Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Sermon for Trinity 18B at All Saints - The Camel & the needle
Have you ever been so anxious to hear the answer to a question that you’ve actually run to discover it?
Maybe when you were a child…when you wanted to know if it was OK to go to a friend’s house for tea, or whether the post had arrived on your birthday?
Maybe later, anxious for news of exam results, or an absent loved one expected home?
Now, I wonder what question might so excite you that you RAN to get the answer…Is there anything that you would want to know so badly that you would fling yourself at the feet of the one who might just be able to tell you?
Actually, if I had just one question to ask God, then the one that the rich young ruler poses might well qualify
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
That surely is THE question…the one to set us tossing and turning at night…the one to force us from our beds….the one that really REALLY must be answered for each one of us.
Isn’t that what we’re for? To work out our eternal destiny?
What must we do?
His question, - our question.
But if that is the question, then I have bad news for all of us.
Though there is an answer…we probably won’t like it.
It’s one of those times when the gospel seems like anything BUT good news.
Listen to this.
Go, sell what you have and give the money to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven…
Oh. My. Life!
Over the years I’ve tried so hard to make a comfortable home wherever I’ve landed…a home defined by the presence of people and things that matter to me.
Keepsakes from friends and family.
Pictures and objects I’ve chosen with care
Books. Oh so very many books.
Go sell what you have
I wouldn’t know how to begin.
In fact, it might just be that I’m possessed by my possessions, for it certainly seems unthinkable that I should throw all my treasures aside…
Even for the sake of treasure in heaven.
That’s no surprise to Jesus.
Listen to his comment to the disciples
It's harder for a rich person to enter God's kingdom than it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.
That doesn’t sound promising.
Of course, you may have heard that there was a gate in ancient Jerusalem called "The Eye of the Needle," which was so narrow that a camel couldn't pass through it unless all its baggage was removed, at which point it could just get through painfully, laboriously on its knees.
We could deal with that scenario.
We might not like it, but it could be managed.
It would suggest that we, the wealthy, could enter God’s kingdom, if we weren’t too attached to our possessions….
But, oh dear, sadly research confirms that there was NO SUCH GATE.
Maybe that’s not surprising.
If Jesus had been talking about a well known local landmark, his hearers wouldn't have been reduced to incredulous questions
"Then who can be saved?!";
But that’s not the way of it.
There is no "Eye of the Needle" gate that camels can crawl through.
Jesus means what he says.
It’s that hard to enter the kingdom…
Nor can we claim immunity on the grounds that we’re not actually wealthy at all.
It may not feel much like it, but if you’re in any doubt then when you next have access to a computer, try entering your income on the website “Global Rich List” and see where you end up. Your income is measured against those of the whole of the world’s population…and the results are shocking. Even on a stipend that never seems to go quite far enough, I find myself in the top 3.6% in the world.
That’s rich, then.
But maybe I could bear to give away all my things.
After all, I’d still have my children, wouldn’t I?
Surely we can assume that family values are Christian values, Christ’s values
That must be a given.
Jesus positively encourages his disciples to abandon their families, their responsibilities, all those precious human ties.
They (and we) are to strip ourselves of everything by which we identify ourselves…Possessions, relationships…the lot.
And stripped of everything, we are then to follow
Deeply disquieting stuff.
I don’t know how it’s left you feeling, but I don’t think I can do it.
Truly, I long to follow – I yearn to find my way into the kingdom of God…but I don’t think I’m brave enough to leave so much behind.
But this is the gospel!
It’s supposed to be good news!
So where do we find that, today?
We find it, first, as Jesus considers the young man
“Jesus, looking at him, loved him”
He has tried so hard, hasn't he...so determined to DO everything he can to get things right. Jesus knows exactly what course the conversation will take…he understands just how fettered the young man really is…but he loves him.
He loves him, and he loves us – with all our good intentions, our deeply buried longings, our welter of doubts and fears.
He loves us so much that he cannot, and does not leave us imprisoned in those many much-loved cages we’ve fashioned for ourselves.
We cannot on our own break free – but if we recognise that we are trapped, - then we’ll find there’s good news here, right enough.
The rich man, secure in his wealth, was asking the wrong question:
What can I do to inherit eternal life?
He assumed that it must be down to him, a matter of action plans, and personal control…and so he was crushed when it seemed that the necessary action was beyond him.
But actually, that’s the point.
That there was nothing he or we could do.
To let go of all that we have, all that supports and impedes us, all that deludes us into thinking we can somehow earn our place in the Kingdom – that’s still too much for us.
We cannot save ourselves.
But I promised you good news, and it’s here in the astounding paradox of grace.
The answer we struggle with turns out to be the best news of all.
We CAN inherit the Kingdom, not through what we own, not through who we are, not even through what we can give up…
We can inherit the Kingdom when we recognise our own helplessness….when we accept that there is, truly, nothing we can do
For mortals it is impossible, but not for God. For God, all things are possible