In verse 9, ”the city” is called to ”Listen!” In ‘The Message’ it adds the comment: ”This is serious business.” What we are about in church, in listening to the voice of God, is ”serious business”. In a lovingly blistering letter to his congregation, written in May 1954, William Still of Gilcomston Baptist church, Aberdeen, wrote: ”It is quite clear that there is a considerable company of so-called evangelicals in our city, as in others, whose interest in Christian work largely depends on its ‘Christian’ entertainment value, and who idolize Christian personalities in much the same way the world does its actors and sportsmen. Even in gatherings for the deepening of spiritual life one can sense and see people hanging on a speaker’s words, waiting for his first joke…no one who has caught the heart-beat of the eternal God in the agony of Calvary and who is called to communicate the Word will have time or inclination to be any other than intensely serious.” I am not saying that there isn’t a place for humour in church, but preachers are not club comedians doing a ‘turn’. This is ”serious business”.
You will see that there was a distinct lack of ”justice” and ”mercy” in their social relationships (10-12). These words surely have a resonance and relevance for our own society: ”Do you expect me to overlook obscene wealth you’ve piled up by cheating and fraud? Do you think I’ll tolerate shady deals and shifty scheming? I’m tired of the violent rich bullying their way with bluffs and lies…You’ll pay for your sins down to your last cent.” The Message. This is ”serious business” and God’s Word is to be taken with all due seriousness. It is not wise to trifle with spiritual things.
Sin is utterly ruinous (13, 16b). It promises good things but delivers bad things. It comes with a masterly sales pitch. It is charming and deceptive and we are easily taken in. We find that what we actually have when we open the ‘parcel’ is vastly different to how it appeared in the ‘catalogue.’
Not only is it ruinous, it is also empty and futile (14, 15). It is ironic to think that their goal was to amass more and more, and it didn’t matter to them that this would be at the expense of others. A sinful, self-centred life is one in which you will keep trying to fill an unfillable hole. For all your getting you will live with a sense of lack and depletion. ”No matter how much you get, it will never be enough-hollow stomachs, empty hearts. No matter how hard you work, you’ll have nothing to show for it – bankrupt lives, wasted souls. You’ll plant grass but never get a lawn. You’ll make jelly but never spread it on your bread. You’ll press apples but never drink the cider.” The Message.
There is an implicit warning here to beware who you emulate. It’s good to have mentors, but choose carefully who you will copy. Also, be wise about what ”traditions” you may be starting with your life. If you are someone else’s role model what will that mean for them?
So, we had better get on with the ”serious business” of listening to God now, so that we ”walk humbly” with Him, and avoid the sins that will take us to Hell and judgment. According to ‘Time’ magazine, Pope Francis recently denounced the Mafia during an annual vigil for the victims of organised crime. Apparently he said: ”Repent. There’s still time not to end up in hell…Men and women of the Mafia, please change your lives.” He warned the mobsters that they couldn’t take their ”bloody money and blood power” to the afterlife. I have to say that such courageous and specific preaching is right in the line of the prophetic tradition. It is great when it hits the headlines.