Where have all the flowers gone
Isaiah 49: 14-15
1 Corinthians 4: 1-5
Mathew 6: 24-34
May I Speak in the name of the Son, to the glory of the Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen
I am sorry, it’s part of being the age that I am and the times that I have lived through but today’s gospel reading where Jesus talks about the ‘lilies of the field’ took me back to the sixties, the days of my youth, living as a teenager through those heady days of ‘Flower Power’ and love and peace to all mankind, and yes some of us did wear flowers in our hair, and in our innocence we thought that war was at an end, how could war possible exist in a world ruled by love. In our naivety for a brief few glorious months it truly seemed as though attitudes might change, but sadly the flowers died and greed and the lust for money and power took over again. So once again we failed to learn the very lesson that we read about in today’s gospel reading.
Jesus is described by, in Mathew’s Gospel, as standing on a hill near Galilee. In the area around the ‘Sea of Galilee’ the hillsides are covered with wild flowers, especially I am told, with crimson anemones. Jesus would only have had to look around him to see the ‘Lilies of the Field’. The term simply means wild flowers.
As always Jesus message is clear and simple it’s a stern warning of the dangers of putting the love of money before the love of God. ‘No one can be the slave of two masters: he will either hate the first and love the second, or treat the first with respect and the second with scorn. You cannot be the slave both of God and of money’. These words are not addressed to the general public as advice on how they should live their lives, but they are directed to his immediate disciples who have left homes and families to become, like Jesus, travelling teachers. Jesus senses that some of the disciples, confronted with the demands from the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ are wavering in their faith and he wants to both comfort them and challenge them at the same time.
‘Don’t worry about what you’ll eat, or drink or wear,’ Jesus tells them. ‘Isn’t life more than food, and your body more important than clothing? The wild flowers don’t work like you do, yet even King Solomon wasn’t dressed as splendidly as they are. God gives glorious clothing to the short lived grass in the fields; isn’t he even more likely to clothe you? How little faith you have! Work as your first priority for the kingdom of God; and food, drink and clothing will be given you. If you’re going to worry, worry about today – you haven’t got time to worry about tomorrow!’. You can take these words either as comforting or as a challenge. ‘If you are fearful about the future,’ Jesus says, ‘don’t be. How can you doubt God’s love? Of course God will look after you. Trust him.’ That’s the great comfort, have faith in God and he will dispel your fear!
But the other way of reading the text is to take it as a challenge. What is our greatest preoccupation in life? Material things and money, making sure we have enough, planning how we are going to get more, and what we will spend it on. If we are honest with ourselves and have to admit that the love and pursuit of money is the most important thing in our lives, then it has become our idol. Money has taken the place in our lives that God ought to occupy. Seek first the kingdom of God says Jesus. Make God number one, obey him as your king, and help others to, then live in a kind and unselfish, righteous way. If you do that you probably won’t end up as the richest person alive but you will be happy. So the parable of the lilies in the field can be a great comfort but it can also be a great challenge.
So I come back to where I started to ask ‘what happened to all the ‘Flower Children’? The question asked by that a great anthem of the sixties that was written by Pete Seegar but it could quite easily have been a question asked by Jesus; it starts; ‘where have all the flowers gone? Long time passing, Where have all the flowers gone long time ago’ and ends with; ‘When will they ever learn, when will they ever learn.’ The sad answer is; some killed themselves with drugs; others probably earned fortunes by abandoning their gentle principles and became hard headed businessmen or politicians. Some undoubtedly took us to war, whilst others became bankers and through their greed so nearly brought financial ruin to the world. A sentimental and fragile insistence on love wasn’t a strong enough guide to show us how we should live our lives. We didn’t understand that love isn’t simple; there are many sorts of love, and ours lacked the element of self-sacrifice that we need when serving others.
When asked what the guiding principle of biblical morality is, Jesus replied that the heart of the law is love: love God and love your neighbour. But there are different types of love, some are sentimental and easy, some hard and demanding. Jesus talked about a God, who loves us, as the father of the prodigal son loved his errant offspring. This is a completely unselfish, self-giving, non-judgemental love. Then Jesus showed this sort of love in action, by laying down his life for us he showed us the sacrificial quality of his love. That’s love with a backbone; far more gutsy than the sentimental and selfish love of the sixties that died. This sort of love starts by loving God, in response to his love for us. It’s a love that we have to work at and it takes all our heart, all our mind, all our soul and strength to put into practice, but this is the love that endures, and never dies.