Sermon preached by The Reverend Dr Sam Cappleman
Ordinary 22 Year C 2010
With Christ outside the camp
The Book of Hebrews is a fascinating piece of writing, quite early by Christian standards and almost certainly addressed, as the title would indicate, to a group of Jewish believers.
Chapter 13 and our Epistle reading today, comes at the end of the book and summaries some of the key points of Christian teaching, such as loving each other, look out for those who are ill treated and less fortunate than themselves, keep to the sanctity of marriage, don’t get caught up with the love of money but be content with what they have and so on... In fact, Heb 13 v 2 – 3 is almost a paraphrase of Matt 25 v 35 – 36. ‘I was hungry…’
It all seems quite normal as far as we can see, but we so easily forget that these were, in general, all alien concepts to society as a whole at that time.
The concept of sharing your possessions with others and loving each other as brothers was a ludicrous proposition. Sharing possessions was unheard of; the concept of love as a service, not as an emotion, bizarre; hospitality as an attitude and not an action, a very strange concept.
And yet we have come to see all of these elements as the very tenets and foundation of our faith. And it’s for that reason that Hebrews 13 is a good chapter for Christians to read to remind them of the basics of their faith and what they stand for.
Indeed, the way that the chapter is written and structured is to jog the memory of the readers into recalling the traditional instruction they had received in the Christian faith. It’s even possible to see 10 commands in verses 1 – 18 beginning with words and phrases such as ‘Remember’, ‘Keep on’, ‘Do not forget’ and ‘Obey’, a structure the readers would have been very familiar with.
All that we read, however it’s structured, is a sharp reminder about sharing in the way of Christ as we live out our lives.
It’s a reminder that’s underlined and emphasised in the references towards the end of the reading regarding being outside the camp.
In Hebrews chapter 13, verses 10 – 16 are an interesting structure in themselves, a chiastic form with which the Hebrews again would have been familiar.
We have the verses which start and finish the section mentioning altars and sacrifices respectively. Sacrifices were made on alters.
The next verses in from the start and finish cover the fact that we live in a camp, not a city and that the enduring city is still to come.
The central verses of the structure point us to the real focus of this little section, that Christ suffered outside the camp and we should go to be with Him there.
We know from Leviticus (16 v 27) that the bull and the goat that were used for the sin offering, and their blood for the atonement of the Israelites, were taken outside the camp/city and burnt.
Outside the gate was a place of separation, shame and exclusion, a place of disgrace, a place far removed from the God who was within the Holy enclave, a place of rejection by the people.
To go outside yourself was to risk reproach and shame. It meant leaving behind the security of the familiar, the congeniality of friends and potentially even respect for the holy and sacred. A place of loneliness and desolation
It’s the place where Christ was taken when He was rejected by the people of the world.
And yet, the place of rejection, the place of desolation is where not just Christ, but God Himself, is to be found.
Just after the Israelites had received the 10 Commandments they made the Golden Calf with Aaron. After all the efforts to construct the Tabernacle as a dwelling place for God, after all the rules and regulations, Moses takes a tent outside the camp, the tent of meeting, and God shows up there. (Ex 33 v 7 – 8)
It seems as if with Christ history is repeating itself. Jesus too was to be found outside the camp.
The God who is rejected by people can be found not (just) in the holy places but in the places we least expect, the places of desolation, the places of disgrace, the places of shame and exclusion. Indeed, sometimes it would seem that that is where we need to go to find Him.
Sometimes it’s in these very places where God manifests His presence more than any other.
Perhaps as we seek to draw near to God we too must go outside our camps, outside our places of security, outside the places where we are familiar and secure.
Go to the places where we risk being misunderstood, laughed at, marginalised, and excluded for a group, and in so doing draw near to a God who seems to inhabit all these places.
Perhaps it’s in these places we are called to share with others, remember those who are not as well off as ourselves, and share our time, wealth and talents.
Sharing in some small way in the shame of Christ as a part of true discipleship. Sharing in His pain and misunderstanding as we seek to share God’s kingdom with those in our society.
That might seem to us, like is seemed to the readers’ of the book of Hebrews, a ludicrous proposition. Something very counter cultural and subversive.
We can’t possibly do that – what would people think?
And yet, the Book of Hebrews, and the whole of the Bible itself would seem to indicate that Christ is to be found there, in the places we least expect, and He calls us to join Him where He is to be found
Perhaps our Christian lives are not so much discovering where we should be, and what we should be doing; but discovering where Christ is, and what He is doing, and joining Him there in His work.