Sunday, August 04, 2013

Sermon, Proper 13C; Eccles. 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23; Luke 12:13-21; Col. 3:1-11

Content, context and connections.  I’m asking you to pay attention to the readings and look for connections between them; especially those connections between the first lesson and the gospel.  I’m not going to ask for content suggestions from you today because, if you are like me, I’m guessing you found these two readings rather depressing.  I suppose the connection between these readings could best be summed up as, “What’s the point?”

When our first lesson begins, “Vanity of vanities!  All is vanity,” and the centerpiece of the gospel is a parable where God says, “You fool!  This very night your life is being demanded of you,” it’s easy to wonder, “What’s the point?”  Does anything we do really matter?  The rich get richer and no longer even bother to hide their contempt for those on the margins of society.  It does indeed seem like all our days are full of pain and our work vexation.

These readings challenge us to examine the Why of our lives, and that can be a scary propo-sition.  Is there a Why to our lives?  Or is life simply, as Thomas Hobbes said, “Nasty, brutish and short?”  Or, even worse, is the Why of our life based in fear and the desire to avoid hell?

May I suggest that the Why of our lives is twofold: 1) to draw closer to God; and 2) to move God closer to others.  And while we don’t get that message in either the first lesson (all we do is vanity) or the gospel (he who dies with the most toys still dies), we do get this message in our Epistle reading.

In our reading from Colossians today, Paul writes, “If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God . . . Put to death whatever in you is earthly.”

And at the end of today’s passage he says, “You have clothed yourself with a new self which is being renewed according to the image of its creator.  There is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all.”

This passage from Colossians comes conveniently between a rather depressing passage about the vanity of life and a less-than-cheerful parable which says no matter how successful you become, you are still going to die.  The reason I say Colossians is conveniently placed is because in it we are reminded that we live for, and believe in, something beyond this nasty, brutish and short life.  And that something is God.

If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things above.  This is the summation of how we draw closer to God.  And in our Bible-focused discipleship, we can remember back five Sundays ago when Paul told us what those things are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  We put to death those earthly desires that separate us from God and pursue those things which draw us closer.

The act which puts to death our earthly life and raises us with Christ to new life is our baptism.  Our baptism pulls us from the menacing waters of death and turns those waters into a source of life.  Our baptism acknowledges our death to this world and our being raised to a new life in Christ.  And through our baptism we are adopted into the household of God.

Today we have the honor of participating in this ancient act of death, resurrection and adoption as we baptize Simon Tate Calvert and welcome him into this house of God. In today’s service – as with all services, but particularly today – you as a congregation do not simply observe what takes place around the font, you actively participate.  You participate by saying the words, certainly.  But you will also participate in connecting this service to your faith.  You will help prepare Simon to live and teach the faith.  And in these acts, by your word and example, you will draw closer to God.

The word and example that you proclaim in this service can also help to move God closer to others around us.  Paul tells us that we have been clothed with a new self.  This new self is given to us at baptism.  Collectively these new selves are void of the barriers we create.  There is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free or any other culturally-based dividing line for us to maintain because Christ is all and in all.

Our drawing closer to God is summed up in the first part of today’s passage and is reflected in the rite of Baptism.  We have been raised with Christ and put to death earthly things that draw us away from God.  Simon’s parents and Godparents will face west and then turn east in a symbolic gesture that turns them from the evil powers of this world and toward God.

As they and you proceed through the baptismal covenant, you will promise to continue in the apostles’ teaching, proclaim the Good News, seek and serve Christ in all persons and respect the dignity of every human being.  This is how we move God closer to others.  We move God closer to others by learning our faith, proclaiming the Good News of God’s love, and working to break down those artificial barriers designed to keep people away from God by respecting all people.  This breaking down of barriers is what Paul was getting at when he said there are no divisions, only that Christ is all and in all.

Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.  All our days are full of pain and our work is a vexation.  We work and toil and save to better our lives, and then we die.  But in the midst of all this is God.  God, who is with us in the midst of our struggles.  God, who leads us to new life through death.  God, who desires the demolition of man-made barriers so that all people may come within his loving embrace.  It is this God who fills the Why of our lives by causing us to draw closer and urging us move him closer to others.

It is those movements – us to him and him to others through us – that are reflected in the act of baptism.  Today we once again proclaim our allegiance and make holy promises.  Today we draw near and taste again for the first time that holy food of the Body and Blood of our Savior Jesus Christ.  And today we help God move closer to another as we baptize Simon, welcome him into this house of God and ask him to share with us in the eternal priesthood of Jesus Christ.

So for a moment, let us put aside our vanities and selfish ambitions and answer the Why of our lives by participating with Simon in his holy Baptism.



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