Preacher: The Rev’d Jenny Wilson

  In the name of God, creating, redeeming, sanctifying, … Amen.

We would be forgiven for thinking that Jesus is having a bad day as we hear this story from the 18th chapter of Luke’s Gospel. He is so oppositional. Whoever is engaging with him, he seems to imply that they don’t understand and he tells them that in no uncertain terms. Whether it is about children, or the law, or wealth, or eternal life, whatever those who are engaged with him think, he disagrees with them. They just don’t seem to get it.

We need to remember, though, that for him, for Jesus, the one thing that matters is the way of God, the way of the one he knows as Father. Whether we are trying to keep children from bothering him, or asking what we must do to inherit eternal life, whether we are protesting that we keep the commandments pretty well, or whether we grieve at his suggestion that we give up all our wealth. The one thing that matters to Jesus is seeing, and turning our life towards, the kingdom of God.

The disciples are just trying to keep him from being irritated by little children. Children have little value in Jesus’ time and place and he is a teacher of adults, surely. Crowds of people are always clamouring to see him, touch him, talk to him; the disciples just don’t want him to waste his time with parents wanting him to bless their children. But he welcomes those little children. And more than that, he seems to be saying that children have their eyes open to the ways of God, that children somehow instinctively know how to receive the kingdom of God, so much so that the kingdom belongs to them. Far from shooing children away, Jesus says that we are to become like them.

Have you ever been in a garden with a two year old? They see things, delight in things, become totally absorbed in things there in a garden… I lived with a two year old once who loved caterpillars, and we would spend what felt like hours searching for them and allowing them to crawl over our hands and up our arms. I wonder if they have caterpillars in Galilee. Is Jesus looking at the creatures with these little children? Is it the way they become absorbed in things, the things God created, that inspires Jesus to say we must receive the kingdom as they do?

And then this rich young ruler appears. He is probably a Jewish magistrate who thinks he is honouring Jesus by calling him “good”. Even that meets with rebuke. Jesus is not interested in being honoured; he is there to draw people to God; he knows that his whole life is a sacrament, a window into God. He is interested only in people understanding and turning to God. The man asked the right question though, about eternal life.

Almost bluntly, Jesus reminds this Jewish ruler of the Ten Commandments, of the covenant that God made to help God and God’s people live well together. But that is like a trap. The ruler keeps the commandments but that is not enough. That is not the key.

“There is still one thing lacking.” Jesus says. “Sell all that you own and distribute the money* to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” What follows is this rapid series of instructions, sell all you have, give it to the poor, come, follow me. Jesus sharply contrasts the treasure of this world, of which this man has much, with the treasure in heaven. Just give it away, Jesus says, knowing full well, that this is impossible.

This is typical of Jesus’ teaching, Jesus’ encounters with people, with each one of us. Show us what we love, what we love that is not God, demand that we give it away, and watch us grieve at the impossibility of it all. We glimpse something of the treasure that is the love of God, but the way to living in that love seems just too hard.

Unless you remember, as he would have us remember, that we were all once children, if we were fortunate enough to have childhoods that allowed us to be children. That many of us once spent time in gardens looking for caterpillars, or on beaches searching for sea urchins. Or were we once holed up in our rooms reading books or painting paintings knowing, with the wisdom of a child, that nothing else mattered? Or did we ride and ride and ride our bicycles until we suddenly realised that we were late for dinner?

Rowan Williams put it this way in a talk he was giving about Mark’s Gospel actually, a talk in which he explored the struggles we have belonging in God’s kingdom.

“Our difficulty as Christians is so often the difficulty of being simple. …What the gospels generally say .. is the real problem is not that you haven’t got the ideas straight, and that a little bit more furrowing of the brow, and a little bit more education will get you there. The real difficulty is that state of mind that thinks you ought to be able to grasp it and finish with it – whereas the state of mind that you need to adopt is openness, gratitude and trust and the fact that that is indescribably difficult is not to do with your mind but with your heart.”[1]

Openness, gratitude and trust …

We were created for the way of God and, according to Jesus, on that day when the ways of adults seemed to so irritate him, we only have to look at a small child, and remember, and we will be drawn into the way of God.

But he knows it’s hard. And, as is his way, he gives us a picture to drive home just how hard it is.

Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle,” he says, “than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:24-5)

It’s impossible.

Only that’s why he’s here. He deals with the impossible. God is about what is not possible. So just when we are about to give up and we decide we are doomed to draw what joy we can from our earthly wealth, just when we think the true treasure, the glorious love of God, will always evade us. Just then, he steps in with his, “nothing is impossible with God,” line … and we are left wondering. What did he say, what was that rapid series of instructions, sell all you have, give it to the poor, come, follow me? What did he say?

This morning we will baptise five little children and one mother. And the questions the parents and godparents of these little children, and the questions this one mother will answer, are all about turning. Hearing Jesus’ voice and turning towards him. Hearing his voice and turning away from what stops us following him.

Martin Luther once said – in Latin, apparently, but we don’t need that – Martin Luther once said that sin is “curving in on oneself”.[2] That when we sin we live a life turned or curved inward on ourselves rather than outward for God and others. Adults specialize in this curved inward life. Children can be the opposite – living outward, turned towards God and creation with open arms and open eyes and open hearts. Looking for caterpillars …

Openness, gratitude and trust …

A way of living that Jesus, in whose name and in whose spirit we will baptise our five children and one mother today, says is not impossible …

Perhaps this turning to Christ that our baptism families will promise to do, on their own and their children’s behalf, perhaps this turning away from a “curved in life”, this turning to Christ …is a way of life … is something we do everyday … Perhaps becoming like little children is something we might remind ourselves about very day …

What was it he said?

Could it be that even this, this trusting, open, grateful life, this life where the things we own don’t matter quite so much, this life dwelling in the great love of God, … perhaps this life is not impossible?

[1] Unveiling Secrets lecture [40Mb]

[2] Incurvatus in se” (Turned/curved inward on oneself)