Avril at Romsey

… and Lancefield and Riddells Creek and Mount Macedon

Sermon: People of Yesterday and Tomorrow

John, the Anglican priest at Charlton, invited me to preach at St Martin’s afternoon eucharist. I met John when I visited Charlton after the 2011 floods with the Victorian Council of Churches’ Emergency Chaplaincy team, when both his house and the church had been flooded. We bonded over Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and it was lovely to go back up and see the refurbished church. Plus, John bought me pizza and gave me a copy of What would Buffy Do? The Vampire Slayer as Spiritual Guide!

Sermon for Charlton – 14th of October 2012

Mark 10:17-31

When I asked John what he wanted me to preach on this afternoon, whether on a theme or on any particular one of today’s lectionary readings, he suggested that I preach on the passage from the gospel which he described as: ‘always a tough one to preach on’. And it is! I looked back to see what I’d said on this passage three years ago, the last time the lectionary gave it to us, and discovered that I hadn’t said anything about it – I’d preached on the reading from Job. But, since John asked me, let’s spend some time pondering today’s gospel passage.

Today’s passage from the Gospel According to Mark can be divided into three parts. In the first part, a man approaches Jesus asking what he can do to inherit eternal life. The man keeps the commandments, but has realised that just not doing something isn’t enough. Simply managing not to kill anyone, for example, is a fairly low threshold to qualify as a person of faith, and the man seems to realise this, because he’s on his knees before Jesus.

This is the only call that Jesus issues in the Gospel according to Mark that receives the answer ‘no’. Jesus invites the man to follow him, after selling all he has and giving the proceeds to the poor. The man goes away grieving, for he has many possessions.

In the second part of the story Jesus talks alone with his disciples about wealth and its effect on discipleship. It is in this part that we get the very scary statement: ‘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’ and the puzzled question by the disciples: ‘Then who can be saved?’

The third part of the story is addressed specifically to the situation of the disciples, those who have given up everything to follow Jesus. Jesus reassures them that anything they have given up for his sake will be returned to them one hundredfold in this life, and that in the age to come they’ll receive eternal life. This is heartening for the disciples, if less encouraging for those of us who, like the rich man, have many possessions.

There’s a lot that could be said about this story, but I want to focus on the middle section of the story, after the rich man has gone sadly away, when Jesus is talking to the disciples about the situation of the wealthy. He says to them: ‘How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’ The disciples are understandably puzzled by this. Wealth was understood as a sign of God’s favour; with very few exceptions it was believed that the righteous prospered and the wicked were unsuccessful. More than that, the wealthy had the opportunity to give alms, to share what they had with the poor, to make donations in the Temple. They also had the leisure to pray, and to study the scriptures. It should in fact be easier for them to enter the kingdom of heaven than it would be for the poor, who had nothing to share and little time for religious pursuits. That was simple common sense. So, what’s going on?

Once again, as in last week’s reading, Jesus is overturning the status quo and radically reordering society’s priorities. Last week it was the role of women and children in a patriarchal society. Women were not to be cast off and left homeless and without support because their husbands found something objectionable about them. Children were not to be kept away from important men, because it is to such as them that the kingdom of God belonged. This week Jesus overturns the status quo by saying that there’s a greater source of security and wealth than money, and that the rich are not favoured by God. It’s contrary to common sense, to his social environment, and to much of the wisdom literature of the Hebrew Scriptures. But Jesus was never backward in his challenge of the status quo.

Challenging the status quo, overturning society’s expectations, and flouting so-called ‘common sense’ is something that the Church, as the Body of Christ, is also called upon to do. The church of which I’m a member, the Uniting Church in Australia, does it quite often, or at least we try to. But as a guest preaching in an Anglican Church today, I thought I’d share some examples of ways in which your church challenges the status quo, things for which I as a Uniting Church minister have admired the Anglican Church.

The first is a comment from the final Presidential Address of the Archbishop of Sydney to his Synod earlier this month. It probably won’t surprise you to know that I often vehemently disagree with the Archbishop on issues like women’s ordination, which I’m sure would concern him not at all if he knew about it. But I thought he was absolutely right when he condemned Australian individualism. He said: ‘Individualism is made possible by material wealth and technological mastery. It seems that we simply do not need each other as once we did. Nor do we need God. To think that a person is so proud of the phrase “I did it my way,” that they would use it as a summary of their life’s achievement reveals an astounding moral ineptitude, a sort of vulgar egotism. But it actually makes spiritual sense. The moral ineptitude rests on a profound spiritual rebellion against the living God. Our business as humans is “Thy will be done” – we have made it “My will be done”.’ I think that’s a very brave thing to say in a society as individualistic as ours. To suggest that we as human beings owe our allegiance to anyone or anything beyond ourselves is profoundly counter-cultural. And yet it’s something that the churches need to say to society.

The second example is what the Anglican Church has said about gambling. Gambling is generally seen as an intrinsically Australian and morally neutral pastime. To suggest that gambling might need to be regulated is unAustralian. And yet last year the Synod of the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne passed a motion that supported a national mandatory pre-commitment scheme on gaming machines, reducing access to cash in gambling venues and restricting online gambling. Bishop Phillip Huggins has even taken on the AFL over the issue of gambling, which strikes me as a crazy thing for a Melburnian to do. And of course, the Anglican Church is represented on the Australian Churches Gambling Taskforce by Archbishop Philip Aspinal and by the Executive Director of Anglicare Australia, Kasey Chambers.

Finally, perhaps the bravest and most inspiring example, is the stand that the Anglican Church has made against Australia’s current treatment of asylum seekers. This is a difficult issue in our country, and the mood of the community is such that it’s a brave person who suggests that asylum seekers aren’t queue-jumping illegals and that the best way to deal with them might not be locking them up and throwing away the key. But the Refugee and Migrant Working Group of the Anglican Church, convened by the Archbishop of Adelaide, Jeffrey Driver, has said very clearly: ‘People who arrive in Australia seeking asylum should have their claims processed within Australian national territory at locations where they have access to a full range of support services. Detention for management of health, identity and security risks should be limited to a period of one month and should never be punitive.’ And your Primate, Archbishop Phillip Aspinall, gave the same message in his address to the Brisbane Diocese annual Synod meeting last year. As I said, this is not the message that the majority of Australians want to hear. It’s especially unwelcome to most politicians. And yet the church has the guts to say it.

Sixteen years ago, when I was a young woman at university doing my first degree, the then two Archbishops of Melbourne, the Catholic Sir Frank Little and the Anglican Dr Keith Rayner, refused to bless the Albert Park Grand Prix Track and condemned the growing culture of gambling in Victoria. The then Premier, Jeff Kennett, responded by describing church leaders as ‘yesterday’s people’. It’s an accusation that I remember with pride. In some ways we are yesterday’s people. We take our ethics and our commitment to justice from a man who walked this earth two thousand years ago. We remember that way that he challenged his society, and follow his example to challenge our own. We draw on the wisdom of our brother and sister Christians down the centuries who have sought to work for God’s kingdom.

But we are, more truly, tomorrow’s people. We are those who look forward to eternal life, to the coming of God’s kingdom. We are those who love our neighbour, welcome the stranger, pray for our enemies, and care for the lowliest and least. We are those who are willing to give up things today, knowing that we will receive them again a hundredfold tomorrow. We are those who know that many who are first will be last, and the last will be first. And we are those who need never be discouraged as we follow Jesus and seek to live as our disciples, because we know that ‘for God all things are possible’. So, yes, today’s Gospel passage is a tough one, but it also contains for us wonderful words of encouragement and reassurance. Let us continue to follow Jesus, knowing that with God all things are possible. Amen.


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October 16, 2012 - Posted by | Ministry | , , ,

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