Sunday, 11 October 2015

Can't make it to church? 11 October 2015

Today's readings provide us with an opportunity to offer a 'pick 'n mix' in that there are some many nuggets and pretty stones laying on the ground that we are invited to look and select the one that we find pretty and challenged to take up the ones we find concern-making.

Starting with Amos the 'Burden Bearer': A man who as the first of the Old Testament prophets and the bloke charged with giving the people the bad news about the way that they  are living with regard to what God thinks about it - now that's a real burden; not a lot of joy to be found in that role is here?

There are a few things that trouble me in this reading; the biggest being the word 'perhaps'! A most awful word because, when it comes to good stuff being delivered to your door you want the word 'definitely' not 'perhaps' don't you?

Take a look at those who being charged with equity and justice and with bringing about a fair nation for all fail to do so. Look at the unjust structure where those who have, have more and those with little, have that taken away. Looking at politics across the globe, there are few who can stand with clean hands and a great track record when compared with the Amos reading.

The remedy? 
'Seek good, not evil, that you may live. 
Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is. 
Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts. 
Perhaps the Lord God Almighty will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph.'

Oh blimey - not the good news we wanted was it? 

But if we keep quiet then we are surely supporting those wrong acts - if we speak out, there is the hint of a chance. Some or none: which are you going to choose?

But how can we offer correction? How can we look at that before us and make right assessments?

The Hebrews readings tells us that the 'word of God' is the key here. For in it we find the means by which we can see past the superficial and see into words and actions: Ours and theirs! The word of God is like a surgeon's scalpel, it cuts through the outer layers and exposes  and judges, the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing is hidden from God’s sight - He sees and knows it all!

So, with that in mind. we know that we are totally 'banged to right'. We have been caught in our wrong thinking and living and are in need of a good lawyer. Thankfully we have one who will speak for us and whom, by His sacrifice on the cross, will surely win for us the judgement that we are 'not guilty'! we have one who intercedes for us, one whom the Hebrews passage describes thus:

'For we do not have a high priest who is unable to feel sympathy for our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin.'

And this is the the important bit of Jesus. 'He did not sin!'

If I were to tell you of a friend who could get you a pension whereby life would be champagne a (yuk!) and a cosy lifestyle you would undoubtedly be keen to employ his services. But, if I let slip that he had just come out of prison, having done five years for fraud, would you be so keen to use him?

If I knew a doctor who could cure a loved one but had to point out that he would have to do it quietly, out of the public gaze, because he'd been struck off (although not all who died were his fault): Would you be so keep to bring him into your family's needs?

But Jesus comes with impeccable credentials, after all do you think there were none looking to expose Him as a sinner and have Him stoned so they could shut Him and His followers up? No, of course not - these were the guys who invented politics and sleaze and bad publicity: We only polish what they made! 

So we can, as it says, approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. What you waiting for - it's a darn sight better that 'probably' isn't it?

And so we land with Jesus  and the issue of things that get in the way as a man with everything turns up and asks Jesus about inheriting eternal life. We learn that this man has kept the commandments (so already he's done better than us hasn't he?) and just as we might  think he's up there with Jesus we realise that he's used to being served and that what he has has become a stumbling block - something that causes him to trip up as he tries to follow God. Money is the salvation he seeks, for with enough money you can live in comfort and, sinful things you can buy with it apart, can live an outwardly solid faith life.But of course jesus saw past that.

Did the man sell his possessions and follow Jesus? I'll let you know one day when I meet the Boss - but until then - the issue here is that what was being asked was a hard and difficult challenge for the man.

So what do you need to give up, to sell (or give away) to clear the road to the cross for you?

An added bonus from this reading can be drawn from the effort that the person with the goods laden camel makes to save paying tax. The 'hole in the wall' take on this (which I'm sure is apocryphal - a preacher's invention that has, for some, become fact) does make a lovely image as whatever could come through the hole in the wall on a camel's back was free from duty. The merchant, seeking to pay out less, would expend great energy and time to cover the camel with a sheet which was coated with grease to enable it to find passage through the hole (the 'eye of the needle'). 

And it is here that I think a helpful analogy is drawn (even though invented it might be): If you calculated the time taken and the cost of the materials used and the pay to those who worked for you, I would think that the final sum was greater than the duty saved. This is a lesson in life as, far too often, we expend more energy trying to look like a right person that we would expend by just being one!

Don't work hard at looking like a righteous person: save your energy and just be one!

Live in God's love and the reconciliation to God won for us through the cross of Jesus, the Christ, less effort and more blessings: And when you fail, remember we have a High Priest in Jesus who changes 'perhaps' to 'definitely'!

Hallelujah or what?

The Collect
Faithful Lord, whose steadfast love never ceases and whose mercies never come to an end: Grant us the grace to trust you and to receive the gifts of your love, new every morning, In Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Amos 5: 6 – 7, 10 - 15
Seek the Lord and live, or he will sweep through the tribes of Joseph like a fire; it will devour them, and Bethel will have no one to quench it. 

There are those who turn justice into bitterness and cast righteousness to the ground.
There are those who hate the one who upholds justice in court and detest the one who tells the truth. 
You levy a straw tax on the poor and impose a tax on their grain. 

Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them; 
though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine. 
For I know how many are your offences and how great your sins. 
There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts. 

Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times, for the times are evil. 
Seek good, not evil, that you may live. 
Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is. 
Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts. 
Perhaps the Lord God Almighty will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph.

Hebrews 4:12-16
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to feel sympathy for our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Mark 10.17-31
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. ‘Good teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ ‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good – except God alone. You know the commandments: “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honour your father and mother.”’

‘Teacher,’ he declared, ‘all these I have kept since I was a boy.’ Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus looked round and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!’

The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’ The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, ‘Who then can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.’

Then Peter spoke up, ‘We have left everything to follow you!’
‘Truly I tell you,’ Jesus replied, ‘no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields – along with persecutions – and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.’

Post Communion prayer
Holy and blessed God, You have fed us with the body and blood of your Son and filled us with your Holy Spirit: May we honour you, not only with our lips But in lives dedicated to the service of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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