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Sermon for Proper 23/OPrdinary 30B Mark 10:17-31 Who can be saved?

August 24, 2018

RYR 2Who can be saved? Words by the disciples just after our gospel passage

 

In the name………

 

When I was twelve, I won a Bible Reading competition in Southampton.

 

Today’s gospel was the passage I had to read.

It has haunted me ever since.

 

 

I wish it wasn’t in the bible.

 

I am not a fundamentalist

 

So I could just ignore it

 

Or say what fundamentalists say;

 

Jesus was speaking to THIS man

 

Because wealth was HIS barrier

 

Your barrier might be a different one

 

So you can be rich and Christian

 

But I’m not convinced.

 

In this very church I have sung those words; Take my silver and my gold, not a might would I withold.’

 

Didn’t mean a word of it

 

And I’ve heard those words of Helder Camara

 

If you’ve got two pairs of shoes, one was stolen from a 3rd world peasant.

 

But if I wear the same pair of shoes every day my feet smell.

 

To be honest, I have felt smug about my Christian giving

 

I don’t give to beggars

 

I have made standing orders to charities – and they claim back the tax

 

So that it is an act of the will rather than act of emotion

 

But I still have plenty left in my current account at the end of the month.

 

I did that long Ignatian retreat which ends with the prayer where you tell God you give him everything

 

And found it difficult to say the prayer

 

One priest once told me it’s all right to want to want to love God.

 

To follow Jesus….at a distance

 

And before an operation, getting scared, I told Jesus I gave my life to him

 

But I couldn’t help adding the words

 

But you know I’ll want it back again if I come round from the anesthetic.

 

 

 

Remember John Lennon’s song Imagine?

 

Imagine no possessions?

 

Well just imagine resigning from your job

 

No more alarm clock, no more daily grind

 

Imagine selling your car and giving away the proceeds.

 

No more traffic jams

 

Imagine giving away the contents of your wardrobe

 

No more worrying about what to wear

 

Imagine selling your house

 

No more mortgage, insurance, council tax, water rate

 

Imagine selling this church building, the silver chalices

 

Do you feel free?

 

Well, the Jewish tradition that our man in the story comes from

 

They saw wealth as a blessing

 

Because it stopped you worrying about all these things so that you could concentrate on your spiritual life

 

Wealth enabled spirituality, it didn’t hinder it.

 

Commenting on John Lennon’s song, somebody who grew up in the Gorbals, Glasgow

said it was utter bollocks

 

Lennon had several mansions and loads of dosh

 

In the gorbals they already had no possessions

 

Or what they did have was out of a catalogue, on the never never

 

They wanted possessions

 

 

 

So perhaps the fundamentalists are right

 

It’s about attitude.

 

Note the man’s question:

 

What must I do to inherit eternal life?

 

My bills are paid

 

The lesser anxieties – how to feed my family, educate my kids

 

They’re taken care of

 

I am insured against all sorts of disaster

 

Except death

 

I want to possess cast-iron security about the after life

 

And maybe the point is that the Christian faith is not about certainties

 

But about a longing for a God who goes beyond us

 

Who calls us to risk-taking and detachment

 

We are all attached to things that fill the aching void

 

Money, yes

 

but also work – I can be a workaholic and get praise for my commitment and dedication

 

drugs, houses, cars, social status, education, success

 

All of these little barriers we put up to stop us realty encountering the other, encountering God.

 

 

 

So I squirm and wriggl out of taking this story literally

 

One sure way to make myself feel better is to make it a political story

 

Then it’s not about me having to change but about my trying to change the world

 

There is precedence in the text.

 

Jesus asks him if he’s kept all the commandments:

 

‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness.’

 

Right so far. But, then, instead of adding the next commandment, “You shall not covet,

 

Jesus changes the list and says to the man,

 

‘You shall not defraud; . . .

 

Why replace: ‘You shall not covet’ with ‘You shall not defraud’?

 

Remember the man’s question – “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

 

This man had no doubt inherited most of what he owned;

 

what made most people rich in those days was owning property,

 

we can assume that when Mark says “he had many possessions” he meant that he had many properties”.

 

most wealthy landowners in those days became more wealthy by acquiring the land of their debt-defaulting neighbours,

 

so it is reasonable to assume that one who had many properties” had become wealthy at other people’s expense

 

Matthew adds that our man was ‘young’

 

Luke that he was a ‘ruler’ – archon

 

A rich young ruler

 

A Jew with ambition who’d climbed the ladder of success in the occuping Roman Imperial system

 

He’d have felt good, eased his conscience by giving generously to charities

 

Typical capitalist, believing in trickle-down effect

 

and as for those commandments he claims to have kept:

 

Well that’s brazen

 

The Talmud claims that the only people ever to have kept the whole law were Abraham, Moses and Aaron

 

He didn’t realty keep the Sabbath as long as any of his slaves had to work

 

He’d never murdered a man face to face but most likely he had degraded peasant farmers,

 

Forced out of their security, made to work on a day-to-day basis until they became too ill to work,

 

Then didn’t get paid, didn’t eat, died.

 

He’d not borne false witness

 

But he’d probably said that the poor were poor because it was their own fault

 

Whereas it was his

 

So Jesus decides to edit the commandments for this man’s benefit.

 

When the man claims to have obeyed all these laws, including this new injunction not to defraud, Jesus says, “Fine. Prove it.

 

There is one thing you lack; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven..

 

dismantle the system that has made you rich at the expense of others.

 

heaven’s treasure is ours only when we take steps to do something about the way the goods of the earth are unequally distributed.

 

 

 

So today’s gospel tells us to get involved in politics?

 

I don’t know.

 

Maybe it tells us all different things

 

Whatever God is telling each one of us at our own stage of the journey.

 

What I do believe is that we are created in the image of the Generous Giving God

 

The way to keep our real life need for money from becoming a life-killing obsession is to live up to the image we were created in, and to become generous – with our time and talents as well as our money

 

I also take heart that this story is the only place in the synoptic gospels where we are told that Jesus actually loved anybody.

 

Mark has a lot of anger and indignation from Jesus – not least directed towards the rich and the religious.

 

But here: ‘Jesus, looking upon him, loved him.’

 

Suppose I did give away all my shoes and empty my current account

 

I’d do it to impress people, to earn God’s love, to inherit eternal life

 

And St. Paul tells us that you can’t earn your salvation

 

So I’ll just muddle through, wriggle a bit more

 

But feel that Jesus loves me too

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