Sunday, August 1, 2010

“What’s It All About”

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12–14; 2:18–23
Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
I, the Teacher, when king over Israel in Jerusalem, applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with. I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind.

I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after me — and who knows whether they will be wise or foolish? Yet they will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. So I turned and gave my heart up to despair concerning all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes one who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.

Colossians 3:1–11
So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life. But now you must get rid of all such things — anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!

Luke 12:13-21
Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me." But he said to him, "Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?" And he said to them, "Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions." Then he told them a parable: "The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, 'What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?' Then he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God."

A Message from the Pastor
Well, the first reading for today has some words that we might not understand using today’s language. Let me read Ecclesiastes from The Message, by Eugene Peterson, written in contemporary language.

“Smoke, nothing but smoke. (That’s what the Quester says.) There’s nothing to anything – it’s all smoke.”

“Call me “the Quester.” I’ve been king over Israel in Jerusalem. I looked most carefully into everything, searched out all that is done on this earth. And let me tell you, there’s not much to write home about. God hasn’t made it easy for us. I’ve seen it all and it’s nothing but smoke – smoke , and spitting into the wind.”

Then the author talks about all he has done, which is not part of our text for today. “Oh, I did great things: built houses, planted vineyards, designed gardens and parks, . . . made pools of water, . . . I bought slaves, male and female, . . . then I acquired large herds and flocks, . . . I piled up silver and gold, . . . I gathered a chorus of singers to entertain me with song, and -- most exquisite of all pleasures -- voluptuous maidens for my bed.”

“And I hated everything I’d accomplished and accumulated on this earth. I can’t take it with me – no, I have to leave it to whoever comes after me. Whether they’re worthy or worthless -- and who’s to tell? – they’ll take over the earthly results of my intense thinking and hard work. Smoke.”

“That’s when I called it quits, gave up on anything that could be hoped for on this earth. What’s the point of working your fingers to the bone if you hand over what you worked for to someone who never lifted a finger for it? Smoke, that’s what it is. A bad business from start to finish. So what do you get from a life of hard labor? Pain and grief from dawn to dusk. Never a decent night’s rest. Nothing but smoke.”

Now that guy had an attitude!

I don’t know about you, but I’ve felt and thought that way before. I’ve looked at what’s happened and attempted to look into the future, and I have to ask myself, “What’s it all about?’ In fact as I read this text, I heard myself singing (for you older folks), “What’s it all about, Alfie?” I see what has gone on and I look into the future and none of it seems very bright. I wonder if it’s worth it when I look at what I’ve done and speculated what I could look forward to.

The “Quester’s” problem was that he knew death would come and there was nothing he could do about it.

The rich man in Jesus’ parable had somewhat the same challenge, only from a different perspective. He didn’t think about death and it’s impact. He saw all that he had accumulated and wanted to wallow in luxury. There is a saying, “Eat, drink, be merry, and then you die.” He didn’t add the last part to what he thought. He didn’t want to just add buildings to keep his crops, grain, and goods. He was going to tear them all down and build new ones so he and everybody else could look at how much he had.

Jesus used this parable to talk about greed and the need for worldly possessions. I could take up a great share of this message by talking about that. However, I think there is also another issue that is more basic. This issue was in common for “the Quester” and the rich man. They wanted to be in control. The “Quester knew he was not in control of death. The rich man didn’t think about death and thought he control the enjoyment of all that he accumulated and be able to show it off to all around him.

I moved to Charleston, SC two years into my recovery. I selected a new sponsor. He believed in the Twelve Steps and had me begin at the beginning. He asked me to identify all that I was unable to control. Well, I knew I was powerless over alcohol. There was no doubt that my life was unmanageable, and still is. But then I began to think about all I could not control. I could not control my wife. I could not control my employer. I could not control my employees. I could not control my children. I could not control the culture. Virtually, I could not control anything.

I realized that there was one thing I could control by giving up control. I could, through the Holy Spirit, make a decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of God. I could be responsive by letting God lead my life. You see, the opposite of control is love. Through the Holy Spirit, I could be open to develop a loving, personal relationship with God and have God lead and guide me. I finally understood what it’s all about. Life is not about me. It’s about God.

That’s what can happen, as suggested by the second reading for today. It all begins with baptism. It all begins when we are washed in the waters of baptism. The author of Colossians commented that we have died and are hidden with Christ in God. That’s baptismal talk. Paul said, in Romans, that when we are baptized, we are baptized into a death like Christ and raised to a new life in Christ. When we are baptized, it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives within us.

When there is a love relationship with God, things change. The old ways that are cited in the second reading fade away. We begin to lose the worldly interest, including greed and the desire for worldly possessions. We begin to lose our anger, wrath, resentments, and other worldly responses to live. We begin to experience the fruit of the Spirit – peace, patience, joy, generosity, gentleness, and self-control.

We begin to understand what it means to be with Christ in God. And when we begin to experience that, we begin to recognize that the reign of God is drawing near. With that, we find ourselves getting out of ourselves and come to recognize that life is all about God.

Death is no longer a controlling factor. For in our life in Christ, the fear of death or the denial of death is taken away.

We can understand “What it’s all about.”

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