This month, we have begun talking about something in our culture that leads us to believe that possessions, appearances, and wealth are more important than anything else in our lives. There is something around us that keeps us from focusing on our spiritual growth, on relationship, on compassion, on connection, on interdependence, and on creating a just world.

This something is the continuous and ubiquitous message that we should focus on the physical and the material above all.

By physical and material, I mean appearances and material goods.

I mean the urge to buy things to make us happy.

I mean the pain we feel when suddenly recognise that we “need” the newest gadgets or clothes or shoes or cars or whatever.

I mean the impulse that makes us feel our bodies need to be perfect and eternally young.

I mean especially the message that our worth as human beings is best measured in pounds and pence.

These messages are deeply embedded in our culture. Almost everything we see around us in our waking hours is tied into this materialistic word view. The clothes we wear have brand names sewn in – maybe large and visible ones plastered on the outside.

Where can you go that you are not subjected to advertising with its pernicious suggestion that you are measured only by what you have and how you look? It’s in your newspaper, on your computer, on the bus you ride, on your telly, and on the radio you listen to.

Almost everywhere.

I have said how damaging this materialistic culture is. It pulls us away from the things that really matter – peace, compassion, connection, justice, and love. Instead it narrows our focus down to “stuff” and to mere appearances. It turns us away from the people we want to be and instead makes us selfish and self-centred.

Realizing the reality of this situation is the beginning of finding a different way. But, is it even possible to change?

Yesterday was the Jewish observance of Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement. Yom Kippur is an occasion designed to help people change. On Yom Kippur, Jews spend the day fasting and praying. They look back over the past year and identify the ways in which they failed to be the selves they had aimed to be. They do their best to make amends for their failings and then - they commit to taking a new path. They commit to turning away from the temptations around them and turning toward the values that they truly find worthy.

I want to borrow a bit of the Yom Kippur attitude today and offer each of us a chance to try to turn away from the selfishness and materialism that our culture has nurtured in us. I want this to be a time for us to be able to turn towards the things that bring happiness to ourselves and to others: compassion, love, helping, connecting.

Singing The Journey 1037 We begin again in love

We forgive ourselves and each other. 
We begin again in love

As we sing, we all realise too that it is not at all simple to begin again. The task is enormous. It means somehow finding the strength to ignore the pervasive messages of our society. How can you turn toward the worthy when the unworthy is being drummed into your head constantly?

In many of humankind’s old stories, The world is full of supernatural forces. Some are good and others are evil. When humans do wrong, it is often because they are possessed by demons or evil spirits or they are compelled to act wrongfully by Satan.

I’m usually happier with an understanding that human beings have the potential for both good and evil and that the individual circumstances of our lives can bias us in one direction or another.

But sometimes and in some circumstances, I find myself missing evil. I miss the concept of that big, supernatural, overwhelming, nasty evil with horns and a tail and the fires of hell behind him. I miss it as a concrete entity external to human beings. I think – in fact – that there truly are big evils – they have a power and are self-sustaining and they exist outside of human beings.

Materialism is one of those evils. It is much bigger than we are. It can not be reduced to the selfishness or evil of any one individual – or even of a group. It is self-sustaining and self-perpetuating. It is a thing that has a life of its own. 

Materialism is not the only evil in our society – I think racism and classism are also big slobbering evil beasts with their claws in our lives. But materialism too has all the identifying features of a supernatural evil.

And we need to fight against these evils with all the determination and strength of a true celestial battle between good and evil.

You know the scene. It’s been a story throughout religion. The Zoroastrians understood the world to be the subject of a battle between good and evil nearly three millennia ago.

But this view of the world is as recent as Harry Potter and Star Wars. The good and evil wizards fight to determine what kind of world it will be. The two sides of the force battle it out for of galaxies.

Ultimately, these battles come down to the very personal and the very individual. They are not battles between a God and a Satan, but rather over us mere humans. Which way do we turn? Which side are we on? That’s what determines the outcome.

Today, I’d like to offer you the opportunity to recommit yourself to this choice in a physical way. We will pass around a basket of stones. Please take one. They are smooth and polished and appealing. Your stone will represent something from which you wish to turn away.

I’ll invite you to come forward and, with deliberation and determination, place the stone in this water – quenching the appeal of things purely material and physical.

And then, you are invited to light a candle for something you will turn toward. I welcome you to say a word if you wish as you light your candle.