|Temporary closure of Stone and Golden Galleries|
|8:30am||Doors open for sightseeing|
|3:30pm||Last entry for sightseeing|
Sermon preached on the nineteenth Sunday after Trinity (14 October 2012) by The Right Reverend Michael Colclough, Canon Pastor
The Right Reverend Michael Colclough looks at Jesus' meeting with a stranger asking how he could inherit eternal life, and how Jesus wanted to love the man into the Kingdon of Heaven, but in the end the important thing was what the man wanted.
Hebrews 4: 12-end; St Mark 10: 17-31
He was a devout Anglican. He died two hundred and twenty eight years ago and is one of the most famous literary figures of the eighteenth century – and still he watches over the worshippers of St Paul’s Cathedral from his plinth behind the organ console over there. Dr Samuel Johnson – a good Christian whose concern and efforts to help the poor and needy equalled his literary accomplishments. On one occasion Dr Johnson was shown round a famous castle known for its lovely gardens. After he’d seen it all, he said to his friends, ‘these are the things that make it difficult to die’. The potential and distracting danger of possessions.
We’ve just heard one of the most vivid stories in the Gospels. Matthew, Mark and Luke all give an account of the dramatic way in which this man runs up to Jesus, falls on his knees and asks, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He was clearly fascinated by Jesus. Had he heard Jesus’s teaching? Had he seen the healing ministry of Jesus? We don’t know: but he certainly comes to Jesus with conviction, confidence and hope. What was Jesus’s reaction to the man? What was the first thing Jesus said? ‘Why do you call me good? No-one is good but God alone’. Jesus – who in St Paul’s words, ‘Did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself,’ - this Jesus immediately points the man to God, not to himself. Eternal life is to be known and experienced only within God and his Kingdom: Jesus is the one who comes to bring in that Kingdom of God.
What is one of the essential, basic messages of that Kingdom? – Well, from this Gospel incident it’s very clear that there’s more to belonging to the Kingdom of God than simply being a respectable citizen. Jesus quotes several commandments – from not murdering people to fraud – and the man says with confidence, ‘I have kept all these from my youth’. The man is saying that he’s never harmed anyone. But the Kingdom of God is more than having moral respectability – it’s a case of thankfully owning God’s goodness and God’s generosity and owning it to such an extent that you are willing to trust God even to giving all else away. So Jesus says, ‘You lack one thing: go, sell what you own and give the money to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me’. Jesus didn’t say it, but we can see it – the man is called to follow Jesus in his divine self-emptying – that self-giving that was central to his incarnation, to the Eternal Word becoming flesh.
A challenge: a challenge that shocked the man who’d sought out Jesus and asked his advice. It was so much of a challenge that the man ‘went away grieving for he had many possessions’. The goodness of God’s Kingdom is not found in not doing bad things – it’s an embracing and imitating the wonderful generosity of God and spending who you are and what you have for the good of other people. We’re told that Jesus looked at this man and loved him. Jesus wanted to love this man into the Kingdom – but in the end the important thing was what the man wanted. God doesn’t force himself on anyone – he simply lovingly invites. Did this man want eternal life, did he want God enough to throw away his earthly securities and throw himself totally onto the love and provision of God?
You may think it’s a tall order, a challenge that goes beyond reasonableness – but it was the man who approached Jesus and asked the question. I have to admit that I have sometimes gone to God asking – but asking already knowing the answer I want or asking in the hope that God will simply rubber stamp, give substance to, my own dreams and desires. Can we expect that of God, of Jesus?
In today’s reading from the letter to the Hebrews the writer tells us that, ‘The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.....able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart’. It was the word of God that bought creation into being and, according to the prophet Isaiah, ‘It will accomplish that which I purposed’ (55:11). What we see in the Gospels is Jesus, the Word of God who is life-giving and life-transforming. Encounters with Jesus necessarily bring change – and this is the Jesus, says the writer to the Hebrews, who is not only our High Priest in heaven but can also sympathise with us in our weakness because ‘In every respect he has been tempted as we are, yet without sin’. Because of that Jesus is the source of all mercy and all grace. Mercy and grace: the very gifts that alone can bring us into that eternal life that the man in our Gospel reading requested. It is Jesus who brings God to us and us to God.
The man in today’s Gospel reading met the Living Lord and was shocked by his word and went away grieving.
You and I have come here today to meet that same Living Lord and to hear his word – how will you, how will I, leave this church today?