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Weekly Worship: Sunday 14 October

Points for sermons and prayers for the 21st Sunday after Pentecost.

Camels

‘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.’ Mark 10:25

Amos 5:6-7, 10-15            Hebrews 4:12-16               Mark 10:17-31

Jesus rarely gives straight answers. His parables and his interactions with people are often ambiguous, with scope for various interpretations. So his response to the man’s question in today’s Gospel is unusually direct. If you want to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, then “go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor.”

This challenge probably make us, like the man, feel rather uncomfortable. Mark Twain said: “It’s not the parts of the Bible I don’t understand that bother me; it’s the parts I do.” We might prefer the Jesus who hides his meaning in stories rather than the one who makes such explicit demands. But as the letter to the Hebrews reminds us, God’s word is incisive, “sharper than any two-edged sword”.

To those who, in the world’s terms, also have many possessions, Jesus’s answer can feel like it is being addressed not just to that enquirer 2000 years ago, but directly to us. Does he mean that if I’m to be a proper Christian I should get rid of my phone, my car, my home, my pension pot, my heirlooms? Sacrifice all these things which are central to my identity, my self-esteem, my comfort, and give the money to Christian Aid? To which, of course, the answer is… maybe.

Maybe, if those are things that are getting in the way of you giving God your all, and living according to Kingdom values.

For the man, this was potentially the case. The passage says he had many possessions, using a word which implies landed property, such as farms or fields. At that time, landowners often profited by exploiting their workers, so he was perhaps not as blameless and righteous as he claimed. Amos expresses God’s anger with wealthy people – owners of vineyards and stone houses – who “trample on the poor” and defraud them with unfair taxes.

Jesus’s response was to the man therefore about asking him to renounce his privileged position by performing a concrete act of justice, not just offering a façade of piety. Whether he was willing to do it was an acute test of his priorities.

It doesn’t necessarily follow that the same demand would be appropriate for each of us. But as the letter to the Hebrews says, the word of God is living and active – so these passages should nonetheless prompt us to deeply interrogate our attitudes and priorities.

We might feel we put God’s Kingdom first, but if our comparative wealth involves us in being complicit in unjust systems, investing in or buying things from corporations that are engaged in rigging tax rules, can that truly be the case? We may find a straight answer to this question demands a similarly tangible response from us.

This week’s pointers have been provided by Simeon Mitchell as part of a group of Methodist local preachers in the Oxford circuit.

Prayer

Loving God,
Your word cuts to the core of all things,
but is always tempered by grace and mercy.
Forgive us when we struggle to live faithfully and justly in this complex world.
Help us to lay aside all that holds us back from following the way of Jesus,
the way of truth and love and justice.
And keep our eyes fixed on your Kingdom.

Amen.

Pointers for prayer

Emergencies: Pray for all those who have been affected by the persistent monsoon rains in India, Nepal and Bangladesh. These are the worst floods to hit South Asia in years. 

October is Black History Month. Give thanks for the contributions that African and Caribbean communities make to societies worldwide.

This week we mark World Food Day and the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. Pray the children who are severely malnourished will get the nutrients they need in East Africa. Pray for peace in South Sudan so communities can plant crops and harvest the land. Pray for rains in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya so the prolonged drought will end and crops will grow.

More points available from the Christian Aid prayer diary.