. This sad spectacle prompted Jesus to discuss the difficult road of salvation, and how daunting a task it is to overcome wealth addiction. After the incident, the Apostles were astonished when Jesus said that obtaining salvation was like trying to pass a camel through a needle. They rightly asked how anyone could be saved. “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God. . .” (Mark 10:27). Jesus then assured his closest followers that since they had left everything to follow him they would be greatly blessed. Let us live our lives that God can also say this about us.

What about barriers to salvation, and what it is that interferes with spiritual health? Then as now, it’s often the way a person thinks. Attitude and manner of thinking either makes or breaks someone. How you use your mind can either be one of your greatest assets or a fatal liability. Psychological evidence reveals the overwhelming role played by cognition (i.e., thinking). Whether you live well depends on how you discipline and manage what’s between your ears. The realm of psychotherapy known as cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT) focuses on how proper thinking can manage behavior and therefore achieve better living. Inasmuch as your brain is like a muscle you must exercise it. As Christians, we might also add that food for the soul is crucial and that just as we strengthen the mind and body so also must we must exercise the spirit.

Aside from the manner of thinking, the love of money is a chief impediment to spirituality. Jesus spoke much about the dangers of wealth and even more about attachment to it. Greed, materialism and similar defects destroy from within, devouring like a ravenous cancer. The key to Jesus’ instruction is your willingness to use what you have for good, rather than for selfish ends and ultimately self-destruction. Bearing your soul before God can reveal the evil lurking within, which you are then empowered to overcome.  Does anything impede you from a vibrant, life-changing relationship with God? What are you willing to exchange for your soul?

Following closely the problem of wealth and greed are those of power, pride, and lust. There are other destructive mindsets but one relatively new one has become fatally attractive: disinterestedness, a long nasty word which is also a viral form of apathy. Disinterestedness is supercharged apathy. If apathy is simple inattentiveness then disinterestedness is the attempt to aggressively block something. Disinterestedness is fed by cynicism and skepticism, twin conspirators in the malaise of modernity. Disinterestedness is deadly because people wither when they try to inoculate themselves against spirituality.

A recent national survey from the Pew Research Center of Religion & Public Life reveals Americans’ growing apathy and disaffection with religion. Sure, many aspects of organized religion are bad and should go away. However, we have the perennial problem of casting out the spiritual baby with the religious bath water. People are using bad religion as an excuse for starving their souls and wandering from the path of spiritual life.

Life’s many distractions impede spiritual health. Whatever it is that diminishes your intimacy with God is threatening your life vitality. The man in today’s story who walked away from Jesus had damaged his soul with faulty thinking and maligned priorities. All the money the man thought he’d save didn’t buy him a room in any place that was better than heaven. Jesus promises that whatever you leave to follow God will be restored a hundredfold (Mark 10:30). The point is that when you embrace God you are gaining more than you’re losing. Unlike the foolish man in today story, let’s become Jesus’ disciples and walk with God. The route may not be easy, but it’s the sure path to the spiritual promised land.  –Reverend Hoxey