Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 31 July 2022.
• First Reading: Hosea 11: 1-11 (God’s love for Israel – disappointment – commitment)
• Psalm 107: 1-9, 43
• Epistle: Colossians 3: 1-11 (Set your minds on things from above, where Christ is … not on earthly things)
• Gospel: Luke 12: 13-21 (Life does not consist in an abundance of possessions. The rich fool)
They are the beautiful people – the ‘It’ people, the height of fashion and sophistication. Glamour oozing from every pore, hair just so, and designer clothing to die for, never mind the jewellery.
Homes are immaculate, children turned out perfectly and the youngest perfecting their Paganini technique. Horatio of course is about to be appointed professor of astro-philosophy at the University of Croesus. We are so proud.
And so it goes on. Famous for being famous, the pinnacles of glamour and never seen in the wrong company or at the wrong places – unless of course this is a charity event in support of the most photogenic of causes.
This may all be something of an exaggeration but you get the general idea of conspicuous and lavish personal lifestyles but no great depth of thinking or of self-sacrifice.
It was probably there in Samaria before the Assyrians demolished it, definitely there in Jerusalem of Jesus’ time (maybe more sparsely present in Galilee) and it has been there in every major world city, before and since.
Of course it serves to generate a certain kind of smugness and the desire for such opulent lifestyles, especially among those who feel that life has already left them behind in dead-end jobs, dysfunctional families and communities, and that there is next to nothing to look forward to.
Perhaps this is where Jesus’ parable of the rich fool comes into focus. All of our wealth is stored in the resources and goods of this world’s institutions. Our money is safe in its data centres and our homes protected by the best security systems supported by the most attentive of first responder organizations.
The trouble is that when we die, we might take with us our names and memories, our attitudes and loyalties, but everything else that gave us status is left behind as we come before God.
Whatever was there has no value or purpose and the currency and expectations of the life to come are quite different. There is a new agenda and a new outlook.
For those expecting to be greeted by the crème de la crème, may find that they are speaking to a former fisherman, a tax collector, a reformed political zealot: the ordinary people in the world and yet the heroes of the faith, steeped in the experiences of ordinary and unglamorous life.
To be invested solely in the fleeting glamour of our times is to risk losing all of it – certainly at the end of life and possibly as the result of calamity in our own times.
In this sense it is time to think again.
Paul puts it very directly to the church in Colossae. They had already died with Jesus when they were baptized in His name and into His church.
They had already laid aside old expectations and loyalties, even when as members of the church they still saw them on prominent display in the community.
They still had plenty of evidence of how strong were the impulses to every kind of appetite and desire, every kind of one-upmanship and rivalry, every kind of indulgence, and especially where these were to be had at the expense of the weakest in their community.
Even the pleasures of the idle tongue, vicious gossip, speculation on who is in, who is out and definitely who is down will present themselves.
But there is also another agenda: this is one about inspiring and edifying, encouraging and stimulating. It is about being freed from guilt and anger and resentment. It finds that the glory is in seeking the face of the Lord as we gather together, praying to Him and trusting Him. Finding in Him our deepest senses of being and belonging, and of finding ourselves in Him.
This is a different set of priorities and of ways of thinking. It runs on a different kind of bloodstream and it breathes a different kind of air.
Its senses of joy and of fulfilment arise from new forms of relationship and perspective.
Eventually the old glamour-seeking is seen for the shallowness that it is, and its superficiality then becomes predictable and even tiring.
It does not mean that a beautiful landscape or sunset lose their glory and we can still admire greatness of art and architecture without wanting to possess or control them.
The things of love and joy in the world are still there yet we receive them as good in themselves without having to impose ourselves on them or expect from them any special personal attention.
The gospel of Jesus frees us from having to possess the good things in life for the best things are already given to us without being a burden to us.
We are free to praise what is good and honourable without being diminished and yes we can also see what is partial, fractured, faulty and compromised for what they are as well.
It is indeed said that every saint has a past and every sinner a future. Our task is to enjoy that future knowing that whatever is there, there is even more to come: far more than we can even imagine.