Part 3 of our sermon series on forgiveness. This time Minister Chai is offering his thoughts on receiving forgiveness and how hard it is to admit we need it in the first place. It means admitting we are wrong.
Luke 18:18-23 (NRSV) – The Rich Ruler
18 A certain ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother.’” 21 He replied, “I have kept all these since my youth.” 22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 23 But when he heard this, he became sad; for he was very rich.
We are doing a sermon series on the theme of forgiveness and today is the last Sunday in that series and we will continue to deliberate on the theme at the upcoming church retreat.
Forgiveness is a lovely idea and a great ideal until we have to forgive someone. We all want to be forgiven and at times we even want our errors to be forgotten, but it is not that easy to forgive others, especially those that are close to us. The first Sunday in this series therefore Rev. Craig preached on what it means to “forgive others.” For some, it is easy to forgive others, but very hard to forgive ourselves. Last Sunday, Deacon Mike preached on the topic of “forgiving ourselves.” Today I have the responsibility of reminding ourselves: “What we need to be forgiven for?”
Those of you who are familiar with Cal campus, you might know that at times when you are walking on Sproul Plaza, you could find a fiery preacher preaching. Usually the sermons that are being preached are fire and brimstone kind, and more often than not, the preacher is seen condemning people of their sinful state and giving a call for repentance and forgiveness. Hardly anyone stops by and listens to those sermons. I have passed by many times without even pausing the music I was listening to. Who wants to listen to those kinds of sermons anyway? I don’t know who among us would like to hear what’s wrong with our lives and what we need to seek forgiveness for?
We all know that we are not perfect but we don’t want to be told that we are not perfect. We don’t want to hear that we need to seek forgiveness for a particular sin in our lives. I wouldn’t like someone to tell me what’s wrong with my life and that I need to seek forgiveness for either. Even today I am not going to tell you what you need to seek forgiveness for, but I’ll tell you a story of a man from the Bible and let you be the judge of your own lives.
In the Scripture portion that’s been read to us, Luke tells us of a man who was young, rich and a ruler. In other words, this man has money and power, and he has lots of energy to do whatever he wanted to do. What else does he need, right? If Indian parents who are looking for a suitable match for their daughter find this man, they would think: “This is a perfect guy. We should get him for our daughter.” Such a young ruler comes to Jesus and asks, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
I really like the question. This man seems to be genuinely seeking answers to his question. And I have no doubt that this man might have gone and asked the same question to other teachers, but he heard about this new teacher who is different from other teachers. So, he comes to Jesus and calls him “Good teacher” and asks the question: “Jesus, I have money, power, and social status, but I am not just content with this life. What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Remember the Indian parents? They would have fallen flat at this question: “Awww…. this man is religious too. This man is indeed perfect for our daughter. He not only has power and influence in society, but he is also spiritual.” What a perfect combination!
This young ruler not only has a genuine desire but he seems to be willing “to do” something about that desire. He is asking, “Please tell me, Jesus, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” As we hear the question, we get the impression that this young man would certainly do whatever it takes to inherit eternal life.
During Jesus’ ministry, there were many people who came and asked him questions. Many times those questions were not genuine; the main purpose of those questions was to trick Jesus or to put him in trouble. Once someone comes to Jesus and asks is it okay to pay taxes to Caesar? Another time, someone else comes and asks who is my neighbor? Some folks even brought a woman caught in adultery and ask Jesus if they should stone her according to the Law of Moses. There were many such questioners who came and asked Jesus tough questions, and Jesus mostly answered those questions with another question. To this young man though, Jesus isn’t answering with another question. Jesus began to answer his question. Going in line with the Jewish tradition of his time, Jesus told the man to keep the Ten Commandments. And Jesus highlighted five of those commandments that the young man should be keeping: ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother.’
The rich, young ruler proudly proclaimed that he’d been keeping those commandments since his childhood. I am sure we all agree that it is pretty hard to keep those commandments, and this man must have lived an incredible life to keep all those commandments. He is indeed working hard to keep his faith. Jesus looked into the young man’s heart and he had compassion for him. Jesus told him:
“There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
The young man heard this and became very sad, for he was very rich. He wasn’t willing to sell his possessions and distribute that money to the poor and follow Jesus. He wasn’t willing to part with his wealth, and we never hear about this man again. I thought this is a very sad ending to an amazing story of faith. This man almost got what he was seeking, but he just let it go. What a pity!
Do you remember the question for today: “What we need to be forgiven for?” Before we think about it, let me ask the question, “What does the rich young ruler need to be forgiven for?” There are at least three problem areas that he needs forgiveness for: 1) The rich young ruler has the right desire and the right question, but he wasn’t willing to follow through with the response that Jesus gave him. 2) The young ruler wants to legalistically follow the commandments but doesn’t want to consider the spirit of those commandments. 3) The rich young ruler doesn’t want to work on removing the one obstacle that’s between him and God, and consequently between him and other people. The young man needs to seek forgiveness and fix those three problem areas in his life. Let’s now delve into each one briefly and conclude.
Area 1: Having the right desire, right question, but not willing to follow through the response: There are people that we know who might be seeking the right questions but they are remaining as seekers as they don’t want to be doers. We all come to Jesus with beautiful questions, don’t we? How can I be a better person? How can I serve the community? How can I be saved? What can I do to be a disciple of Christ? How can I use my talents for the glory of God? How can I be more compassionate? How can I love my neighbor? It is great to ask those wonderful questions and come to Jesus. But following Christ is more than asking the right questions. Following Christ is more than knowing the saving act of God in Jesus. Following Jesus is to imitate him in our lives. It is to desire what he desires and do what he does. If we are only listeners of the word and not doers, then we might need to seek forgiveness and mend our ways.
It is not just individuals that need forgiveness; churches need to seek forgiveness too. There are many churches that are asking the right questions but not doing anything about those questions. They are asking: How we can be a thriving church? How we can serve the community or the world? How we can grow spiritually? How do we can be faithful disciples of Christ? As a church, we even might know the answers to those questions, but we need to ponder if we are following through those responses. If we are only interested in the questions, but not the answers, we might want to seek forgiveness and recommit ourselves for God’s work in this world.
Area 2: The rich young ruler was keeping the commandments for the sake of keeping them, but he’s missing out on the real reason why he needs to keep those commandments. The main purpose of keeping the commandments is to express our love for what God has done to us. It is not to achieve something else. What the young man is doing is to just be a doer without being mindful of why he’s doing what he’s doing. At times we find ourselves in a similar boat. We do stuff for God, but we don’t know why we are doing it, or don’t have love of God as the primary motive for our actions. If that is the case, then we need to seek forgiveness for losing our focus.
It is an area that many churches struggle with. They do a ton of things but they forget the main reason why they are doing what they are doing. Or sometimes their main motive for doing those things is not love for God, but maybe competition with other churches, or even to attract people to church. The main point that I am making here is that we need to have the right motive for the actions that we do. The motive is the love for God. If we don’t have that motive then perhaps we might need to rethink our ministry.
Area 3: There is one final thing that we need to talk about: the one thing lacking. Jesus saw that the wealth that the rich young ruler has was an obstacle him and God and he wants him to address it. The obstacle is different for different people: For some, it is wealth, for others, a job, for others, it is something else. Whatever it is, it’s an obstacle on the path to following Jesus. Unfortunately, the young rich ruler loved his riches more than following Jesus, so he went home dejected. We might be following Jesus and loving God and loving our neighbor, and we might be living exemplary lives, but it is possible to have a thing or two that come in our way to relating to God and others. We might need to seek forgiveness and ask God to help us work through that thing that’s blocking our relationship with God and our neighbors.
Friends, in conclusion, if we are just listeners but not doers of the word, if we are just doing the things that Jesus told us to do without the right motive of love, if we are doing what Jesus wants us to do but still have things that are preventing us from growing closer to God, then we need to seek God’s forgiveness. When we seek forgiveness, through the amazing grace of God, we’ll be forgiven. As the chains that are binding us from growing closer to God are broken, we can experience the joy that God alone can give us. May God help us in our pursuits, Amen!