The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s140g12  Sunday 28  14/10/2012

'Jesus .. loved him'  Mark 10.21

I wonder if the man went away not disappointed but puzzled.   Here was a rich man, and he had come to Jesus ready to put himself down, offering Jesus worship, yet seemingly it was spurned.

This man wanted to be good, and if that meant kneeing before a teacher, he would do that.   He would flatter the teacher, but Jesus doesn't respond to flattery.

And Jesus doesn't respond to our flattery.   If our worship of God is flattery then we are simply wasting our time.   If we think that God or Jesus is going to favour us because we believe in God or Jesus, call God by the correct name, worship in the correct manner, believe in the inherency of the Authorised Version of the Bible or whatever, then I am sorry but it's all a waste of time.   If we are looking for God to favour us over others, then this is essentially selfish, however we might try to dress it up in orthodox, scriptural or theological language.

Salvation is precisely the opposite, for we are saved from the sacred selfishness of others and others are saved from our sacred selfishness.   We are reborn into humanity, not into a holy huddle of sacred selfishness.    Jesus says: 'love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.  Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.    Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.'   Luke 6.35,36   This confronts us with a God who is 'kind to the ungrateful and the wicked', and therefore kind when it seems God is never going to get any response personally.

I spoke last week about being in the kingdom because we are.   The miracle of birth is not painless, but the effort of earning our way into a kingdom when we are already there is indeed impossible, because that is not how it happens.   Birth is a gift and life is a gift already given.

Jesus loved this man for the man was neither 'ungrateful' nor 'wicked', just not ready for the answer Jesus gave.   Jesus loved he man even though he would go away rather than become a disciple, even though seemingly he would find it all too hard.   Jesus loved this man and I wonder just how he communicated this love.   Clearly it was not communicated in such a way as to pressure the man into staying, following, complying.   Jesus didn't want or need this man's flattery, his staying, his following, his complying.   Somehow Jesus communicated his love for this man without hesitation, without discrimination and without expectation.    He loved the man by letting him go away.   He loved the man by not demanding instant agreement.   He loved the man by giving him time to digest this encounter, giving him time to think, time to evaluate where he was on his journey.   And therefore we too are loved in the same way.   We are given time to digest our encounter, given time to think, time to evaluate where we are on our journey.   We are loved by being allowed to be ourselves rather than being pressured to be someone else.

And we are bidden to follow Jesus, which implies that we love others by giving others time to digest their encounter, giving others time to think, time to evaluate where they are on their journey.   We love by allowing others to be themselves rather than pressuring them to be replicas of ourselves or to perpetuate our edifice.

Perhaps indeed this man went away not disappointed but puzzled, for it is only Jesus who loves in this way, or to put it another way, it is only this that is real love.   And it is puzzling to encounter real love, it takes time to digest, to ponder and to evaluate how this impacts on our own journey.   Who else exists to enable us to be fully ourselves?

Again, Jesus loves us by giving us time to digest our encounter, giving us time to think, time to evaluate where we are on our journey.   We are loved by allowing us to be ourselves rather than being pressured to be replicas of someone else or to perpetuate someone else's edifice.

We are loved for love seeks the welfare of the person loved, and sometimes this indeed takes time to process, to appreciate and to respond, for real love doesn't often happen and there are few among us who haven't been burned.

And it is interesting that we always assume that the rich young man didn't return, but it is Mark alone who 'remembers' that look of love and also that  'A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.'   Mark 14.51,52   If the rich man and the certain young man were Mark himself this would imply that he had indeed given all his possessions away and was following Jesus.   It would explain why he was only wearing a linen cloth, and even that dignity was taken away from him.   If the rich man was indeed Mark who returned he would have certainly remembered that love which allowed him the freedom to not respond, to not respond immediately, to think about what he was committing himself to.   Interestingly Mark has a checkered history for we are told in Acts that: 'Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark.   But Paul decided not to take with them one who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not accompanied them in the work.'  Acts 15.37,38   Barnabas, the one who had originally introduced Paul to the sceptical apostles sided against Paul and he and Mark left.

We are loved and love doesn't demand.   We dutifully recite the creed as if this were a requirement of acceptance but the God I worship loves people rather than the doctrines they recite, even when they pretend to understand those doctrines.   The God I worship loves people not those who call God by the correct name, or even those who believe in the existence of the divine.   The God I worship loves people not those who have had a particular conversion experience for that would mean that God picks and chooses who God will love on a completely arbitrary basis AND who God will hate and condemn on a equally completely arbitrary basis as well.   This makes no sense and makes a mockery of religion.   Either God loves all or God loves none.   And the supposed 'blessed assurance' of conservative evangelicals seems to me to be 'whistling in the dark'.

The love of God allows us time and space to think, that other thing that is (we believe) distinctly human.  And so we too are encouraged to give one another space and time to think, to wonder at the beauty that surrounds us as well as the conundrums that beset us, and not imposing on everyone 'our' answer to it all.