Last Sunday – 10th October 2021 – was my first Sunday as Priest-in-Charge at St Paul’s Beaconsfield, having been commissioned a few days beforehand (you can watch the commissioning service here if you missed it… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zea-R53uVw4 ). I promised I would blog my sermons each week, and then promptly forgot, so forgive me for the delay, but here it is; my introductory sermon to the wonderful people at St Paul’s, and my thoughts on giving up all we have, selling it, and giving the money to the poor…
This week has been something of a whirlwind!
I have met so many people, heard many stories, tried to find my way around this precinct, tried to understand what a precinct is!, driven an automatic car for the first time, spent 2 days at Synod with hundreds of strangers – all trying to figure out what the Anglican Church of Australia is and does… and all the while trying to come up with something to say to you this morning.
Everywhere I went, people were said, ‘I don’t usually come to church but I’m going to be there on Sunday to see what you do’…no pressure then…And, in one such conversation someone helpfully said, ‘it really doesn’t matter what you say; people just want to know something of you’, and while that feels a bit odd, it stayed with me and made me wonder what you might want to know…
So here are a few things about your newly arrived priest.
I am a brand new wife to my shiny new husband of 10 days, which also makes me step-mum to Craig’s four children. I am a daughter, a sister, an auntie, cousin, granddaughter, relative, friend and dog-mum to Maggie, who will join us in January.
I love to get behind a cause, so I am vegan, an active campaigner to end slavery and promote women’s rights, I am a feminist, and an advocate for those who are poorest and most oppressed. I believe black lives matter and am, like many, counted among the #metoo number.
I say the wrong things at the most inopportune moments, have a hundred ideas before breakfast, and have a phobia of pre-packed sandwiches. I love Jesus and beach walks and drinks that fizz and being a wife and my dog. And I only have one sermon…
Like genuinely, I only have one sermon.
Many years ago, I went on a course for those starting out with preaching. In the first session the leader told us we all have one sermon inside us and we just need to figure out what it is…and then preach it forever. I thought that was the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard – I mean, how can you preach the same thing about the good Samaritan and the nativity? But it turns out this man was right.
And many years from now, whether it is your first or millionth visit, you will likely hear me say, fundamentally, the same thing, which is this…
Jesus says this amazing thing
We should do this thing
You will need the food of this holy meal to sustain you to do it.
Oh, and always lean heavily on the side of grace.
So, in today’s gospel we meet this guy who is often called ‘the rich young ruler’ and he comes to Jesus and asks, ‘good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus tells him that he must keep the commandments, which he says he’s done since his youth, and then comes the kicker…
‘Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said ‘you lack one thing, go, sell what you own and give the money to the poor…then come follow me’.
Wow. Jesus doesn’t sugar coat it, does he?
Give up everything and come to me with empty hands and an open heart and we can get to the work of seeing the Kingdom of God.
Friends, following Jesus is costly. Man, it is so costly.
Jesus doesn’t ask for a bit of this – a few dollars here, and slightly less time with family – he literally asks for everything we own, everything we possess, every relationship we have, all we are and all we do – give it all up, he says, and follow me.
Following Jesus costs everything.
It is hugely costly, but it is also utterly compelling.
It’s like the most terrifying rollercoaster ride for a rollercoaster fanatic.
It’s the journey that leads an anxious priest to leave family and friends and home and church on the invitation of this crazy God who says ‘come and join me on a holy adventure. Let’s get up to mischief’. It is insane and doesn’t make any sense.
Sell what you own and give your money to the poor?
Leave house, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, children and fields?
And then follow me.
And here’s the crazy thing – Jesus is on his way to certain death and that is the path that he invites us on.
Now, forgive me for saying this Lord but it’s not a great invite, is it?
Leave everything you know and love?
Give up all you have – give it all away to the poor – and then walk the path towards death.
But here’s the thing. We worship a God who turns everything upside down.
We follow a Jesus – or at least we are trying to – who asks us to die in order that we might live. The path of radical discipleship asks, well demands us to give away everything we have in order that we might gain all we need.
We give our wealth so the poor may have more, but in doing so we reap the greatest of rewards – a hundredfold, Jesus promises, and not just when we die but here and now too. It doesn’t make sense. It is all-consumingly costly, but it is also utterly compelling.
And today we begin our holy adventure together.
I have heard this call to leave everything behind.
I have heard this call to give up everything so that others can have more.
I have heard that invitation, just as the rich young ruler did.
And today we have heard it again.
The question is, will we together, return to the feet of Jesus and tell him we, I, the people of St Pauls, the parish of Beaconsfield, we are in? Will we tell Jesus we will give it all up, all away, and follow Him?
The invitation the rich ruler heard still echoes down through the ages and it rings out here today, for you. Will you say yes?
And will you put down, give away, give up, whatever Christ asks in order to follow Him with empty hands and open hearts?
As you approach this altar a few minutes from now I invite you to commit afresh to this eternal invitation to walk with Christ towards the building of God’s Kingdom. I invite you, as you hold out your hands to receive our Lord’s very body, to hand over whatever you are carrying, whatever you are still clutching, in order that you might be able to claim real life, true life, instead.
Follow me, Jesus says – for us it feels impossible, but for God it is possible.
So let’s set off together today thanking God for all that has been and trusting God for all that lies ahead as we see God’s Kingdom come here among us. May it be so, Amen.