Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 3 October 2021.
• First Reading: Joel 2: 21-27 (Be glad then, you children of Zion, and rejoice in the Lord your God)
• Psalm 126
• Epistle: 1 Timothy 6: 6-10 (But godliness with contentment is great gain)
• Gospel: Matthew 6: 25-33 (Do not worry about food and clothes. Seek first the kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well)
It may be an ‘urban legend’ but I have heard it said that nobody who has ever worked in a sausage-making factory would ever dream of eating a sausage themselves. They have seen what happens and this has wholly undermined their appetite.
For the rest of us, we may well be willing to eat sausages, blissfully unaware of how they came to be as they are.
This points us to something rather more important in that we all want the product of a Christian society, like social and economic justice, equality of all before the law and its procedures, fair and honest government, care for the environment and so on.
But the question is moot: if we want these qualities of a Christian society, are we willing to embrace the beliefs and lifestyles of Christians? Are we willing to adopt the priorities of the Christian faith – or is that getting too much religion and maybe even extremist?
In our lessons there is a very definite starting point, from which the promises of plentiful harvests, peace in the streets and on the borders, the restoration of Israel and of the whole people of God all flow.
The starting point is emphatically with God: the One who created the heavens and the earth, who endowed the earth with its ability to produce and sustain life, and to whom the whole earth belongs as of right.
Any modern creed or political doctrine that seeks to obtain the results of God’s promises but which avoids God Himself is going to be empty and ineffective.
It does not matter whether this doctrine is nationalist, socialist, capitalist or any combination of them. If the One who made the heavens and the earth is not front and centre then that political doctrine will fail and with it its aspirations for social, economic, environmental and all other forms of justice.
For ‘The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof’ and its proper use, development and care starts with a proper devotion to and service of God. If God is not honoured first of all then any settlement on the management of the environment will be fragile and partial.
In the gospel Jesus says much the same thing. He acknowledges the importance of food, drink and clothing. We might also add shelter and income, but before all this we are taught – even commanded to start with God.
‘Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all the rest will be added to you as well.’
Allow these priorities to be set aside in favour of corrosive competition or the need to control others or the need to have more than the neighbour then the whole perspective of God becomes distorted.
It can become more important to have more than the next person, to win at all costs – especially if these costs are paid for by others in broken hearts and broken lives. It can become more important to rise above the others than to have enough to meet our needs.
And this is not to say that hard work and thrift are devalued – but to love one’s neighbour as we love ourselves must mean that we are aware of our neighbours and will seek to meet their needs with the same diligence as we seek our own.
And yes, at any one time some skills and abilities command a higher premium than others: who is to say at the end of it all how IT skills rank against artistic or journalistic expression?
We may say that the market sets the value on all things and it certainly sets the equilibrium price, but even that is only a theory demanding perfect information and equally willing buyers and sellers.
And so Paul’s counsel to Timothy is about Godliness and contentment, and the hazards of competition and avarice.
It is one thing to strive to excel but another to work to the downfall or misery of another. For some it is not just the winning that matters, but also seeing the other lose and lose publicly.
Again it is the spirit with which we treat one another that sets the pattern for our management of the environment. If we despise eachother then how much honour will we bring to the earth? And if we despise or ignore God then what will that do to our relations with one another, both in the church and in society as a whole?
It is easy to be so taken up with the condition of the earth that we ignore the human condition as well, and in a society that has largely rejected God in any form and certainly the Christian faith then we cannot be surprised at seeing anger and bitterness in our human relations.
My final thought is to that much of what is best in the bible centres around gardens. It was in the Garden of Eden that Adam and Eve first took charge of the earth – but by their sin they forfeited it.
It was in the garden of Gethsemane that Jesus confronted the horror of His coming passion.
It was in a garden tomb that Jesus was buried and from which He rose again. And in Revelation the picture of the New Jerusalem is very much one of a new kind of garden.