Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 28 August 2022.
• First Reading: Jeremiah 2: 4-13 (My people have exchanged their glorious God for worthless idols)
• Psalm 81: 1, 10-16
• Epistle: Hebrews 13: 1-8, 15-16 (Let us continually offer up to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that openly profess His Name)
• Gospel: Luke 14: 1, 7-14 (All who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted)
One of the more interesting aspects of our times is the way we reveal our sense of obligation to one another. As we come to terms with the cost of living situation, we also see our own vulnerability and our need for one another.
We still do not really know how it will affect us and for how long but the old tune of survival of the fittest now sounds very discordant.
But there is still a strong sense of wanting to control our lives and futures. It is not just the political aspects of this but it is there in our culture as well.
The refrain of do what you like but do not hurt anyone is fine until someone says that he or she has been hurt by our actions or attitudes.
Then we demand a form of self-sufficiency and a release from criticism or judgment or even expectation. We expect to be judge and jury of our own actions and attitudes, and anyone who opposes us must be at fault or even a bigot.
Jeremiah was looking at something very similar. A demand to be free of constraint and to be able to fashion their social and religious beliefs and practices according to their own tastes and convenience.
Organized religion was such a bore especially when there were such attractive alternatives in the cities of the neighbours to Israel and Judah.
Why be so old fashioned when the new and enticing possibilities were all so available?
And so God says to His people: ‘Where was I at fault when I brought your ancestors out of slavery, across the wilderness and into the promised land?’
‘Why have you now deserted Me? In what way have I failed you?’
No, said the people. Times have changed and tastes have moved on. You are yesterday’s news, boring, old fashioned, even seedy.
And so Jeremiah pointed to their demand for moral and cultural self-sufficiency, comparing it to replacing an everlasting spring of fresh water with a cistern, fashioned using the latest plastering techniques to hold stagnant water. Such liberation. The people could now live on the higher ground, in the cooler air, and not have to trudge to the well for water. It was there, as it were, on tap.
They were in their own eyes, self-sufficient. Of course, they might be outside the city wall and exposed to any brigand who came by, never mind any invading army.
But says Jeremiah, these cisterns leak. They do not hold water and what they do hold is stagnant. But you have abandoned the living waters of the living God in favour of stagnant waters of your own contrivance.
But then in the gospel, Jesus also points to the social occasions when guests at a banquet would hurry for the best and most prominent seats.
The scramble for position and recognition was a fierce as ever. Never mind the older and slightly doddery character now sitting in the corner whose wisdom they really should be seeking out.
No, this was all about seeing and being seen (even more important). It is who you are seen with and the most fashionable (or is it, alluring?) clothing and accessories.
Again there is that rush to assert oneself. Not so much a social occasion as a glorified cattle market, in which the genuinely wise and learned may not be too comfortable anyway.
Perhaps the lessons in these things is that this social and cultural survival of the fittest does not really work.
If it is all about self, then there is no community or family. There is no common sense of being or of value: only of expediency and advantage.
But that is not where we are as a nation. Now we are going to have to be able to support one another, and to renew that sense of being and belonging.
It starts with our faith in God in Jesus Christ but it extends to one another. Maybe there are better ways of doing things, maybe we could find ways to share meals and pass round the items we do not really need.
One of the challenges of the times will be as we discover how much we belong to one another and what we can do to support one another.
The old self-sufficiency ethos will no longer do. And if the Ukrainians are fighting and seeing lives and cities reduced to rubble, then our own sense of being caught up in the slipstream will begin, if not to make sense, then at least to be seen as part of a whole.
And if they are doing this for us then at least maybe we can do more for one another.