Sermon delivered by the Rev Sydney Maitland
Every so often I am contacted by one of the power companies trying to sell me gas and electricity. They have all their facts and figures, all the arguments and all the answers to all questions I could possibly ask.
The trouble was that one of them raised their prices about two weeks after one of these calls – and this small fact I had remembered when they called again.
I might not have been able to provide all the data to answer theirs but this central point tended to persuade me that any offer would be made for their benefit rather than mine and that it would be soon overtaken by events and circumstances.
Now I suppose that I could research all the details of gas and electricity prices relative to my own lifestyle and patterns of consumption, but I hesitate as if I did, then I would have time to do little else and it would become an obsession, excluding all else.
So, yes, I could spend my time searching for bargains – but I would find myself doing very little more. And the central point is whether all this effort is really the best use of my time and energy: and this I doubt.
It also applies to the details of many aspects of life, but the same issue always arises: what is it all for? I might gain a few pounds here or there, but what would it do to my life?
It all raises the question of just what are our priorities in life? A slight personal advantage here or there, but what effect on who and what we are, our relationships, priorities and conversation?
To put it another way, do we really want to spend all our time discussing the relative merits of different gas and electricity prices to the exclusion of all else? Would that not confine our lives to a sphere of profound boredom and small-mindedness?
Jesus puts it very succinctly. You cannot serve both God and wealth for they are mutually exclusive. Both demand all that we are, and neither will yield to the other.
The choice of course is ours. We can devote ourselves to learning more and more about less and less, or we can go for broke and devote ourselves to the things of God.
And these are things that last, which grow in their scale and extent and depth. They enlarge our sense of being and belonging within a realm that has no limit.
Now there is nothing wrong in looking for a good deal in the supply of gas and electricity, in managing our taxes or savings, buying our daily provisions or making the larger purchases of life: home, car, or whatever.
But if these blind us to eternity, to the righteousness and judgment of God, to His provision for us in all things and especially in Jesus Christ then we place ourselves well on the way to a deception that will last throughout life and will see us into other less blessed realms of eternity where our only company with be our own obsessions and trivialities.
Paul makes a similar point in calling on Timothy to lead the church in its prayers and intercessions. Prayers are to be offered for those set over us in governance.
We are to pray for kings, rulers and those in high position. This is so that we may be able to lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity, so yes, there is an agenda.
It is not for the self-aggrandizement of the interests of the state, its organs and offices or the political interests that jostle for power and influence.
It is rather so that the church may be able to live in peace and security, without pressure to conform to ungodliness, and that it may be free to teach its people and preach its message of reconciliation with God in Jesus Christ.
In this there is an aim and a set of priorities: and these are that the message of the gospel may be preached without hindrance or threat.
Paul does not second-guess the state on its policies on penal reform – for he was an experienced prisoner, or safety on the highways or at sea for he was a seasoned traveler, or on housing or the regulation of the markets – and here he was a tentmaker. These may be interesting matters and perhaps some in the church will be knowledgeable in them but they are not central to the message of the gospel.
If the state or its officials obstruct or suppress the gospel message then it should be brought before the majesty of God in simple and direct appeals.
But there is a further aspect. Jeremiah provides an image of a land and a nation that is eventually forsaken by God. It is reduced to emptiness and starvation, its great offices empty and abandoned and its palaces derelict.
There are parts of the world that have indeed been reduced to ruin by their own rulers, who are indifferent to the suffering of their own people, whose welfare is their own responsibility and not that of others.
For us, the lesson is that the foundations and assumptions of our lives are critical to who and what we are now and more importantly, what we become.
Some may be called into the affairs of state – most will not. Some may be called to wrestle with matters that affect the lives and welfare of our own generation and of those to come. Most of will not.
For us the task is to focus on the quality of our relationship first of all with God in Jesus Christ, then on those with our fellow believers and then with our neighbours as we find them.
Beyond that, the fool hath his eyes in the ends of the earth, and this can indeed take the form of many interesting and enticing distractions.