SERMON: Christ is all and in all

SERMON: Christ is all and in all

A Sermon preached at St Mary’s Iffley by Andrew McKearney on 31 July 2022

Our readings today draw a strong contrast between so much of what we do with our lives and the spiritual possibilities open to us.

           ‘Vanity of vanities! All is vanity! Says the Teacher.’

The literal meaning of the word translated as ‘vanity’ is ‘vapour’ – it evaporates – there’s nothing to it.

           ‘It’s an unhappy business that God has given to

           human beings to be busy with……all is vanity and a

           chasing after the wind……so I turned and gave my

           heart up to despair.’

The Book of Ecclesiastes from which this comes is part of a type of writing in the Bible known as ‘Wisdom literature’.

Some passages can be very poetic the most famous probably the one that Pete Seeger turned into a song that was sung by both Joan Baez and The Byrds:

           ‘For everything there is a season,

           and a time for every matter under heaven:

           a time to be born, and a time to die;

           a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

           a time to kill, and a time to heal;

           a time to break down, and a time to build up…..’

But however poetic the language, the message is the same.

The author describes the futility of trying to discover the meaning of life by human observation and experimentation – the world of nature with its never-ending cycles is inscrutable – human achievements are temporary – nothing can be learned from them except that life is an unhappy business, endlessly frustrating.

And by doubling up the word ‘vanity’ and referring to ‘vanity of vanities’ the author expresses the total futility of human endeavour.

‘Vanity of vanities! All is vanity! Says the Teacher.’

Today’s gospel reading has a similar message.

It starts with Jesus being asked to give a judgement in a dispute over an inheritance. As we know, disputes about inheritance are, and always have been, complicated. Complicated in biblical times by the fact that wills were made and executed on principles that had to be inferred from passages of scripture.

So you had to find someone who could interpret scripture – and that’s why this person comes to Jesus to seek his help.

Wisely, Jesus resists giving any advice. But instead uses this as an opportunity to warn about the futility of building larger and larger barns to store your wealth.

In the face of life’s shortness, is this the best way to use our time and energy? It’s a parable that could easily have come from the pages of the Book of Ecclesiastes.

Because this also is vanity and a chasing after the wind.

I said at the beginning that our readings draw a strong contrast between so much of what we do with our lives and the spiritual possibilities open to us.

We heard about these possibilities in Saint Paul’s letter to the Colossians.

There he contrasts the emptiness and futility of life using a conventional list of vices. And as in the Wisdom literature from the Old Testament, there’s nothing particularly distinctive about these ideas.

But what is utterly new and startling is the theological vision that Saint Paul places these lists within.

His understanding of the way that we should live completely upends the idea that we should strive to be rich in terms of this world or even strive to be someone in the eyes of God.

That way of thinking too Saint Paul has tried and found empty and a chasing after the wind.

Instead, Paul wants to share with us what he’s learnt – that what we are is a gift given to us by God in Christ.

We’ve been raised with Christ – it’s not a future promise, but how things are now. So we are to seek the things that are above.

We’ve died – again Paul’s not talking about a future event when we die, but how things stand now. We have died – and our life is hidden with Christ in God.

We’ve stripped off the old self and have clothed ourselves with the new self – that’s already happened to us in baptism.

These are extraordinarily bold insights about the way things are. And it’s Paul’s gospel that he knew in his bones to be true because it had transformed him.

So now there’s no longer Greek or Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all.