Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 10 October 2021.
• First Reading: Amos 5: 6-7, 10-15 (Seek good, not evil, that you may live)
• Psalm 90: 13-16
• Epistle: Hebrews 4: 12-16 (Let us approach God’s throne with confidence)
• Gospel: Mark 10: 17-31 (Who can be saved? With God all things are possible)
They call us stakeholders – customers, voters, those who offer our labour or skills, people who live in the land and who are subject to its laws even when they feel distant and powerless.
Some will get involved in one issue or another, but others will live their lives within but sometimes despite the prevailing culture with all its pressures and conformities, and all its expectations and demands.
For Amos there were a lot of powerless dwellers in the land, without wealth or connections and not knowing how to get by with all the pressing demands of landlords, employers and state officials.
The sense was of not being able to secure their rights in the courts and of not being able to at least tell their own side of any matter of dispute.
Rulings would be handed down like pronouncements from on high and beyond reasoning or questioning.
So what has changed? Our democratic process allows us to select our rulers, but only on their terms and under their electoral manifestoes. Our laws are applied impartially by the courts – so long as we have the means to obtain proper legal representation.
And even then it can be the perception of an offence rather than it being examined and proven. And what is true of our legal state is also true of our culture. Those who have control of or access to the means of expressing themselves are the gatekeepers of public opinion.
And when an unfashionable opinion is expressed it is soon suppressed. So what has changed since Amos’ time?
What may have been high-minded and in the best of intentions is reduced to legalism and pressure from interest groups.
In the letter to the Hebrews however, there is a new perspective. We are not alone – and we never were. We are not powerless or ignored, for God was always there.
And not just as an onlooker – He came among us, lived, breathed, had family and friends, and He plied His own trade as carpenter.
God never created the heavens and the earth and then went off on holiday. He never wound it up to see how it would run and to see it run itself down into chaos and destruction.
God came that we might thrive, and He died so that we might live. If there was any kind of temptation than He felt it too, for the nature and direction of temptation never change even if the technology does.
And having been through it all without being tainted, corrupted or compromised, he suffered death and conquered that as well.
So when in the gospel lesson, the earnest inquirer came to Jesus and asked Him how to inherit eternal life, Jesus warmed to him.
Jesus’ first answer to his question was simple: obey the law. In this He was drawing on the 10 commandments.
But the man knew that there was more, there was further to go. These things he could do within his existing way of life.
So Jesus offered him the way of discipleship: turn your back on life as you knew it and follow Me. Your possessions and your connections, your family name and your reputation will all hold you back. Let go of these and then you will be able to do what the other disciples did in leaving behind family and livelihood.
This was more difficult for the man was indeed a stakeholder in the land. To commit to Jesus would mean letting go of all else and allowing Him to set his lifestyle and priorities from then on.
There would be no safety net and by being one with Jesus then his reputation would be shredded.
This was far more demanding and we do not know what happened after that. Was he there in Jerusalem when they crucified Jesus or when the Spirit came at Pentecost? How did he respond to these events?
What Jesus does say is that with God all things are possible. It applied then and it is still there now.
Are we going to be defined by our possessions and reputations? By our social standing and our connections? Will they constrain our faith and the way we express it and share it with others?
The paradox is that the very things that give us our sense of stability and security can also be the very things that undermine our faith and our hope.
It is one thing to have a professional career – but do the demands for advancement require us to compromise our faith or our values?
Do our possessions free us or do they tie us down? Do we trim our views and our faith when in company, especially those who do not share our faith?
In all such things, what is impossible for us is not so for God.