15 March 2020 Love in the time of Viruses Martin Baker
17 As he was setting 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 said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 You know the commandments: "You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honour your father and mother.' " 20 He said to him, "Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth." 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give 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 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" 24 And the disciples were 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 go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." 26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another, "Then who can be saved?" 27 Jesus looked at them and said, "For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible."
28 Peter began to say to him, "Look, we have left everything and followed you." 29 Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age -- houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions -- and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first."
Let Us Pray
Here we go – we’ve got loo rolls, and masks and rice. People are saying that we need to stock up for the apocalypse. If we have enough stored away will we be saved from the virus. If we accumulate enough. Will we be saved? How much is enough? How much do we need to accumulate?
In fact my brother David in Sydney sent me the video someone took of two people at 11 o’clock at night in a Coles supermarket fighting over a packet of quilton toilet rolls.
Is anyone else stocking up?
In the Greek language where we get the term, the word “apocalypse” means to unveil or reveal something previously hidden. The book we call the book of Revelation originally was called the apocalypses of John. The notion of apocalypse is where the curtain is drawn back, the door flung open, where the background story brought to the surface. Sometimes in the future but often it’s the present which is unveiled. Even the secret places of our heart.
What is driving the punch up over the loo paper. What is driving the shelves being cleared in Pac’n Save.
Many psychologists tell us that at these times when it comes to our decision making, its intuition first, and reasoning second. Someone sneezes and before we’ve even thought about it, we assume it’s the virus. It’s just safer that way.
A friend was sending around a joke about clearing the que in front of you. Just cough loudly and comment about how nice the north of Italy was in your recent visit and the crowds will part like Moses crossing the red sea.
Jesus calls on our lives, to follow him, as we heard last week, to take up our cross. Paul and others spoke about how foolish those things were. And yet in them, those first Christians, and we, today find our purpose, our reason or being. Losing our lives to find them Jesus said. Not accumulating, but giving up.
So we are not talking about common sense when we talk about following Jesus, we are though talking the things that sit at the heart of things. We are talking about a love that casts out fear. So when the apocalypse happens, when the curtain is drawn back, is it love or fear at the centre of things for us?
As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, there is no arrogance here, and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
You know the commandments: 'You shall not murder; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; Honour your father and mother.'" 20 He said to him, "Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth. He’s doing well.
So Jesus is going on a journey. And we know where this journey ends up in three weeks or so. This man kneels before him. Asks him what I must do to inherit eternal life. It’s a tricky question right away. What do you do to inherit anything? What’s the answer to that question?
That’s a touchy subject right there isn’t it ?
Who’s ever felt a bit awkward about inheritance? Have you made your will? How did you work through that? Every community, maybe in our own families, we have their stories of families falling out with one another about inheritance. And the tough thing is that when we look behind that we can find these deep feelings of hurt and injustice over how people feel they have been treated. And those feelings will sometimes be so powerful that they will undermine our relationships with key people in our lives. Even the people we have grown up with.
So the question today is a question about somethings that are quite deep with us. It’s one of those revealing apocalypse questions.
And with this rich man who has done everything well, followed the rule book. Perhaps like us, we have heard the news, we know the facts, if you’re sick stay at home and wash your hands.
But then this fear takes over, fights break out at the supermarket.
But our practice at panic also unveils an uncomfortable truth; that if we feel the pressure enough, and remove the guard rails of conventionality, our instincts can betray us. Right at that moment when we bulk-ordered face-masks in anticipation of a virus we might never get, it never crossed our mind that we might cause a supply problem for the hospital. When we packed our trolley full of enough dunny rolls to last a winter full of stomach upsets , it never occurred to us that the people I see begging in front of Countdown don’t have enough money to stockpile anything.
These apocalypse times where the deepest fears and the deepest motivations are revealed.
21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me."
When he heard 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 sell his possessions and that’s why he goes away grieving.
But let’s for a moment pause there. Let’s for a moment give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he’s actually not grieving because he can’t sell his possessions, but for the opposite reason. He’s grieving because he is going to sell all he has...
He’s going to give up his Tesla chariot, he going to give up his blue ribbon goats; he’s going to give up his holiday villa in the south near Haifa. He’s grieving because he saying ‘I’m really going to miss all that stuff!’
Is that possible? Couldn’t we be just a bit kinder to this rich young man? Sure you realise your accumulation has been motivated by fear or greed , you’ve got rid of the 30 vats of wine you had pleasantly aging in the cellar, you feel sad, but you’re going to get over it. In fact the joy of the poor who are going to receive the benefit of your money will make it all worthwhile. Celebrating that new sense of abundance.
You are beening invited on an adventure from now to eternity, Jesus is inviting you to follow him, it’s going to be hard, but it’s going to be amazing. On this journey you’re going to forget about the goats and chariot and holiday villa and vats of wine. The stock piles of face masks and loo paper. Your perspective on all of that is going to go through this massive change. And you will find richness in life beyond your imagining. But he goes away grieving because part of him is going to miss the other stuff he likes.
What happens if that’s the truth for you, for him, for me?
The teaching today from Jesus, it not meant to make people feel bad or guilty. But it is asking us about this fullness of life, this abundant life, this eternal life which can never be subject to our formulas and equations.
Perhaps this week it is a week of discernment. In the midst of all the stories about viruses. To imagine ourselves kneeling with the wealthy man at Jesus feet and asking him what do I need to let go of for the sake of following you? To open our arms, to release our past, and to receive God’s grace.
Dr Mark Stevens a fellow at the centre for public Christianity wrote about the instincts that drive us at these times. He said
Might a better way to think be to move beyond hoarding to hospitality? Or at least hoarding for the sake of hospitality? Instead of building a bigger barn, how might we build a bigger table? In times of crisis, even in times of peace, it’s instinctual to think of yourself. But we only get to the common good if we at some point talk back to our instincts, think beyond ourselves, towards how this all impacts upon our neighbour.
So just three questions.
In the midst of what we are facing now, this time of apocalypse, of unveiling, what is most important, unveiling our deepest sense of purpose, our fears.
What do we need to give away? Maybe we are just carrying too much stuff and we really do need to sell things or give them away and give the money to those less well off. We have Free Week before Easter - maybe drop in something that we can give away to someone else.
But maybe we also need to give away the formulas that are damaging to us. The drive we see to accumulate more masks or more money. To realise that some of that drive comes at the expense of others. The formulas around success and achievement and failure and hurt. And though we have every reason to be angry or hurt or grieve or be sad or be fearful maybe this is a time that in order for us to follow Jesus, those things need to be put in our past and not determine our future. Do give away those things.
As we look at ourselves, as we look within about or motivation we find words of wonderful reassurance in these verses.
26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another, "Then who can be saved?" 27 Jesus looked at them and said, "For humans it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible." AMEN
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