Sermon for the Eighth Sunday After Pentecost

Sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
July 31, 2022
Pastor Amandus Derr

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23; Psalm 49:1-11; Colossians 3:1-11; Saint Luke 12:13-2

I’ve said every one of these to myself. Sometimes, “relax, eat, drink, and be merry” precisely describes my experience. Just as often, life feels like “a chasing after wind.” Occasionally, I’ve even experienced all of these in a single day. I’m sure that, in this respect, I’m not particularly unique. One can hardly be a human living these days in this society without experiencing life as exhilaration and frustration, as well as everything else in between. Today’s readings affirm the reality of each of these experiences and simultaneously invite us to use the resources God gives for the living of these days, resources for living that make us “rich toward God.”

It’s all, you see, a matter of orientation.

Today’s readings indicate two distinct life orientations. Variations on the first and most common, is represented by the “preacher “ (Qohelet), the author of Ecclesiastes; and by that “someone in the crowd” who asks Jesus to be (in Jesus’ words) “judge or divider” over an inheritance; and by the rich man in Jesus’ parable. These are not bad people. They are, in fact, realists in the purist sense of that word. They live in the present and are oriented toward the future. However, the future to which they are oriented and by which they set their life agenda is dominated by the inevitability of death.

With this orientation, Qohelet –– the Preacher –– sees the ultimate futility and purposelessness of life. It is “a chasing after wind.”

What Qohelet sees as futility, “someone in the crowd” sees as opportunity to make the best of life, and maybe even deny, or at least delay, the effects of inevitable death. Like the rich barn-builder in the parable, this one is prudent, “laying up treasures” –– inherited, or harvested, it really doesn’t matter –– so to live the best possible life as a burden to no one in the here and now. Jesus does not say that this questioner is wrong. All he wants, after all, is his fair share. Who of us does not want that? Nor does Jesus comment on the parabolic rich man’s morality. After all, financial planning is a virtue, is it not? Jesus simply points out that death is the ultimate “judge and divider,” that “life does not consist in the abundance of possessions,” and that, rich or poor, saver or spender, all end up inevitably dead. As another preacher once put it: “Burial shrouds have no pockets.”

According to Jesus and the writer to the Colossians, what those like Qohelet, who see life as futility; that “someone in the crowd” and the rich barn-builder need is not judgment, not arbitration, but re-orientation. If you’re going to orient your life from death, Jesus says, don’t look forward, look backward. Conversely, if you’re going to orient your life toward the future, see inevitable resurrection, and act accordingly. You all know where this is going, but let’s spell it out the Colossian way.

When the apostle writes, “for you have died and your life is hidden in Christ,” and “you have been raised with Christ,” he is clearly speaking about death and resurrection, and he is clearly saying that, for us, these are both in the past. You know it, I know, everybody knows it, but let’s say it: The writer is talking about Baptism, our death and resurrection in Christ, in the past. The writer is furthermore saying that with this orientation — death behind us, life, eternal life, before us –— we are empowered to live a different kind of life. The kind of a life that, in Jesus’ words, is “rich toward God.” The kind of life that is devoid of all those things the writer lists as “earthly,” namely “fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry).” A baptismally oriented life, the apostle says, “is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.”

· “‘Vanity of vanities,’ says the preacher, ‘all is vanity.’” – Ecclesiastes 1:2

· “‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, and be merry.” – Saint Luke 12:19

· “I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind.” – Ecclesiastes 12: 14

· “‘. . . the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’” – Saint Luke 12:20c

I began this sermon by saying that –– even this side of our baptism –– all these questions and statements apply to you and me. They are part and parcel of our core humanity and part and parcel of our daily life. Our experience of these realities keeps us in continual need of divine reorientation.

When we stand at the font to confess our sins; when we hear and respond to the proclamation of God’s Word; when we are nourished with Christ’s body and blood, we are re-oriented by God once again. We remember again that, in Christ, death -our death – is behind us; that our lives are turned toward living in Christ; that we are clothed with a new self in Jesus Christ. We remember again who we are, “no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free,” straight, gay, trans, bi, Black, white, male, female, rich, poor, young, old –– no longer dead, nor dying, but alive in Christ, “rich toward God,” “revealed with Christ in glory.”

We remember all of this in this liturgy. Which is why Jesus tells us to “do this in remembrance of me.” And so we do. And so we become. And so we are – in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.