Friday, July 30, 2010

C, Pentecost 10 Proper 13 - Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23 "Enjoyment in your Job"

Over the last couple of weeks we have had some cold mornings. Stepping outside into the crispness of the new day invigorates the soul and sends a tingle through the extremities. Ears and the nose stand to attention as the cold air hits them for the first time; beanies are pulled low and collars are pulled high and from in between every puff of breath is briefly visible as it quickly disperses and disappears.

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless” (NIV). Or depending on the translation, Vanity of vanities, vanity of vanities! All is vanity (NRSV). I, the Teacher, when king over Israel in Jerusalem, applied 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. I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind.

Anyone who has ever examined the entries of the author of Ecclesiastes is usually puzzled by the repetitious phrases throughout its twelve chapters. However, the picture the author paints, most likely King Solomon, is a simple one and anyone who has ever breathed on a cold morning can understand it. Vanity of vanities, meaningless meaningless all is meaningless, all is vanity. We all get the picture here, the author who calls himself the teacher says everything is futile, empty, nothingness, or better still – fleeting, brief, momentary, short-lived, or passing. He goes on to say that everything is fleeting or short-lived a chasing after the wind. Imagine trying to grasp the steamy air you expel on a cold morning. Your breath in its visible form is present for only a moment, it is fleeting, short-lived, and in a second it is gone. Therefore, the task of trying to catch one’s fleeting breath in the hand is totally meaningless and silly.

But the book of Ecclesiastes is more than just about one blowing steam on a cold morning. In fact, despite the immediate negative impression it leaves, the author of Ecclesiastes has a very important message for Australians today, especially for hard working Aussie blokes and sheilas. Unfortunately though, many just don’t get what the book is all about, all that’s heard is an old misery guts whining about how pointless everything is. So let’s first look at the audience in Ecclesiastes; which in our reality today is the hard working Aussie.

Have you ever wondered just what the point of working is? Day in day out the grind of daily life seems pointless. Year after year similar patterns are followed. Farmers know the pattern well; working the soil, planting the crops, hoping and praying for rain, doing your tax, haggling with the bank manager about the overdraft, maybe harvesting if it has rained, working the soil and the process repeats itself over again. What is there to gain? The obvious fruits of farming might be - bad back, weary bones, and an attitude like that of the author of Ecclesiastes.

Mums must wonder too! What’s the point of working? Day after day taking care of the kids while they continually wreak havoc on the home environment! It looks like a daily cyclone passes through the house. Then there’s the washing, the dishes, the ironing, the folding, the cleaning, and all the other things a mum does. One thing get’s done but there’s always something else needing to be done.

Work can definitely be testing and a grind. Thank goodness we have the weekend to look forward to; we have the holiday down the coast or over seas to look forward to. Maybe, we long for the day of retirement, or for the right balls to drop and the lotto win falls on us. Then our work will pay off, we will be able to enjoy ourselves, and take life easy. We will be able to live the great Australian dream; sell up, buy a caravan and drive around Australia. Working to build for the future, we work and live in hope of enjoyment.

In the parable of the rich fool Jesus condemns the character putting his trust in wealth. To the man who had plenty of good things laid up so he can take life easy, God says, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you’ (Luke 12:20). This man thought his life was going to be easy in the future; would it have been even if he’d lived? How much better it would have been if he had put his faith in the one who gave him his earthly wealth! This man was no slouch, he was a hard worker; he worked so hard he had to build bigger barns in which to store his produce. But it was to no avail, he died before he could enjoy any of his treasures.

So what are you to do? Should you give up working and wait to die? After all, we might work hard and get nothing for it, as many of us are use to in Australia after suffering from years of droughts. Or we might make a heap of money and have plenty of possessions stored up for the future only to find we are struck by poor health leading to death and what we have worked for is all for nothing.

Why should we work? What is the point of working? We work hard and nothing comes of it, or we work hard creating a nest egg only to be cut from it? Maybe everything is meaningless, as the author of Ecclesiastes claims! Perhaps working is nothing more than one’s attempt to seize their short-lived steamy breath on a cold and frosty morning!

But we know work is important! Imagine how dysfunctional society would become if everyone decided not to work. Work is necessary for life to continue, it is essential for the wellbeing of our country and our community. In fact, work was given to humanity before the fall. Work is a part of the perfect order of creation. We’re told in Genesis 2:15, ‘The Lord God took the man, Adam, and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it’.

Working is also critical for every individual too; it’s healthy for one’s state of being. How many times have you heard about the person who retires from work to enjoy life only to fine that retirement kills them? Or the person who wins a fortune on the lottery, tells the boss to jump in the lake, and takes an early retirement, only to find they no longer enjoy life ending up broke and broken.

Sadly work is meaningless to many; it’s what one does until something better comes along. For the farmer this might be retirement, for the mother this might be when the kids grow up and move out of home. For the employee it might be to make money and fill in the time between weekends or holidays.

Attitudes like these surely add something to the increasing rate of depression in our society today. Work has become so demanding, so performance orientated and so necessary for future survival and recreation. However, why God created work and gives us work to do has been lost in our society. Work for many is a painful pointless exercise in chasing after short-lived nothingness. Work is meaningless, like chasing after one’s breath.

And so it seems the author of Ecclesiastes comes to the same conclusion. And this conclusion is right if one doesn’t recognise what our work is all about and who gives us our work. Listen to the conclusions of the author of Ecclesiastes who has investigated the life of a human.

I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil. (Ecc 3:12-13)

This is what I have seen to be good: it is fitting to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of the life God gives us; for this is our lot. Likewise all to whom God gives wealth and possessions and whom he enables to enjoy them, and to accept their lot and find enjoyment in their toil—this is the gift of God. For they will scarcely brood over the days of their lives, because God keeps them occupied with the joy of their hearts. (5:18-20)

So I commend enjoyment, for there is nothing better for people under the sun than to eat, and drink, and enjoy themselves, for this will go with them in their toil through the days of life that God gives them under the sun. (8:15)

God gives life, and God gives work. Enjoy your work, enjoy your life. Enjoyment comes with living life; life nor enjoyment mightn’t come when you retire from working – this week, at holiday time, or even when end your careers in old age.

Our wealth is God. We can look forward to retiring from this earth into his loving presence. Meanwhile in this hope we live wealthy lives here on earth regardless of what we have massed for ourselves. But even as we look to him to take us home we are called to enjoy the gifts he gives us in this life – ourselves, our time, and our possessions. The greatest wealth one can gain in their toil on this earth is enjoyment from doing the work God has provided for us.

But when enjoyment becomes the god it makes work anything but enjoyable and breaks people under the hopeless and meaningless oppression of their god. A puff of air, an apparition, a frustrated chasing after a short-lived mirage – meaningless vanity!

Isn’t it much better that we place our hope in God; he will never disappear like a puff of smoke or steamy air on a cold morning.

Our Heavenly Father has given us the gift of salvation and freedom from eternal death on your cross. Instead he put his one and only Son, Jesus Christ there, and there he conquered death.

Because you have the gift of eternal life let us enjoy our work and our lives now as we wait to be with him forever? Amen

Key verses on the theme of enjoyment in work in Ecclesiastes: 1:2,12-14; 2:18-26; 3:12-13,22; 5:18-20; 8:15; 9:7-9; 11:7-12:1.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

C, Pentecost 9 Proper 12 - Colossians 2:6-12 "Floating on Faith"

The predawn sky is filled with stars. The darkened dead of night is giving way to light; a glow on the horizon is promising to spill morning into the new day. The air is cold and still, there’s the sound of frost on frozen grass crunching under foot.

You’re asked to enter so you excitedly clamber in trying not to bump the machinery above your head in the dim light. Everyone is loaded and then with the sound of gushing gas, the air around you is lit with light and warmth. The tremendous thrust of heat and light sporadically breaks the quiet of the cool calm morning.

The sound seems ferocious but its effects are subtle and slow. But then there’s liftoff. It’s as if nothing is really happening except the occasional burn of gas above. But look down! There’s quiet movement in the dawn air as the earth passes silently below and seems to be falling away from where you stand.

Hot air ballooning gives one an amazing experience of floating quietly through the air. Relying on nothing but a ball of hot air in a cold sky makes the balloon seem to mysteriously rise into the sky. Slow and steady she moves without a will of her own, the hot air balloon rides through the skies wherever the currents of air decide to take her.

Speaking about Christ, St Paul says to the Colossians,For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.(Colossians 2:9-10)

Christians are like hot air balloons. We are in Christ, and in him we have been filled, just as a balloon is in the air, risen up it has been filled – with air. The balloon’s assurance of flight seems a mystery, but the air inside it is warm and we know it is because of the occasional burst of fire from the burner and its gentle rising into the sky.

Similarly Christ is the mystery who dwells within you, and is at the same time the one in whom you dwell. God enters you like people climbing into the basket, and on entering you he fires the Holy Spirit into your heart, injecting faith through the visible means of Baptism, Holy Communion, preaching of the Word, and absolution. These blasts of faith into your heart light you up, dispelling the darkness, and pushing out the coldness of a reality that’s knows no warmth.

Watching a balloon from the ground it’s not always apparent that there’s life in these gentle giants. But if we give it time we begin to notice their movement through the sky. And if we were completely ignorant we would soon realise the balloon was in fact moving through something, although it is not visible to the eye.

The sad thing for many in this world is they too are living in ignorant denial of God’s hidden presence. They think believers are deluded, moving around in nothingness by their own futile faith, fired by emotion. They look at us as if we were balloons in nothingness motivated by nothing except our imagination of the future. In fact, this is how they too live! They see themselves rising by their own ideals into the void, creating the future, the air into which they rise by their own understanding.

A balloon without a clean source of heat, fails to rise or travel very far. And if it does rise, to where it goes is a worry if the environment into which it rises is not known. So if you or I believe we can raise ourselves up by our own hot air, to where would we go? It’s no wonder many panic about death because they really don’t know much about the reality in which they live now, let alone what the future hold!

Seeing the fickle reality of others serves you and me as a warning. Perhaps some of you are pondering if it’s really all that import to persist in coming to church. Snoozing in bed, playing sport, or doing something else might seem more profitable than troubling you on a Sunday morning to come and sit in a cold church.

But the reality is this: the place where the warmth of Christ’s death and resurrection is injected into you, lifting you up to eternal life, is found only in church. It might seem, like a hot air balloon that we are floating aimlessly around. But the reality for those in Christ is we are moved by the Spirit in Christ into an eternity with our Heavenly Father.

St Paul says,Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” (Colossians 2:6-7)

We need to be anchored to the reality around us, and our reality now is Christ. Just as the hot air balloon is held by the air around it, Christ holds us in our earthly reality. And within we are filled or completed by Jesus too, when the Holy Spirit burns in us, illuminating Jesus Christ, and warming every aspect of our being so it might be brought not only to its full capacity, but beyond. So we might be overflowing with thanksgiving and love.

But there is a danger here too. Paul warns you to be aware of the things which turn the burners off in the heart your being. He says if you seek to integrate other means of movement into your heart you will be spoiled. This would be like taking the burner off a hot air balloon, seeking to fly without the fire of faith given by the Holy Spirit. He says…

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. (Colossians 2:8-10)

We first lifted off in Christ at our baptism. The ropes attaching us to our old worldly ways were cut once and for all. This gave the Holy Spirit the opportunity to burn in us to lift us up and send us on God’s way. This way is the way of the cross where Jesus too was baptised with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Luke 3:16) during his ministry here on earth. It is because Christ Jesus was lifted up on the cross and then lifted up from death that we too might be lifted up by the Holy Spirit in baptism.

However, some who are baptised — who have been cut from the darkness of sin — wittingly and unwittingly cut themselves away from the source of faith. They may be baptised but are hacking off the benefits it gives by returning to their dark ways. Perhaps you are tempted to cut off the faith God has given you! By doing so you’re putting off the circumcision of Christ and returning to the circumcision of men…

In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Colossians 2:11-12)

Being baptised is being raised in faith. The two things go hand in hand if our baptism is legitimate. If we cut faith from baptism making baptism just an act, where one is “done” we are returning to a circumcision by our own hand and this has the same effect as if one takes to a balloon with a pair of scissors. It might seem to be exciting as we explode all over the place but it is short-lived and ends in the balloon return to earth good for nothing.

Baptism and faith cannot be separated just as Jesus’ death and resurrection needed to occur. Without the resurrection we Christians are to be pitied more than all other people, and similarly when we cut faith from baptism we too are destroying the vessel God has made us to be. Through turning baptism into a once only work and severing us from the source of faith which needs to regularly burn in us, we are testifying by our act that Jesus died for nothing. He may as well have never been raised from the dead.

But as we’ve heard we were buried with him in baptism, and just as he was raised from the dead we too are raised by faith. Not your faith but the faith which becomes yours through the fire of the Spirit. A faith which burns in you when you receive the benefits of Jesus in church, and lived in private prayer, bible reading, devotion and daily living. Just like the means needed for a balloon to rise from its coldness, we need what happened in baptism to continue working in us, burning and creating faith in this life.

In the coolness of these days where it seems things are frosty or even frozen, know that God burns in you. Allow God to continue his work of raising you from death in the faith which began in baptism at the dawn of your eternity and will carry you through till the sun sets on this life. And look expectantly in hope to the dawn of the new day when through the powerful working of God; you too will be raised to eternal life, majestically floating in the fullness of eternal bliss. Amen.