Lucifer, Money, Poverty and Lady Julian.
Mark 10: 17 – 30
One of the things I like the most is getting the chance to read a good novel - the chance doesn’t often happen and so I like to pick unusual and different things to read each time.
A while back I was given a book called ‘I, Lucifer’ by Glen Duncan - and I’ll be honest I wasn’t that certain about reading it - but on the whole I was pleased I did. it’s all about Lucifer being given a second chance by God - it’s a very challenging and adult book and certainly not one I would buy for my great aunt.
The story follows two key time streams - one where he is back on earth and has been given another chance at salvation by God in a new body - and the second time stream is him describing his relationship with humanity and with God over time – and it is the second part which is particularly interesting and challenging.
One of the things Lucifer describes in the book is what he’s done to tempt humanity away from God and goodness – and in one passage he says……’You wouldn't believe the things I've invented…but let's save time…I’ve invented everything in the world that distracts you from thinking about God. Which...pretty much...is everything in the world, isn't it?....
He then goes on to say that when the world was first created it was quite difficult to tempt humans away from God but once he invented money - really that was it - he could sit back and enjoy himself - the hard work was over - as greed and the desire for control and power did all his hard work for him - really he exclaims - it was his best invention.
I spent quite a lot of time thinking about that - and I have to agree that more often than not - money is keeping us from God - keeping us from goodness - and keeping us from helping to establish God’s Kingdom. Surely in God's Kingdom there isn’t money - all are equal - and all are cared for and have enough. And then….Isn't that the Kingdom we are supposed to be creating here and now?
You see our love of money is serious stuff – as it not only keeps us from a closer relationship with God - but it also drives every significant evil you can think of – war - terrorism – slavery – drugs - environmental damage - animal cruelty - the oppression of women – I could go on…..all of which take us further and further away from God and the teachings and examples of Christ.
Talking about wealth to a congregation based in a village where you need a million pounds to buy a house is not straightforward.
Talking about the economic systems of this world honestly and in a way Jesus might recognise feels in many ways uncomfortable. Most of us here have at least enough money to get by ...not many of us struggle each month to pay our bills, put food on the table and basically just get by.
In my other role I am writing a report on the impacts of the end of furlough, the end of the benefit uplift, high unemployment and rising food and fuel costs. Despite wages rising and employment opportunities growing, think tanks like the Resolution Foundation believe many households who are already struggling to cope will be approximately a thousand pounds a year worse off. These households where people are often working but low paid, will be facing very serious financial challenges as a result. Our support for the Whitehawk Food bank will I’m afraid become critical in the months to come.
What is your response to this situation?
You may have noticed we have started including short sentences from Proverbs on our service sheets.
I like Amos, whom we heard from this morning communicating God's outrage at the exploitation and lack of care for the poor, might have chosen Proverbs 14:31
‘Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God’.
This situation is of course not new...
Joseph Roundtree in 1914 reflected …. ‘ The soup kitchen in York never has difficulty in obtaining adequate financial aid, but an inquiry into the extent and cases of poverty would enlists little support.’
Dom Camara former Archbishop of Brazil and passionate liberation theologian reflected – ‘When I give food to the poor, they call me saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist’.
To be absolutely clear I am no communist - I am a bible reading Christian who just wants a fairer world.
So today we are asked...
What is our view of money - what’s our relationship with money and all that it can bring - and how do we understand our relationship between money and wealth ...and following Christ?
I think it’s an important question. Many churches in this country - and especially many churches in North America link faithfulness and belief in Christ with financial wealth and security.
This is called the prosperity gospel - and we can see this has a along tradition in organised religion - at the end of our Gospel reading we have today we can see that the disciples are ‘astounded’ by Jesus when he says wealth and doing well are not gifts from God for being faithful - but instead are impediments to entering the kingdom of God. This was a radical and inflammatory teaching then - I think for some it is radical news today - but it’s a key foundational teaching of Jesus that is too often overlooked.
I have to say I particularly struggle with money - I came from a family where there wasn’t a lot of money to go around and we all had to work hard to balance the books at the end of the month. I think in many ways that’s left me with a deep-seated anxiety around money and this is one of things I’ve had to address in coming to ordained ministry. Giving up the comparative wealth and power that my ‘big job’ gave me is still I’m afraid a struggle.
I have a lot more work to do on this myself and at times I feel just like this chap that’s run up to Jesus and said I’m doing all the things the law requires of me - and I can list them all out just like him….
I can say that I’m trying to be a good person and that I believe in Jesus and I’ve given up lots to be his follower…..
But really if I was facing Jesus right now could I say that I’d given up everything that he is requiring? Given everything up, that's keeping me from a deep life changing relationship with Jesus?
Perhaps in the end it's not about how much money you have - enough – more than enough – or simply not enough – but our relationship with it. Are we so obsessed by money – and by what it represents that it is keeping us from God – from fully following Jesus?
When I listen to the verbs in this passage from Jesus he says go, sell, give, come, follow. So simple and yet so very difficult. It is interesting how the church seems to focus on things Jesus never talked about isn’t it - its obsession with same sex love, women in ministry, what sort of music is sung, what priests wear., if it's a table or an altar (it's both!) and the list goes on…... but fails time and time again with this core teaching.
Jesus in our passage insists that it is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom and uses a comical image to illustrate his teaching - it is easier for a camel the largest beast of burden - to pass through the eye of a needle - the smallest opening. Now most scholars agree this isn’t about a small gate in the walls of Jerusalem - that’s just the mediaeval story - it is literally the eye of a needle. It’s that challenging and Jesus is making that big a point.
Now the theology of Mark and Paul here can be seen as very similar - and this is the good news of Christ - that we are not in control of salvation - the supreme power of God is the master of salvation.
No one can save or justify himself. Salvation is not something we can manage ourselves - no matter how morally upright we are – salvation - even for those who are far from the kingdom - including the rich and those obsessed with power is possible - salvation is the gift of God alone - the God for whom all things are possible.
Those of you who know something of lady Julian of Norwich will know this is the core message from her visions of Christ - that despite all of our failings - Christ’s love and compassion for us is so generous and vast that - all will be well and all manner of things will be well - because what is impossible for us to imagine is not impossible for God to achieve.
The Good News is that Jesus wants us to try our very hardest - this generosity of God isn’t an excuse not to try our hardest - not to repent and transform our lives. The bible tells us we will be held to account – and there is no getting away from this.
Through God’s grace, should we fail however, we can trust in our God for whom nothing is impossible – including our own salvation.
I invite you today to respond to Jesus – to put aside all those things that are keeping you from God – that are keeping you from the person Christ wants you to be. Jesus is waiting for you to put those things away, to come and follow him and help bring about a fair and just world.