Sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost + August 1, 2010
Have you ever gotten a song stuck in your head? If you have kids it may be one of those classics by the Wiggles, that purple dinosaur Barney, or perhaps someone who lives in a pineapple under the sea Sponge Bob Square Pants! It could be an advertising jingle, or this week for me an early 1970’s hit that I “heard” as I read the Hebrew Bible reading this week.
“You’re So Vain” written and performed by Carly Simon was released in December 1972. The song describes how self-centered a person important to Simon is as she boldly sings out for the world to hear “You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you.” Well it had a memorable tune and was a number-one hit, topping Billboard’s Hot 100 for three weeks in early 1973. It was a song people could relate to as most of us know someone whose vanity is over the top.
So the working title of the sermon which made its way onto the sign out front became “You’re so vain you probably think this sermon is about you!” But it didn’t stop there because as I thought about our selfish ways and vanity I started noticing vanity license plates on cars around town and even in our own parking lot. I learned that the first national survey of vanity plates in North America was done three years ago, revealing that there are 9.7 million vehicles vainly bearing messages of their drivers.
So how vain are drivers in Connecticut? We rank 7th with some 8% of cars vanitized for self edification. Virginia is not just for lovers as it ranked #1 at 16% followed by the state of my vehicle registration New Hampshire with 14%. It seems we like to proclaim our messages to the world much like Carly Simon and the preachy voice of Ecclesiastes this morning.
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But the definition of vanity in the Hebrew text isn’t just about vanity plates and classic hits about narcissistic navel gazing. In Ecclesiastes, the writer, or preacher as Luther translated it, sought to find meaning in his life’s work. But as we heard he found that life as he experienced it wasn’t about hard work paying off in fulfillment and profound meaning. Rather, he comes to the blunt conclusion that life’s toil and tribulation results not in wisdom or self-made success, but in the realities of pain and an empty death. To the writer all his hard work and personal experience mocks his quest to find meaning in his selfish purpose driven life.
Exasperated with himself and his inability to grasp the Almighty, he concludes that since all is vanity, you should look out for #1, the person in the mirror and enjoy life. Here all is vanity because all that he strove for was from his perspective in vain. He goes on that because death ends us all, there is nothing new under the sun.
This text is easy to relate to in many ways. When have you experienced a sense of meaninglessness or despair from the very things you thought would have given you joy or fulfillment? We set the bar high on expectations to find the ideal job, supportive friends, loving spouse, perfect children or grandchildren. Maybe that long-planned vacation wasn’t the trip of a lifetime. Perhaps that new car smell has worn off, the work bores you, and you feel empty, poor in spirit, longing for more.
Even for us as Christians, we experience this feeling of “hevel” in Hebrew or vanity that leaves us feeling like we are chasing the wind. We too can feel at times like all activities, including good things like the search for wisdom, the enjoyment of the finer things in life, and the desire for property and influence, are fleeting like chasing the wind. In fact this chasing the word “hevel” is defined as a fine mist or vapor, that can be experienced at times, cannot be grasped, controlled, or kept to enjoy at a later time.
What is left for us then Ecclesiastes asserts, is to seek wisdom when it may be found, to enjoy what we have been given while we have it, and to embrace every moment as if it might be our last. But is this what God wants from us. Is our experience of God a fleeting wind, best to not wait on..? After all we can fan our self-centered needs, install central air, breeze in and out as we please, and continue the material earthly self-quest for fulfillment that our hard work and holy living can bring.
Ahhh, if it were only that easy. But you and I know it’s hard enough to keep our heads above water, drag ourselves to church once in a while, and try as we do to meet the competing needs that draw us away from God. It seems everything under the sun can be a distraction from the richness of God. Sure at our core we want to be rich with God, but what does that look or feel like. Where and how does one begin…?
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We live in world where we place ourselves in the center. We broadcast our self-status on Facebook updates; literally wear our self-status through designer clothes, the smart phone we carry, and the car we drive; boldly proclaim our self-status on vanity plates, bumper stickers, t-shirt messages, and tweets in 140 characters or less. We fill our ears with self-status soundtracks, our eyes with self-status Netflick filled feature films, our fingers with self-status texts and instant messaging, our stomachs with self-status Starbucks specialty drinks, and every empty moment where we might reflect on our abundance or heaven forbid, experience God.
God travels with us, but we are moving so fast chasing the wind, we miss the gentle God moments that surround us, gently envelop us and sustain us each day. We forget it is the journey and not the status of our self selected destination that matter.
We have been traveling with Luke these past few weeks observing Jesus as he journeys to Jerusalem. It is in and through the Word that one can begin to experience both gentle breezes and powerful drenching of God’s riches. We have heard about God’s swirling healing working through an outcast in the Good or Merciful Samaritan story. God’s pointing out to Martha to embrace the presence of Jesus as Mary did and see God in the midst of all we do.
When we spend our fleeting time counting our blessings, working and worrying about the riches we need tomorrow, rather than living in the richness of the moment God has blessed us with, we vainly miss God in our midst. Over the coming months here at Faith you will hear more about prayer opportunities. Time and places and people who will be praying for you, this faith community gathered by God, and how we together can be the best church for this community in this time and place.
Our God, Holy One, Holy Three, calls us to believe, to belong, and to bless. Here in this place we gather each week:
- To build belief by confessing our sins, asking for forgiveness, hearing God’s Word, eating and drinking at the table of God’s riches,
- To build belonging by forgiving one another, worshipping together, learning together, serving together, and having fun together,
- To build blessing by praying for the needs of those outside this faith community, serving the needs of those outside this faith community, and leaving this place to bless those we encounter in our daily, doing God’s work with our hands, living the Gospel through our lives blessing others as we have been blessed.
I pray that in the tearing down the busyness and whirlwind distractions in your live, you may hear the whisper of the Jesus, feel the presence of the Spirit, and dwell in the rich moments of believing, belonging, and blessing that our Creator gives us in love.