Sermon for Ordinary 28 by Rev Dr Sam Cappleman
An Invitation to Reformed and Transformed Living
There is an underpinning theme in all of our readings today of reformed and transformed living.
In the Old Testament reading from Amos, a contemporary with Hosea, we see a prophet from the south, Tekoa, 12 miles South of Jerusalem, going to the Northern Kingdom of Israel to speak out about the social and religious corruption which are so prevalent in the land. Jeroboam II is the king and it’s a time of wealth and prosperity, of influence and of status. But beneath all this the nation is rotten and festering.
Amos’s message is simple and clear. ‘Seek the Lord and live’. And it’s not a seeking after the Lord with more sacrifices at corrupt places of worship but by a reformed and transformed way of living that reflected their calling and inheritance.
Perhaps not surprisingly he was told in no uncertain terms to go away and the nation carries on with its corrupt and deceitful ways. Sometime later, some 30 years after Jeroboam’s death in around 722 BC, the Kingdom falls to the Assyrians and many of Amos’ words are brought home with a new meaning.
In the reading from Hebrews, a letter we don’t really know who wrote, but it’s very unlikely to be Paul as the style and thoughts are very different to his writings, we see a similar theme.
The big question for the writer of Hebrews is how humans can approach God. The clue is in the title as to who the book is written for, probably Hebrews, but a people who are wavering between Judaism and Christianity, trying to work out the right path for them.
The writer compares and contrasts the person and activity of Jesus with the Old Testament priesthood and sacrificial systems. The writer explains that Jesus is the realisation of all that the old system stands for, the perfect priest offering the perfect sacrifice, to turn away from Him is to lose everything.
God’s word is all powerful, living and active. It’s not a seemingly dean and empty and old code of the law. The High Priest He has sent is the great high priest who has made the ultimate, perfect and final sacrifice. The Hebrews, and the whole world therefore are being offered a reformed and transformed better way of living.
Just how the word of God is living and active and like a sharp sword and just what that reformed and transformed way of living is we see revealed in the gospel reading. A man runs up to Jesus and asks him what he needs to do to inherit eternal life.
The man appears to be a good and serious man. He has studied the Jewish Law and been diligent in keeping it all his life. It seems to him that God has rewarded him. He has everything he needs and more. But perhaps, in the very corner of his mind, there is a niggling question. Is it really enough?
In response Jesus gives a response which is almost classically rabbinical as he speaks about adherence of the law and commandments. But it’s clear that there is more to it than this when the man responds that he has done all this. Jesus says to him that he must go and sell everything and give the proceeds to the poor, and then he will have treasure in heaven.
It’s another example of how Jesus turns everything upside down. Ever since they have been established as a nation the Jews have spoken about their inheritance, their possession of the land which they believe is rightfully theirs, and being chosen and special, marked out for God’s favour.
Even in the Old Testament scriptures it seems to be that God blesses the righteous with prosperity.
Jesus now seems to be saying something different, give up and sell your possessions and inheritance, give it away to others, so that others may know God’s real riches, favour and blessing. It would seem it’s a message for Israel as much as for the young man itself.
Give it up and give it away so that others can know the reformed and transformed life that is possible in Christ, the Great High Priest, and the ultimate fulfilment of the law.
But the message isn’t just for Israel, it’s for the young man and for us all.
Because the fundamental question that is being asked is about how we are living and what’s our attitude to the things that apparently bring us security? What is it that might stop us from being the authentic imitators of Christ we are invited to be (in Paul’s letters to the Ephesians and Corinthians for example).
For the young man it would appear that it is his attitude to the material things of the world, as it had been for many in the past and would be in the future for many. As Jesus says the very words, we can see the two edged sword of the word of God that the write of Hebrews speaks about incising into the man. It’s that surgical.
From his attitude and reaction we know that the words have hit home. There is no questioning or debate by the man, he knows what he has heard is true. The word has penetrated his life and life can never be the same again.
For this man we see that, whilst wealth can be a blessing from God, but it has also become a snare. It seems to have made him dependent on it for his security and has made it more difficult for him to see what is really important in life and act on it.
Jesus isn’t saying we need to go out and sell all we own. We have responsibilities to care for ourselves and for others and we cannot depend on others to feed us, as Jesus seems to have done. There is nothing wrong with enjoying the good things our money can buy if our attitude to these things is right and we still know and live out what is really important in life
As we see in the gospel reading man’s life and attitude to his wealth and possessions needs to be reformed and transformed if he is to enter into the Kingdom of God and eternal life. For him it would be a radical change. He’s a rich man and it appears it too much to ask.
Jesus turns to His disciples and speaks to them of how hard it is for those who do not want to give up their security and perhaps their apparent source of identity and for whom their attitude is self-centred rather than God centred to enter the kingdom of heaven. They have been ensnared and it’s difficult for them to be released.
This obviously hits home at the disciples who begin to ask if anyone can then enter the Kingdom of heaven, the bar seems a very high one to get over.
But Jesus reassures them. In submitting everything to God, all things are possible, but it will involve a reformed and transformed life and ensuring our attitude to the material things of the world is what it should be.
The Gospel brings freedom from the need to acquire things, and God who can do the impossible enables us to hear its message, the message of the Kingdom.
And that is the ultimate challenge, where the two edged swords needs to penetrate each one of us.
How do we live out the message of the Kingdom? How do we become so radically different in the way we live out our lives that we don’t become ensnared by the world and its riches? What is it about us which is distinctly different?
For the young man, he seemed to do established religion very well. What he seemed to miss out on was how to do the Kingdom.
Perhaps the challenge for us is the same as we allow our lives and our attitudes to be reformed and transformed as we increasingly live out the Kingdom of God in our lives and our attitudes.