The readings on which this sermon is
based can be found at: http://frsparky.net/a/r124.htm
s124g12 Sunday 12 24/6/2012
'have you still no faith?' Mark 4.40
Despite all that the disciples had witnessed, it seems they still
didn't have faith, such that Jesus himself marvelled. We
ought to take heart when we are assailed by doubts, when we haven't
seen like the disciples had. Of course, Jesus was also
surprised that the orthodox and the devout didn't have faith
either. Jesus found faith in those outside, those who
hadn't seen, those who weren't following. He found faith
in the woman who touched the hem of his garment despite her
'uncleanness', in the centurion with the sick boy.
Indeed he goes out of his way to say to these people 'your faith has
made you whole', not my power or my divinity. It seems that
faith is inversely proportional to knowledge of God and
Jesus. It seems the more orthodox and devout, the more
direct knowledge of Jesus, the less faith. Indeed faith
seems proportional to how grounded we are rather than the inverse,
to how much we devote our lives to 'heavenly' or 'spiritual'
This, of course, begs the question why the church spends so much of
her time defining orthodoxy and devotion and commending those who
know Jesus as ‘their personal Lord and Saviour?‘
Personally, this implies that it is quite likely that I have less
faith than someone who doesn’t go to church like I do, read the
bible like I do, pray like I do.
Recently we have been reading the story of the occupation of the
promised land recounted in Joshua, and I noticed, for the first
time, the sin of coveting. When I have considered
coveting, the last of the 10 commandments, I have assumed that it is
about envying my rich neighbour's possessions. Now I
recognise that living a life of envy is to live a life of
unhappiness, which is certainly not God’s will, nor is it
desirable. But envying someone else’s possessions (or
coveting one's own) doesn’t seem to warrant instant death, such as
happened to Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. Joshua in
the OT and Peter in the new, tells us that it is a religious
sin. It is taking the goods of someone else, even a
foreigner, which are devoted to God. Joshua 6.18, 7.21
So it is not an unfortunate personality trait, nor a breach of
morals, it is theologically evil.
It is clear that the sin of coveting was a particular sin of the
ancient people of God, for Isaiah says: ‘Because of their wicked
covetousness I was angry; I struck them, I hid and was angry; but
they kept turning back to their own ways.’ Isaiah
When I think of those people who we are told God killed, there are
the sons of Judah, Er and Onan, the sons of Eli the priest, Hophni
and Phineas and the son of King David born of Bathsheba.
It is significant that each of these had reason to consider
themselves entitled. While we are not told the reason
why God considered Er wicked, Onan treated his brother’s foreign
wife with contempt, Hophni and Phineas contemptuously treated the
offerings of the people as their own and David conspired to have his
faithful servant Uriah killed in order to legitimise his
relationship with Uriah's wife.
So it begins to make me suspicious that we don’t hear anything about
coveting within the church. I cannot remember ever hearing a
sermon about the sin of coveting, and neither can Mary.
Taking the goods of someone else, goods which belong to God seem to
me to point to other peoples' souls, their self-esteem, their
natural dignity. Other people belong to God no less than
we, as 'christians', as people of faith, do.
The example of Ananias and Sapphira tells us that we can covet
things that belong to us, so we can covet our 'faith' as if it
belonged to us alone, rather than a gift of God, meant to be shared.
And I begin to wonder if the reason Jesus didn’t find faith in the
orthodox and the devout, as well as in the disciples, was that he
didn’t confuse faith with coveting. Jesus saw
particularly clearly the sanctified selfishness, arrogance,
blindness and inertia which the orthodox and the devout counted as
faith. He saw the sanctified selfishness and confronted
it by his own mode of life and teaching. Jesus had to
continue to confront sanctified selfishness in the disciples
throughout his ministry. It was the disciples who wanted
to keep Jesus to themselves, to keep children away from him, to send
the Canaanite woman away (Mat 15), who argued over who was the
greatest, and who were scandalised when Jesus talked about the way
of the Cross.
Indeed Jesus was killed by the orthodox and the devout because he
confronted their covetousness by associating with the
tax-collectors, prostitutes and sinners.
And to suggest that Jesus died on the Cross for my sin and to bring
me salvation is no less covetous.
I have reflected in times past the propensity of some 'evangelicals'
to challenge others rather than to love others. 'Love'
has dropped out of their vocabulary almost entirely, as has
covetousness. It is said: 'attack is the best form
of defence' and I begin to realise that this is a tactic of those
who think that they can conceal their little faith as they challenge
rather than love others. So also the propensity of some
'evangelicals' to focus entirely on sexual sins (of course, of
others) is a neat way of avoiding focussing on the evil of their own
The sin of covetousness goes some way to counteract the wholesale
destruction of lives as the ancient people of God took possession of
the promised land, and also some way in counteracting the rampant
'prosperity gospel' of some evangelists. It is the
besetting sin of all religious of all religions. It is
the reason that those outside the church are content to remain
there, for they, like Jesus, see the faith of some within the church
for the covetousness that it really is. They are right
to despise us for it.
The fact that those I detailed above, those who considered
themselves entitled to covet other's goods and treat them with
contempt, suffered death, for me, for once, puts some sense into the
substitutionary theory of the atonement. It is because
of covetousness of the religious that they deserved death, so that
death of Jesus on the Cross was ‘necessary’. Tt
was Saul's covetousness that made him consider himself entitled to
persecute others. The risen Christ meets him on that
road to Damascus and tells Saul he is persecuting him.
He is saved from covetousness! So we are saved from
covetousness not to allow us to be covetous.
And surely this world would be a better place without covetousness
in the name of God. It would certainly be a happier
place for all, rather than a world without gays, lesbians, people of
other faiths and people of no faith! This is a kingdom
worth working for, worth risking one's life for, and worth enduring
the ridicule of the orthodox and the devout. For there
are a multitude of people who work for, risk their lives for and
endure ridicule for a world without religious covetousness who
wouldn't, on principle, darken the doors of the church.
So the question Jesus posed to the disciples in that boat when
things got rough, is posed equally to us. Is our faith
really covetousness in an elegant disguise?
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