Responding to God on his terms
Sermon preached by
The Reverend Dr Sam Cappleman
Responding to God on His Terms, not Ours
Mark 10 v 17 - 31 & Hebrews 5 v 1 - 10.
When it comes to buying big items like houses, cars or even washing machines we all like to feel we've got a good deal. Some of us (like me) even like to negotiate to try to get even more added in as standard to the price to get more overall out of the deal. Increasingly we want to get things more on our own terms. Advert in a US flight magazine every month which advertises a negotiating course which says something like 'You don't get what you want in this world, you get what you negotiate'.
It seem we pay less and less attention to the price of the goods as there actually marked these days, and look for deals on everything. It's my money and I'll make it work for me. In a society which seems to be increasingly concerned with the rights and wants of the individual, almost to the extent of ignoring or superseding the rights or desires of society as a whole, it seem everything is up for debate and negotiation.
For some people this seems to extend to the way they want to do business, and have a relationship, with God, thorough Jesus. They'll do it on their terms not God's. They'll define how much of their time and resources they're prepared to put into their religion and their walk with God, perhaps hoping that God doesn't prick their conscience too much and ask for a bit more time effort or sincerity. Indeed, one of the attractions of many of the New Age religions is that they offer individuals an opportunity to shape their beliefs in an ad hoc, 'pick and mix' way which lets them 'do' spirituality on their terms and no one else's. But the theme of the 2 New Testament readings today is that we need to respond to God on His terms, not ours.
We make a fundamental mistake if we think we can call the tune. And in responding to God on His terms, our response should be driven by our love for Him, not just from a sense of cold or mindless obedience, or because our parents happen to have gone to church.
For example, the writer of Hebrews starts today's passage by contrasting the Word of God, made incarnate through His Son Jesus Christ, as being living and active, in contrast to the old laws and codes of the Jews, which were becoming increasingly dead and ritualistic. To the writer there is a fundamental change in the way religion must be viewed and understood in the light of the New Covenant God has made with the world through Christ. It was no longer just a matter of obedience to some ancient creed or dogma.
This is clearly seen in the description of the Word of God as being sharper than a two edged sword. On the one side this sword brings a message of sacrificial love, God so loved the world that He sent Jesus to live among us and to die for us. On the other side it brings a message of judgement, our sinful nature is exposed and laid bare before this Holy God, and it is to Him we will be asked to give account. Nothing can be hidden from His eyes. Sin separates us from God, and because we are sinful something needs to happen if we are to have access back to Him.
To the Jews, and to many of the readers of Hebrews, the only person who could mediate between man and God was a priest. More specifically it was the high priest, who on the day of atonement each year, Yom Kippur, represented the Jews before God, by sprinkling the blood of the sacrificial goat on the mercy seat. The writer of Hebrews points out that in Jesus we have a High Priest par excellence who gives us eternal access back to God by atoning once and for all for the world. Even though Jesus knows our sinfulness and all our weaknesses, because He has been tempted just as we are, He still reaches out to us in love, as the living Word of God. And as he reaches out to us, so we need to respond back to Him. But Jesus' actions are not driven purely out of a sense of duty. they are primarily driven out of His sacrificial love of humanity.
This is one of the key themes that Mark picks up in the parable of the rich young man. The rule of the New Covenant is the rule of love. The old rules of duty and law have been superseded. Just as Jesus, out of love for the world, let go of the glory and riches of heaven to serve His Father, so we must let go of the things that hold us back from serving God, out of our love for Him.
We must respond to God on His terms, not ours, if our relationship with Him is to be as deep and as meaningful as He, and we, desire. We need to let go of the things in our lives, which like for the rich young man, held him back from fully responding to God.
The rich young man went away sad, he felt he had more to give up than most. It looks like he was not prepared to sacrifice his 'riches' to serve God. (although we don't actually know what happened to this man!) But how fortunate Jesus did not feel and act the same way.
The point that Jesus is trying to make to the rich young man, and perhaps to us, is that its the understanding of the commandments and the application of them to our everyday lives which is important. A blind obedience to them which makes no difference to the way we live our lives and treat others misses the point of both the Old and the New Covenants.
The rich young man needed to understand and follow the commandments the way they are truly to be understood, the way Jesus interpreted them, not as a series of commands to be obeyed but as principles governing our response of love. A way which was and is motivated by love, and in the rich young man's case, a compassion for the poor and needy. And as soon as love and compassion come into the frame, the ability to negotiate and do things on our own terms tends to go out of the door. But as love and compassion come into the frame, our desire to negotiate and want to do things on our own terms goes out of the door too. We start to want to do more and more what God wants to do, to respond more and more like He would. Less and less becomes available for debate and negotiation. And just when it seems we've been asked to give up the things perhaps we hold closest, for the rich young man his riches, Jesus tells us that whatever we've given up, our time, our efforts, our money; we'll receive 100 fold in our life in the world to come.
We'll never get the economics to add up. But we do know that God much more than we ever imagined, or bargained for Now that's what I call a good deal!