Sermon for Proper 23, Year B- Sunday, October 10, 2021

Amos 5:6-7,10-15                             Psalm 90:12-17                                  Hebrews 4:12-16              Mark 10:17-31

Our reading from Hebrews begins with, “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”  This passage bridges the gap between Amos and Mark. 

One of the primary messages of the prophets is found in today’s passage from Amos.  He tells the people – and us, what we are to do: “Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, just as you have said.”  Then, he goes deeper, “Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.”

Justice, or the abuse of justice, is a favorite topic of the prophets.  Not because they enjoy talking about it, but because we, the people, mess up over and over again.  Like the man who approaches Jesus and asks what he must do to inherit eternal life.  We are seduced by temporal wealth rather than spiritual wealth.  We focus on ourselves, our wants and desires and neglect those who are in need of our assistance.  Jesus looks at the man who has come to him, loves him, and says, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

The love of Jesus is sharper than a two-edged sword, it pierces our hearts and sees what is there.  After the man hears what Jesus says he needs to do, he is shocked and grieved for, we are told, “he had many possessions.”  Jesus tells his disciples, “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 and the people who hear this exchange are concerned.  They may or may not have many possessions, but I doubt they are willing to give up all they have and follow Jesus. 

They ask one another, “Then who can be saved?”  I remember hearing a priest say once, “Life isn’t fair, if it were fair, we’d all be living in huts with dirt floors.”  It is one thing to give to the poor, but yet another to give all that we have and follow Jesus.  If this scripture doesn’t make you a bit uncomfortable, you might be avoiding the difficult questions: “Are my possessions, is my life style, more important than God’s call to me to serve others?”  Is sacrificial giving something we do or do we give from what we have leftover from our entertainment budget?  Are our gifts a sacred expression of our love and concern for others?  Does what we give come from our heart?

This story is not about now difficult it is to enter the kingdom – it is about the depth of Christ’s love for us.  When his disciples ask, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus answers, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”  This is what I need to hear.  When God divides my soul from my spirit, I’m afraid too much of my spirit is focused on maintaining my lifestyle and not enough on caring for the less fortunate.  But, Jesus reminds us that this is part of the human condition.  Salvation cannot be earned, for mortals it is impossible to obtain, were it not for God.  With God’s help – and the love of Christ, “all things are possible”. Thus, we can obtain salvation with Christ’s help. 

And just what is salvation?  Is it redemption?  Yes.  Is it deliverance? Yes.  Is it rescue?  Yes.  These are synonyms with the word salvation and all apply to what it is that Christ’s love offers to us.  We are rescued from our own sins and the death of our spirit.  We are delivered from our obsessions with we what we want for ourselves, and we are redeemed from making ourselves our own center of attention. 

With Christ’s help we can turn toward life and peace. In Hebrews, we are told to “approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Today’s readings are about grace, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ who will lead us to life.  

Although Hebrews speaks of our soul and spirit and Jesus speaks of the age to come, what we find here in these scriptures is what we need to focus on the present time.  We are not just to share our wealth with the poor and then wait for the here after – we are to follow Christ.   We are to shift our center of attention from ourselves to the kingdom of God – here on earth, as it is in heaven. 

If what we are doing to help others is an attempt to earn our way into heaven, then our actions are self-serving.  After giving all that he has to the poor, the man is to follow Christ.  Following Christ means giving sacrificially, of our time and talent.  Our soul and spirit are one when our gifts are from our heart and not when our gifts are from our leftovers. 

So, as Amos says, “Seek the Lord and live . . . Seek God and not evil, that you many live . . . Hate evil and love good, and establish justice!”  When we do so, we can experience life and peace in our souls and in our lives.

Let us pray.

          Lord Christ, your examples has taught us the way to life and peace requires making sacrifices.  Help us, we pray, to have the strength and courage to make our lives sacred by sharing all that you have given to us with others.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.