Sermon for St Mary’s Whitkirk giving campaign – Oct 14th.
Honestly, today’s gospel was not our choice – it’s in the lectionary – make of that what you will! So we have a rich man hearing he’s as much chance of entering the kingdom of heaven as a camel has getting through the eye of a needle.
Camel…needle…not much chance then!
Of course there are other ways of interpreting this. I’ve a lovely children’s book, where a very grand, heavily laden camel tries to get through a tiny gate – conveniently called the needle’s eye. He only manages when he’s willing to be unloaded until he looks very ordinary…and then wriggle in a very undignified way.
We could say it’s really about pride, and love of money, that Jesus spoke to this particular man…who did many good things…but was a real miser. Actually though, Jesus made a general point: “It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God”
I’m afraid it is about money.
Because entering God’s kingdom isn’t firstly about being or doing good, it’s about being willing to have God as king. So it’s about giving up control and trusting in God…it’s about being rescued from slavery to things that don’t bring life. Following Jesus gives us life – money stops us receiving that life fully. “Sell what you own – then come, follow me”; Jesus says this because he knows money gets in the way of following him.
And I think in our hearts we know Jesus is right. We know the poor are often the most generous…that once we have the security of some money we can’t help feeling that we need just a little more to keep us safe. It starts as common sense, making sure we can keep our house, aren’t a burden on others, can help our children out. But we so easily move on to thinking…if some money is good – more money must be better.
We struggle with today’s gospel because it seems to suggest having money is wrong. But here is a good man. Jesus loves him – but knows his wealth is a barrier between him and God.
And we don’t know whether he did sell all he owned…we just know he went away grieving because it was a very hard thing Jesus asked of him. And, camels and needles aside, we know exactly what he’s feeling. Of course we do – otherwise I wouldn’t be preaching this sermon, surrounded by banners urging us to part with our money.
In the last year we’ve needed new servers, cleaning teams, flower arrangers – people have volunteered for all of them. I know when people are ill or lonely because you care enough to find out. When I visit – one of you has been there before me.
You work tirelessly for the kingdom of God in Whitkirk – but we’re still struggling to pay our parish share. And it’s the same story all over the diocese.
“It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” There’s just something about money…
So many Christians give time and effort until they’re exhausted…give generously to one off collections or appeals…but struggle with committing to regular giving into the future. Why? Money’s not bad – but it does seem to be dangerous. I don’t think it’s about being mean; it’s about control over our lives. We don’t know what’s round the corner, but we reckon whatever it is – money will help.
There are two things I’d like to say to that…firstly, I’m not suggesting you sell all you have…I’m not even sure Jesus really expected that. But I do believe Jesus was talking about money and how it gets in the way of life with him. We end up trusting money first and God second…which might give us security – but doesn’t give us life.
So secondly I’d like to ask you a question…a question I was once asked during a similar giving campaign…a question that challenged my faith as well as my giving.
“Would you notice the difference if you doubled your giving?”
At the time I was giving about £10 a week…but I’m not suggesting I was being generous – far from it. My giving wasn’t something I’d really thought about, let alone prayed about – it definitely wasn’t part of my relationship with God. I’d arrived at that weekly offering simply because it I didn’t even have to think about its impact on my life.
“Would I notice the difference if I doubled my giving?”…would I have to think more carefully about going out for a cup of coffee?…would it alter what I could put in my trolley at the supermarket?…would we have to change our summer holiday plans? When I thought about it honestly…the answer was no and I felt quite ashamed.
But it was still a scary thought: double my giving? Scary because money really does develop a hold over us and I was being asked to loosen that hold; but life-giving because it helped me deepen my trust in God.
So I offer you that question as you consider your giving prayerfully this week.
“Honestly – would you notice the difference if you doubled your giving?”
The answer may be yes…I know some of you give to the extent that it already makes a difference to your lives. If it is, unlike me, you don’t need that question. Thank you, both for your generosity and for your vision.
Because it’s not just about not having to worry about Parish share (although that will be lovely)…it’s about being part of God’s Kingdom.
Our parish share does seem huge – but by asking for it, our diocese is giving us a gift…an opportunity to deepen our life-giving relationship with God…an opportunity to be part of God’s kingdom…a kingdom that will surely include a Christian presence in every parish…speak to the needs of the city…feed the hungry…give people hope.