In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
“What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25) Is that a question anyone asks anymore? We live in world where are so entertained we seek “life” now. By which we mean ease, comfort, freedom from pain or discomfort. This is so much so that the leading preachers of our day preach what has been called the “prosperity gospel”—a message of “have your best life now”. But tell that to the 12 apostles, of whom 11 out of 12 died horrible torturous deaths. Did belief in Jesus lead to their best life now? For them the question was not about how to have your best life now. That’s a first world problem. Before these last 50 years—post-World War II—no one would ever have thought that this was all there was. They certainly hoped not. For life was suffering. And guess what, despite the technology, medicine, ease and wealth we have in the first world these days, life still is suffering.
But while the suffering was previously a suffering of starvation, physical disease, war and instability, now the suffering is a suffering of meaninglessness, purposelessness. Meaning is a far more interesting topic than mere pleasure. In our society we’ve settled for pleasure in life over meaning. But meaning is only found by taking up your cross and following Jesus. By voluntarily taking up the responsibilities placed in front of you, in your family, in work, in society. Take care of and do what you can to make your own corner of the world better before criticizing the rest of the world. Don’t complain about what you see as oppressive issues in life if you haven’t already taken care of what’s in front of you. If you are not maximizing your potential, and doing what God has put you on this earth to do and setting your hand to what is right in front of you in your home, your family, your church, your school, your work then you are part of the problem. You are withholding the gifts God put you on earth to give and contribute to others.
That’s part of what parable of the Good Samaritan is about. Love God with all your being, which also works itself out in loving the neighbours God gives you to take care of. (Luke 10:37) To love God is to do as He commands which is to serve the neighbours God has given you. To take up your cross. (Luke 9:23) To hoist your miserable lot in life and do what you can to make it better. To be responsible for what’s in your life: the problems, the people, the responsibilities and burdens. Not to complain about that stuff outside you, unless it is to pour out your complaint to the Lord in prayer. (Ps. 142:2) But rather to do what is yours to do in your part of the world in which you find yourself.
This is the answer to the meaninglessness and listlessness of our day. It’s not more entertainment. It is more responsibility. To God. To others. Taking up that responsibility to love others. In that sense, does God want the best for you now? Yes. As in, He wants you to live up to your full potential. Your full potential of being a positive force for good on this world. But we do not. Our focus on the now is merely hedonism. Pleasure. Selfishly focussing on my desires. Or at least my desire to escape pain, suffering, boredom.
In order to escape that “suffering”—be it from boredom or otherwise—we fill our lives full of screen time (tv, tablets, phones, computers, facebook) and other entertainments we don’t even ask the questions that are right in front of our faces. The questions that every other generation prior to we who are living now have asked: why is world way it is? How can I make it less evil and relieve my suffering and that of those around me just a little? What must I do to inherit eternal life where suffering will be no more?
We are a shortsighted culture and generation. We aren’t asking the big questions anymore. Instead, convinced that we are so wise, we ask not “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” or even Luther’s related question, “Is God gracious?” Rather, modern society asks, “Does God even exist?” That’s the real existential crisis of our day. That’s the question we’re all trying to avoid with our entertainments. Its being driven by very fact that not only do we have more technological mastery of the universe than we’ve ever had—at least enough to make us think that life is pretty good, that all things can be conquered by our science and technology—but also to think that (at least when things are good) we don’t need God. And that technology and the blessings of the highly functional and just culture that we inhabit—a culture that despite what you seem to hear in media is more just than any culture has ever been before, which is not to say we aren’t without our faults, because all cultures become corrupt since they are made up of sinners, but this culture is highly functional, highly just. Just think of how well everything works. That you got up and the power was on. That people were doing their jobs. That they weren’t rioting in the streets. That war or political corruption haven’t caused everything to grind to a halt. That you can go to a gas station and there’d be gas; to the store and there’d be food. That we have a high degree of law and order. Its simply stunning. It is a wonderful gift of God. Through people who are doing their jobs day by day and respecting each other as we do it.
But this very success is breeding our spiritual downfall. For in such a functional culture we think we don’t need God. It’s a spiritual sickness, that of the church in Laodicea in Revelation 3:15-17 fell into. “I’m rich. I have all I need. I don’t need God.” They became apathetic. Neither hot in faith, nor cold in unbelief. Just going with the flow. Saying, “We believe," but not acting like we do, so that our words contradict our actions and everyone around you who isn’t also part of same lie can see the truth of the matter.
We’ve become convinced that every problem has an answer in science and technology. In human ingenuity. I mean, you have a health problem, what do you or at least the average person put their faith in? The Lord? Or in your doctor? Turning to doctor for help is fine, but whom holds your life in their hands? The doctor or the Lord? If you don’t turn to the Lord first in prayer, and then to the doctor, something is wrong. Or think about it this way: what are the great temples, the great building projects of our day? The biggest buildings in our world - apart from office towers, are hospitals. What do we put our trust in? In medicine we trust.
All this is to say that way our culture answers, “What must I be doing to get life?” not even eternal life, just the good life, the now-life, not by looking to God. For we’ve become convinced that this present material life is all there is. We don’t even ponder spiritual realities as a culture any more. Our culture’s answer to “What must I do to inherit life?” is eat the right diet, exercise the right amount—just look at the expansion of gyms everywhere—take the right medical measures when you have a problem, etc.
But the deeper problem is not that you have physical ailments, but that the quality of your life is poor because you have spiritual ailments. For your life apart from the Law of the Lord is empty. Apart from the responsibilities and burdens He places on you in the form of the people He gives you to love and care for. That’s where meaning in this life is found. But even doing that, while it can make you happy here on earth, it will not fill the void in your heart which I think we’re all trying to distract ourselves from by our entertainment technologies. That’s where that age old question comes in, “What must I do to inherit ETERNAL life?”
Paul says that “if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness”—that leads to eternal life—“would indeed be by the law.” (Gal. 3:21) for though general contentment can be found in the adoption of responsibilities you will never silence the void within. There is still a longing in the human heart for more. For God. (Ps. 46:10) For relationship with Him. For right standing with Him. And this can only come through the one through whom it was promised. (Gal. 3:16) The seed of Abraham, Jesus, our Good Samaritan. One whose heart goes out to even His enemies. Who cares for all—without exception. Who has provided for you and your existential needs. For life and salvation. Just as He rules over the universe so that it provides for your general needs day by day.
For Christ is our Good Samaritan who loves you even when you count him as your enemy. Even when you walk apart from Him in your life. And He has picked you up in Holy Baptism, pouring out the oil of His Spirit to heal your spiritual wounds, has poured out the wine of healing along with His blood of the new covenant in the Sacrament of the Altar. He does this so that you have what you need. He calls you to be healed in His inn, His Church. And when that healing has taken some effect, He calls you to become one of the innkeepers who care for others He brings to the Inn. Those He places in your church, your family, your community.
What must you do to inherit eternal life? Nothing. He has done it all. And He gives you life to the full on this side of heaven and in eternity. (John 10:10)
In +Jesus’ name, Amen.