HOUSE OF GOD
SERMON PREACHED BY FR. TONY NOBLE ON SUNDAY OCTOBER 11th 2009
Mark 10: 17 “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
That was not really the question the rich young man was asking. For when Jesus says in reply, Do you know the commandments?, the young man replies that he has kept them all since his youth. In other words, he’s a devout Jew who has kept the covenant. Furthermore he is rich, which in those days was considered a sign of God’s blessing.
That’s why the disciples said afterwards: “Then who can be saved?” In their eyes this young man was destined for heaven – kept the covenant, prayed, and had riches. But Jesus saw it differently. No, the real question the young man was asking was: “What more must I do to inherit eternal life?”
With all his wealth and good living he knew it wasn’t enough – he was still missing something. He already saw that just being rich and keeping the covenant didn’t satisfy him spiritually.
Here’s the reality of the situation: the Old Covenant between God and his people was established long ago to keep them faithful – but it had become just a series of rules. That wonderful relationship between God and his chosen people had become just a keeping of rules: going to the temple, going to the synagogue, praying at certain times of the week, follow the commandments and rules. And this young man had kept them all his life, and still did.
The sign of God’s blessing was seen not in a holy life, but in a wealthy life. Rich in possessions – but not spiritual riches. So Jesus said to him: “Go sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” – and then he adds: “Come follow me”.
But it was too much to ask, and he went away.
The first reading (Amos 5: 6-7, 10-15) has the same theme. The prophet warns Israel to change their ways and return to the keeping of the Covenant – not as a keeping of rules, for they did that – but in the spirit of that relationship of thanks and gratitude to their God and Father.
However it is the Epistle (Hebrews 3: 1-6) that gives the real meaning to all the readings today. The writer to the Hebrews describes Jesus as “The Apostle and High Priest of our confession”. He then contrasts Jesus with Moses and says that Moses “Was faithful in God’s house”. Moses, of course, was the architect of the Old Covenant, and is symbolic of that covenant.
By referring to Moses as being faithful in God’s house the Epistle contrasts him with Jesus, who is greater than Moses: “Moses was faithful in God’s house as a servant, but Jesus is faithful in God’s house as a Son”. So we now have the difference between the Old Covenant and the New.
Last week I referred to the Church as being the Bride of Christ – one of the wonderful images we find in the New Testament. Today we have another image of the Church – the image of a house.
“We are his house”, says Hebrews, “If we hold fast our confidence and pride in our hope”.
Now parishes like ours meet in houses like this house of God. So the image of a house is easy to understand. But Hebrews applies it to us as a household, not just the building. House of God, Body of Christ, Bride of Christ……House of God is one of those wonderful images that confirm our life as a congregation, as well as the whole Church throughout the world.
When Hebrews presents this image it’s important to go back to the beginning of Hebrews. The Epistle to the Hebrews opens with these words (which we hear at Christmas every year): “At various times in the past, and in various different ways, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets – but in our time, these last days, he has spoken to us through his Son” (Hebrews 1: 1-2).
This is the point behind the comparison between Moses and Jesus. The mystery of Christ -especially his death and resurrection – is the final revelation and realisation of God’s salvation, first promised to Abraham and then codified by Moses in the commandments and in the Covenant. So the Epistle to the Hebrews describes Jesus as Apostle and High Priest – for he is the one who is sent to offer the perfect sacrifice of his life as our Great High Priest.
Through him man comes to God, and we receive every grace and blessing from God first promised in the Old Covenant. All of us know that we have been blessed and received grace in our lives, even though sometimes it seems a bit thin or a bit dim. But we know we are blessed – that is one of the reasons we come to Church.
And so the writer to the Hebrews is providing this story about our relationship with God, beginning in the Old Testament and now climaxed through Jesus the High Priest, who was sent by God. Our response must be the opposite to that rich young man who went away sorrowful. We must not turn away, but freely give of ourselves – which the young man could have, but the challenge was too much.
Going right back to the Patriarch Abraham, salvation is constantly presented as a free gift of God flowing from his mercy and love. Therefore our response to that gift is the gift of ourselves in love to God our Father.
The covenant made on Sinai between God and his chosen people is the significant point in the Old Testament. It is the conclusion of what was promised to Abraham and the beginning of the Law. On Sinai the people of Israel were made the possession of the Lord – as Exodus says, a kingdom of priests and a holy people (Exodus 19:6). And they were charged to live in faithfulness to the covenant – but we see in this rich young man how faithfulness just becomes a keeping of rules, and thinking that life is just about what you have.
Israel’s response was not always faithful down through the years…..but we, the people of the New Covenant, inherit all that – both the Covenant and the promise. We are now the ones called to be faithful and not to turn away – but to follow the apostle and High Priest of our confession.
That is the whole purpose and point of our stewardship appeal this month. It might seem like just an appeal for the parish budget, to keep the show on the road so to speak. But you and I know it is both those things and more – because it is really about your response to Christ and to God’s blessings in your life.
If we take the Epistle to the Hebrews’ image of a house – we have no problem understanding that our church building is a house which has needs, and also requires our support like any house. But we know it’s not just this building – it’s about the community, it’s about the ministry, it’s about the people.
Hebrews says we are the house. Therefore, together, here in this place we are the House of God. And our commitment to this house – both the building of its ministry – reflects our understanding that we all make up the house which is All Saints’ Church. We also understand that by our response we show that we are not the ones who turn away, like that rich young man whose life centered on possessions.
Above all, we know that we could indeed answer his question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”.