This passage has two abiding issues at its core. The first is faithlessness - the refusal to believe in God or in permanent values. Residual belief in God remains high in our culture, with many people retaining a soft spot for God although they never get involved in any organised religion, but there are a lot of faithless people who have deliberately turned their backs on religion and spirituality. They have created alternative belief systems for themselves. Can we hope to convince them that these do not hold water? Probably not.
The second abiding issue is people who change their value systems or their goals for something that does not profit. For much of the last two centuries, many people in the West believed in the idea of progress - that human society, and individual life was steadily getting better. There has indeed been much material progress in the West during that time. Life expectancy is much greater than ever before and most of us live surrounded by an array of gadgets and labour-saving devices that would have amazed our ancestors. But are we happier than people used to be?
Two world wars helped to undermine confidence in the idea of progress. Today's news headlines can only further dampen any remaining optimism. We live in a society which is more hectic, more selfish and self-centered, and more unsure of itself.
When Harold Macmillan told the British people that they 'had never had it so good' people were actually a lot less well off, on average,than they are now. But statistics show that they felt more happy and satisfied with their lot. Have we exchanged the things which made us happy for things that do not really profit us? If so, what have we lost or left behind?
Hebrews 13.1-8. 15-16
The writer of Hebrews develops the theme explored by Jeremiah. But where Jeremiah is negative, bemoaning what we have lost by becoming faithless, the writer of Hebrews is positive. He celebrates the benefits and responsibilities of mutual love. He advises us to be content with our lot and not to strive for greater prosperity or a better lifestyle because what really matters is that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever, and he will never leave us nor forsake us. But warm feelings are not enough. Love has to be expressed through real concern for other people, including prayer and action on their behalf. This - not empty praises - is what really pleases God.
What are the things we need to do to share God's love in our community, our City and our world?
The Gospel passage for this Sunday reinforces the same message about what really matters. We must beware of status-seeking. It is a trap, because the people who really matter to God are the humble, the poor and the disabled. To these we could add anyone who is left on the margins of society and overlooked in the scramble to get on. Who might be added to the list in our society today?