Monday, August 6, 2007

Hidden with Christ, Rich toward God

Vanity! What a funny word. Vanity, vanity, vanity, vanity, vanity. It is one of those words that sounds funnier the more one repeats it. It is also a one word oxymoron – a contradiction that at the same time means both that which is most important and that which has no importance at all, that is, our own self perception and quest for significance and/or fulfillment.

"Vanity of vanities," says the Preacher; "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." What profit has a man from all his labor in which he toils under the sun? One generation passes away, and another generation comes; but the earth abides forever. Ecclesiastes 1:2-4

That is to say, those things that we spend 90%, if not 99.99999%, of our time, money, and effort on won’t do us any good in the end. In fact they do not even do us any good before the end inasmuch as soon as we achieve or accumulate those things, we find that we have to continue their pursuit or they are gone!

It is just this truth that lies behind the Word of our Lord in today’s Gospel lesson:
"But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?'
"So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." Luke 12:20-21

It is tempting for the pastor to make this primarily and or exclusively into a "stewardship" sermon – especially when he doesn’t know from one month to the next whether there will be a sanctuary that is any shape to hold a worship service because of health and safety concerns like that section of tile up there; whether there will be power for light so that people can see to worship and for heat/cooling so that the health of the worshipers is not compromised; whether or not he is going to get paid enough to pay his own bills and support his own family.

Those are all things that need to be taken care of in order to for a congregation to continue to function as a sanctuary for the baptized and an outpost for the spreading of the Good News of Jesus Christ. So I lay them before you this morning.

Yet, while stewardship is indeed an issue with which the church on earth must struggle, there is a greater purpose for preaching this text than simply to awaken and inspire you to greater, more faithful and fruitful stewardship of your earthly blessings.

As with all parables, what is true of the earthly message is even more true of the spiritual message it is meant to carry with it. If you think about it, who of us is not more concerned about taking our ease, eating, and drinking and having fun than about our life with God? You say you that your spiritual life is more important? But I would ask you this – who of us here today does not spend ten times more of our time, money, and effort on fun, entertainment and worldly comfort than on seeking the things of God? Who spends more time in hearing, reading and praying God’s Word than on watching TV?

Now that is not to say that those earthly things or our participation in them, are in and of themselves evil from which we must flee. The Seventh Commandment validates that these things are a viable part of our lives here on earth. But the fact that we people who can afford beautiful homes with every convenience, a vehicle for every person in the family, recreational vehicles and vacations, computers, cable/satelite/teevoe, are so reluctant in our earthly stewardship of the time, the ability, and the money with which our Lord has blessed us is symptomatic of problems far greater than a building that is falling apart, goods and services that we are using but not paying for, and disregard for the physical well_being of their hired servants. [Luke 10:7; 1 Timothy 5:18]

That these problems exist among us should serve as a warning to us that maybe our faith in Christ to provide the most needful things for our eternal welfare and the salvation of our souls is not all that it should be either. This is the point our Lord Jesus Christ makes in another "stewardship" parable, the parable of the talents or minas:
"He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?" Luke 16:10-11

If we cannot trust the Lord to provide for our own physical welfare and pursuit of happiness any more than to devote hand me downs, leftovers, and spare change to that which God has instituted as the mother of our eternal souls after we do all the other things we desire and store up all the things we think we need – well, what does that say about where our faith really lies? If we don’t have much more than pocket change left for the offering plate because we are so worried we will miss out on something the world has to offer, if in our concern for earthly welfare and desires we are reluctant to set apart first-fruits from our labors and trust that our Lord will still provide the necessary means the earthly needs of the people He gave His own life to save, do we really believe He’ll just give us eternal life without our working, and scrimping and saving and striving and hoarding?

You were created to live forever. And make no mistake about it, you will – one way or the other. However, if you live your life in this world relegates your pursuit of the things of God to a place that is second to, and only after your pursuit of happiness and the collection of wealth and all that it can purchase, that forever life will reflect your priorities, That is, it will be without God and all the benefits He so lovingly wishes to lavish upon each and every one of us.

This message is consistent in both Old Testament and New as we hear in today’s Scripture lessons:
"Vanity of vanities," says the Preacher; "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." What profit has a man from all his labor in which he toils under the sun? One generation passes away, and another generation comes; but the earth abides forever. Ecclesiastes 1:2-4
But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?'
"So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." Luke 12:20-21

And make no mistake about this either, vanity hurts the one who is living the life of vanity most of all. All that stuff you are enjoying, all the fun you are having now, where will it be and what good will it do you even tomorrow? You’ll just have to get up in the morning and seek after it all over again. Such a life is no better than that of a gerbil on a wheel.
Sure God wants you to enjoy and employ the gifts of this world He has given you. But remember those lilies and sparrows of which Jesus speaks. [Matthew 6:25-29] They do not labor after the things of this world, yet as they do the things for which they were created, they have all that they need for each day – for themselves and for beauty, joy, and sustenance they provide for the crown of God’s creation whom He created in His own image and redeemed with the holy precious blood of His one and only Son.

At the close of the Constitutional Convention, a woman asked Benjamin Franklin what type of government the Constitution was bringing into existence. Franklin replied, "A republic, madam, if you can keep it."

You dear children are the baptized of God. You have been given a citizenship in heaven that begins even now for you and all that abide in God's holy Christian Church. While that church is built on Christ and found wherever His Word and Sacraments are observed in all their truth and purity, these things must have a home and pastor provided and cared for by the people who receive them. And while God has promised that there will always be a church as long as this world exists, unless you are willing to support it by the offering of a portion of your earthly gifts from God, you may find that you are unable to keep it -- at least here in this place. There are already far too few places, even among those called Christian, wherein a soul can find the forgiveness of sins proclaimed and the body and blood of our Lord served according to His gracious and powerful Word and work rather than according to the self serving and vane words and works of men.

Lord grant that you never forget, or fail to value His greatest gift to you: that you have been buried into His death and raised to a new and better life – not a life of vanity that is here today and gone tomorrow, but a life of substance, of value, of benefit to one another, now and forever -- a life that shows what vanity all those things which we value so highly and pursue so mightily in this world really are. For you have been given a life that abides in the glory of the very Son of God.

"If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory." Colossians 3:1-4

You have His never failing, always faithful promise on that
– in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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