Saturday, 13 February 2016

Who do you think you love?

Sermon 14th February 2016 - First Sunday of Lent
Mark 10:17-37 

A rich young man
A camel
A needle
And a seemingly impossible task

This parable is one that has followed me for years. I remember hearing it and focussing only on the ridiculous image of a camel and the eye of a needle.
I remember then, as a young adult earning for the first time, wondering how much money I would need to earn to be in danger of losing my claim to the kingdom.
Then, much later as I began study in earnest I was lucky enough to attend a summer school led by Paul Scott Wilson, a Canadian professor of homiletics. Over the course of four days of teaching he took this parable apart; resetting it in the 21st century; examining the nuances, helping us to dig deeper, seeking to know more clearly what God really wanted from this young man.
It is clear from the narrative that the disciples, anxious, astonished onlookers found it tricky too.
The example Jesus used is preposterous! Impossible. Unimaginable.

Even if you adjust your interpretation to the eye, not of a needle but of a gateway – the eye being the mall side gate, made for people not camels – it was difficult, but not totally impossible. In order to get through the camel would need to be unburdened; all baggage and saddles removed – stripped down to the bare essentials, and made to bow low as it crawled through to small gap. Difficult but not impossible.
Professor Wilson did not try to excuse the story – he did not try to explain away what s meant by the camel and needle aside. His focus was entirely on the young man in question.

Jesus looked at him with love.
In the NIV it says: Jesus looked at him and loved him.
This young man was exceptional: Jesus could see potential in him; Jesus knew his short comings; knew he was imperfect, distracted, misguided – yet this did not stop Jesus looking at him, and loving him (what great hope this gives to us!!)

The professor retold the story in our current day context
He drove up to Jesus in his Porsche; top down, ray bans on; Rolex on his wrist. Armani on his back – this was a man who exuded success, confidence, power – yet even with all of that, in his heart he knew it was not enough; it was not all it could be – so he went to Jesus with a genuine question on is lips and in his heart – what is missing? What do I need to do?
The answer stunned him.
He loved his fast car
His smart suits
His fancy watch
He loved his big house and his lifestyle – it was a lot to ask
It was a lot to give up
Jesus looked at him, and loved him.

In the parable; in the story; the rich young man drove off into the sunset. And we are left wondering.
What did he do?
Because we are told he went away saddened because he was very wealthy.
We are not told what he did next. He may well have followed Jesus’ advice. He may not.
He may have followed, been one of the crowd; or he may have decided it was all too much, too difficult, too tricky. It is not for us to know.
But remember this: whether he obeyed or not; whether he gave it all up, or held on – Jesus looked at him and loved him.

The disciples were shocked; horrified. If this successful, faithful, model citizen was not guaranteed his place in heaven, what on earth would that say to them? To their context?

They of course, were still thinking in earthly terms only. The young man filled the criteria of all that was deemed good: he kept the commandments; lived a good life; was blessed in every way – and yet, Jesus said he lacked what was really needed.
To them this means that no one can be saved; that no one can ever be good enough to receive the promises of God.
They could see no way out.
They could see no way forward.
They could see no hope on the horizon.
And they said as much: Jesus’ reply to them is the answer to everything.
It may be impossible for humans; but nothing is impossible for God; everything is possible with God.

This is the crux; this is the definition of grace.
We cannot earn it
We cannot buy it; work for it;
Grace is freely given
Grace is the promise of eternity
The strength for life and love
Grace is everything – it touches us, moves us, inspires us.
Grace cannot be earned.
It doesn’t need to be earned.
Grace is freely available to each one of us: rich or poor; old or young; successful or unknown.
It doesn’t matter who we are – God’s grace is there for us when we need it.
Grace it is that prompts us to action; that moved us before we knew it into faithful living’ faithful following

The rich young man was a man of faith; but he chose to rely more on his own strengths; on his own abilities; he knew his wealth would sustain him – so that even though he followed God’s laws, his heart was torn between two things
Money and God.
God and money.
One had to have dominance.
What Jesus saw, was that this young man, even though he followed the law faithfully, diligently, was guided by his money and position, rather than fully relying on God. And this was holding him back.
Jesus saw all of this, and yet still, he looked at him, and he loved him.

What hope that can give us!
What joy we can take from that!
We too are beloved children of God – even when we trip up, make silly mistakes, go the wrong way – even then, grace is there to prompt and guide; love is there – for we all are beloved children of God.

The disciples fell into the  trap of equating great wealth with salvation. They still strived for wealth, money, status – the things that the world sets store by.
Jesus wanted them to look again, with different eyes.
Not wealth.
But love
Not the gathering in of possessions, but the relinquishing of them.
The rewards would be great; but so would the persecutions and pitfalls.
Those who the world sees as best are not necessarily viewed the same way in God’s realm.
Those who the world puts last are not necessarily put that way in eternity.

You, each one of you, are a beloved child of God
Jesus looks into your heart and loves you.
He will still ask much: give it up, let it go, put it away…
But even with all of that, Jesus loves YOU


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