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Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity

Today’s Readings

Psalm 90: 12-end, Amos 5: 6-7, 10-15, Hebrews 4: 12-16, Mark 10: 17-31

When I read the Gospel message for today, I was immediately struck by the continuing theme that I tried to bring out in my last two sermons. The point that Christianity is not meant to be easy. I spoke before about the concept of cheap and costly grace. That to be true to our Christian faith we need to make sacrifices, be prepared to be, and to be thought of as being, different and to go the extra mile for Jesus. By accepting the way of the Cross we accept that we need to make Jesus central to our lives and live lives worthy of him. Heaven is our goal and service to Jesus should be our duty and our joy on that road. But suddenly we have Jesus making these almost impossible demands. It seems that we shouldn’t just obey the commandments, but we should sacrifice our possessions and even our families to follow Jesus. Well, firstly I think we need to remember that in the first instance here Jesus was talking to a young man who appeared to want to have his cake and eat it. He wanted salvation, but in reality, he did not seem to want to do more than follow the Jewish law, which most people in that society would have done anyway. He asked Jesus what to do to inherit eternal life, but he did not want to follow what Jesus told him. He rather liked his comfortable life and his money and he did not want to change that. We are probably all a bit like that aren’t we? But does Jesus really expect us to give up everything? I read an article recently about this. In all honesty if every Christian had simply walked away from his or her family responsibilities, stopped providing for those dependent on him or her, moved into a monastic life, then, it would not be unreasonable to suggest that the Christian church would not have survived beyond the early church and there would have been a lot of abandoned and unhappy people. There would have been no new generations of Christians, there would be no families in the church, no support networks. It could have been a shambles. And not everyone by a long chalk is suited to the Monastic life – I certainly would not be. So what was Jesus saying? I think he means that we need to get our priorities right. The young man’s priority it seems was to keep his money and lifestyle intact and not do much to prove his devotion to the goal he sought. And this whole passage makes us ask ourselves the question - Is it impossible for us to gain salvation? No of course not. We know that, but we cannot gain it through our own efforts. Our best endeavours, our most valuable gifts, our righteous works amount to nothing in comparison with God’s generosity. Our efforts don’t earn us heaven or the right to inherit it as the young man seems to think. Heaven is not for sale, it is a gift for those who accept it, but who also strive to live lives worthy of it. We gain it through God’s generosity and Jesus’s sacrifice. And in honour and appreciation of that generosity we need to sort out our priorities and live a life of service and devotion to God. And we need to have the right God in our lives – not a God that is money or possessions, but the God who loves us, cares for us and saves us. But he has the right to expect us to lead lives worthy of him, showing our devotion. And God expects us to follow the first commandment, that we should have no other Gods than him. Jesus was firm with the young man. He did not go easy on him. He needed to show him that faith is not an easy path. The young man went away sorrowful. He is not named in the gospel and maybe after this brief contact with Jesus he went away to his mansion and brooded over his money for the rest of his life. Hmm, in all honesty Jesus was such a powerful interlocutor and this young man was so clearly seeking salvation, that I hope that he went away, challenged by the Son of God himself, thought about it all and realised that Jesus was right and that he should do the decent thing. We know from the Acts of the Apostles that the early church community did share property in common and that individuals donated very generously for the good of the whole community. We shall never know whether the young man, having thought better of his initial reluctance, was part of this community, but I certainly hope he was. And looking at the latter part of the reading, here is dear old Peter again, sticking his neck out as usual. He seems a bit indignant with Jesus after hearing how difficult it will be to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Now look here Jesus, he seems to say, we have left everything for you – and how true that was. And Jesus promises him that those who have left everything for him will indeed be rewarded. Anything we have in this World is for a short time only, we do not keep it forever. But the promise of salvation is forever. We need to make our love for Jesus a priority in our lives. We all serve God in our different ways and we are not all called to do the same thing. But, while it is not an easy road we have chosen, Jesus is quite clear that whatever sacrifices we make for him will be more than repaid. And that sound pretty good to me. Hallelujah! Richard Austen


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