Sermon for Sunday October 12th, 2014
28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
“For many are called, but few are chosen.”
The writer to the Hebrews says this, “But we are not among those who shrink back and so are lost, but among those who have faith and so are saved.” Last Sunday we were blessed, and I use that language advisedly, we were blessed by the presence with us of Mother Keleney and her friends from the Community of the Sacred Name. Once more we were confronted with the truth of Jesus’ brother James observation ‘Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?’ People who have little, and indeed since the Christchurch earthquakes far far less, yet RICH in faith, as exemplified in Mother’s preaching urging us ‘Church, push on into God and his Kingdom!’
A group of people who in our terms have EVERYTHING to worry about, a living example of lived obedience to St Paul’s words ‘do not worry about anything!’ Fearfulness throughout scripture is revealed as Sin. Those who shrink back are lost. Like the man who hid his talent – Jesus asks can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? One of the reasons we worry is not because we have so little, it is because we have so much! Our home contents insurance renewal has just come up – and once again I am asking myself, why??? After all, nothing I particularly value is replaceable 🙂 Whilst there are hungry to be fed, and naked to be clothed, what am I doing spending money insuring my possessions?? What exactly am I afraid of? Perhaps not The One who commands me to live with an open hand to the poor??
If you remember Mother’s sermon, you will remember that she spoke of the leadership of Moses – and his singleness of vision and purpose. Such it was that he was more than prepared to leave the people at the foot of the mountain for what seemed to them a complete age to learn from the Lord upon Mount Sinai – a reminder again to those who are ordained that their work is not to be rushing around ‘holding things together’ but primarily to do with God. When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” I must admit, hearing these words again, and the call of the people, I can’t help acknowledging my own anxieties about taking Sabbatical next year. Setting off on a journey with a community and then disappearing for three months! The echoes are clear 🙂 Will I come back to find the people running riot? Will Andrew have erected a golden calf in my absence!! 🙂 Clergy and I cannot say I am immune to this, all too often live responsively to the anxieties of those they are called to lead – rather than in faith, especially when the journey of the Church is one into uncharted territory, as we are currently exploring. God does his most important work with his people in the context of such uncharted territory – where we have nothing but Him – It is there that we learn faith. Of course it is so often the Poor that have vibrant faith, for they have no-one else in whom to trust
So it is in the uncharted territory of the wilderness of Sinai, away from comforts that God tests his people – tests their metal – sees if for all their words of faith, their faith is enacted – performed – lived out. Whether they trust in the LORD, or whether their faith is a sham, idolatry masquerading as faith. ‘Having the form of religion, but denying its power’ They can say they trust God until the cows come home, but never step out to show that that is true.
The temptations are always the same – in the absence of a visible God to put your trust in what you can see. This story of Aaron in his anxiety throwing in his lot with the people is one which is not only old, but ever new. We might read this and think, what on earth has this to do with us? A golden calf??
But as St Paul reminds us, using this very incident ‘I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. [What is Paul saying here?? He is pointing us to a profound mystery, they like us were baptised into Christ, they like us partook of the Eucharist, the life of Christ, even though in temporal terms this was long long before] Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness. Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.’
This story has EVERYTHING to do with us. Idolatry is always the way of false faith, cross avoiding faith, faith which knows nothing of sacrifice. Faith which does nothing. But here also is the twisted genius of Idolatry – that it masquerades as the real thing. Listen again to the reading from Exodus Aaron said to [the Israelites], “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. 4He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” 5When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the LORD.”
The memory of the Exodus is still fresh – they cannot deny that a god or gods have rescued them from the Egyptians So Aaron making the calf says – ‘Here they are!’ How much easier to believe in a god you can see and feel and touch . . . and of course as the years go by and the memory of what The LORD had done for them, how much easier to begin to believe it was all a dream, and not to be trusted . . . indeed one might speak thus of the Church in our day – how long is it since we have seen the mighty hand of God acting amongst us?? Have we forgotten? Has it all become nothing more than a half remembered dream?? Who will stand up amongst us and give testimony to the saving power of God amongst us? Mother Keleney and the sisters? Did not the prophetic word leave its mark?
As for Aaron and his anxieties mirroring those of the people, the amazing saving act of God was only five minutes old – only a few weeks ago had the horse and rider been thrown into the sea and slavery in Egypt become something that had been definitively been left behind. So the memory of The LORD is still strong for all that , and Aaron invokes the Divine name over the gold calf “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the LORD” By sleight of hand, the people are now not worshipping The LORD, but a calf whom Aaron calls The LORD. He fears the people more than he fears God . . . which is always the way of it. The people of God have an alarming predisposition for the comforting narcotics of idolatry, rather than the challenge of life changing faith. Easier to stick with what we know than face the difficult realities of living by faith . . . inconvenient faith. After all, a golden calf won’t ask any difficult questions of you, won’t require you to go on life changing journeys. It is a pale and ghastly imitation of The Living One.
And this golden calf cannot save us. Oh the irony of those churches in this diocese, and indeed across the Province and the Western world that have closed their doors with a healthy bank balance. Oh the mountains of chalices tarnishing away locked up in safes – oh the glorious robes which the moths are eating away at. All the idols, turned to dust.
Two weeks ago I preached on the theme ‘No Buts!’ The word BUT is a hallmark of an idolatrous heart – Of course we trust God, BUT . . . Everything before the But . . .
Jesus Life is Invitation – Invitation to a life unknown to those who live not by faith but by trusting in what they can see. And perhaps here is a huge challenge for us – if we have never known what it is to live by faith – And this Life is expressed in terms of a marriage. What more can we ask than to be United with The One who calls all things into being?? God comes to his people and the metaphor is marriage – so a King ‘gave a wedding banquet for his Son’ He sent out the invitations, Everything is Ready!! But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, [Too busy for the demanding life of discipleship . . . How often is the word of life held out and people make light of it??] ‘while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them.’ Let us never forget that the world crucified Jesus. The Crucified One is a ever present reminder of what the World thinks of the Kingdom of God, which is why the Church in its anxieties is continually tempted to come up with a more palatable version of The Kingdom of God, an idolatrous and perverse sham, rather than the call to the Obedience that comes through faith, which calls all of our lives into question. That calls forth from us a totally new way of living . . .
This Kingdom invitation is denied. The messengers murdered – The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. it not the case that we get all squeamish about the wrath of God, because we have such a vapid bland perception of the Love of God? A love which requires nothing of us – a wrath that cannot harm us?? Eternal life a vague wish, but nothing worth changing the path of our lives for, and Eternal perdition? Well who believes in that anymore??
But This Love will not be denied!! The World Crucifies Love – THERE is the figure of our failure to understand Love. But God Raised Jesus from the Dead! The Wedding Banquet Will take place he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. This gift requires a response, the response of faithful obedience – as the Kingdom is announced by John the Baptist and the Jesus, the message is the same “The Kingdom of God is at hand – Repent and believe the Good News” This LOVE requires a changed life!! You were following in the way of death – your Life has to change . . . And one who has turned up hasn’t got it – when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ As our own St John puts it in the Apocalypse And from the throne came a voice saying, “Praise our God, all you his servants, and all who fear him, small and great.” 6Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunderpeals, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. 7Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready; 8to her it has been granted to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. Without the response of faithful obedience, no one will enter the Kingdom of heaven . . .
And it is all there in the story of God’s people in Exodus who all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink . . . Not long after the incident at Sinai with the Golden calf they came to the borders of the Promised Land. The rescue from Egypt fresh in their memory, they sent spies into the land, amongst them Joshua and Caleb. When they came back they were full of all the wonders they had seen . . . but, there were giants in the land. The anxieties kicked in – faced with potentially costly Obedience to the LORD, or playing it safe, they chose safety. And the LORD said to them, have it your way, none of you (Except Joshua and Caleb’s families,) will enter the Land – you can stay put here in what you call your safe place until you’ve all died. Well as this message is conveyed back to them, they think – perhaps we ought to give it a go – but the door is shut – remember the foolish virgins with no oil??
Many Many were called out of Egypt – Many many were called to learn faith through obedience in the wilderness, but only a few were chosen to enter the Land. God’s banquet, the fullness of Life in the Kingdom, a life of obedience and faith is set, many are called, but some make light of it, others think they have more important things to be doing, others get angry with the messengers – still others turn up, not thinking that the invitation requires anything on their part . . .
I close where I begin, with that encouraging word from Hebrews – Encouraging – giving Courage – Giving a New Heart – a Heart of Faithful Obedient Love – This is the heart of the Church – the heart of God’s people – Faithful Obedient Love. Hear this word
“But we are not among those who shrink back and so are lost,
but among those who have faith and so are saved.”
‘Church! Push on into God and his Kingdom!’