The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at: http://users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/r140.htm
s140g00 Somerton Park Sunday 28 15/10/2000
"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, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age -- houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions ..." Mark 10:29-30
There is the old joke, which I hasten to use in it's non gender specific form: What is the punishment for bigamy? Two spouses :-) I'm not exactly certain I want more houses - I certainly hope there will be no lawns to mow in heaven - that would indeed be "fields with persecutions" :-) I'm not exactly certain I want more brothers or sisters - siblings can oft times be a mixed blessing. I suppose I can cope with mothers, though that might automatically mean more mothers-in-law too!!! :-) Actually I'm very content with our two young men; I couldn't cope with a spate of more nappies :-)
I suppose that for "non-public" people the prospect of having increased company around one is attractive. However I suspect for doctors, nurses, clergy and other such "public" people, we look rather for quietness and solitude.
I suspect that initially the reference here is to the restoration of Job where, after his epic debate with the three friends and the dialogue with God, his children are replaced - if such a thing is really possible.
One cannot read that passage from Amos "you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain ... and push aside the needy in the gate." (Amos 5:10-12) and not recall the protests in Seattle, S11 in Melbourne and S26 in Prague, outside the meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. And yet it is so easy to criticise what other people seem not to do with their riches. I look at our own Diocese of Adelaide and how the work of the kingdom is seen as being most effective in a few "rich" parishes who seem to "look down on" the numerous "struggling" parishes. I hardly think that we are unique in this. I think a previous Bishop said once that if parishes actually paid all the Synodal Assessment they should - the rate of assessment would be considerably lower.
If the capitalist system serves only to allow the rich to keep their money and grow richer, it needs to be reformed. But as George Orwell's classic book "1984" graphically demonstrates - we are all infected with greed. For most of us (perhaps we occasionally perceive it as mercifully) - our paths to riches are thwarted at every turn.
Our gospel story is all about rewards for our efforts. The rich young man had lived his life doing many good things in anticipation of reward. I mean he had done so much, been so sincere, done all the right things -surely he deserved a special place ... Peter too felt he had given up so much to follow Jesus; what was his reward to be? Surely they would come before others who had not left everything like he and they had ...
And Jesus turns this all around and says that the reward is to be amongst others - the others who hadn't managed to keep all the commandments since their youth, those who seemed to have given up little if anything for God - all those for whom we, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, know that Christ died and rose again ...
What a fitting way to defuse all this anxiety based around whether or not "I" will be saved - what a lovely hyperbole Jesus uses.
For it is impossible to gain eternal life by oneself like one might gain membership of an exclusive club - because the kingdom is nothing like an exclusive club at all. It is the nature of the kingdom that it contains all sorts and conditions of people - it is an all inclusive club. So the whole conception of having to earn one's way into heaven, presupposes a kingdom quite foreign to God's. The whole conception of having to give up houses or brothers or sisters or mothers or fathers or children or fields for God to get a reward, presupposes a God quite alien to the one Jesus shows us.
By making religion like earning membership, we are going in precisely the opposite way God intends. We might well gain membership into "our" kingdom only to find it isn't God's. Indeed our efforts to gain membership may well actually be motivated more by flight from the kingdom God has prepared - with the houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, children and fields that God has already given us.
Indeed the efforts of the rich young man to live according to the commandments and the "renunciations" of the disciples, can be seen as flights away from others - those less able to keep the commandments, those given less grace to be able to renounce ...
Indeed, I suppose this is why it is hard, well nigh impossible to enter the kingdom by our own efforts, because such a kingdom is not God's. God deliberately makes it hard, because that is not the way we should be going. The real kingdom is easy to enter, as we allow ourselves and all others to be brought in as a free gift.
A couple of weeks ago our Primate gave a lecture at the Adelaide College of Divinity on "Manifestation or Mystery? - A Theological Pedigree". The Primate spoke on how when God reveals something of the divine, we end up with more questions than answers. The last question from our own Archbishop was about evangelism and success. I can't quote him accurately, but it was about how evangelism which gives answers seems very successful. Our Primate's response was to the effect that one must consider what people are being converted to. Is it really the gospel of grace? For me this is the same question.
So I suppose it is both a threat and a promise that heaven will be amongst others. So for the members of the IMF and the World Bank, eternity will be shared with the poor and the outcast. There can be no hiding or excuses.
And it is the same with us, our eternity will be shared with those with whom we have most differed. The same with us, there can be no hiding or excuses. And I certainly think that there is a good deal of personal anxiety in me when I ponder this for myself. I am reminded, again, of Richard, the long suffering husband of Hyacinth Bucket, in the television series: "Keeping Up Appearances". In bed, Hyacinth says to Richard: "Isn't it such a comfort, dear, to know that we will be spending eternity together" to which poor Richard can only raise his eyes to heaven and sigh :-)
The distance between being comforted in the bosom of Abraham and the torments in Sheol, is perhaps not all that great after all. Or perhaps to put it another way the torments of Sheol are those we inflict upon ourselves when faced with the realisation of our past inhumanity towards others. The abyss between us and others is no creation of God, we dig the abyss, spade by spade, between ourselves and others - in this life.
In my reading recently I keep returning to the central place the word righteousness has in scripture. And this gospel passage demonstrates what God's righteousness is all about. It has got nothing to do with keeping the commandments, tithing, praying, managing not to look at persons of the opposite gender lustfully ... It is all about caring for others, recognising that all people have a place in God's kingdom and economy and doing what we can to share with others and allowing others to share with us.
One must recognise that the ancient people of God saw themselves very much as the underdog and so God's help to them was a sign that God always helped the weak and helpless, no matter who they were.
The Archbishop of Wales recently wrote (ACNS 2242): "If you ask, who are the real victims in the Holy land, you have to think very carefully before answering. At present, the Palestinians suffer outrageous privations ... There can be no dispute that they are the victims of day-by-day Israeli policy. Yet Israel exits - and this can't be too often stressed - because Jews in both the Christian and the Muslim worlds cannot feel safe, because they have been outsiders and victims for centuries of bloodshed and torment. ... Jews have been victims for too long, now they must learn to be agents of their own destiny ... Two histories of appalling suffering, and when they are discussed, how tempting to get into the terrible game of comparative atrocities: my suffering is greater than yours. It's the same story as we find in the Balkans or in Rwanda, or even in Ulster. ... the most important step to peace is that from argument over who has suffered more and has a more powerful moral claim to reparation, towards recognition that the only strength that matters and lasts is a shared strength." I can but commend the whole of his speech to you, I have put a copy in the folder with Molly Wolf's Sabbath Blessings.
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