Words for 5th Sunday after Trinity – 4 July 2021 – A cyber sermon from the Vicarage
Text: He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. (Mark 6.8-9)
God give you peace my Sisters and Brothers.
In the book ‘The Neverending Story’, Bastian Balthazar Bux escapes some playground bullies by hiding in an antiquarian bookshop where he is magically transported into the world of Fantistica where the hero Altreyu and the Luckdragon Falkor are on a quest to help the Childlike Empress discover a new name and so prevent her realm from being eaten away by The Nothing which increases the more people such as Bastian stop believing. It seems that in Fantastica, having Nothing spells doom. (Find out more by watching the movie trailer here).
But in a different realm, under the gentle self-emptying rule of the Prince of Peace it seems that the future is only secured when people stop holding on to things and learn to embrace ‘nothing’.
So it is that in today’s reading Jesus commands those who would join him on the quest of proclaiming the Good News of God’s unconditional love must take only nothing as their provision. No bread, no bag, and no money, no spare clothes, no extra shoes and no honour!
This theme of prepared unpreparedness runs right through the Scriptures. From the story of the Garden where The Lord God provides all that is needed for our first parents to prosper and thrive, to the election of the Children of Israel shepherded through the wilderness with manna and quail despite their stubbornness, to the gentle request we make for ‘daily bread’ in our family prayer. Our God is a faithful God who refuses to leave us without that which we need to celebrate life and share God’s goodness. We, on the other hand, seem to always want to have a back-up just in case God’s plan is not quite good enough and so prove ourselves to be faithless, proud, and (in the end) greedy, often at the expense of our sisters and brothers.
In our own journey following the vocation to serve God’s people, Lesley-Anne and I have come to discover again and again the glorious cornocupia of God’s profligate provision. There has been nothing often enough to know that God does indeed ‘supply all our needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4v19). A scripture verse that Lesley-Anne wrote in the book in which we used to write our shopping lists.
I have stood at a supermarket checkout wanting to buy only a loaf of bread and some jam for my wife and young child (our food for the rest of the week) not knowing I had lost the money to pay for them… Only to find that the same day we received a gift, promised three years previously, that was double our monthly student allowance.
Lesley-Anne has literally taken the toast from our children’s breakfast plate to give to a Wayfarer at the Vicarage door leaving them with nothing… Only to find a donation of fine food from Marks & Spencer arriving within the hour. (Our children grew up believing that you weren’t allowed to eat food ‘before’ the date on the wrapping).
Clothing in our house is rarely new and so well-worn that it is not fit to be passed on to a charity shop when it has come to the end of its life.
We have no savings, neither of us will receive a full pension, no property to call our own, no life insurance, and no expectation of any inheritance. And my predilection for following our Lord’s command to ‘wear only sandals’ is well documented…
This does not make us paragons of virtue or pillars of faith. Most of the population of the world have nothing of their own at all (too often because of the greed of others) and we must count ourselves privileged, rather than put upon, everytime we are offered an opportunity for self-denial. Pope Francis reminds us that we need to be set free from the ‘Obsession of possessing’.
But of all the ‘No’s’ which Jesus calls us to embrace perhaps the hardest – and I know this is so for me – is to have ‘No honour’.
It is hard to be ‘without honour’. We seem to be born with an innate desire to seek approval and, if you become part of the Established Church, even preferment. It seems as if we have swallowed the lie which proclaims we will be loved more if we possess more, when in truth the more we have the less we are loved and the more we are envied…
Jesus was without honour and was rejected by His own people, why should we expect anything less for ourselves? In fact, it is his very rejection that enables Him to open wide His arms and embrace all those whom the world despises and rejects.
Holding on to ‘stuff’, be it food or clothing, honour or status, will ultimately only ever leave us empty. As the aphorism reminds us ‘there are no pockets in a shroud’ and we would do well to practice ‘sitting lightly on the things of this world’ so that we might lay hold of eternal life.
When I was in the 6th Form a group of Cambridge Undergraduates called the ‘Water into Wine Band’ (who played what was known as Acid Folk Music) came to spend an evening with us at the Royal Hospital School. One of their songs, Stranger in the World has lived with me for over 50 years.
On the first day I was born I had nothing of my own
On the day I die I’ll take away no treasure
and with nothing in my hand I can reach the promised land
where my fortune and my home will be foreve
I’m a stranger in the world where nothing is my own
I am walking in a body that I do not even own
and I haven’t got a house which I can call my home
I’m alone…. maybe not for long.
We, who are held by the One who made the world,
We, who are held by the One who redeemed the world,
We, who are held by the One who empowers us to live our life for others,
We are held and set free to embrace nothing, hold onto nothing, for it is only with nothing in our hands that we can reach the promised land.
[This blog ‘Embracing Nothing’ is copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2021 and may be reproduced without charge on condition that the source is acknowledged]