“Choose Life!” World Day of Prayer, March 3, 1986 in Coney Island, New York
World Day of Prayer
First Baptist Church
March 3, 1986
Texts: Deuteronomy 30: 11-14, 19
Mark 10: 17-22
Thank you very much for asking me to bring the Word near you, the word on our lips, and the Word in our heart. I feel very honored and privileged to be able to serve you in this way. What makes the task more pleasing still is the fact that the lessons are so precious. They are very rich with help which we can receive to strengthen us as we continue to walk in the newness of life, behind the Lord Jesus Christ, following him wherever he might lead us.
You see, there is a lot of power in the Word, the word in our mouths, and especially if the word gets into your heart. Not only does the word get in you, but you get into the word, and it can become a time machine transporting us back into the time our Savior lived, having him meet and minister to us, and transporting us back into our present lives in order to continue his ministry, to continue his saving actions in our world of today, and in choosing to hear this word, and to live by it, we choose life over death.
When the young ruler ran up to Jesus and said, “Good Teacher!” Jesus stopped him short. “Why do you call me good?” he asked. “No one is good but God alone.” That fellow had to be confronted by Jesus. He seems to have been a lot like our local politicians, whom I have met in the community meetings – you know their names. They tend to be a mutual admiration society. They go on and on saying how good each one of them is – and the hypocrisy is so very obvious. If they are supposed to be watching out for our area and our people, then how come our area has so many troubles and how come our people have it so hard? I don’t only want to throw stones at the politicians. All of us who are in positions of authority, ministers, doctors, teachers, police, all of us have probably conned ourselves into thinking we are good. But really, we have not been righteous. We have not healed the wounds in our community, we have not filled the poor with good things and sent the rich empty away, we have not opened the eyes of the blind with good education, we have not liberated people from their prison-houses of drugs, crime, alcohol, of their selfishness, of their love for possessions over their life. So we had better not consider ourselves good. We are all sinners who will have to give account before God – and that means that we can only stand on God’s mercy, because have we ever fallen short!
From these lessons, you know, we do not even learn the rich young ruler’s name. Imagine had he been able to choose life over his many possessions? He would have been one of the 12 who followed Jesus and we would all know him. But he was too attached to what money could buy and to living a luxurious life. So what if he kept all the commandments. The more money, power, and influence you have, the easier it is to keep them; or rather, in reality, to fool yourself that you are keeping them.
But he knew something was missing in his life. Imagine that he had all those possessions: houses, power, and influence – but he realized that he needed something more. Perhaps he wanted to know from Jesus what was the least he could do. What could he do as a minimum that he could still get away with? Jesus turned his ploy around and asked him to do the maximum. Jesus does not require the very least we can get away with, but our all, our total commitment, our very life.
That is the tricky part about choosing life. We have to lay down our lives in order to receive eternal life, in order to allow God to live in us, in order to allow Christ to live and not we ourselves: [“For it’s no longer we who live, but Christ who live in us.”]
Ever again we become deceived. We know that we need some basics: food and water, housing or some shelter, and clothing. We also need education and skills for a job. But we feel that the more we have the more abundant our lives will be and that does not follow. God gives us the abundant life. Following Christ would have filled the empty places in that young ruler’s heart. All his wealth and possessions made empty promises that they could not keep. The Word of Life alone makes promises and keeps them – not by giving us what we want, but by providing for all our needs and raising us up to share the new life that God alone dispenses. And that new life is good! When we rise up and start sharing in the suffering of Christ and rejoicing, that we too can be counted in his faithful company, then we know that we receive a good gift of God, a real blessing, where many a lottery ticket is a real curse.
Jesus said to him, “Choose life!” Jesus looked upon him and loved him and said as it were, “Choose life!” – “You lack one thing. Go sell all that you have, give it to the poor, so that you have a treasure in heaven, and come follow me.”
What we have often makes us into things. We ourselves change into lifeless possessions. Like we become a mere tablecloth to a lovely table or a mere cup in an expensive cupboard or only some simonize on the shine of a new car or only a rug in a new house or condominium. This rich young ruler could just have been a saddle on a new horse or a mat before his door back at the villa.
When we choose to follow Christ we chose life, even if it means renouncing our own possessions or even our own lives. Because the Holy One who gives all life will raise us up in the body of Christ Jesus our Lord. We get raised up to become real human beings filled by love that we can squander, filled by healing power that we can lavish upon others, filled by a heart overflowing with compassion, persons whose minds are filled by the light of God! Persons who stand up and continue to restore the joy of salvation, here in this place, here in a very real way.
What do you say? Choose life! Allow the Word to make you meet Jesus. Hear him and accept the challenge he gives you, to give what you have to the poor, to get a different kind of wealth, a wealth, which is your treasure in heaven, because God will come and live in you, and Christ will be sparking one miracle after another through you, as he did back there in Galilee and Judea.
“What are miracles?” you ask. Kind acts of gentleness and love, reconciliations among enemies, sparking the faith in people so that they see God rather than all the things money can buy. Helping people see that life comes from God, lifting up someone who is depressed. Those are a long list of miracles.
Look, Jesus looks at you with love and he gives you and me the word in the same way. You may not be rich. You could be poor. But you can turn to God and receive this personal resurrection from him, which is the real promise fulfilled, which material wealth cannot fulfill, and you can come to the real life easier that those who are attached to what they have. Choose life! Choose Christ. Follow Christ in his saving action and what a joy will be yours and mine! Amen.