A sermon given during the 10:30am Choral Eucharist, by The Rev’d Canon Jenny Wilson, on the 23rd of October 2022
In the name of God, creating, redeeming, sanctifying, … Amen.
Jesus says that we are to come to him as children would. Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.
Come to Jesus as children would. They sense who he is, the source of life, of joy, the place where wounds are healed, where tears are noticed and dried, where fears are known and put aside. Because he is there. They sense who he is. It is not that they are good, well behaved. They just sense life and love and joy when they are in its presence. When they are in his presence.
And this has something to do with the kingdom of God. With living knowing and thriving in the way of God. Jesus says the kingdom belongs to these children. He knows that they get the way of God.
The certain ruler who comes along doesn’t get the way of God. He wants to know what he must do. ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He asks Jesus.
Jesus is not interested in being called good. Nor is he particularly responsive to the ruler’s longing for a program of entry into eternal life, into God’s kingdom. You’ve got the commandments … the principles given by God to help the people of Israel live in the way of God, loving God, loving one another,…you’ve got those.
I keep those, he says. I have kept all those since my youth. What else do I have to do? “Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” Jesus says. Asking the impossible for this sad rich man. You asked what you had to do …As is often the case, though, we tend to ask the wrong question.
“How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” Jesus says.
And then, as we might expect of him, Jesus tells a very little parable. Do you remember Archbishop Justin during his visit telling us that most of the parables were jokes? We might imagine the children hanging around watching this encounter of the one in whose presence they love to be and this sad rich man. One might imagine them laughing at what Jesus says.
It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.
This tiny parable leads us to imagine trying it for just a moment… with a toy camel perhaps, and a darning needle … the impossibility of us doing this is immediately clear. And while the children are laughing at the joke, the rich ruler is trapped. Because he knows he can’t do it. Any more than helping a camel through the eye of a needle, he can’t give up all his wealth. Any more probably than we could.
And we might stay there with this man, stuck, unable to thrive in the kingdom, until we see the children playing in the dust near Jesus, laughing about the camel and the needle and we might hear Jesus say.
What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.
Because salvation is not about what we do, but about what God does. And children get that they don’t have so much as to do anything. They just realise that he is where life is, and they come and they follow and they might, or they might not, notice that when they follow, they have left pretty well everything else behind.
Just as the twelve-year old Jesus did when he stayed in the temple forgetting to travel home with his parents and, when they worriedly found him, he said, where else would I be but in my Father’s house. He asked them so openly. Where else would he be?
Peter said that once to Jesus, didn’t he? Where else would we go, you have the words of eternal life. Where else would we be?
Our Old Testament reading from the book of the Prophet Joel and the psalm encourage our reflections. They shed such light on the generosity of God. Joel’s words speak first of the abundance of God’s provision for the physical needs of the people:
O children of Zion, be glad
and rejoice in the Lord your God;
for he has given the early rain for your vindication,
he has poured down for you abundant rain,
the early and the later rain, as before.
The threshing-floors shall be full of grain,
the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.
And then in words that might sound familiar to us, words that are quoted in the second Chapter of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, words that we read at the Feast of Pentecost, we read of God’s generous giving of the spirit:
I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female slaves,
in those days, I will pour out my spirit.
God gives abundantly for the needs of the flesh and the needs of our spirits. And our response is to be glad, to rejoice, to give thanks. To notice and give thanks.
Our psalm, Psalm 65, also speaks of the providence of God;
the river of God is full of water;
and so providing for the earth, you provide grain for us all,
…The pastures of the wilderness run over,
the hills are girded with joy,
the meadows are clothed with sheep,
and the valleys stand so thick with corn,
they shout for joy and sing.
Imagine the children listening to this … meadows clothed with sheep, valleys singing…Imagines of God’s abundance. Images of God’s generosity to us for our physical life and our praying life. The prophet and the psalmist urging us to give thanks and rejoice.
As children might. Revelling in the presence of God. Utterly at home in the kingdom.
For what are we most grateful? Life, breath, the images of scripture sometimes bite …the abundant rain spoken of in the psalm has its dangers as we know all too well in this country…For what are we most grateful… friends, family, health, support when our health fails, books, music, the one who is most dear to us.
The psalmist’s words about meadows being clothed with sheep and valleys so thick with corn shouting for joy and singing … where might we see such abundance in our own lives, where would we shout for joy and sing?
This Sunday we will commence three weeks’ reflection on the theme of giving- God’s generosity to us and ours in response. On the Feast of All Saints on November 6th and in the weeks that follow, we will dedicate ourselves afresh to planned giving for the work and ministry of our Cathedral.
Giving in response to God’s generosity to us seems to be about not so much asking as the rich ruler did, what do I have to do? But being like the children, revelling in God’s presence, delighted in what God has given us, following, our focus on God, not ourselves, and then, when our generosity is needed, perhaps being like children again. Where did a child give in the scriptures? Remember the feeding of the five thousand. The crowd follows Jesus longing to hear what he has to say and then when the day is closing in and it is too late for them to go home, he notices their hunger. And there’s a child there. “I’ve got five loaves and two fish”, he says to one of the disciples who is baffled about how they might feed so many. You can have these. Mum gave me this for dinner. You can have my five loaves and my two fish.
Because the one he sees is Jesus. And he isn’t thinking about what to do. Just offering what he has. Which might remind us of something else that Justin Welby said in his conversation with Lynn Arnold. His final words were “Do what you can with what God has given you. The rest is God’s problem.”
We are going to ponder this in the weeks ahead. For our Cathedral is in need. We long to keep the glorious ministry of this Cathedral alive and we do it with five paid staff and the wonderful, wonderful work of so many of our volunteers … of you. We long to keep our doors open as much as we can … and we are so grateful that this has been so greatly extended. We long to offer times of reflection and education for children and adults, to offer pastoral care for those in need, to find a way to do our part in caring for the planet and to play our role in the work of justice for those who are treated unfairly, including First Nations people of this land. We long to continue the beautiful and quite honestly world class music of our Cathedral in liturgy and concerts, and to support the state and the city and the diocese whenever this cathedral and its liturgy can bring blessing, as we did so wonderfully when Queen Elizabeth II died. We long to honour the love and generosity of God to us in our ministry of this precious place.
I guess we might imagine Jesus looking at a hungry crowd and his disciples wondering what on earth they should do. Until a child comes along. “I have five loaves and two fish,” he says.