Today’s readings are about how we have lost our way. Hosea 11 starts the ball rolling with a frightening description of modern life, echoed by Paul (Colossians 3) and Jesus (Luke 12). All are reminding us that there are good ways to live and destructive ways to live. We often describe these ways in language that invokes the will of God. Even atheists would acknowledge that getting habits in perspective by lifting our eyes to matters of importance beyond our parochial lives is a valuable reflective activity.
There are organisations dedicated to helping people who have addictions. We all wish that they were more effective and more widely accessible to those who suffer from alcoholism, from gambling, from anorexia, and nowdays from addictions to matters relating to the Internet. In our neck of the woods, Christians Against Poverty does terrific work to those whose spending (or borrowing) addictions have got out of hand. Although they don’t push “conversion”, they do say that people who discover God make more permantent recovery: something bigger than their own lives and problems becomes most important.
Yet all of us, whatever our status in life, have addictions. The idea of greater comfort and convenience for ourselves can take pride of place in any decision-making unless we are on the ball. The Yorkshire Dales National Park, and the Millennium Trust, put a lot of effort into trying to get first-generation immigrant families into the lovely Dales. Why is it so hard? If you come from a background of rural poverty, it is deeply ingrained that only the poor walk anywhere. It is a symbol of having arrived to be transported. Before we are tempted to feel superior, we should remember all those occasions when, with time to spare, we made journeys in a car that could have been made on foot.
Hosea accredits a rising crime rate and sexual exploitation to a lack of allegiance to God’s way of doing things. Jesus, in Luke 12, discusses the fate familiar to every one of his hearers, of a rich man facing death and realising that he cannot take a penny with him. He who dies with the most toys, still dies. Paul explains that our desires to acquire possessions and power over people are behaviours that belong to the time before we knew the ways of Jesus. Now, there is no excuse.
Consider how pervasive is this theme throughout the Bible. It should be a central plank of our Christian ethic. Consider, then how many people have died worrying about their possessions, how much damage has been made to the environment through “progress”, how dependent the rising generations are on technology that was only invented a few years ago and is now a universal addiction. Surely, we have misrepresented our message?
We should be discussing urgently how our churches are going to return to the simplicity of this Bible-based message; independence from the luring luxuries of the world and seeking after the fruits of the Spirit.