Isaiah 1:1,10-20; Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16, (17-28); Luke 12:32-40
I caught the tail end of a programme on the ABC on Monday night, talking about drug testing and cheating by sportsmen and women – a subject being followed with interest given the Olympic Games are about to start. The bit I saw was about some laboratory rats or mice, who had distorted their shape in response to a reward, and had grown very strong and unnaturally large legs, altering their capacity to run fast and survive as rats, but enabling them to keep going for longer periods. The reward had changed them physically. By comparison, the ‘normal’ rat was still agile, fast and looked smaller and less bulky by comparison.
The programme commentators were highlighting the desire of individuals – competitors, advertisers, product companies or organisers – who were all trying to stay one step ahead of the drug tests. The latest ‘cheat’ is now being able to stimulate electrical charges in the brain, to enable people to compete harder, longer with less pain thereby increasing their chances of winning by up to 20%. How that will be monitored is anyone’s guess. The commentators left the question open.
So why am I telling you this story?
Because Jesus said: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Luke 12:24).”
So I asked myself where are our hearts? I wondered about what we desire most in the world, such that it distorts our minds and bodies to the point of cheating and pretending it is all being done in a greater cause. The distortions are profound.
In particular, when it comes to our desire for wealth and participating in conspicuous consumption, greed is one of the biggest human failings. As a consequence, we find nearly one third of Jesus’ parables deal with money in one way or another.
As an unquenchable desire, lust and greed for money brings with it obscene accumulations and displays of wealth.
It causes wars, it fuels the need for ever more power and control, it causes human trafficking and slavery, it increases poverty, unemployment, and brings with it unethical work and activities, it hastens the destruction of God’s creation and undermines the prosperity of the world for all of God’s people. I don’t think I’ve left much out!
Isaiah reminded us today that the heart of God is for a different desire, one we call God’s prophetic social ethic. Isaiah exhorts us:
“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow (Isaiah 1:16-17).”
Isaiah and Jesus bluntly remind us all about the choices we are making about where we spend our money and give our attention. So I ‘ve been thinking about where our hearts, minds and souls are now, today, in this place, at this time?
I think it is a time of great changes. There is a sense we are at the crossroads of a new way of living in the world. The future has arrived whether we’re ready or not. Globalisation is opening up the whole world to everyone, for good and for evil.
Communications can no longer be controlled and directed, sovereign governments have less power and consequently face greater temptations to lead their citizens through feeding their fears in order to maintain the status quo.
New enemies have been created for us to focus on, to distract us, to avoid looking at how our view of God’s creation and God’s people is being distorted in our daily lives and we are mocked if we talk about living differently.
The gap between the rich and the poor is growing dramatically and the poor continue to be ignored. God’s people are being treated as invisible, as rubbish to be thrown on the scrapheaps of time.
Instead, we have accepted the rhetoric that we are independent, individual, autonomous, responsible solely for ourselves and those we love and no one else.
So many of us have reduced our worlds to our families, children, partners and parents, relatives and friends. We focus on work, employment, housing and health as it matters to us. Nothing further. No-one and nothing else comes into the circle of concern. Intellectually we engage, in our hearts we exclude in case we have to be responsible and accountable.
We are also told all we have achieved is through our own efforts, whether it’s being born in this developed country, with the right gender and race, or whether it’s our education, our careers, our families and our wealth. We believe we have created our own privilege and through our achievements we can claim blessings as an entitlement. We believe we are entitled to belong to the winners.
We believe in ourselves as idols. It is such a seductive belief system and we are all part of it, however hard we try to remain faithful to God.
We frequently forget relationships and community as we also think we have to cope on our own and sort out own problems. We’re told its our fault often enough, that we haven’t been good enough, strong enough, worthy enough, capable enough.
We are lonely and isolated and bereft as we are invited to forget God and follow our hearts’ desires as autonomous beings.
However, it is in community, with our neighbours that God finds us, it is into community that God draws us when we are alone and broken. God always comes at an unexpected hour, looking and searching for us and inviting us in, welcoming and loving – always.
Jesus reminds us about how we need to be thinking about this now! We need to be ready, have the appropriate sense of urgency, and as Isaiah noted, we need to ‘learn to do good’. We need to be getting some practice in rather than waiting for the right time. Jesus said:
“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit (Luke 12:35).”
We need to be about God’s business, awake, alert and ready, waiting to open the door for God. If we are – something radical happens, God prepares food and serves the members of God’s household. We’re very good at procrastinating, putting it off, but we shouldn’t be waiting for signs or a text message to say God is heading our way before we think about God.
The challenge is if we have prior notice about God’s coming, we frequently put up the barriers and fend off God, thinking we have to do this by ourselves, to be worthy and we doubt God’s effectiveness and willingness to be involved in our lives.
However, Jesus reminds us gently:
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys (Luke 12:32-33).”
A purse that doesn’t wear out is a purse that doesn’t carry much money. It’s a purse that gives away as fast as its filled.
But I think of it this way – the desire for money and possessions occupies so much of our time, our thinking and activities. It is exhausting managing our financial lives and obligations. But what do we truly need to live happy and fulfilled lives?
Like everyone else in the world, we need enough to pay the bills and live without worry; but in this world, there are those with far too much, many of us with more than enough and there are those with little or nothing. There is enough to go around and when we stop competing and desiring more, when we understand what actually need, God is able to come in the door and God always shows us it is possible to live differently and still live faithfully and joyfully.
So I invite you Sisters and Brothers, to think about your true desires and see where God is in that desire?
The Lord be with You.