The text contains a couple of Jesus’ classic aphorisms, but this sermon really isn’t about those aphorisms. Those aphorisms are given to heighten the shock that the disciples are feeling. They can’t believe what has just happened between Jesus and the Rich Young Man. Even less can they believe what Jesus says about it. Their surprise is our entry to think about our attitude to wealth. How does wealth form the soul? What are the deep dangers that Jesus is warning about? The sermon ponders these. It then follows Peter’s blunt but natural question: who gets it right, the disciples or the rich young man? If you saw Elon Musk walking away, wouldn’t you have some questions about the deal? Jesus’ answer, just like all of Mark Chapter 10, is necessary for the modern church to hear. And it leaves us with stuff to ponder.
In some ways it is a harmless diversion. But there are other ways that the lottery, especially when it is so big and has persisted at this level, can be straight from the devil. The first part of this sermon is a old fashioned moral inventory – a preparation for confession – based on the fact of the lottery’s effect on this soul. It seemed appropriate given the text based in camels threading they way through needle’s eyes. Since it is not our typical failing it gets the shorter time, but there is the flip side of money troubles, pride in asceticism. Both of the ditches highlight how it is not possible with man. But all things are possible with God.
The deeper theological term that this sermon circles around is kenosis. This contrast used as a summary refrain: The city of man seeks God to add to itself, The City of God seeks God to empty itself, is the kenosis statement. Every path of discipleship involves some emptying of the self. I’ve applied this here in a stewardship frame; it was budget preparation day. The first step in a robust spirituality is often a turning back to God, an emptying from ourselves, of a determined percentage of income. (The traditional response is the tithe, but the important point is putting kingdom values first.) The American church from what I’ve experienced has a problem right here. It is just not willing to turn over finances in a serious way to God. The reasons are legion and many are legitimate. But those reasons pale in comparison to the distrust that is built by not surrendering a portion to God.
But I think this applies in a much larger way to today. There is a much reported phenomenon of spiritual but not religious or the new “nones” in reply to religious beliefs. And I’ve got a big problem with most of that. And yes my current livelihood depends upon the religious aspect, so I am a partisan. But the call of Jesus is to turn our gaze away from our navels (stop being curved in on ourselves) and in this age to turn toward the cross which is the ultimate emptying of self. And Jesus’ vision in not a personal spirituality, or at least not exclusively. I can’t be like the rich young ruler looking to add spirituality to everything I’ve already got. Jesus’ vision is incarnational. The church is that incarnation. The church is the place where a true spirituality is created. The church is that 100 fold return of brothers and sisters…and persecutions. If it is not, it isn’t fulfilling its purpose.