Friday, 16 October 2015
Sermon October 11, 2015
Mark 10:17-31 The Rich Young Ruler
Are any of you feeling uncomfortable hearing the Gospel this morning? Well I must admit I am. How many of us feel that we are rich? We can say, “I’m not rich—the rich people are the Donald Trumps and the Bill Gates and the Warren Buffets. They are the rich people—the billionaires. Jesus is talking about them—I’m just comfortable. Well I certainly am comfortable with all that I have. I own a house and a cottage. I own a late model car. Indeed, a few weeks ago Lorna and I were taking about what we had and were amazed at how much we had. Neither of us really expected to be as rich — sorry, comfortable— as we are in retirement. I guess I should qualify that as semi-retirement while I am doing the interim.
Of course, no one here is in the same category as Bill Gates and company—at least I don’t think anyone here is. If there is I could ask why we had trouble balancing the budget last year. I guess we really can breathe easier and thank God that Jesus was not talking about us in today’s Gospel. Now, some of you might be anticipating what I will say next. All of us are comparable to the rich man in this parable—at least when we compare ourselves to what other people have in the world today. Any of us who have a comfortable, secure life are rich—at least materially—compared to the vast majority of people in the world. There is no way we can elude the fact that if Jesus was among us today he would be addressing us when he gives us the well-known aphorism about camels and eyes of needles.
All that may well be true. But to be honest we have to look a bit closer at the Gospel. Jesus is speaking specifically to the rich man—he is sometimes called the rich young ruler. The Gospel tells us, “22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.” Jesus knew this man. That is one of the amazing things about Jesus. He knew people he encountered better than they knew themselves. He knew that this man’s great sin was that he valued his wealth above all else. He had made mammon his god.
The question for us today is, “what or who your god is?” Here we are getting into Ten Commandments territory. Thou shalt have no other god before me. Of course money can be our god as it was for the rich young man. But of course there can be many gods (that’s with a small ‘g’) today just as there were in Jesus time. Let’s think about what kinds of god people can have today.
There are many obvious gods in today’s culture. We have the god of materialism. There used to be a saying, which I haven’t heard recently (thank God) the person who dies with the most toys wins; the question is wins what? There is the god of power and success. We can think of the lust for power displayed by the gods of the corporate world who put profits about people and earn obscene salaries while their workers struggle to survive on minimum wages. We have people who are more concerned about keeping up with the Jones than contributing to welfare of this country.
It is important to consider how we do spend our resources. I don’t believe that Jesus is telling us all to sell all that we have—but do we need to consider the poor when we consider how we spend what we do have. Are we going to spend what we do on luxuries or even non-necessities?
Are we going to put some of our non-essential resources into helping others? Right now the world is facing a refugee crisis of monumental proportions. Can we decide to give some of the excess resources we have to meet the need of refugees? We may not be called to sell all our possessions. However, we are called to see the face of Christ in those refugees many of whom are dying in attempts to escape death in their own country.
Unfortunately there are many people who don’t believe there is a responsibility to share what they have with others. For many years I have been a follower of a column in the Saturday Globe and Mail; the Financial Facelift. This column takes a look people’s financial situation—there assets and liabilities and how they spend their money and recommend what changes they should make to reach their goals—often it is having a secure retirement or owning a house or enough money to live comfortably. I have been saddened by the small amount that people often give to charity in their spending. These are usually people who are relatively well off—comfortably middle class. Sometimes they are in poor financial shape—usually because their spending is in excess of their income—sometimes radically. However, their spending often doesn’t include much in charitable donations. There was one column recently that illustrates this. A letter to the editor commented on it which I will quote from:
Last Saturday’s couple in their 50’s with total assets of $2.5 million took the prize for self-indulgence. Buried among the expenditures of a net monthly income $13,975 were vacation spending ($500), discretionary ($1,131), dining, drinks and entertainment ($775) and charity ($10). What? Did they buy some Girl Guide cookies?
I could say that this couple was the modern equivalent of the rich man in the parable. However, I do not think they are concerned about the kingdom of Heaven or salvation. If they do they have a strange idea of it. This of course is, thank God, not the only response by Canadians today. There are many Canadians who respond generously. However, this has become, I believe, less common than it used to be.
Today we are celebrating Thanksgiving. We in Canada have so much to be thankful for. We live in a Country that has the resources to easily accept many refugees. We have a country that was not founded in revolution and continues to operate under the rule of law. Canada and Canadians have been blessed by plenteous natural resources—even though they are not as valuable as they were a short while ago they still have given us great wealth and continue to do so. We are a country that has a wonderful education system and universal health care. We have a country where people—regardless of their faith can worship without fear. We live in a country where we can give back part of what we have received without it causing us real sacrifice. We can give back to God part of what God has blessed us with.
What can we do then? Collectively we could consider sponsoring a refugee— St. John’s and St. Ann’s could sponsor a refugee family. We can also encourage our government to live up to its responsibility to sponsor more refugees. Canada is the equivalent of the rich young man in the Gospel. Again I don’t believe Canada is called to sell all it has to give to the poor. Canada is called to do its part as a nation of Christians and Jews and Muslims and atheists. We all have responsibility collectively and individually. I am the rich young ruler; you are the rich young ruler; Canada is the rich young ruler. How are we going to respond to Jesus’ command? When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.” Are we going to walk away or are we going to respond as Jesus commands us? Amen.