Sunday, July 31, 2016

Sermon -- 11th Sunday after Pentecost (July 31, 2016)

ECCLESIASTES 1:2; 2:18-26

APART FROM CHRIST,
IT IS ALL IN VAIN.

In the name + of Jesus.

      To read the words of King Solomon in Ecclesiastes, you would think that Solomon was one of the most dour and depressing people the world has ever known.  The reality is that Solomon is one of the richest people the world has ever known.  Solomon's annual income in gold was measured by tons.  In the days of King Solomon, silver was considered to have little value because there was so much of it.  In addition to his wealth and to his prestige as king, Solomon also engaged in many impressive building projects.  His most famous, of course, was the temple of the Lord.
     Despite all of that, Solomon was a realist.  He knew that the day would come when he would die.  When that day came, all of Solomon's treasures would be under the care of someone else.  As Solomon pondered it, he thought, “I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool?  Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun.  This also is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 2:18-19)  It is as if Solomon were saying, “What's the point?  You spend your life accumulating and collecting, and for what?  Vanity of vanities!  It is all meaningless.”
     Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities!  All is vanity. (Ecclesiastes 1:2)  The word “Vanity” conjures up images of a man who is full of himself—like Carly Simon singing, “You're so vain.”  Instead, the word here is related to the 2nd Commandment, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain,” in other words, for no good purpose.  The word, “Vanity,” can also be translated “breath.”  If you think of a frigid January morning when you step outside and let out a giant breath, you see that cloud of vapor.  It hangs in the air for just a moment, and then it is gone.  That is what Solomon says that his toils and treasures were like.  They were a mist, a puff of air, for no enduring purpose.  They were enjoyed for a moment, and then gone.
     In fact, the evangelist James says in his epistle that we ourselves are like this mist: “What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” (James 3:14)  For many people, that is what it all seems to boil down to—get up, go to work, collect a check, pay bills, and then repeat for decades on end.  All earthly toils, labors, and treasures are vanity and a striving after wind.
     Now, if this is all Solomon had to say, then he is the most dour and depressing man on earth.  Sadly, many live with this meaningless view of life.  If you count your treasures in dollars or in titles and then you realize how easily you can lose all of these things, you become grieved at how meaningless it all is.  Apart from Christ, it is all in vain.  Apart from Christ, there is nothing but to focus on how many treasures and pleasures you can accumulate in this world—and then you leave it all to someone else.  But God did not design life to be a pointless existence.  God gives you a treasure that is far better and more valuable than anything you can collect in this world.
     Apart from Christ, it is all in vain.  But you are not apart from Christ.  In our Gospel, Jesus reminds us, “One's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15)  On the contrary, your life consists in this: That Jesus Christ has taken possession of you!  The Lord was made man in order to exalt mankind.  He took on flesh and, in doing so, did not hoard the possessions that were rightly his as true God.  Jesus instead left the glories of heaven to take a place in this sin-corrupted earth.  Jesus gave up his time to people who were eager to see him, hear him, and begged for him to heal them.  Jesus treasured people and gave up all he had to redeem them.  Even the flesh that Jesus took on he gave up for you.  Jesus gave himself into death and his body to the grave in order to redeem you from sin, death, and the devil.  That is because Jesus treasures you!  Jesus ransomed you so that you are God's beloved people.  You are not your own.  You have been bought at a price.  You are God's possession, and so now you possess all of God's blessings—remission of all your sins, knowledge that God's favor rests upon you, wisdom for salvation, and the promise of everlasting glory.
     Apart from Christ it is all in vain.  But you are Christ's.  His bodily death pays for your sins.  And the body that was placed in a grave has also conquered it.  Because of Jesus' resurrection, you are also children of the resurrection.  For you are Christ's possession.  Everything that belongs to Jesus now also belongs to you.  Therefore, life is not one long, painful, and vexing march to the grave.  The grave has been conquered.  It will give you up as surely as it had to give Jesus up.  That is why your treasure is in heaven.  Jesus alone grants life that is not limited to a dying world.  Life is not about the accumulation of goods that go bad or the collection of possessions that slip through your fingers because of theft or storms or a bad economy.  Your treasure is Christ whose love, mercy, and grace never grow weak and never lose value.  His mercy endures forever; that is why your life shall endure forever.  With Christ, you have it all.
     Apart from Christ, it is all in vain.  But with Christ, even your day to day tasks find joy and fulfillment.  King Solomon writes, “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil.  This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?” (Ecclesiastes 2:24-25)  This is not to say that unbelievers don't have fun or that only Christians are happy people.  (And please don't try to convince someone who does not go to church that he is miserable.  That is vain in both senses of the word.)  Even the most devout Christian can find his work to be drudgery, and think that his life is aimless or his efforts are invisible.  Sometimes, this is just self-pity because the world does not celebrate you.  Other times, it is because you expect that your life is supposed to be some world-changing force.  Unless the Lord has given you some world-changing task, don't expect to change the world.  Besides, what makes you think the task he gives you is unimportant?  The Lord has given you vocations where you get to honor him and serve your neighbor.  And though they don't change the world, God is pleased with them.  However, if you are determined to find your joy from filling your wallet or feeding your ego, you will never be happy.  Apart from Christ, it is all in vain.
     However, your joy comes from being Christ's treasured possession.  That remains true no matter how much or how little you have.  It remains true whether you have your dream job or dread going to work.  It remains true if you are getting awards for your work or never get noticed for your work.  It remains constant no matter what you gain or lose.  The fact is, you are going to lose everything in this world.  Your goods, your loved ones, your abilities, your strength, and finally your breath—it will all pass away.  But the words and promises of God will never pass away.  You are always treasured by Christ and will always remain Christ's possession.  Even when you draw your final breath, the love of Christ will not be withdrawn from you.  For not even death will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:39)  
     So, if you should lose everything, you have ultimately lost nothing.  Even if you lose your life at a young age or lose a loved one at a young age, you have lost nothing.  God's promises will still stand.  The resurrection will come.  And eternal life is never cut short.  Apart from Christ, it is all in vain.  Apart from Christ, you get no comfort or hope.  But with Christ, you have all things.  By becoming the man who lived, died, and rose for you, Jesus Christ has exalted your humanity so that you are not a mere mist that exists for but a moment.  Rather, you are a precious creation of God whom God has ransomed for eternal life.  The Lord fills with joy and fulfillment which is not measured in worldly possessions or prestige, but rather in divine favor.  Your treasure is in heaven.  For there, you have a Savior who treasures you.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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