Collect and Readings for The Third Sunday before Lent – Jeremiah 17:5-10, Psalm 1, 1 Corinthians 15:12-20, Luke 6:17-26,The Prayer for today Almighty God, who alone can bring order to the unruly wills and passions of sinful humanity: give your people grace so to love what you command and to desire what you promise, that, among the many changes of this world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
I think we have all found out over the last couple of years how much less we spend when we can't get out. Shops rely on our habit of browsing and getting what we don't particularly need. Several times an hour on the radio and television we are persuaded to invest in all those things we cannot possibly live without, and the social pressure to wear or use or play with particular brand-name items is very strong. The young, and the insecure, are particularly vulnerable.
Such consumerism is a symptom of our trust in things and systems and wealth and power. We bank on all this bringing us happiness and fulfilment. And although the actual items change across the centuries, the basic problem is exactly the same now as it was in the days of Jeremiah. Through him God spoke to his people of the foolishness of living with our faith in things which cannot ever satisfy, and which stunt our spiritual growth.
The lovely image of a strongly rooted tree near the water, so that its leaves are always green, shows blessings to the whole community, as well as the individual, that spring from right living, based on trust in God. Psalm 1 also reflects on this valuable fruitfulness of well-rooted lives.
Jesus' teaching in today's Gospel comes after the resentful anger of the teachers and Pharisees resulting from him healing on the Sabbath, and after the apostles have been chosen and called. Luke sets the beatitudes on a level place with a large crowd, and Jesus is looking at his disciples as he speaks. We can only guess at what was going through the minds of these people. They have given up their security and their earning potential, they have no idea where their next meal will be coming from, and they have glimpsed the hostility they are inviting by committing themselves to walking around with this leader.
Jesus speaks into their possible misgivings and natural concerns, reassuring them that although they have chosen poverty, insecurity, insult and rejection, they have indeed chosen wisely and bravely, and the rewards of living by faith are great and lasting. In contrast, those who cling to the material, intellectual or even religious security, which stunts their growth and anchors them to the ground, can never be swept up in the wind of the spirit and experience the fullness of joy God longs to provide.
The quantity of our possessions does need looking at, and we cannot sweep such teaching comfortably into the realm of attitudes towards our wealth and lifestyle. If we are really living by faith in God it is bound to affect our comfort. If we know we have given up anything or any relationship for the sake of living God's way, then this week's Gospel is reassuring and comforting us that we have chosen well and in the long term the tears will be wiped away.
And if we discover that much of our happiness is linked with things, or systems, or other people's praise, then today's readings challenge us to choose the risky vulnerability of living instead by faith in God.
God bless and stay safe and well.
Rev'd Fiona Robinson