I went for my annual sloe walk this afternoon – sloe gin is now making itself in the larder.
A couple of people have asked about today’s sermon, so here it is. Some of it is in note form.
Proper 23 Trinity 19 Year B
Hebrews 4:12-16 Word of God, judged by one who knows what it it is to suffer
Mark 10:17-31 Rich man, camel and needle’s eye,
May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen
Remember the ten commandments?
- One God
- No idol worship
- Do not take God’s name in vain
- Honour your parents
- Do not murder
- Do not commit adultery
- Do not steal
- Do not bear false witness
- Do not covet what isn’t yours.
Jesus uses 6, 7, 8, 9, Defraud, 5. Jesus misses 1, 2, 3, 4, 10. Does Jesus know this man, does he ask for his strengths first? He doesn’t ask about the other commandments at all, but having identified this man’s good bits, Jesus then goes straight to his own particular weakness. “sell everything you have and give the money to the poor”.
It’s a requirement so clear and simple, yet it is a requirement which we culturally would find as difficult as the rich man. We each of us seek a measure of security, for example through housing, pensions…
So the requirement to give everything away is one we hear loud and clear, and it tends to drown out everything else in this text. Because Jesus doesn’t stop there, he carries on. “and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me”.
Treasure in heaven, treasure for all eternity…it’s one of those trade offs that ought to be easy. But It reminds me of talking to a toddler – one chocolate button now or a packet of chocolate buttons later? We are all God’s children….and we are all so very human….
And that last instruction “come, follow me”. Jesus knows that serving two masters is impossible. We may manage it for a while, but sooner or later it will go wrong, and we will face a conflict of interest. Sooner or later we have to decide where our loyalties lie. This is, as the disciples might have said, a hard saying.
The disciples struggle just as much as we do with the idea that having lots of money is not necessarily a Good Thing. They live in a world where money matters hugely – yesterday I was in the British Museum, a place where the results of wealth can be seen down the ages in the form of statues of Pharaohs, carvings of Assyrian lions hunts, the friezes from the Parthenon…and even in Judaism, the requirement for sacrifices cost money. If you wanted to make the best possible sacrifice to God, you paid top whack in the Temple. And in case we feel smug, look around. Churches like ours are monuments to wealth as well as to faith – who were the people who could afford to build, to have plaques and memorials?
And Jesus comes out with that famous saying – it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone rich to enter the kingdom of God. Now, it doesn’t much matter whether you think Jesus is referring to a notoriously small gate in Jerusalem, or a sewing needle, either way, the camel isn’t going through it. Jesus knows that, the disciples know it, and we know it too. “For mortals it is impossible but with God everything is possible”.
We have to hold that so tightly, that knowledge that we can’t do things for ourselves, but that we can rely on God. The disciples have left settled lives, left families, left fishing boats, left tax offices, left everything to follow Jesus. . No wonder Peter makes that cry, right from the heart “Lord, we have given up everything for you”. And Jesus’ response is that we’ll get back that which we leave – but remember those chocolate buttons? One today or lots tomorrow? We are so very human.
We each of us have the thing we hold on to tightly. It could be money, it could be the security of the place we live, it could be a relationship, it could be a job, it could be an emotion (perhaps needing to be needed?). Jesus told the man to let go of the thing between him and God. The lesson is there for us too. It is one of the hardest lessons we learn, to let go and let God.
But I think there is encouragement in our Epistle, in the letter to the Hebrews. We have heard there not only a reminder that God sknows us through and through, knows our strengths and weaknesses, knows our intentions as well as our actions. We hear not only a reminder that we will be judged by God. We hear a reminder that our God knows what it is to be human. Do you remember in Gethsemane, “let this cup pass”? Even Jesus had a choice to make, and he landed on “Not my will, but your will”.
It is a hard choice we all face, letting go of the thing we hold to tightly. And it’s a choice we may have to make again and again, as we let go, then grasp once more. But Jesus said “for God all things are possible” and we should be encouraged.
“Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy, and find grace to help in time of need”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, AMEN.