Sermon delivered by the Rev Sydney Maitland
It is said that the purpose of production is the satisfaction of want. But is also true that the purpose of advertising is the creation of want.
Another couple of wisecracks hold that marketing is ensuring that you have what people want, while advertising is ensuring that the people want what you have.
And both of these sets of observations point to the distinction between wanting and desiring. Wanting is having a basic need essential to life, like food, drink, clothing and shelter.
Desiring is wanting to have more than the next person, having the better product, the more attractive and fashionable, the more advanced and sophisticated.
But in the gospel, Jesus teaches us to seek, not the most alluring of personal provision but the simplicity of the Kingdom of God.
Be minded of this, prayerful for this, exert yourselves daily in this, and you other needs will be met, as surely as God feeds the birds of the air and as fully as He adorns the flowers of the field.
In this sense it is all about priorities, and the things that our lives are centered on. And it is not as if there was as much scope in Jesus’ time for covetousness as at any other time: the best home, the most rewarding occupation, the most wonderful family, the best connections and of course the invitations to the most glamorous occasions.
So Jesus knew perfectly well what it was to be sucked into an economy of resentment and greed, where disappointment at not obtaining the best position could be turned to murderous anger.
All of us can live within that world, but none of us has to, and none of us is forced to desire what the other person has. We can admire it – but without having to possess it, savour it, control it or indeed hide it.
It may be that our needs and their satisfaction are so far removed from our daily lives that we do not see how they are produced or at what cost to life, relationships, the environment or to society.
We have in this sense become cogs in a machine that produces and consumes but does so in a bubble of unreality. We pay the prices for our purchases but we do not understand the costs of their production and distribution to our homes and tables.
But for all this there is another vision and it is given by Joel. For he calls upon us first of all to rejoice and be glad for the provision that God makes to us. We have the land and the rains, the fertility of the soil and the variety of what the land yields.
We can work the soil and we can clear it of stones, we can drain it and irrigate it and we can supply it with nutrients – but doing so all the while knowing that it is God who has brought us to the land, endowed us with strength and vision to improve it and gladness as we eat its produce.
In our own urban and industrial lifestyles we can still eat and drink and be filled, mindful of how the produce came to us and yet aware also of the fragility of our own needs.
If just-in-time production and distribution failed then we would also be in want. If the supply of money collapsed, as it virtually did in Greece, again we would be on the edge.
And this is not about fearing for the security of our lifestyles, even when we take them largely for granted, but rather about thanking God that we also are fed and watered, clothed and sheltered.
It will certainly make us mindful of those without – those who are our neighbours and on whose efforts we may depend.
But it will again draw us back to God in worship and in trust, and this is the point of what Jesus had to say about our daily needs.
In times of persecution we may indeed be forced to go without, but in times of plenty our gathering and our eating should be as at the table of the Lord.
So: what are our family mealtimes like? What about our talking and conversation? Are we really eating with grateful hearts or are we backbiting and criticizing?
For there is indeed a vision when the years of the locust will be repaid, when the times of loss and sorrow and desperation will be recompensed.
In the economy of God nothing is wasted so all and especially our reverses, can be offered back to God. The lost opportunities and relationships, the failed ventures and the abandoned hopes are all part of our offering to God, and if so offered will no longer be there to poison our outlooks and dull our vison and hearing.
It all comes back to seeking the Kingdom of God first and above all else, with His righteousness, His holiness, His sanctity in our lives: and Jesus’ promise is that our needs will be met, generously and gloriously.
And if we are there in this then the harvest of our lives will be glorious indeed.