“Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise” (Hebrews 4:1-16; Mark 10:23-31; Ecclesiastes 5:10-20)

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
October 21, 2012

“Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise” (Hebrews 4:1-16; Mark 10:23-31; Ecclesiastes 5:10-20)

You’ve all heard the old saying:

Early to bed
And early to rise
Makes a man healthy,
Wealthy, and wise.

And there’s some truth to that–although, right now, it’s a little hard to get “early to bed” when you’ve got three-and-a-half-hour playoff games to watch! Even so, the point remains: A good, self-disciplined routine of rest and work, each in its own proper place, can lead to an increased opportunity for the good life.

But today I want to speak to you about something more than just “the good life,” as commonly defined–in other words, as simply a happy, successful life in this world. No, I want to speak to you about something more important and more long-lasting than that–although it will have great meaning also for our life in this world and how we live it. “Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise”: yes, but in a far greater way than the saying suggests. It’s the health and the wealth and the wisdom that God provides us with, which is good for both this life and the next. And so I must amend our little poem to fit the theme, as follows:

Surely what God
Most surely supplies
Makes a man healthy,
Wealthy, and wise.

Healthy, wealthy, and wise. We’ll be looking at these three things today from the perspective of our three lessons–the Epistle from Hebrews, the Holy Gospel from St. Mark, and the Old Testament Reading from Ecclesiastes, in that order.

We begin with Hebrews and the aspect of being truly “healthy.” You know, in the old saying we quoted at the start, the idea of being healthy is tied to getting the right amount of rest: “Early to bed,” and so on. Well, here in Hebrews, our true health, health for both body and soul, is likewise tied to rest–finding God’s rest, and entering into it. The writer to the Hebrews says: “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest. . . .”

Rest. For Old Testament Israel, God provided a day of rest, called the Sabbath. This was the day, every week, on which the people of Israel were called to cease from their labors and to rest in, and reflect on, the work the Lord God was doing for them. The Lord God had brought Israel out of slavery in Egypt and brought them to himself. They were his people, and he was their God. He would take care of them. He would provide for them. He would protect them. He would lead them on their journey and lead them into the Promised Land, where they would find rest. Rest from their enemies. In a land flowing with milk and honey. A land of blessing and abundance. A place where every man could sit under his own fig tree and enjoy life. The good life. That is the Old Testament concept of rest. It’s a good thing. It’s the healthy way to live. Trusting in the Lord and his care. It is faith, based on God’s promises, that you can stop and rest for a while, that everything doesn’t depend on you and your frenzied activity. The good Lord is in charge.

Do you want to be healthy? Yes? Well, are you getting your proper rest? Let me explain. In our frenzied and strenuous efforts to find the good life, we can actually miss the goal. We think it’s all up to us. And we think of the good life only in terms of acquiring things we can enjoy now, in this life. We take our eyes off the prize, the real prize, of life with God, righteous and at peace with him. We live, too often, as functional atheists, as though there was no God. We live in a self-contained bubble. And that spells trouble. For one day, that self-contained bubble will burst. The bottom will fall out of life–bad health, bad marriage, bad finances–all sorts of bad stuff. Then comes the ultimate in bad stuff, namely, death. Death and the judgment, when we have to give account to God. How do we overcome that? By our own efforts, works, and labors? That won’t cut it. Not good enough.

No, the answer is to rest from our labors and to rest in God’s completed work. It’s the Sabbath rest concept again. It’s the Promised Land concept again. Only just updated to the Jesus version. For the Sabbath rest and the Promised Land rest were pointing ahead to the perfect rest we find only in Christ. The work he completed for us, when he cried out on the cross, “It is finished!”–that saving work of Christ supplies us with perfect righteousness, pays off all our debts to God, and opens up the door to everlasting life, where we will enjoy perfect health with glorified bodies in a restored creation. Jesus Christ is our Sabbath rest.

We enter that rest through faith in Christ. We rest from our labors and trust in his. Jesus invites us to do just that when he says, “Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give your rest. . . . For my yoke is easy and my burden is light, and you will find rest for your souls.” Yes, even now, we find rest for our souls, knowing that our salvation is secure in Christ. He is our great high priest in heaven, through whom we can come to God with all our cares and troubles. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

So there is our health, namely, finding our rest in Christ. Secondly, where is our wealth? For that we turn to the Gospel reading from Mark. Ironically, though, in that reading, Jesus warns against wealth, saying that having a lot of money can be an obstacle to saving faith. You see, people can trust in their riches, rather than in the God who has provided them with those riches. In that way, wealth can become an idol, like we saw last week with the rich young man. As Jesus says, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! . . . It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” So whether we have much money or not, the point is we don’t let worldly wealth take the place of the heavenly treasure we have in Christ. Being wealthy in worldly terms is not the be-all and end-all.

But interestingly, there is a certain wealth we do acquire when we come to Christ. Jesus puts it like this: “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.”

You see, when you become a Christian, you come into God’s family, the church. And it’s a great big family, spread all around the world. It’s a caring family, where brothers and sisters love one another and look after the needs of those who are hurting. We voluntarily share our wealth when we see a brother in need. So I’ve got houses and family literally all around the world, places to stay, people who will help me out–and, conversely, people whom I will help out when I see them in need. That’s how it works in God’s family, the church.

“And in the age to come eternal life.” What wealth and treasure we possess! We are in line for an eternal inheritance, life everlasting, through our risen Savior Jesus! “For,” as Paul tells the Corinthians, “you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” Truly we are rich beyond all measure!

Healthy. Wealthy. And now, third, wise. For that we turn to the reading from Ecclesiastes, part of the Wisdom Literature. Ecclesiastes takes a balanced view of worldly prosperity, on the one hand, saying, “You can’t take it with you,” and, on the other hand, saying, “It’s alright to enjoy life, to eat, drink, and be merry, as long as you keep it in perspective and you recognize that this is a gift from God.”

“As [a man] came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand. . . . Just as he came, so shall he go, and what gain is there to him who toils for the wind?” That’s the one side, the transitory nature of wealth. Then the other side: “Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil–this is the gift of God.”

So to sum it up: The good life is OK, if you’re blessed to have it, but realize that it is transitory–it won’t last, it could be taken from you at any time–and receive that good life as the gift of God’s grace that it is. This is true wisdom.

Healthy, wealthy, and wise. Our lessons today tell us how it happens. Hebrews tells us that health for both body and soul is found in the rest that Christ brings us into. In Mark, Jesus says that our wealth consists in the treasures that are ours as members of God’s family, the church, and as heirs of eternal life. And finally Ecclesiastes reminds us that wisdom keeps everything in proper perspective, that we realize how fleeting earthly wealth is, while still being able to enjoy the blessings God gives us.

Healthy, wealthy, and wise. Whether or not you’re “early to bed and early to rise,” here is where the secret lies:

Surely what God
Most surely supplies
Makes a man healthy,
Wealthy, and wise.

Published in: on October 20, 2012 at 2:33 pm  Leave a Comment  
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