20B                                                       St. Ninian’s                                         14/10/18  

Amos 5: 6 – 7, 10 - 15;          Psalm 90:13 - 17;          Hebrews
4:12 - 16;      Mark 10: 17-31


We have all heard
about scams regarding money. Every day offers pour in your door about how to
make money, get back PPI etc. etc. 3 weeks ago I was offered a petrol voucher
and an introduction to a motoring club. The girl emphasized that taking and
using the voucher didn’t mean commitment. Being a bit greedy I took the voucher
but when it arrived you had to fill in your personal details including your
bank details before you handed it over to the chosen garage. No, I thought not doing
that and ripped it up. I returned the little form that said I didn’t want anything
to do with their motor club and then on Friday 12th October opened a
letter to say if I didn’t reply by the 10th October they would be
taking £59.99 membership fee from my bank account whose details they had
because I bought stuff from them. Now I have to sped time getting my money back
which will teach me to try and get something for nothing.

The second event
this week was to have a little retreat. After Midday Eucharist and a Taizé
style evensong the words from the story of Martha and Mary were don’t get distracted
and focus on God. Both these events I think are relevant to today’s readings.

The fiery
eighth-century prophet Amos is addressing his people probably on a feast day at
the pride of Israel’s cultic system the sacred sanctuary at Bethel. Bethel had tradition,
exciting worship, prestige, worshipers going about their religious duties, but Amos
noted that there was an absence of real love and sincere devotion to God in
what they were doing. Even worse in Amos’s eyes the same people saw no
connection between what they were doing at this feast and their dealings in the
marketplace throughout the week. God was enthusiastically praised at Bethel,
but was conspicuously absent when it came to personal and social relationships
at other times and in other places. In short, Amos was more concerned with a
saving knowledge of God and with ethical righteousness as a sign that their
religious experience was genuine. Similarly, Jesus was more concerned with the
young man’s attitude to God rather than his money.

This gospel passage
is often used to teach about how the rich won’t enter the kingdom of heaven and
Jesus’ bias towards the poor. But the depth of the story which affects us all
is worldly distractions which affect our devotion to God.

I hasten to point
out that I am not distracted by my wealthy or my poverty but by the many other
things in life which take up my time including stupid money scams.

3 of the gospel writers
include this story and describe a wealthy man with many possessions. Matthew
adds the detail that he was a young man and Luke calls him a ruler. But even
with all his riches, with all his youthful energy and his good standing as a
leader in the community, this man wanted more. He wanted to be rich in eternal
life and so he came to Jesus with his question: "Good Teacher, what must I
do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus dismisses the good teacher bit and goes
straight to the obvious answer for Jews of their day. If you're interested in
eternal life, then you need to start with the commandments. The young man maintained
that he had kept them all his life. Mark adds this touching detail Jesus looked
at this young man and loved him which doesn't appear in the other two versions
of this story. Jesus didn’t argue with him about keeping the commandments but
goes straight to the point. "You lack one thing. Sell what you own, and
give the money to the poor."

I met my math’s
teacher in Dobbie’s yesterday and reminded her of the impact she had on me as a
1st year pupil and fairly new Christian regarding the importance of
tithing. The law spoke of tithing as where one tenth of the grain, one tenth of
the produce, one tenth of the livestock was to be given over to God. We are
instructed to tithe and to give our money and our goods to God for the use of
the kingdom and to help the church and our charities which do great good in our
communities and in the wider world and maybe the rich young man was already
keeping that part of the law as well.  Jesus
did not speak about tithing or about making a charitable donation to a good
cause nor about giving in return for a tax benefit but starkly said: "Sell
what you own, and give the money to the poor."

This is an
extraordinary call of discipleship especially shocking in the ancient world and
that equated being rich with being blessed by God, and shocking still today
where we're bombarded by advice on how to get rich, the more the better, the
faster the better. It is a pretty tough call to discipleship compared to other
calls of discipleship. In most cases, Jesus simply said "Follow me."
When the man heard what Jesus was asking, "He was shocked and went away
grieving, for he had many possessions."

Jesus' words highlighted
the one thing the young man couldn't do because the real problem was that his
things owned him and they were distracting him. He just couldn't walk away from
all his riches and focus on God so he walked away from Jesus.

The camel and the
eye of the needle is exaggerated language and disciples, perhaps worried about
what hope there was there for any of them, questioned Jesus:

"Then who can
be saved?" Humanly speaking it is impossible said Jesus but "for God
all things are possible."

For the young man the
opposite of being rich was being poor and he didn’t hang about long enough to
get Jesus’ message that the opposite of being rich was being free from the hold
his possessions had on him and free to follow Jesus. He was right in thinking
that he couldn't do that on his own. But with God all things are possible for
all who followed Jesus gave up something not because they were bad things but
because they got in the way. They were distractions. The drive for wealth can
be dangerous if it causes you to neglect people you love and it   can be dangerous if it causes you to get
your values out of tune.

This sad story challenges
us about ourselves.  What do we need to leave
behind to follow the call of Jesus in our lives? What is distracting us from
following Jesus with our whole heart and soul and mind and strength? Maybe we
are not rich but we still have a lot of possessions, and sometimes our
attachment to those things or our longing for more can get in the way of
following Jesus. It may not be things but attitudes like pride or a grudge or
disputes promoting our own agenda or soemthing else we are holding on to that
gets in the way of following Jesus? Are certain things keeping us from prayer
or that make us too busy for God? What is Jesus saying to you as he says,
"Come and follow me"? Whatever it is we might think it impossible but
by God’s grace all things are possible.



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