An address delivered in Warragul Uniting Church, by the Rev Rosalind Terry

on Sunday, 12 October 2003



There has always been pain in being human, and in trying to live God’s way:


Psalm 22: 1-15


That psalm was written hundreds of years before Jesus walked the earth, yet he used some of those words as his prayer from the cross!


To know scripture by heart, particularly the psalms, is to have a source of comfort hidden within you for times when it is difficult to find your own words in which to pray.


Today, as we remember the tragedy of the Bahli bombing at Couta Beach exactly a year ago, remember that Jesus has lived through such pain and bereavement before us.



We started to work our way through parts of the Book of Hebrews last week.  This book, with it’s philosophical and religious images that do not always speak clearly to us in 2003, has often been neglected.  Yet it contains some gems.  It contains two basic themes.  In chapters 7 to 10 the author draws on imagery from the traditional Jewish sacrificial system and declares that Jesus is both priest and victim, fulfilling the requirements of those ancient customs.  In the death of Christ, by faith, we are set free from our sins and our relationship with God is restored.  In chapters 3, 4, 11-13, Christ is presented as the pioneer of God’s way into the future,  We are a pilgrim people, as the basis of Union of the Uniting Church also delights in reminding us, and Jesus, the new Moses, is leading us into the promised future with God.  Our passage today reminds us that pilgrims need to be prepared to travel light, to leave much behind in order to make the journey:


Hebrews 4: 12-16


The Gospel reading today has a similar message:


Mark 10: 17-31


Last week we listened to the passage immediately before this on, Mark 10: 2-16, where the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus into a legal decision on divorce, and he remained focused on people, and the fact that every one of us can live in God’s sight by grace alone.


It seems the rich man in our story had not heard that admonition.  He came boldly to Jesus, confident that his possessions were a blessing from God, so certain that he was well on the way to INHERITING eternal life, but aware that he needed just a little more.


Have you ever known a rich person who was completely content? 


In response to his question Jesus cites the “short list” of the Ten Commandments, leaving out the four “theological” commandments in order to focus on the six “ethical” laws.  But he replaces the last commandment – “Do not covet what belongs to your neighbour” (Exodus 20: 17) – with “Do not defraud,”  This censure comes from Leviticus 19: 13, where the Sabbath community are instructed “You shall not defraud your neighbour; you shall not steal; you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a labourer.”


Jesus is interested in how the man became so affluent that he could claim to keep the whole law.  Such a claim meant that he was rich enough to pay someone else to do any work that make him ritually unclean.


In first-century Palestine land was the basis of wealth.  The estates of the rich grew in several ways.  Assets were sometimes consolidated through the joining of households in marital or political alliances.  At other times expropriated land was distributed through political patronage.  But the primary mechanism was acquiring land through the debt-default of small agricultural land holders.  The rich got richer and the poor got poorer.  This is almost certainly how this man ended up with “many properties”.


Still today, as in the days of Jesus, the “propertied” often create and maintain their surplus through “fraud” – the illegitimate expropriation of their neighbours’ land. 


Jesus did not directly dispute the man’s improbable contention that he has “kept the whole law”, even though it flies in the face of Jesus’ own assertion that “there is no one good but God”.  Instead, Jesus “looked at the man and loved him”.  True love is tough love which can deliver hard truth, and Jesus was about to deliver a very hard truth. 

“You lack one thing.”

“Get up.”

“Sell all”

“Give to the poor”.

“Come and follow me”.


“Get up!”  In Mark’s Gospel these words are generally associated with a miracle of healing.  This man was sick.  He was sick with a wealth addiction that could only by cured by him changing his life style.


“Sell all” and “give”, Jesus continued.  And the propertied gentleman couldn’t do it!


So he could not “follow”.


How hard is the way to eternal life, which can never be INHERITED, as this man wanted to do.  We can not live under the sovereignty of God on the basis of the faithfulness and sacrifice of parents or grandparents, as we can inherit property.  God has no grandchildren, only first generation children, individuals who have made their own life-style decisions and came to follow empty handed, “like little children”.  (Remember last week?)


The disciples were stunned.  Jesus’ words about the difficulty of rich people entering eternal life flew in the face of all religious teaching of us day.  Some of you may remember the musical “Fiddler on the Roof”, and the song “If I were a rich man”.  The singer wanted riches not just to have an EASIER life, but also so he could properly worship God.  Still today, in some CHRISTIAN denominations, it is taught that God blesses the faithful with riches.  Such teaching is only possible by a very selective reading of the Bible.  Our passage from Mark, particularly 10: 23-27, must be read in a very strange way! 


Certainly, by grace, it may be possible for the rich to enter!  But Jesus is here teaching a generosity, an hospitality, a liberality, that meets the needs of the poor amongst us not by grudging government handouts, but by personal sharing. 


In Warragul it may be easy for most of us to see ourselves as far from affluent.  Our car is probably not the latest model.  Our home is not on mortgage hill.  We may not have central heating or air conditioning throughout the house.  BUT, have we ever measured ourselves against the poorest of the world’s poor? 


When I do so, I find myself feeling most uncomfortable.  I have seen the families living beside the rubbish dumps near Bangkok, in a shack made out of recycled refuse, living off the half eaten scraps that the restaurants at which I had eaten had thrown out.  I have been in the homes of the tribal people in India, whose children die because the water they drink is contaminated, and their parents either do not know to boil it, or they more often cannot afford the cow dung required to make the fire to heat the billy.  I have been on Mornington Island, where the kids live on worthless but easily available junk food, because their parents were not themselves raised in families, and so lack the parenting skills to properly care for their kids. 


I am SO rich. 


It frightens me that I will go to Hobart with about 110 packing cases of my possessions.  I comfort myself that these are mostly books, and nick nacks I have inherited from my mother, and how can I give them away? 




Jesus’ words ring in my ear like the boom of a death knell.


“How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the sovereignty of God!”


“How hard it is to enter the kingdom of God.”


Here I am thrown back on the grace of God yet again!


Here am I, an ordained minister, clearly in breach of Jesus’ teaching!


I comfort myself as the disciples comforted themselves.


They said fearfully, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.”


What have WE left to follow Jesus.


Look again at our empty Lacuna Bowl. 


Do we come to God empty handed?


Do we hold so loosely to our possessions that we would literally give away our best coat to one who needed it more?


Would we dare to open our home to a stranger who needed a bed?


Will we encourage our Government to open the doors more generously to refugees and asylum seekers, knowing that once our ancestors came to these shores uninvited by the original inhabitants?


When it comes down to it, I personally find this passage more difficult to live that the one from last week, and someone then commented I was brave to preach it.


It was not so difficult for me, because it did not touch on my particular short coming.  This one does.


It is much easier to point the finger at someone else we see sinning in a way to which we are not tempted.


But here we are ALL guilty. 


The poor have no choices.


They cannot choose where they will live, or how they will earn a living, or where or even if their children will go to school, or what they will wear, or whether they will eat today, or whether to buy medicine or see a doctor, or save money, or have a telephone, or a television, or go on vacation, or own a car. 


If we CAN make most of these decisions and more, we are rich.


The son of man had no place to lay his head, and he invited the rich man to get up, sell, give and follow.


What “luxuries” may Jesus be pointing to in our lives that need to be sold so we can give?


What security may Jesus be challenging Australia to give up, so others may find a home?


I do not like these question.


Perhaps the call of God for me to leave the security of my friendships here in Warragul may in part be to help me to loosen my grip on such luxuries, and to rely more fully on God’s grace.


Perhaps the present discussions in the Uniting Church are actually God’s call to us to loosen our grip on what WE think God wants from us, and depend more on GOD’S GRACE to bind us all, different as we are, together in love.


Perhaps every one of us still has a great plank in our eye, which we need to beg God to remove, before we can dare to offer to help someone else remove the speck from their own.


Will we get up, sell, give and follow?