“My Little Wooden Box”

Luke 18:18-30

February 1, 2004

 

When I was a young boy, my grandfather helped me build a little wooden box in his woodworking shop.  I wanted this box so that I would have a place to keep my most important possessions.  Inside my wooden box I put my Boy Scout merit badges, my Eagle Scout patch, and all the band medals and ribbons I had earned in Jr. High and High School, plus some little knickknacks that I really liked. 

I put this stuff in my little wooden box because they are very special to me.  I worked hard to earn these things.  Even now at this very moment, my little wooden box is safely stowed away in my office closet at home.  Even when I have moved, I have ensured that this little wooden box stayed with me, refusing to put it in the moving van, but instead putting it in the front seat of my truck so that it might be transported safely and not get lost or damaged in moving boxes. 

          Do you have place where you keep you most valued possessions?  A little box you keep at the top of your closet or under your bed, maybe a safe, a file cabinet, or desk drawer?  Someplace that is yours that no one has permission to get into?  You know, you would think that as adults we should be able to let go of things that we possess, or at least not be so attached to them, but as you and I know that is a lot easier said than done. 

We also know that just because we are older doesn’t mean that we stop accumulating possessions, they may not be possessions we keep in a little wooden boxes, but they are possessions nonetheless, possessions that have only just gotten bigger and more valuable.  For me, they are my house, my cars, my 27” Toshiba television, my Craftsman lawnmower, not to mention my collection of Star Wars figures and airplane models.  Even when we went to seminary, we put the money we made from our first home in a CD for safekeeping, which we used to the home we have now. 

          We all have ways in which we are rich with possessions, with earthly treasures, with things that are important to us, things that are meaningful to us, and things that are worth value to us.  We have earned these things through hard work.  And our wealth of possessions may not include money at all.  They can even be things we have a right to have like life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, or things we have come to believe we have right to have like our educational degrees, our social and economic class, and our religious beliefs. 

Our possessions are things that bring us prestige and privilege in our society and in the world.  They are things that we are not so willing to give up, things that we wouldn’t dare get rid of, and certainly things that we would never think of just giving away.  But that is exactly what Jesus told the ruler to do with his possessions.   

          We don’t know much about this man who meets Jesus.  We don’t know his name, how old he is, or even where he comes from.  All we do know is that he is a ruler, probably a ruler in a synagogue, but nevertheless a man who, as a ruler, had gained a considerable amount of possessions, which only added to his prestige and privilege in that society. 

When we meet the ruler, he had just heard Jesus say to his disciples, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.  Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 

Well, this made the ruler very curious and he said to Jesus, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  For the ruler, everything that he had acquired over the years was the result of his works, the things that he had done, things that he had accomplished.  And now to hear that there was another thing to acquire – eternal life – was more than he could pass up. 

After all, he certainly had the credentials didn’t he?  He was good enough wasn’t he?  Hadn’t he kept all the commandments from his youth? They were his merit badges and medals, signs of his goodness and hard work.  Things he kept in his little wooden box under his bed, which he would pull out every once in while to look at to remind himself how good he was.  Now he wants to add one more prized possession and accomplishment to his little wooden box – entrance into the kingdom of God. 

Jesus’ response to the ruler teaches him, as it does us, that entrance into the kingdom of God is not something that a person can get, take, or acquire on their own, not by working hard enough, and not even by being good enough, for “no one is good but God.”  True goodness is only reserved for God.  Salvation is from God alone. 

Yet, there is something else that Jesus’ response teaches the ruler, which gets at the heart of our text today.  In his response to the rich ruler, Jesus directly confronts the ruler with the one commandment that is keeping him from the prized possession he is seeking, the one commandment that the ruler has failed to obey: “You shall have no other gods before me.” 

If the ruler really wants “to do” something to gain entrance into the kingdom of God and receive eternal life, he must not only live in complete obedience to God’s will and God’s commandments, he must also live in a new and radical way, a way that embodies the truth of God’s kingdom. 

If the ruler wants eternal life, he must rid himself of all that takes the place of God in his life. He must make a complete reversal of his own status.  He can no longer use his conventional understanding of prestige, privilege, or possessions to distinguish and separate himself from others, because these things no longer apply in the kingdom of God.  What the ruler must “do” to enter the kingdom of God is to completely commit himself to God’s work in the world and to God’s concern for the poor, the marginalized and the oppressed. 

What does the ruler have to do?  The very thing he doesn’t want to do.  He must be willing to give up the possessions that he is not willing to give up, he must get rid of the possessions that he otherwise would not have gotten rid of, and he must give away the possessions that he would have never thought of giving away.

          In the end, the ruler cannot “do” what he must do to be a disciple of Jesus.  The pull of his possessions is more than he could resist.  He is unable to become poor in order to be enriched by God and have treasures in heaven.  For the ruler, the cost of discipleship is too great a price to pay.  In the end, he cannot let go of the things he has in his little wooden box.  They are more valuable to him than all the bounty, treasure, and abundance God gives. 

          My friends, as Christians, we must take very seriously Jesus’ imperative commands and be willing to rid ourselves of the things that take the place of God in our lives, the things that give us a false sense of what it means to be truly blessed by God.  We must be able to recognize the things in our life that keeps God at a distance and only partially influential in our lives.  If faith means anything, it means a complete and total commitment and surrender of all that we are and of all that we have. 

Michael Lindvall, in his book “The Christian Life,” tells about a Germanic tribe called the Franks, who were converted en masse to Christianity.  As they were converted, a large group of Franks, numbering in the thousands, were taken to a river for baptism.  The Franks understood what baptism meant on one level that they would now be following a new king, Jesus, but on another level they had no idea what baptism truly meant.  The story is told that as the warrior Franks waded out into the river to be baptized, they were always careful to hold their swords above their heads out of the water.  Of course, they didn’t do this to keep their swords from getting wet, they did this to keep their swords from Jesus.

Lindvall then writes, “It wouldn’t do then; it won’t do now.  This Jesus asks for everything.  You can’t hold your sword out of the water.  You can’t hold your career out of the water.  You can’t hold your idle pastimes out of the water.  You can’t hold your checkbook out of the water.  Everything has to go so that it can rise again.  Nothing can be held back.” 

Indeed, as Jesus says, it is truly hard for those with wealth and possessions to enter into the kingdom of God and gain for themselves eternal life.  In fact, it is not only very hard, it is humanly impossible, as impossible as a camel going through the eye of a needle.  The life and devotion Jesus requires is costly.  Being a disciple of Jesus Christ means giving up, leaving behind, and turning over all that distances ourselves from God and from others.  It means putting our complete and total faith and trust in God and God alone, who makes the impossible for us possible.

To follow Jesus means that we can’t hold our little wooden boxes out of the water.  It means that we have to begin living in a radical new way, in a re-oriented life directed towards the standards of the kingdom of God and away from the standards of the world, to humble ourselves and embody in our lives the compassion, mercy and love of God, especially to those in need, those who are the least, the lost, and the left-out.  It means that everything has to go so that it can rise again.  Nothing can be held back. 

          I, of all people, know that it is not easy being a disciple of Jesus Christ.  I fall short of God’s glory everyday.  But Jesus’ final words to his disciples gives me hope and assurance, because Jesus promises us that when we follow him and do the things God requires in our response of faith and obedience, we will have already entered into the kingdom of God, and we can trust that we will receive in this age and the age to come, the greatest possession and treasure of all, eternal life. 

Come to think about, I don’t think that’s going to fit in my little wooden box anyway.  Amen.