October 7, 2021

Sunday Worship Service 10th October 2021

Passage: Mark Chapter 10 verses 17-31

A prayer of praise and thanksgiving
Thank you, God, that all things are possible with you.
If we truly do something in your name,
however hard it has been, you will bless us.
You are always there to guide us,
to keep us on the right track.
Thank you that when we don’t understand something –
such as a camel going through the eye of the needle –
you are there to give us understanding.
You keep us on the straight and narrow way
when we need it most.
Thank you, God, that with you everything is new.
Through you we know we have the way to eternal life.
Thank you, Lord. Just, thank you. Amen.
Read Mark Chapter 10 verses 17-31
Sermon by Rev Peter Lyth
Is it wrong to be rich? Certainly a great deal of energy is expended in the UK in looking after people’s wealth. The company Hargreaves Lansdown invests £91.6 billion on behalf of 1.090,000 clients. They have all sorts of savings products like ISA’s and the money is invested in all sorts of ways, from shares to property and government bonds. Another company, St James Place has £135 billion of clients’ funds invested. Clearly this is very big business. What is this money for? A lot of it will be for pensions, some saving for a rainy day. Others will be saving for a specific purpose (like a house). Some of these investments are quite safe and secure but generally pay out less, others are more high risk, but may gain more in value. Of course there are many more risky investments (or speculations) around. People have made lots of money through cryptocurrencies like bitcoin (don’t worry, I don’t understand them either). Sometimes people are lured into handing over large sums of money in order to get a return that seems too good to be true. This often proves to be the case as people are defrauded of large sums. In America, the disgraced financier Bernie Madoff was estimated to have conned his clients out of at least $18 billion over at least two decades.
Wealth is big business. Of course some this money is needed to give people money to live off in retirement. Charities, including churches invest their reserves hoping for a return that will, at least equal inflation if not net them a profit. But at what point does a preoccupation with wealth become a bad thing? This is something that is addressed in our passage from Mark’s Gospel. It contains the encounter between the man who is often known as the “rich young ruler” (although Mark doesn’t tell us that he was either rich or a ruler) and Jesus. You could take him into the present day and he could be a member of a mainstream church. He is devout, prosperous and sincere – all admirable qualities. Later on in the passage, there are two further conversations about the significance of riches. As I said before, this man comes across as sincere. He doesn’t put on airs, in fact he kneels before Jesus. When asked about the commandments, his answer, “I have kept all these since my youth”, is straightforward. It’s not a statement of arrogance, but the response of a straightforward, devout man. This is reflected in how Jesus responds. The gospel writer observes, “Jesus looking at him, loved him”. So his response comes out of a genuine desire to bring him salvation rather than to catch him out. Yet he identifies the stumbling block – the thing that will prevent him from gaining eternal life. The reply, “One thing you lack. Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” The man cannot be a wholehearted disciple unless he cuts the ties to his possessions. Instead, those bonds are so strong that all he can do is to walk away, his face downcast.
Now, it can be argued that the problem could apply to whatever prevents us from following Jesus wholeheartedly. It might not be wealth, but instead be ambition or education. Even seeking success in the religious establishment can become a stumbling block rather than a path to eternal life. This is all true. But Jesus draws the conversation back to money – money and possessions have a way of subtly becoming our masters. I remember seeing a programme on TV about compulsive hoarding. Often the habit had started as a result of some kind of trauma. But the people concerned were unable to let go of possessions that to outsiders had little or no worth. Eventually they were possessed by the possessions to the extent that they lived in squalor that was caused by the stuff that they had accumulated. In the case of money, it is in itself neutral – it can be used for great good but also evil. It’s not for nothing that St Paul, writing to Timothy said, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil”. We can easily become slaves to money and possessions so that it is fitting that Jesus continues on the subject.
Jesus is quite blunt about the difficulty presented by a rich person living faithfully under the reign of God “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” The image is absurd and is clearly impossible. What will have confounded them still further is that their conventional wisdom told them that riches were a material sign of God’s blessing. This notion sometimes appeared in Jewish literature of the time and certainly appears nowadays in some strands of Western Christianity. The disciples respond by questioning who can be saved in that case. Jesus’ answer is that it takes a miracle for a rich person to be saved.
Another perspective is that wealth confers status and power. This is at odds with Jesus’ statement that one has to be as a small child to enter the Kingdom of God. Eternal life means joining a world where the natural order is turned upside-down and status is unimportant as the first shall be last and the last, first.
Really, the problem is that we cling to what we know. Status and wealth bring the perception of safety. Many accumulate wealth as a buffer against misfortune in the future. But Jesus challenges us to let go of those things that are familiar and safe in order to step out in faith to become a disciple of Christ. The other factor is that as we step out we rely on a new source of security – God’s grace. Mark’s story tells us really that it’s not about the renunciation of wealth, but the letting go of the attitudes of the world of the wealthy that bring eternal life. The status that comes with money and possessions is meaningless compared with the salvation brought by our Lord Jesus Christ.
Prayers of intercession
We bring to you: the fuel crisis, the disruption of supplies and services, the fears of empty shelves in shops; and we pray for the government and all decision makers.
Loving God,
may your wisdom shape their choices.
We bring to you the police and criminal justice system, and those whose confidence in the police has been shaken. We pray for those who seek to restore faith in an organisation and its people who are supposed to offer security and protection.
Loving God,
may your wisdom shape their choices.
We bring you the NHS and all who work for it. We pray especially for those facing difficult decisions concerning appropriate treatments, safety of staff and matters concerning Covid-19.
Loving God,
may your wisdom shape their choices.
We bring to you the church throughout the world, different traditions, different denominations. We pray for those who seek to guide the mission of the Church that your Word may be spread and your work done in all places. We bring to you those who are challenged by lack of resources to achieve their vision of your kingdom.
Loving God,
may your wisdom shape their choices.
We bring to you all those who face difficult choices, those without enough money for the essentials of life, those facing decisions about medical treatment or concerns about housing. We pray that they may find help and support in their communities.
Loving God,
may your wisdom shape their choices.
As we bring all these things – indeed, the whole world – to you, knowing that there is much that needs doing, we are reminded today that first of all things is our relationship with you. Wisdom comes from you. By your Spirit, you guide and strengthen us. You show us the path, and help us to make our decisions. All things are possible with you, and without you we can achieve so little.
Loving God.
May your wisdom shape our choices.
To the sick bring healing.
To the sorrowful bring comfort.
To the despairing bring hope.
And to us bring vision, wisdom and a knowledge of your purposes.
In the name of Jesus.
Prayers are © ROOTS for Churches Ltd 2002-2021. Reproduced with permission. www.rootsontheweb.com

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