Monday, August 5, 2013

Sermon 8/24/2013 "You're going to die."

Sermon for 8/4/2013 from Pr. Mark T. Peterson at Christ the King Lutheran Church, Holliston, MA.

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23
Chapter 1
2Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
12I, the Teacher, when king over Israel in Jerusalem, 13applied 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. 14I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind.

Chapter 2
18I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after me 19— 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. 20So I turned and gave my heart up to despair concerning all the toil of my labors under the sun, 21because 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. 22What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? 23For 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.

Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,
This morning, we celebrate with our young people.  Some of whom are entering college, and with others who are stepping up to high school. For these times, for the growth and transformation in our young people, we give thanks. 

Now, for those who have recently graduated, and for their family members, I’m sure that you have recently sat through some sort of commencement address, or maybe multiple speeches at a graduation ceremony. 

Whatever you heard, whether good, bad, or somewhere in between; I’d be very surprised if the theme of the speech, the life advice given, was anything like what the writer of the book of Ecclesiastes is telling us today.

For anyone who can remember a speech in a graduation setting, did you hear the speaker tell you that your future, the work you are about to undertake, the life you will try to build, that it’s all vanity, or more appropriately futile?

Did any of you hear someone say, Go out, do what you want, but no matter what you achieve and accomplish; years from now, it won’t really matter much??

I would guess not.

But that’s what we hear today.  Not only in our reading from Ecclesiastes, but also from our Gospel reading, where the man who has made sure to secure a good future, forgets that life is fleeting, and the future isn’t guaranteed. 

All this leads me to give my own little advisory speech this morning to those who are going on to new things, and here it is:
            “You’re going to die.”

That’s it. You’re going to die, we all are.  But I say this not to point out the obvious, because this is the most assured fact of our lives, and yet, none of us do very well at dealing with this truth. 

And I give this speech not to be morbid or depressing.

Rather, when I say that “You’re going to die.” It is a speech filled with grace and hope. 

You see, all the graduation speeches, or most of them at least, and all that society tells us is just the opposite. These commencement odes to our own potential often seem to spell out a future for us that is ultimately ours to control.  They spell out a future for us that is something we can grasp onto, achieve, preserve, and pass on. 

Oh, vanity. As the writer of Ecclesiastes points out, all of us are on this earth only for a short time.  And no matter what we do, no matter how we prepare, no matter how carefully we build, there is nothing that we can secure and pass on from generation to generation.

So, as I said before, “you’re going to die.” This is my speech.
You’re going to die.  The things that you hold dearest will die.

And in the midst of this certainty, this is the good news.   

You, don’t have to search for fame and fortune, to become important, because you have already been made the most important person in the world to God, along with everyone else.  You don’t’ have to build the tallest building, because it will pale in comparison to the tallest mountain.  You don’t have to reach for the stars, because the stars give you their light regardless.  You don’t have to do anything to make your life a success, because the success of life surrounds us and is in each and every one of us.

The good news in this mortal life, is that God has already created more magnificently than we could ever imagine and has given us this creation to enjoy, to live in, and to love, a life to be participants in.  And as many of you go onto new endeavors and new adventures in your education, remember to participate, and take advantage of whatever is your calling for the day.  Take advantage of the great gift that it is to learn new things, to grow in new ways, to be fed with the new fruit that comes from a source of life, from a God who is not vain, or futile, but loving, and creative, and who never runs out. 

When you hear that you’re going to die.  When you take into account all that this means, and even grieve over the limits that we have as humans, remember that our life comes from someone who has defeated death through unceasing love, not unceasing achievement, someone who didn’t seek permanence, but only faithfulness.  That someone is Jesus Christ, someone that isn’t going to be impressed by what you can store up, but by what you can give, and will love you the same regardless. For it will be only out of love that Jesus gives you his body and blood today, and it’s not for you to put away, to save, and to store up, but for you to use and give away again and again and again.

So, you are going to die. And let that be a reminder that this life, your education, our shared journeys are not about making something of yourself.  Our lives are about loving what God has already made, opening ourselves to experiencing more of what has been made, and loving it all, loving God, without end, as God has loved you. 

I will close, simply by using the words of the author of Ecclesiastes, who while speaking of life’s vanities, by seemingly lamenting that we will all die, goes on to give great wisdom, and a much better speech than, “you are going to die.”: (from the NET Bible)
2:24 There is nothing better for  people than to eat and drink,
and to find enjoyment in their  work.
I also perceived that this ability to find enjoyment comes from God. 
2:25 For no one can eat and drink  
or experience joy apart from him. 
2:26 For to the one who pleases him,  God gives wisdom, knowledge, and joy,
but to the sinner, he gives the task of amassing   wealth  
only to give it to the one who pleases God.
This task of the wicked is futile – like chasing the wind!

May we all find the joy of our eternal God in all that we do. 

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,


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