All Saints' Episcopal Church

Concerning Earthly Things and Things Heavenly

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A sermon given September 19, 2021, by Dr. Stan Lombardo…

As I’m sure most of you know by now, I’m 99 and 44/100% pure-blooded 19th-century Sicilian. Consequently, Sicilian dialect is what Terry Garvin called my “heart language”: aside from English, it’s the language that comes most readily to my tongue. In Sicilian, we have a word “combinazione,” which we might freely translate as “cosmic coincidence.” For the past three weeks, I’ve been preparing for the beginning of our Faith and Scripture class, which we’ve decided to devote to the
study of Ecclesiastes. When I volunteered to preach this Sunday, I had no idea that the Collect of the Day would carry such strong echoes of the words of the Preacher: “Grant us, LORD, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things Heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that
are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure . . .”


I: Things That Are Passing Away: Ecclesiastes

Approximately three thousand years ago, Solomon – or some later Preacher who wrote in Solomon’s name – gave the testimony of his quest for earthly
fulfilment: “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher; vanity of vanities, all is vanity.
“What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?
“One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth forever.
“I have seen all the works that are done under the sun, and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.”

In an effort to escape that vexation of spirit, Solomon chose to seek wisdom – as we know, his name is synonymous with wisdom – but even he found the result far
from satisfying: “. . . I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit, for in much wisdom is much
grief; and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.”

Subsequently, the wise King sought to take pride in his wealth: “I had great possessions of great and small cattle, above all Kings that were in Jerusalem before
me: I gathered me also silver and gold and the peculiar treasures of kings and of the provinces. . . Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do; and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit…”

He found no satisfaction in the amassing of wealth: “He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor [will] he that loveth abundance [be satisfied] with
[the] increase [of his wealth].”

Solomon is especially troubled by his mortality and the futility of achieving wisdom or amassing earthly goods: “How dieth the Wise Man? Even [the same as]
the Fool . . . As he came forth of his mother’s womb, naked shall he return to go as he came and shall take nothing of his labour which he may carry away in his hand.”

Lest you begin to think that Solomon was nothing but a gloommeister, he did express approval of certain Epicurean pleasures as being granted by God: “Behold
that which I have seen: it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink; and to enjoy the good of all his labour that he taketh under the sun all the days of his life
which God giveth him, for it is his portion.”

The Preacher also celebrates the loving companionship of man and woman: “Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest, all the days of [thy life].”

He encourages mortals to make the best use of their Godgiven talents: “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.”

Above all, Solomon exalts the beauty and diversity of God’s Creation: “He hath made every thing beautiful in His time . . . I know that whatsoever God doeth, it shall be forever: nothing can be added to it nor anything taken from it.”

However, Solomon inevitably returns to the precarious nature of human life: “I returned and saw, under the sun, the race is not always to the swift nor the battle
to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but Time and Chance happeneth to them all.”

And once more, the Preacher reminds us of the fleeting nature of earthly satisfactions: “all is travail and vexation of the spirit. Vanity of Vanities, all is Vanity: Hence, I
returned and saw all earthly things are transient and meaningless.”

II: Finding the Things Heavenly Which the Collect Enjoins Us to Love

Now in contemplating those things Heavenly, which the Collect enjoins us to love, it’s tempting to look too high up and too far away in order to find them – Heavenly mansions, harps, streets paved with jewels, and golden chariots drawn by winged horses. However, Jesus has given us the prescription for achieving those
Heavenly goals here on Earth: they are right before our eyes in the Beatitudes.

These are the “things Heavenly” that today’s Collect bids us to hold fast to – those that shall endure:
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. [“Poverty of spirit” means “humility” – the opposite of Pride.]
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure at heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.

Perhaps in hearing this recitation of the well-known beatitudes, you may be thinking, “But those are counsels of perfection: I’m far from perfect.” You can take
comfort in the fact that some theologians have suggested the Aramaic word Christ uses, which we translate as “blessed,” conveys the meaning of “being on the right
path.”

In other words, if you can honestly say that you endeavor to practice humility and mercy, thirst after righteousness and endeavor to make peace where you find
discord, then at least you are on the right path – which is not to say that you’ve already reached your destination – which is Heaven.

So let’s remember the words of the Collect, as well as the words of that royal Pessimist, Solomon the Preacher, and hold fast to those things Heavenly that shall
endure even while we see earthly things passing away around us.


Selah

Concerning Earthly Things and Things Heavenly
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