Archive for the ‘Pentecost 10C’ Category

“Vanity of Vanities!”

Sunday, August 1st, 2010

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 1, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities!  All is vanity!” [Eccl. 1:2]

Webster’s dictionary defines vanity as, “something that is vain, empty, or valueless”, and that is a pretty good way to start off our message this morning.  God wants to take are eyes off of things… things that are vain because they’re self-serving; He wants to take our hopes off of things that are empty because they offer no eternal promises; and He wants to take our hearts off of things that are empty because our eyes, our hopes, and our hearts should be centered on nothing but Jesus and His righteousness, because all other things are vanity!

But make no mistake friends, God is not saying that things of this world are inherently evil; instead it is our focus on these things that make them evil.  In short, God is saying that you are evil, your very heart is evil, and your only means of defeating this evil depends entirely on God and His means.   It is God’s desire that you will choose these means and not the means of the world. 

I. In our gospel reading this morning Jesus is teaching a vast crowd of disciples and others who have gathered to hear the words of eternal life.  He has just finished teaching this important heavenly truth.  God is aware of and concerned with even a small creature like a sparrow.  Since this is true, Jesus asks us to consider how much more God is aware of and concerned with us; we who have been created in the image of God by God’s own hand!  Think of the meaning of this wonderful truth; while birds are plentiful and come and go from this world, you who are created in the image of God are a deathless beings who will continue to exist in self-conscious awareness throughout eternity.  So don’t be afraid of people who can kill your body, but instead fear the judgment of God upon your life; a judgment that can send you straight into hell; forever separated from a God who created and loves you!

Now, the crowd along with each of us is left to ponder this truth because Jesus taught it with such authority.  But a selfish man, not at all affected by this teaching shouts out, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”  Oh you poor fool you have missed the point, and I am afraid so do many of us do as well!  Jesus warns the rude man from the crowd and He warns us this morning: “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” [Luke 12:13-15]

Well let’s turn to Webster’s dictionary one more time and get another definition.  This time lets define covetousness.  “Covetousness” is marked by an inordinate desire for wealth or possessions or for another’s possessions.  It can also mean a craving for possession.  People are often covetous of another person’s power or position.  Now make no mistake, the rude young man knew exactly what Jesus was saying, and I am afraid so do many of us.  But to ensure that His warning would hit its target, Jesus tells us this story: “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, “(self) What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store (my overflowing) crops?”  And he said (to himself), ‘I will do this: I will tear down my (old) barns and build (newer) and larger ones, and there I will store ALL of my grain and (all of my other riches) and goods.  And I will say to my (self)… self, you have (plenty of things) laid up for many years; (so) relax, eat, drink, and be merry.’” [Lk. 12:15b-19]

Now so far this sounds like the American dream doesn’t it?  “What’s so bad about preparing for the future” we wonder?  But Jesus continues… He always does: “But God said to him, ‘(You) fool!  (Tonight) your soul (will leave this earth and your body), and the things you have prepared, whose will they be (then)?”  And so is the (way for everyone) who (also) lays up treasures for (themselves here on earth) and is not rich toward God (with heavenly things)!”

II. Pension plans, 401k’s, Annuities and savings accounts are all something each of us is encouraged to  maintain.  We would call this our earthly portfolio.  Now, as I said earlier, these things are not evil in and of themselves.  In fact it is wise to invest your money so that you can be cared for when you are older, and if possible also leave a little something behind for your children.  But if we listen to Jesus this morning, we’re also taught that there is another heavenly portfolio that we must be more interested in.  In one, you work hard all of your life to build up and maintain, only to be guaranteed that eventually you will lose it all; either with the collapse of the stock market or at your own death.

In the other, in your heavenly portfolio, God has done all of the work through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, your Lord and Savior, and He promises you that no one can take this treasure away from you.  He alone has created and amassed and unfathomable amount of wealth, and He has given it all to you!  These are the things that Jesus says that we should be worried about so that we are rich toward God!  Our hope should be centered on nothing less than Jesus and His righteousness.  All other ground is vanity of vanities! 

Can you see friends that one of the most blatant reasons that covetousness is a sin is the simple truth that every bit of our identity, every bit of our actual life is not drawn from our earthly possessions but from the giver of those gifts and possessions, including our very lives?  The simple truth is this, that the possession of life, the greatest possession we have, depends entirely on the God who created us!  If we can see this truth, then the question begs to be asked and answered, “Do you trust Him to keep you and care for you with all that you need?”  And what is it that we need?

III. We need to receive and put away!  What shall we receive?  Things from above!  What are those things?  Forgiveness of sins, the assurance of eternal life, and the joy of our salvation, which come from the Word of God!  We need to receive a new identity that has been hidden with Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  We need to receive the assurance that in our baptism, our old sinful nature has been drowned, crucified with Christ.  We need to receive the assurance that when Christ appears to us, our new life will appear with Him as well.  We need to put away our old sinful way of thinking that cares only about the vanities of wealth of this world and receive and put on the wealth from above.  We need to put on the new self, which is the heart and mind of Jesus Christ!  We need to be renewed daily in this new image of our creator.  And we can only do this by daily dying to self and living to please God by embracing our new identity! [Col. 3:1-11]

Jesus called the rich man a fool and he was!  Jesus asked him what would happen to all of his rich things of this world that he prepared when God required the judgment of his soul.  Yes his wealth was his; he acquired it along with his ripening harvest.  He poured out his best strength to acquire it at the exclusion of everything else that was higher and needed.  And now when his life is over, “whose shall they be?”  “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities!  All is vanity.” [Ecc. 1:2]  But the Preacher, the Savior of our souls has this truth to leave us with and it is good news: “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil.  This (is from) the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?  For to the one who pleases Him, God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner, (one who gathers up treasures only for this earth) He has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give it to one who pleases God.  This is also vanity and a striving after wind.” [Ecc. 1:24-26]

Dear friends, to be rich in God is to have the wealth that is found in God.  This wealth is nothing less than the pardon, peace, and salvation that is given to us when we are trusting in Jesus Christ.  You are indeed rich in God when you receive the saving gifts that Christ acquired and gave to you in your baptism, which He continualy gives to you in His Word and Sacrament.  And because we are now rich in Christ we are encouraged to daily claim these gifts and hold onto them with gratitude.  We who are baptized into the life and death of Jesus Christ are truly rich no matter how little or how much of the world’s wealth we possess!

Friends, this living hope in our heavenly treasure and life to come is what guides us and transforms us.  It fills our hearts with joy and hope.  Because our Lord may come to us at any time, we are always refocusing our love on things of God and not things of this world.  We look forward to a true inheritance that shall always be ours and we do not put to high of a value on earthly things.  Our entire lives here on earth are forever being filled with the promises of God to the point where it is changing how we think and how we live.  We do not live as those who have no hope, but instead we live with the great assurance that because we belong to God, it is His obligation to care for us.  I pray that you will rest in this truth always and see all other things as simply vanity… and I ask this in Jesus name AMEN!