Sunday 23rdSeptember 2018 Givingit Away Martin Baker
Our readingthis morning comes from the Gospel of Mark.
Mark is thestory of Jesus told to non-Jewish, or Gentile Christians.
Thesegentile Christians did not know Jewish history or customs. They would have comefrom families, from communities, that believed in all manner of Gods.
And one ofthe key beliefs, was that worship was all about appeasement and blessing. Ifyou sacrificed in the right way, said the right words, gave money to the templepriests, then God would bless you with wealth and prosperity. On the otherhand, if you are a bad person, or you don’t do as the priests say, then Godwill punish you and you will suffer.
Asattractive and simple as those ideas are, they are pagan, those formulas arenot part of the Christian Gospel.
So today,and in many places, the Gospel of Mark speaks to these views, these formulas.
Three keythings -
First: thatJesus’ call is to follow him. A life journey which can start now. But nojourney is ever precise or entirely predictable.
Second: thatJesus was not some divine God in human form. But was one of us. Is with us in those deepest and mostsignificant moments, even those moments of abonnement. Jesus knows what it is like.
Third: Jesus offers us eternal life. As a gift. Inthe midst of all we face. A purpose for our journey. We cannot do anything toearn eternal life. We can simply receive.
Profoundlydifferent views that those held by thepagan worlds which those early Christians came from.
Ownership, accumulation, security. Those things are part of all our lives.
Those thingsare deeply part of our lives.
The storytoday is difficult to listen to but it is about these things.
17 As he wassetting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him,"Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 18 Jesus saidto him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 Youknow the commandments: "You shall not murder; You shall not commitadultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall notdefraud; Honour your father and mother.' " 20 He said to him,"Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth." 21 Jesus, looking athim, loved him and said, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, andgive the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come,follow me." 22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving,for he had many possessions.
23 ThenJesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it will be forthose who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" 24 And the discipleswere perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, "Children,how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to gothrough the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdomof God." 26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another,"Then who can be saved?" 27 Jesus looked at them and said, "Formortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things arepossible."
28 Peterbegan to say to him, "Look, we have left everything and followedyou." 29 Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, there is no one who has lefthouse or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for mysake and for the sake of the good news, 30 who will not receive a hundredfoldnow in this age -- houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, andfields, with persecutions -- and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But manywho are first will be last, and the last will be first."
Let us Pray…
How manypeople need to go on holiday?
Do you knowthat experience – of setting out? When you take that first step on the tramp.Or the boat leaves the wharf, or the car is loaded up, or they have closed theplane’s door. Whatever else hashappened, whatever there has been prior to that moment, there is a journey unfolding before you?
To take onestep today.
AsJesus was setting out on a journey, and we know where that journey was going toend up, a man ran up and knelt beforehim, knelt before him, kneeling before Jesus, there is no arrogance here, and asked him, "Good Teacher, what mustI do to inherit eternal life?"
You know thecommandments: 'You shall not murder; you shall not commit adultery; you shallnot steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; Honour yourfather and mother.'" 20 He said to him,"Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth. Like Job. He’s doing well.
So Jesus is going on a journey. This man kneels before him. Asks him what I must do to inherit eternallife. It’s a tricky question right away. What do you do to inherit anything? What’s the answer to that question?
That’s atouchy subject right there isn’t it?
Who’s ever felt a bit awkward aboutinheritance? Have you made your will? How did you work through that? Everycommunity has their stories of families falling out with one another aboutinheritance. The tough thing is that when we look behind that we find thesedeep feelings of hurt, and injustice over how people feel they have beentreated. Those feelings will sometimes be so powerful that they will undermineour relationships with key people in our lives. Even the people we have grown up with.
So thequestion today is a question about some things that are quite deep within us.
My grandmawent around writing the names of one or another of her children on the back ofthe pictures and furniture in her house. She was desperate to make sure each ofher six children was treated fairly. I know she hated the thought of anyonearguing about who gets what. Perhaps in all our families there are thosestories. They are powerful emotions.
I say to mykids, you better be nice to me if you want to inherit my collection of 1974 coco cola bottle tops. I know you’ve got your eye on those.
Inheritanceis all about some kind of relationship. But inheritance is almost always aboutthe nature of a relationship between a giver and receiver. The beneficiaries donot write the will.
What kind ofrelationship do I need to be in with God to inherit? To be given eternal life. Of course it’s thewrong question. A loving God, who’s described as this amazing loving Father ofJesus, of course wants all his children to inherit eternal life. It’s a freegift the father wants for all his children. There is no shortage here. Nolimits on love. So there is nothing the children can do to earn it. All theycan do is receive. Receive now.
In thewestern world we also have a particular idea of inheritance. It’s all aboutgetting something when someone dies. But as friends, some Chinese friends, and Indianfriends have reminded me, growing up in a house with an extended family, ifyour parents or grandparents are fortunate enough to have property, and some wealth,there isn’t in anyone’s mind a strong separation between their wealth andyours. You are part of that household and you enjoy those benefits now. Inbiblical theology the same principle applies. When we open ourselves to God’slove, we become inheritors of eternal life, now. We embark on a new life now.
What doesJesus say to this young man? Does he say Confess you sins, invite Jesus intoyour heart, all that abstract language we have around salvation?
No, it’smuch more real than that.
21 Jesus, looking at him, lovedhim and said, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give themoney to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, followme."
When heheard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
The traditional teaching here is that the young man can’t bring himself to sellhis possessions and that’s why he goes away grieving.
But let’sfor a moment pause there. Let’s for a moment give him the benefit of the doubtand say that he’s actually not grieving because he can’t sell his possessions, but forthe opposite reason. He’s grieving because he is going to sell all he has...
He’s goingto give up his v8 chariot, he going to give up his prize winning goats; he’sgoing to give up his holiday villa in the south near Haifa. He’s grievingbecause he saying ‘I’m really going to miss all that stuff!’
Is thatpossible? Couldn’t we be just a bit kinder to this rich young man? Sure you’vegot rid of the 30 vats of wine you had pleasantly aging in the cellar, you feelsad, but you’re going to get over it. Infact the joy of the poor who are going to receive the benefit of your moneywill make it all worthwhile. Celebrating that new sense of abundance. You arebeing invited on an adventure from now to eternity, Jesus is inviting you tofollow him, it’s going to be hard, but it’s going to be amazing. On thisjourney you’re going to forget about the goats, chariot, holiday villa, and vats of wine. Yourperspective on all of that is going to go through this massive change. You willfind richness in life beyond your imagining. But he goes away grieving becausepart of him is going to miss the other stuff he likes.
What happensif that’s the truth for you for him for me?
JacquesEllul perhaps the most prominentChristian ethicists of the last 50 years has noted, the only way to live freefrom money is to give it away:
How toovercome the spiritual "power" of money? Not by accumulating moremoney, not by using money for good purposes, not by being just and fair in ourdealings. The law of money is the law of accumulation, of buying andselling. That is why the only way to overcome the spiritual "power"of money is to give our money away, thus desacralizing it and freeing ourselvesfrom its control…. To give away money is to win a victory over the spiritualpower that oppresses us.
The AGM we held on Thursday was about numbers and figures. But behind all that is the story of peoplechoosing to give something away. This congregation is blessed with some of themost generous people I have ever met. People who give so much of their moneytheir time their resources - and holdour work and mission in their prayers.
The teaching today from Jesus, it not meant to make people feel bad orguilty. But it is about this fullness of life, this abundant life, this eternallife which can never be subject to our formulas and equations.
Three things this morning.
What do we need to give away? Maybe we are just carrying too much stuffand we really do need to sell things or give them away and give the money tothose less well off. We have Free Week starting tomorrow, maybe drop in somethingthat we can give away to someone else.
But maybe we also need to give away the formulas that are damaging tous. Around success, achievement, failure and hurt. Though we have every reasonto be angry, or hurt, or grieve, or be sad, maybe this is a time that in orderfor us to follow Jesus, those things need to be put in our past, and notdetermine our future. Do give away those things.
Perhaps this week, it is a week of discernment. To imagine ourselveskneeling with the wealthy man at Jesus feet, and asking him, what do I need tolet go of for the sake of following you? To open our arms, to release our past, and to receive God’s grace.
(and here is the quote from Jaque Ellul that might be worth pondering
How to overcome the spiritual "power" of money? Not byaccumulating more money, not by using money for good purposes, not by beingjust and fair in our dealings. The law of money is the law of accumulation, ofbuying and selling. That is why the only way to overcome the spiritual"power" of money is to give our money away, thus desacralizing it andfreeing ourselves from its control…. To give away money is to win a victoryover the spiritual power that oppresses us.
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