Trinity 19/Proper 23
Autumn has always been my favourite season of the year; I love the smells, the colours, the change of light and mood. I also love the change that autumn brings to life more widely as activities and programs start again, kids back at school.
Our bible readings this morning remind us that God is a God of change. In Hebrews, the word of God is living and active, it is meant to bring change to our lives, sharply and piercingly. It will expose and judge the thoughts and intentions of our hearts. We are to turn away from ourselves and to the throne of God to find grace to help us in our time of need. Mark’s Gospel tells the story of the young man who comes to Jesus looking for change too. His apparent earnestness, maybe an expectation of an easy answer is dissolved when he does not receive what he wanted. He leaves Jesus grieved and unchanged (as far as we know).
How many of you are good with change? Some of you might embrace it with enthusiasm while others might be slower to embrace. In my previous life as a nurse, you learned early that things change quickly, and you need to be able to respond fast.
Not all change is bad or negative either. Sometimes change is actually a very good thing; we may not see it at the time though. I also find that those things I want changed; never seem to change. And the things that I don’t want to change; always do! Over the last 19 months, we have all had to face so much change. Much of it has been unwelcome and unwanted; although some changes have been seen as positive and should continue.
What change was the young man seeking? He starts in the right place, at the feet of Jesus. He has all the material goods and does all the right stuff; but maybe having the stuff and doing the right stuff has made life boring for this young man. He wants more of something. Jesus looked at him and loved him. I love these little verses that get tucked in – we almost always overlook them. Jesus loved him. He loves you.
Now Jesus could have gone a few ways with this young man’s question of how to have eternal life. It would have been easy for Jesus to secure a new convert. ‘Great!’ Jesus could have said ‘come on! You already follow the commandments, you’re already calling me ‘good’ so you must know who I am because only God is good. You’re in!’
Jesus could have also worked him in more slowly, easing the young man into the values of God’s kingdom. ‘How about you writing a small cheque to charity this year? Nothing scary – just a token?’
However Jesus is not interested in convenience or comfort. That is what I (maybe we) are concerned about. Remember that Jesus loved him and because he loved him and said the truthful thing, the hard and unwanted thing he knew would cause the young man’s excitement to disappear on the spot. “Sell what you own, give to the poor and follow me.’
This was not what the young man wanted to hear and so he goes away shocked and grieving. This was not the change he was looking for! He was probably shocked because he considered his wealth an entitlement; symbol of worldly accomplishment and of God’s favour. This young man had not found true happiness despite the trappings of life. He seems to be after life in its fullness as we all are. Maybe he thought that he could buy his way to eternal life by observing a special commandment.
Jesus welcomes his desire but also knows his weakness, his attachment to possessions and this is probably why he invites him to give it all to the poor so that his treasure and his heart will be in heaven and not on earth. But the young man decides (as far as we know) to hang on to his wealth which will never bring him happiness or eternal life.
What about the church? The Church has faced huge changes in the last year which for an organization that is notoriously slow and often resistant to change has been a challenge. We are working on changing some of the structures in the Hambleden Valley Group at this time, we need your prayers and support to do this. The Rural Review has been an opportunity to look at ourselves with honesty and integrity; we cannot stay the same.
The Friends of the Fawley Church want to make changes to this building that need support and prayers too. It will take courage and fortitude to do this.
If we only look at the bank account or the church building – it will never work. We need to look at something bigger, beyond us; that being God of course! In any and all instances we need to approach the throne of grace and seek God’s mercy and help.
Then there are largely two options as seen in the examples of the young man and Peter and the disciples. If we do not hear what we want or receive the change we seek, we can walk away. We can keep what we have until we lose it.
The other example is that of Peter. He lays it out for Jesus, ‘look at what we gave up to follow you!’ It was not lost on Jesus what had been given up in order to follow him and all will be made good according to him.
If, however, we stay the course.
In this season of change – God is offering us new opportunities. Following Jesus will challenge us to lifetimes of change where we are invited to encounter God in new ways apart from tradition, memory and resting on history.
Like the young man, we might want more from God but may not want to give up what God wants us to. We might choose to hang on to the familiar – even if it doesn’t bring us happiness or eternal life because it is comfortable.
Are we willing to risk being disappointed with the answer God gives – but choose his way regardless?
My prayer is that in this coming season of change we will be ready for whatever may come, that we will hold fast to the promises of God and know we can approach the throne of grace when help is needed.