Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 4 August 2019.
They were called the ‘Beautiful people’ whose main feature was to be taken up with their image. They were perfectly dressed and the ladies were immaculately made up. They were mainly in the creative industries – I do not think that there were too many bus drivers or rodent inspectors among them.
But there was little sense of reality. It was all about image rather than content: what they looked like and how they managed their image were supremely important.
Part of the mystique was to frequent certain bars and restaurants, certain public places at certain times – which were long enough for them to be seen but were kept short so that those not of their fraternity were not able to insinuate themselves.
Yes, it was all about the image and perception of the good life, possessions and appearance. The perfect clothes, house, garden, car and of course foreign holidays.
But there was no sense of what a person was, only how they were seen and reported. There was no depth or originality to their thinking or ideas.
In Hosea we have the image of a land also taken in by the wealth of richer and more ‘progressive’ neighbours, eager to copy their customs and religion. The neighbours were wealthier and certainly more cosmopolitan, and their religious ceremonies definitely racier than the more staid and probing worship of God that they practiced in Samaria.
And so they were quite ready to abandon faith in the God who had delivered them from slavery in Egypt, led them through the desert, brought them into the promised land and whose law had established solid foundations for a society that was confident in its own being, and maintained fair dealings in all relationships and transactions.
Rather they would serve a deity who had done nothing for them and who owed them nothing and to whom they owed nothing either.
Hence God’s grief. Like the vulnerable child whom God had raised and educated, whom He had taught to be assertive but not aggressive, who would rejoice in the worship of the Lord – but had now been seduced by the more appealing, the more attractive and the more beguiling customs and practices of the neighbours – now He was in mourning.
Samaria would indeed fall to the Assyrians and the tribes of Israel would be dispersed to the winds. Unlike the tribes of Judah, they would not return to or rebuild their land.
In the letter to the Colossians Paul writes of living in the flesh. This is the Life of Self, in which its own demands and appetites take precedence over all else – all relationships and loyalties and duties.
It is the life which also progressively empties itself of all that has meaning or authenticity until there is nothing left.
But there is an alternative in Jesus Christ. It is to allow Him to redeem, forgive, renew and restore us into that love and sense of being which He always wanted us to enjoy.
It is to live with new priorities and loyalties, new ways of seeing and understanding, new ways of belonging and at the end a peace that starts here and now but has no end.
Jesus’ parable of the rich fool was His verdict on concentrating on wealth to the exclusion of all else.
The farmer was sound enough in asking how to store and manage his crops – replacing the barns is not such a bad idea. But then it was what came next that was not just dangerous but lethal.
He would live for himself and himself alone. No sense of family or community or of his nation.
Certainly no interest in the poor who lay, Lazarus-like at his doorstep.
What we take with us when it is all over is what we are and have become, our names, our spiritual identities. Our faith in Jesus, our love for one another.
We will find that stored up for us are the good works – not so much our good works but those that Jesus has carried out through us, for our own self-conceived and self-fulfilled works will be pretty poor in comparison.
But only a fool will be so obsessed with possession, power, status, or image – none of which can last or withstand the gaze of God. None of which can enter that portal of death that we must all enter.
There is only the rich fool taking pride in himself, and himself alone. But in life if we start with self and stay with self alone, then by definition we end up with self, still alone and isolated. For eternity.
There may be many definitions of hell, but I cannot imagine one that describes it more fully or more logically than this.