It is the 3rd Sunday in the Season of Larson, the last time I keep count. I can quit counting because I can say confidently that it feels like we are settled in. We’ve found the right grocery stores. We are now cooking our own meals. And our dog Fiddich now has fleas.
I can’t say we’re exactly Houstonians now, but we’ve passed the 101 course. We now have a system. We’ve become acquainted with local patterns. We have, as it were, adapted our own existential infrastructure to yours, and it now serves us well. Except for the fleas. Of course, every infrastructure has fleas. Nothing is perfect and we are deluded to think we can control it all, deluded to believe we can establish our own state of perfection. To change metaphors from fleas to something else Texan, William James once said with a phrase both winsome and sobering, “As long as one poor cockroach feels the pangs of unrequited love, this world is not a moral world.”
Nothing is perfect. Nothing will be until we are made perfect in Christ. But already we are all connected in Christ! And the work toward beauty has begun. That is how God designed the infrastructure, with us connected. So, whatever we do bears on all things. I’d sooner not contribute to the welfare of fleas and roaches, surely, as I would to a social and spiritual infrastructure that brings God’s beauty into all lives. After all, the beating of a butterfly’s wings over Texas today will affect the weather in Iowa tomorrow and in Indonesia next week. How much more consequential then is even the most seemingly trivial choice a person makes, and how much more consequential yet when the choice is known as grave! Thus chaos theory bears on our moral lives. Every electrical discharge in our brains has ethical and spiritual consequences. Let us be under no delusions. The world is indeed “charged with the grandeur of God” (Hopkins) and there is within and between us all a spiritual infrastructure that God means for the good of all.
But when we go the way of “do it yourselfers,” when cataract-crossed egoistic eyes do not see the world’s divine infrastructure and go our own ways instead, we do immense damage. The rich landowner parable-ized by Jesus had no large sense of the consequences of his actions. How ignorant, and thus arrogant, was the landowner to presume that it would be good with his soul to build his own larger physical infrastructure so to serve his Ayn Randian value system, collapsing God’s purposes into his own self-serving privileged status. He literally traded his soul for self-serving storehouses of stuff, ignoring that his excess meant deficit rather than blessing to God and neighbor. What was it that Jesus diagnosed as fatal? It was not the man’s wealth as such. It was that he made his decisions with no sense of God’s gracious will, no care for the deeper divine infrastructure of God’s creation. As Ecclesiastes observed, to dedicate one’s self only to the things of this world is vanity. Apart from God, no one can have true and lasting joy.
Maybe “infrastructure” is too artificial a word to make the point needing making this morning. Let the right word—and it is the word—let that word be “Christ.” For Christ is all in all. Christ is in and with and above and under and between you and me and all God’s people. Christ is the person, not a concept, who distinguishes us and binds us. Christ is the one in whom our lives are presently hidden, outside—thankfully!—our own control, and in whom our lives will be revealed. Christ is the one and only in whom all are brought together and in whom, thank God, we are raised finally to be with him in glory, but under such surety now so from now on to be dedicated to right and loving service to each other and God’s world. Secured in Christ, we are set free from the vain towers of the foolish and the fatuous values of so-called self-made men.
What we do and what we have, including even our sexual lives, approximates pure joy when Christ is seen all around. Life for self only and to confuse self with soul is death already. It is the point, I think, of zombie movies. Consider rather the fine evangelical preacher, Tony Campolo, whose own words witness to a wonderful and fresh sense of God with us; “One of the most startling discoveries of my life was the realization that the Jesus I love, the Jesus who died for me on Calvary, that Jesus, is waiting, mystically and wonderfully, in every person I meet.”
Christ is our infrastructure. That’s gospel! Now to see Christ in each other and thereby to be generous with love is our call from here on. Interestingly, after many teachings and parables (seven chapters from now) the worldly counter-type to the foolish landowner will be the tax collector Zacchaeus. Jesus will single Zacchaeus out personally as the good real-life example. Zacchaeus was educated enough, and so humble enough, to know he was a, well, a fleabag. So enlightened, Zacchaeus was eager to be rich toward God and neighbor. He would distinguish himself from his profession’s accepted values. He would not match his words with the language of the campaign trail or align his ultimate expectations with the bottom lines of his quarterly reports. Without God, it is all vanity. Seeing that his life was with Christ, Zacchaeus turned toward selfless generosity. He could do that because he discovered to his joy that he was already by grace placed in God’s secure storehouse of Jesus Christ.
It is the same for you, for this place, for all God’s people. May we help the rest of God’s world to see so and trust so as well, fearless despite the fleas that will accompany our work.
Duane Larson Christ the King Lutheran Church, Houston, TX
– St Maximus the Confessor, 500 Various Texts
Sermon for The 11th Sunday of Pentecost, Year C July 31, 2016
Christ, Our Infrastructure, based on Ecclesiastes 1 and 2; Colossians 3:11-11; and Luke 12:13-21