“Holding On”

Mark 10:17-22


            As you drive around town this time of year, you see these white signs with a picture of dog on them.  These white signs say “Welcome PKC and Hunters.”  Essentially … welcome all of you raccoon hunters.

            Seeing those signs, reading our gospel, glancing at previous sermons for a creative idea … I came across one involving raccoons.  I had to ask our High School youth about it, but in and around our sixth grade year, some of us read the book by Wilson Rawls entitled, “Where the Red Fern Grows.”  Any of you remember the book?  If you have never read it, it is worth the time.  And honestly, the movie isn’t half bad either.  Let me flush this book out and show you how it relates with our gospel reading of the young, rich man and us.

            In the story, there is a young boy by the name of Billy who lives in the Ozarks with his mom, dad, grandpa and three little sisters.  After seeing a hunting dog on his visit to town, Billy decides he wants a pair of hunting dogs, he neeeeds a pair of hunting dogs.  Things is, his family can’t afford them, let alone afford even one of them. 

            So on his way home from town, Billy finds a magazine lying on the side of the road with an ad in it for a pair hunting dogs.  Inspired, determined, Billy goes out and starts working all kinds of jobs to earn the money he needs.  Once he has enough, he goes to his grandpa who owns a general store and they order the dogs.  As soon as Billy finds out that the dogs are in the neighboring town, he breaks a promise with his mom that he would wait for the dogs to be delivered.  Instead of waiting, he takes off in the middle of the night to get his dogs.

            With his dogs, Billy begins training them on hunting raccoons.  He’s very successful and is able to sell the coon hides for quite the profit.  One day, two rival brothers in town challenge Billy to try to trap the mysterious “ghost coon.”  This “ghost coon”, once it’s treed, it just seems to disappear. 

            So one night, Billy sends his dogs out and after a long and challenging run, the dogs tree the ghost coon, and then the coon disappears.  Billy finds this mysterious coon hiding in a building that is close to the tree.  A fight breaks out between Billy’s dogs and the rival brothers’ dog.  In the midst of the dog fight, one of the rival brothers falls on an axe and dies.

            Billy gives up hunting … that is until his grandpa tells him about a coon hunt competition, much like the ones we have around here.   Upon entering, he realizes he’s the youngest and doesn’t have any fancy equipment like the rest.  He does find himself in the championship round though.

            On the night of the final hunt, a large storm moves in.  Billy’s dogs instantly spot a raccoon and the chase begins.  Billy, along with his dad, grandpa, and the judge, chase after the dogs.  In the midst of the chase in the dark storm, grandpa trips, twists his ankle, and rolls down a hill.  No one notices though.  The dogs eventually tree the coon and once everyone else gets there, they realize that there are three coons in that tree.  Those three would be enough for Billy to win the whole thing.  But then they realize … Grandpa is missing. 

            He has everything he ever wanted … he’s proven to have the best dogs, knows that winning the money can help his mom achieve her dream … but Grandpa is missing. …

            In the gospel reading … a young rich man, who has everything he’s ever wanted, comes up before Jesus.  “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17).

            Jesus’ response … “Why do you call me good? No one is good – except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” (10:18-19).  “Teacher, all these I have kept since I was a boy” (10:20).

            You see, to the Jews, the plan of salvation is through doing and keeping the Ten Commandments.  Jesus just listed off commandments four through ten, the second table of the law which is all about loving your neighbor.  This young man has done them all and he’s very proud of that fact.  But there’s something missing.

            Something’s missing.  Looking at yourself, look at your life … what’s missing, or is there nothing missing?  We go through life and things seem to be going as we have planned.  Good job, nice home, reliable ride, family and friends who love me.  Sure there are some struggles, but for the most part we’re content, are we not?

            Jesus says … “One thing you lack … go and sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (10:21).  The young man did well in following the second table of the law, he did well with those commandments which are all about loving your neighbor.  But the one thing he lacked … and it is the most important.  Jesus says go and sell everything … get rid of all of it … and make me, make God number one.  Make me number one in your life. 

            For Billy in “Where the Red Fern Grows,” number one in his life is his dogs and proving himself.  For the rich young man in our text, number one is his possessions and status.  What’s number one in your life?  What’s truly the most important thing to you which you couldn’t live without?

            Looking up in that tree and seeing the three coons, seeing first place in the competition, seeing those dogs he trained so well … all of these things are important to Billy.  As he stares at those coons … what would life without Grandpa be like?  What would my life look like without the one man who has helped me the most and inspired me to get where I am? Reflecting … Billy didn’t like what he saw.  Billy pulls those dogs off that tree and tells them to find Grandpa.  Billy gave up winning the coon hunt to find his grandpa and to try to save his life.

            Jesus looks down on the young rich man … he looks at you and me.  “Jesus looking at him, looking at you, looking at me, loved him, loving you and loving me, he said to him, he says to you and me, “You lack one thing” (10:21).  You lack me as the number one thing in your life.

            Jesus tells this young rich man to let go of everything he owned and to follow him.  Basically … change the focus of your heart.  Jesus doesn’t want you and me to go out and literally sell everything we have and become poor, but he does want you and me to make Christ number one in our lives.  He wants you and me to hold on to him alone.

            If we’re honest … that’s a pretty hard sell.  Being tempted by all kinds of things … pride, money, cars, tools, machinery, toys of all shapes and sizes.  Unlike Jesus … we easily, too easily, give into those temptations.  When we give in we push, we shove Jesus out of the number one position.  Notice though what Jesus did before telling the young rich man to sell everything.  Jesus, looking at him, loved him.  Jesus didn’t speak harshly, Jesus didn’t lecture him, Jesus didn’t tell him everything he was doing was wrong.  Jesus didn’t talk to him out of anger or sarcasm … Jesus looked upon him with compassion and love.

            Looking compassionately upon his people, Jesus looks through tired eyes down from the top of a dark cross upon the top of a dark hill.  Holding on to that last little bit of life within him, Jesus looks upon the people there mocking him, upon the people who are worried about what is to come, and he says … “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  Instead of holding on to his life for himself, Jesus voluntarily gave up his life.  He gave up his final breath, his life, his everything in order to give you eternal life.

            All the things we have will perish.  In “Where the Red Fern Grows,” Billy’s dogs find grandpa and save his life.  Billy’s dogs will later save his life as they tree not a raccoon, but a mountain lion.  In a fight with the mountain lion, one dog dies … and then shortly after the other one dies.  When we die, we can’t take anything with us.  All our stuff that we put as number one will one day either break, be traded in for something better, or it will be given to someone else.  The one thing which will be yours forever … the love and dedication of our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus.  In the midst of trying to hold on to what we think is our number one which is slipping away … let go … let go and seek out and hold onto Christ.  Seek him out and hold on to our risen Savior and the promises which He gives you. Amen.

            The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever.  Amen.


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