13th Sunday after Trinity, Sunday 3rd September 2023, St Anne’s Lewes
Jeremiah 15.15-21, Romans 12.9-end; Matthew 16.21-end
Last week I was sent a poem written by Alice Walker, best known for her novel ‘The Colour Purple’. This is it:
We alone can devalue gold
by not caring
if it falls or rises
In the marketplace.
Wherever there is gold
there is a chain, you know,
and if your chain
so much the worse
and sea-shaped stones
are all as rare.
This could be our revolution:
to love what is plentiful
as much as
what is scarce.
This poem, it seems to me, goes to the heart of what Jesus is saying in today’s Gospel reading about losing our life in order to find it. It comes as a shock to be reminded that gold is only valuable because we choose to treat it as such. We value gold, the poem suggests, because its supply is limited. How interesting it is that we use the word ‘rare’ to mean both ‘scarce’ and ‘precious’. But, as Alice Walker recognises, common objects like feathers, shells and stones are just as intrinsically valuable as gold. Indeed, communities in the past have used these things as currency.
If we put our trust in a scarce commodity like gold, then it is all too easy to become a hoarder. We want more, and before we know it we are enslaved to it. Its no accident, I think, that the idol which the disobedient Israelites built in the wilderness took the form of a golden calf. ‘’Wherever there is gold there is a chain, you know’, writes Alice Walker, ‘and if your chain is gold, so much the worse for you.’
The kingdom of God, Jesus tells us, is not a commodity like gold. There is nothing scarce about it. It offers a limitless supply of love and grace which is available to everyone. It is not for sale. It is free, yet there is a price. We have to put God’s kingdom first. We have to break the chains that bind us to the things that we believe are saving our lives when they are in fact doing the very opposite – whether that’s wealth or social status or the thousand other things on which we depend for our identity and sense of security. Our life in Christ, says T S Eliot, is ‘a condition of complete simplicity, costing not less than everything.’
Perhaps the saddest story in the Gospels is the meeting of Jesus and the rich young ruler - a man so entangled in the chains of his wealth, and the responsibilities that come with it, that he cannot break free when Jesus calls him. So he walks away with a broken heart, unable to grasp the new life that he is offered.
Surrendering our lives to God is not something we do once and for all. It’s a daily discipline that we will need to practice for as long as we live. How do we do it? Soaking ourselves in Scripture is a good way to start. ‘The decrees of the Lord are sure’, we are told in Psalm 19, ‘More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold.’ ‘Your words were found’ says Jeremiah in our Old Testament reading, ‘and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O God.’ And then there is Paul’s exhortation to live in community in a way that reflects the self-giving love that God has shown to us in Christ. ‘Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection;’
We will fail, of course, time after time, but God’s promise holds fast. C.S. Lewis sums it up at the end of his book Mere Christianity. "The principle runs through all life, from top to bottom” he writes. “Give up yourself and you will find your real self. Lose life and it will be saved. Keep nothing back. Nothing in us that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for Christ and you will find him, and with him, everything else thrown in." May that be true for us, today and always. Amen.