An uncomfortable answer

‘”what must I do to inherit eternal life?”’ What answer did the man described in the Gospel this morning expect? We sense his enthusiasm to meet Jesus. He runs. He kneels before him and asks ‘”what must I do to inherit eternal life?”’.

Here was a man who lived what looked like a good life. And yet Jesus says he lacks one thing and challenges him to sell what he has ‘and give the money to the poor’ and then to ‘follow’ him.

Perhaps the man hoped the answer would be more positive, keep doing what you are doing but no, he got an uncomfortable answer.

And here we draw together this Gospel and our first reading from the letter to the Hebrews which talks of the word of God as ‘living and active’ as something that is ‘piercing’ that ‘judges the thoughts and intentions of the heart.’

It’s a strange reading in a way written as if the word of scripture had a single voice. But the scriptures don’t work like that. The written words were inspired over centuries by different people at a different time within a different context and yet there is still truth in these words.

For scripture taken seriously does have this remarkable capacity to both challenge and inspire. Which brings us back to this Gospel and the man who asks what he must do to ‘inherit eternal life.’

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Choral Evensong Sermon for All Saints

One of my jobs before ordination was working in the Parts Department for a firm of Agricultural Engineers.    Aside from getting to know the inner workings of tractors and diggers I spent a good deal of time with farmers.

Now farmers are in my experience pessimists.   And they’re seldom happy.   If it’s wet they want it to be dry.   If it’s dry they want it to be wet.   If it’s cold they want it to be warm.   And always, always they’ve no money.

I understood a bit why they’re like this for making a living from the land is precarious.   Indeed since then things seem to have got more difficult for farmers.

Yet there was a bit of me that thought their experience, especially those farmers who had tilled the same land for generations, might have a bit more confidence.

Confidence that the harvest would be safely gathered in.     Confidence that they would make a living.    In other words that, even if the tractor did conk out, it would be alright in the end.

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Hope Filled Child

Many of you are Grandparents. In that role you take a keen interest in the lives of your Grandchildren. Some of you see them more than others, almost and maybe even every day, some of you less so, separated by geography and so on.

Grandparents in many ways have the best bits of parenting. They usually don’t work so can turn up as and when required, with little else to worry about except to concentrate on their charges.

That concentration can of course be demanding “Grandma can you do this or that” or “Grandad I don’t like those” or perhaps trying to respond to the most disturbing question ever asked “why?”

And yet though they can be exhausting Grandparents are invariably delighted by their Grandchildren.

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The Risky Yes of Faith

‘Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’

I wanted to begin with these verses which precede those we have heard today. We have of course nearly completed our Advent jigsaw puzzle. We have these last few weeks pondered some of the themes of the season. This morning we turn our thoughts to Mary, to Jesus’ mother without whom the puzzle cannot be finished.

Mary is often depicted as serene, beautiful and sad in so many statues, icons and pictures. She looks tidy and neat. Many of these don’t quite ring true for me. They’re just too perfect and also she often looks too old. She was after all a young girl, 16 or 17, perhaps a little older or even younger.

And like most 16 year olds probably had hopes and dreams for her life. She knew this carpenter Joseph and could imagine a life with him. But then the Angel Gabriel appears and invites her to see that the life to which she is being called is going to be different.

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Graceful Judgement

It’s the stuff of fire and brimstone. The words we have heard this morning are just the ammunition a preacher needs to frighten his listeners. It’s what captivated the imaginations of medieval artists who depicted the words they heard on wall paintings in churches. Just take a trip to Easby near Richmond or Pickering and see just how vivid the images are.

Nowadays we tend to treat those wall paintings as historic artefacts, something to be gazed upon with curiosity and so we don’t take them too seriously. That might even be true when we think about judgement as a whole. If that’s so then our readings this morning invite us to think again.

In Hebrews we heard that ‘all are naked and laid bare to the one whom we must render an account.’

And then in our Gospel Jesus when asked ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ speaks of both the commandments but also more. His questioner is sent away ‘shocked’ and ‘grieving’ because though he has followed the commandments it isn’t enough.

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The Fear of the Lord

I have what I think of as a healthy fear of mountains. It’s been fashioned by a good deal of experience climbing them in the Lake District. It’s a fear that recognises their danger. How they need to be treated with respect. How one should not set off to climb them without being prepared.

So even on the sunniest day, treading familiar paths, all weather gear and the right maps are in my rucksack. Importantly however this fear of the mountains is a good thing. Without that fear I might take stupid risks.

Fear then though we might often think otherwise can be a good thing, it can help us. Job in our first reading had discovered that ‘the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.’ So I want us tonight to think a bit about how fear and wisdom belong together.

If we hand in mind images of God solely based on some verses we could highlight from the Bible, then we would understand fear in a very particular way. Indeed we’d likely be here with knees knocking ready to hear a bit of fire and brimstone from the pulpit, “We’re all doomed!”

Thankfully we hold those texts alongside that of what we know of God through Jesus. The fear we know then comes to us in a human face, a face who looks on us with love.

And whilst that shouldn’t undermine the potency or sense of reality of what might happen if… (think climbing the mountain on a winters day in trainers) or as if we don’t know our place, we are not God after all – this Godly fear, understood properly, helps shape our living and in some mysterious way fashions in us something of the wisdom of which Job spoke. Continue reading “The Fear of the Lord”