Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, Year C

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Title Sermon Date Liturgical Scripture
The Eve of the Nativity December 24, 2016 Christmas Eve Isaiah 9:2-7, Luke 2: 1-20
Third Sunday in Advent, Year A December 11, 2016 Third Sunday of Advent, Year A Psalm 146:4-9, Matthew 11:2-11
Second Sunday in Advent, Year A December 4, 2016 Second Sunday of Advent, Year A Matthew 3:1-12
First Sunday in Advent, Year A November 27, 2016 First Sunday of Advent, Year A Isaiah 2:1-5, Ps 122, Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 24:36-44
Christ the King Sunday, Year C November 20, 2016 Christ the King Sunday, Year C Jeremiah 23:1-6. Ps 46, Colossians 1:11-20, Luke 23:33-43
Twenty Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C November 13, 2016 Proper 28, Year C Malachi 4:1-2a, Ps 98, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, Luke 21:5-19
Charles Sydnor’s sermon, Nov. 6, 2016, All Saints November 6, 2016 All Saints, Year C Luke: 6: 20-31
Twenty Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C October 30, 2016 Proper 26, Year C Isaiah 1:10-18, Psalm 32, Luke 19:1-10
Twenty Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year C October 23, 2016 Proper 25, Year C II Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14
Twenty Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year C October 16, 2016 Proper 24, Year C Luke 18:1-8, Genesis 32: 22-31
Twenty First Sunday after Pentecost, Year C October 9, 2016 Proper 23, Year C 2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c; Luke 17:11-19
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C October 2, 2016 Proper 22, Year C II Timothy 1:1-14
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C September 25, 2016 Proper 21, Year C Luke 16:19-31
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C September 4, 2016 Proper 18, Year C Philemon 1-21; Luke 14:25-33
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C August 28, 2016 Proper 17, Year C Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16; Luke 14:1, 7-14

 

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, Year C

Sermon Date:July 31, 2016

Scripture: Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23; Colossians 3:1-11, Luke 12:13-21

Liturgy Calendar: Proper 13, Year C


"Jacob’s Dream"- William Blake (1805)

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The spiritual, “We are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder,” which is in our hymn book, Lift Every Voice and Sing, started becoming familiar around 1825. It’s based on the story of Jacob’s ladder, which is in the 28th chapter of Genesis.

Here’s a quick review of the story—Jacob, the son of Isaac, and the grandson of Abraham, has left home after tricking his father into giving him the blessing that by right belonged to his brother Esau. Esau is furious, so Jacob leaves home to seek his fortune elsewhere for the time being.

Jacob is traveling along, and the sun sets.

And so he stops and takes a stone and puts it under his head and goes to sleep.

And he dreams that there is a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God are ascending and descending on it.”

Then God is standing beside Jacob!

God promises that Jacob’s family will be numerous all over the earth and all the families of the earth will be blessed in Jacob and Jacob’s offspring.

When Jacob wakes up, he says, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it.” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

All of a sudden, because of the dream of this ladder that stretches between heaven and earth, Jacob’s understanding of his life, and his vision have been expanded beyond his wildest imagining.

No longer is he just the younger son who has tricked his older brother out of his father’s blessing, a single man alone on a journey to seek his fortune far from the wrath of his brother, but he now knows that God plans to bless him with many descendants, who in turn will be a blessing to all the families of the earth.

A heavenly vision—if there ever was one.

This is the vision that will shape the rest of Jacob’s life and change it for the better—this vision that he and his descendants will be a blessing to all the families of the earth. God’s vision for him!

The people who sang about Jacob’s ladder as they labored over their work in the fields were people who were seemingly stuck with a vision for their lives that had been imposed on them the institution of slavery, an institution kept alive by those whose wealth depended on the free labor and servitude of other human beings. The slaves had no choice but to accept this reality—they were slaves.

But they had a vision—the vision of the ladder reaching up into heaven, their passageway to freedom in God, and a way for God to come and be with them. Even as slaves, they could be free in their love and service to God—the last verse of the spiritual goes, “If you love him, why not serve him?”

Today’s lectionary readings give us the stories of two more slaves, but these people are slaves not because of some human institution, but slaves because of their own limited visions for their lives.

The first is the teacher in Ecclesiastes. In this passage, the teacher has become a slave to the idea that to live is ultimately an act of sheer absurdity. We live, we work hard, we toil, we’re vexed, we’re too anxious to sleep, and then we die. Someone else will get to benefit from all that labor that in the end worried us to death and did us no good at all. This man who has come to the conclusion that living is ultimately an act of absurdity has a vision limited by meaninglessness and the seemingly ultimate finality of death.

In the story that Jesus told in today’s gospel, a rich man has just had the blessing of an abundant harvest. But he, being a slave to himself and his own desires, can think of nothing but how to save up these unexpected resources in order to relax, eat, drink and be merry for years to come. He is a slave to “me, myself, and I” and his vision is limited only to himself.

Both of these people have become slaves to limited visions of who they are and what gives meaning to their lives.

In today’s epistle, Paul tells the Colossians that their visions of life are also too limited. They have limited their own lives by worrying too much about their own pleasure at the expense of others, and going to any lengths to get what they wanted.

Paul even says that the wrath of God is coming on those whose visions for life are limited by the following—greed, evil desire, the misuse of our sexuality. Also on the list are the following—anger, wrath, malice, slander, abusive language and lying to one another.

When we let these things, including greed, anger, wrath, malice, slander and abusive language, shape our own lives and our personalities, then we let these things constrict and limit our own visions.

In addition, when we give power to people who have chosen to shape themselves by these things that incur God’s wrath, when we turn a blind eye to these things and accept things like greed and anger and malice and slander and abusive language as the status quo—then we too are being disobedient to God and our visions are being shaped and limited by the things that God despises.

Living with limited vision is a danger that all of us face.

Some limits, like being a slave in the United States before slavery ended, are imposed on some people by others. Some limits we impose on ourselves. As we age, our bodies impose physical limits on us. Sometimes the simplest thing to do is to accept the limits, decide life is absurd, get depressed, get anxious, and then die in a state of disappointment and misery.

And so that’s why this ladder has reappeared in the church.

Because it’s a great visual for what I want you to remember when you leave here today.

This ladder reminds us that in the great void between heaven and earth, God has stretched a ladder and that God wants us to get on it and climb it.

God showed us how to do this through the life, crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Jesus came to be with us, to live with a vision just as susceptible as we are to greed and to anger and wrath and malice and abusive language and all of the other things that tempt us every day—the things that separate us from God and from one another.

But Jesus never his connection to God, that ladder stretching into heaven. Through his temptation in the wilderness, through his peripatetic ministry, through his journey to Jerusalem, he never lost sight of God’s vision for him—to be a blessing to all the people of the earth.

Ultimately, Jesus went up the rungs of the ladder—and it was the ladder to what seemed like the end—death on a cross, the ultimate absurdity. People who had witnessed his ministry and then saw his body hanging defenseless on a cross can be excused for thinking that all in Jesus’ life had been nothing but vanity and a chasing after wind.

But we know, as Christians who have been raised in Christ through baptism, that the vertical beam of the cross that lifted Jesus high above the earth, was the ladder that stretched high into heaven, that the horizontal beam to which his hands were nailed was the life he had lived, a life free from hatred, and anger and greed, the life that he had lived in witness for God’s vision for him, to bless the earth and all in it for God’s glory—the life that through his death and resurrection he set us free to live.

This is God’s vision for us.

To climb the ladder and to be rich toward God by living a cruciform life—our arms and hearts spread wide to the world, and our desire and our vision only one thing—to give God the glory by letting God shape us into blessings for all the earth.

Amen.

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