Sermon for the Nineteenth Sunday of Trinity
10th Oct 2021
Nineteenth Sunday of Trinity
Everything is possible to God. Mark 10.27.
This morning’s Gospel reading continues to ask the same question. “Can I afford to be more generous?” The story of the rich young man appears to be one of the most straightforward and indeed the easiest to interpret. Jesus challenges the young man at the point of his greatest possessiveness. His wealth. And this is surely a story about the acquisition of money for its own sake and of greed? The reading and interpretation surely falls easily to hand? But the story has a more profound meaning: What might it mean to live the life we are made by God to live? The Gospel writer Mark places alongside finding and gaining material wealth the challenging idea of renouncing and of losing one’s self. It is with the idea of ‘unselfing’ rather than with that of calculated acquisition that life is made rich and productive and Godly. It is when we can give from within ourselves toward that which lies beyond ourselves the transformation of life in God’s image is made possible. For Christians, this is the basis of all our service in whatever capacity.
The rich young man enjoyed his time of spiritual ease. He came to Jesus as the religious dweller of a good post code. Churches are now growing across the world, containing congregations of great number, in which a new Gospel of ‘Rich is Godly’ is preached, while the minister might well own a private jet and is drive about in a limousine. There is seen to be no irony in this… He is a kind of hero. But his riches cut him off from himself. The rich young man lives in the spiritual equivalent of a gated community away and apart from the spiritual mainstream. Jesus stands before him as the presence and the voice of God. He lacks one thing, this young man : the spirit of self-emptying or unselfing. To ‘move on’ he needs to ‘move out’ and even to ‘get rid’.
London is one city which bounds many towns and villages, each with their own identity. It is like a giant patchwork quilt of differing communities, and you can get this delightful sense of wandering through districts as they appear to you in their distinctive character. There is much speculation about where and how these identities are located and where they meet; where and what is King’s Cross, where and what Bloomsbury, where and what the romantically sounding Fitzrovia. And the estate agents talk this up. They like to talk up easy access to the Brunswick Centre, with its ‘shopping opportunities’ and now the King’s Cross identity begins to take on a veneer of luxury living with mention of the St Pancras Chambers, the new 5* hotel. A cold and derelict tract of wasteland has been turned into a gleaming mini-metropolis. A London postcode for estate agents can tell you all you need to know about a distinct where WC1 sounds and means something different from NW1, as the Euston Road separates them and where this separation was once known as ‘The Dead Sea’. But inhabiting the fascinating patchwork of districts are countless lives being led, and all of them asking, whether they express it or not, deep and searching questions about the meaning of life and of its truer purpose: “What is my life really all about?” “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” This is the great unuttered, unanswered prayer of modern life. Its exaction holds for us now just as it did for the rich young man.
Mark tells us that the rich young man went off ‘on his own way’. The story is left open ended. Did he or didn’t he sell what he owned to follow Jesus? The story suggests that he didn’t. We are told that he left ‘disconsolate’. Jesus had been the sun breaking through to illuminate the field of his dreams but it was felt as a bright obscuring light. It was the cold light of day, and more than the young man could bear. Christ’s command is not coercive, arguing the believer into a corner. No: ‘it knows of what we are made’ and expresses what is true to our existence and to the love of God. .
Finally, this story comments upon this offer of eternal life in the present by sticking on to it two post-it notes : the first that it is hard to see or to enter this Kingdom and to realise its beauty if you are ‘hurrying’ or ‘hankering’ after that which does not bring ‘eternal life’. Today’s gospel reading is a call to a radical and interior dispossession and a trust in what remains – a continuing call to enter into a relationship with him to manifest the true purposes of God in our lives and through us into the lives of others. Jesus tells us that ‘…everything is possible with God’. God can use our indifference, our desire to domesticate and tame him and use him for our own ends. He can use our weaknesses, our good and bad faith and our base passions and transform them. We are not as self-sufficient as we suppose. In fact it may be our brokenness and our vulnerability that brings us closer to the Kingdom of God than our self-possession. The gift was always greater and more valuable for its having been given. The gift was all the greater because given freely, not thinking of the self only.
“ To reach satisfaction in all, desire satisfaction in nothing. To come to possess all, desire the possession of nothing. To arrive at being all, desire to be nothing. To come to the knowledge of all, desire the knowledge of nothing. To come to enjoy what you have not, you must go by a way in which you enjoy not. To come to the possession you have not, you must go by a way in which you possess not. To come to what you are not, you must go by a way in which you are not.”
St John of the Cross.
How can it be possible to ‘sell all that we have?’; to take that risk on what might feel like self-annihilation. The One who knows is the teacher, the Saviour, Jesus Christ. He is the One who has gone ahead and died for us. He is the One who has made possible the transformation of our human condition as we look beyond ourselves to find ourselves – in Him, the One who makes everything possible.