A Sermon preached at the Mint Methodist Church,
Exeter, by the Minister,
easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle
than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mk 10:25)
Does this apply to us? Are we “rich”?
John Wesley said that to be rich you had to have
the necessities of life and then something left over.
That of course all depends on what you call necessary -
If two cars and a dishwasher and regular foreign holidays
count as necessities, then maybe some of us are poor –
But I doubt Wesley, or indeed the Biblical writers,
would have seen it that way –
I guess they would have immediately counted all of us
who had more than basic food, shelter, and clothing
as rich in material possessions.
So how –
if I may put it this way - do we escape the text?
Are we all condemned never to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, or –
as they say - is there any wiggle room here?
plenty of scholars have looked for ways
to soften or avoid the force of this text.
Here are a couple of suggested escape clauses -
is a Greek word camilos (camilos)
which means a thick rope or a ship’s cable –
it has been suggested that this is what Jesus was referring to
rather than a 4 legged animal –
so getting through the needle’s eye
becomes tough but maybe doable.
is said to have had a small door
in the main gate called the Needle’s Eye –
just big enough for one person –
so maybe Jesus is referring to this –
if you had a camel you’d have to divest it of all its baggage,
and then it might just squeeze through the needle’s eye
if the main gate was shut…
comforting ideas these for us rich folk,
but to be honest there is more than a hint of special pleading here,
and it is debatable exegesis.
There is no reference to a needle’s eye gate for 900 years after Jesus –
& I don’t know how good you are at threading a needle,
but if you can thread a ship’s cable through a needle
next time you want to darn your socks, I’d like to see you do it…
escape the simple meaning of this text–
what you get is what it says on the tin -
“Rich people cannot get themselves into heaven”
meaning is underlined by the disciples –
– they say to Jesus “Then who can be saved?”
The disciples understood the meaning of the text – “It is impossible!”
saying – in flat contradiction to the received wisdom
of our culture and his, both us which put great store by worldly wealth –
“the way to find true fulfilment in life
is to have no concern for worldly wealth”
He says: “It is impossible for rich people like you
to book your passage to heaven!”
But – and this is important – he then adds (v.27):
“For mortals it is impossible, but not for God –
for God all things are possible.”
the paradox of the Gospel –
the Rich man is irredeemably enslaved by wealth,
and yet (verse 21) “Jesus looked at him and loved him”
– in other words Jesus would save him & give him the way to heaven
· certainly not because of his wealth (which was no virtue)
· certainly not because of his poverty (because he wasn’t poor)
· but in spite of his wealth because of God’s loving forgiveness.
So here -
as so often - is the Gospel as Promise:
“There is a place in Heaven for you because I love you”
And as challenge:
“If you are bound for heaven,
why not start finding a bit of heaven now –
and learn to live a life liberated by the real wealth of the Gospel,
not enslaved by the fool’s gold of materialism.
A well-dressed European woman is on safari in
The group stop briefly at a hospital for lepers.
The heat is intense, the flies buzzing.
She notices a nurse bending down in the dirt,
tending to the pus-filled sores of a leper.
With disdain the woman remarks,
"Why, I wouldn't do that for all the money in the world!"
The nurse replies quietly, "Neither would I."
Donald L. Deffner, "Seasonal Illustrations" p. 130
We need to learn that money is not the ultimate value in life.
Today, Oct 15, is the day of the year
when we give special thanks for her life of St Teresa of Avila.
St Teresa knew all about building schemes,
and so should perhaps be patron Saint of the Mint.
One day she decided to build a new monastery
with only a few ducats in her purse.
When asked how she intended to do this she replied:
“Teresa and this money are indeed nothing;
but God, Teresa and these ducats suffice.”
Robert Ellsberg, All Saints, Crossroad Publishing, 1997 p. 450
We need to understand the nature of true power and true wealth.
need to identify with those who
by worldly standards are poor not rich.
Thirty or more of us went to see the Northcott
of “Restoration” this week - on the surface a restoration comedy,
it is actually a modern play pointing up the timeless injustices
of a society where the rich persecute the poor
with frighteningly untroubled conscience.
The parson & the nobleman are part of the callous ruling elite.
At one point a rich lady cries out in alarm to the Parson
“Who are those ruffians loitering round the back?
Be off! They’ll steal my new things”
To which the Parson reassures her
“My lady the parish has had an outbreak of Methodists!
On Sunday I took the horses from their stalls
and drove them through the lanes.”
In the 18th
Century at least the Methodists
were identified with the oppressed and the marginalised
not the rich and the comfortable.
are the saints, our forefathers
in whose footsteps we are called to tread!
Wouldn’t it be good if in the UK today as well as in India
those on the margins of society
were rushing to embrace the Christian faith
because they saw here a place
where the outcast was valued and esteemed
not downtrodden and devalued within society?
And on this very day, Oct 15, thousands of people
in over 100 countries across the world
are trying to get into the Guinness Book of Records
for the largest stand up protest in history.
They are being asked, at some point during the 24 hrs
beginning at 10 am this morning,
to stand up in an act of support for the millennium development goals
and to stand up for justice for the poor and the marginalised.
Do we stand up for the poor?
John Wesley himself lived and worked
with many who had very little money.
But ironically Wesley himself became such a celebrity
that his income eventually reached £1,400 pounds per year –
a huge amount for his day.
Still, he chose to live simply but comfortably on just £30 pounds p.a.
while giving the rest away.
He once wrote, "If I leave behind me £10...
you and all mankind [can] bear witness against me,
that I have lived & died a thief & a robber."
have money and are happy to lose and share it, you are free –
but once you cannot let go, you are enslaved.
s someone once said,
the opposite of rich is not poor – the opposite of rich is free.
what counts is how loose we sit to material wealth -
whether it is a pathway to God or a replacement for him.
close with some words from Martin Luther King
who describes the false gods of our age.
It is a passage which gives food for thought
in the context of North Korean nuclear testing
but also as we think about the economic disparities of our modern world.
This is what he says:
“We have genuflected before the god of science
only to find that it has given us the atomic bomb,
producing fears and anxieties that science can never mitigate.
We have worshiped the god of pleasure
only to discover that thrills play out and sensations are short-lived.
We have bowed before the god of money
only to learn that there are such things as love and friendship
that money cannot buy and that in a world of possible depressions,
stock market crashes, and bad business investments,
money is a rather uncertain deity.
These transitory gods are not able to save us
or bring happiness to the human heart.
Only God is able.”
[Martin Luther King, Strength to Love, p. 51]
Christ said to the rich you man,
you can’t save yourself – only God is able.
“For God all things are possible.”
So let us poor rich people praise God’s holy name
and seek in this life a foretaste of that promised heavenly treasure
which neither moth nor rust can ever destroy.
ORDER OF SERVICE
Hymn HAP 405 “Lift up your hearts”
(with Mint orchestra)
All Age Ministry – John Wiseman
Adults: The peace of the Lord be with you
Young Church: And also with you.
Minister: Go in peace
(Young Church leave)
Reading: 1 Timothy 6:3-10, 17-19 (p.1194)
Reading: Mark 10:17-27 (p.1014)
Hymn HAP 505 “O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness”
Sermon: “Money, money, money”
Hymn HAP 180 “When I survey”
Offertory and Dedication of Gifts
(words inside back of hymn book)
Hymn HAP 485 “Blessed city”