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s144e03 Lockleys 9/11/2003 Sunday 32

"not to deal with sin, but to save" Heb 9.28

The letter to the Hebrews is the most "sacramental" of the books of the New Testament. Ostensibly it deals with sin and forgiveness. However it is well that we remember that the whole tenor of the book is about how the sacrifice of the Cross is so much better and effective than the sacrifices ordained in the Old Covenant.

So the whole purpose of the book is to get us to stop thinking about sin, and getting on doing other more useful things.

If we learn nothing from the record of devoted compliance to the words of the ancient law of God, is that which was meant to free people effectively did the opposite and people were enslaved.

As I thought about Adam and Eve eating that illicit apple &endash; trying to be like God &endash; it is the effort which is vain and ultimately unsuccessful. God would save us this effort which enslaves us.

But we need to be careful for Jesus says: "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Matthew 5.48 There is no doubt that we could indeed be "weighed down" by such an injunction. It could as easily enslave us as the procedures in the Old Testament could enslave the ancient people of God - or free them. So it is important to recognise the context in which these words are said. The words immediately preceding them are: "If you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? (Matthew 5:46,47). Our ethics have got to extend beyond that of the mafia - who certainly love their brothers and sisters, but not others.

And the parallel saying in Luke reinforces this: "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." Luke 6,36. These are preceded by the words: "Love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked." Luke 6.35 Again, it is the breadth of our love for others which is important. Our love for a narrow group of like-minded individuals, or our devotion just to God counts for naught.

So while God would save us from anything that would enslave us into trying to be like God, or thinking that we have to be like God - we are called simply to love beyond the boundaries - the boundaries of Anglicanism, Christianity, people of faith even.

So often people of other denominations and faiths have been thought of as enemies. People who do not profess the same version of the faith have to be shown the error of their ways. God calls us to love them instead.

When we look around we can see many who have been exceedingly blessed by God, blessed by material possessions. And we think, surely they can at least be a bit grateful to God for what they have been given. And then the words of Jesus hit us - that God "is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked."

How often is our "love" actually a desire for others to become like us, to get someone else to subscribe to our version of the truth? How frequently is our love actually extended to get something in return - and despite our protestations - it is seen for what it is and rejected because of it's counterfeit nature.

We are saved from the effort of worrying how to love and who to love. We don't have to worry about whether we ought to love people of other faiths or not. We do not have to worry how we are to express enmity. We do not have to worry about our effectiveness as "evangelists". We are called just to accept - to live and let live.

People will not always become "Christians" like us - it is much more important that they become accepting like us.

If we are not accepting, then we give others the excuse to not be accepting either. And how can we blame others when they are not accepting when we who know that we are children of grace rather than others are unable to be accepting ourselves?

If the Cross of Jesus is more effective than the sacrifices of the Old Testament as the writer to the letter to the Hebrews would maintain, it is hardly likely that the effectiveness is centred around making us more assured our sins are forgiven. I can testify to the fact that I spend just as much time as anyone else berating myself for my sins, negligences and ignorances. The superior effectiveness of the Cross is that it extends beyond the bounds of any religious system to all people.

But it is hard to say these things and not sound as if there is something deficient in the "old" ways.

It is the abiding sin of all religious people - myself as much as anyone else - to think that we are all sufficient. And this is as true on a personal level as it is corporately as a congregation, denomination or a faith level.

I have little doubt that such thoughts did not escape Elijah as he fled from Jezebel to the mountain of God, being fed by the angels along the way. It was all so convenient, these angels - able to bake bread and provide those jars of water in the wilderness. (1 Kings 19.6) But when he returns he is told that a foreign woman was to be his provider. No doubt he would have preferred the angels, as we might expect that the sacrament of Holy Communion will eternally sustain us.

It may come as somewhat of a shock to find that God has appointed someone quite outside the church and community of faith to be of assistance to us. People like the young people in a youth hostel in New York city, a teacher of Yoga, or the assistance that the government can provide in grants for useful things.

Jesus was crucified because the authorities wanted to stop Jesus associating with people other than themselves, so the resurrection is the sign that that attempt is eternally futile, and that the risen Jesus associates with others still. As such we will find the God continues to command others, surprising others, to provide for us, and we will do well to accept that help.

It is eternally salutary for us to realise that God works miracles at the hands of others, people of other genders, faiths, nationalities, even people we might think of as our enemies. And if we do not accept this then we and them will miss out, just as the prophet Elijah and this woman and her son would have starved, had not the prophet accepted this and done as God directed.

And as I thought further, it was precisely Jesus recounting this miracle at the hands of a foreign widow that so enraged all those with whom Jesus had worshipped all his life - so much so that they sought to kill him by throwing him off the brow of the hill. This story is not a quaint reminiscence, but a powerful parable of what we too are called to do.

And I suspect that it is not too far fetched to conclude that unless we do as we are called to do, to accept the help of the outsider, neither we or anyone else have any hope of survival.

Elijah, when he accepted the help of God through this widow, was not "devouring" this widow's house, as the scribes in long robes were accused of doing. When we accept the help another can give, we are also giving that other person dignity and worth. It is when we lay on others the obligation to become like us, in all our finery - be that clothing or spiritual finery, we devour the houses of others.

I invite you to look at the various expressions of the faith which have been presented to you. Have those presentations focussed on the desirability of accepting help from the outsider or shunning the outsider because they do not share our faithfulness to a set of doctrines and moral codes - because *of course* God can only work through *us*? If one of the greatest prophets of all time, Elijah was bidden to accept miraculous help from a foreign woman, we too are called to accept help from all sorts of quarters, and we will find that help equally as miraculous.

And finally this points to the potential for miracles in the encounter of peoples, it points to the potential for miracles as we are the eucharistic community, rejoicing at the presence and accepting the contributions of all. I cannot, of course, say this without acknowledging that we are already seeing this amongst us. The cross and resurrection is effective here and now, amongst you and me.

For, in the end, we are saved from doing it all ourselves - we are saved from ourselves - and this is a great joy.


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