Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

Sermon preached on Sunday, August 1, 2010. Pentecost 10, Proper 13C.

    Everyone knows the story of Snow White.  "Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?" ask the evil Queen.  And the mirror knows what is good for it, it will respond "Why, you are, of course."  Today we consider the mirrors we look into to define who we are, how we are doing, and whether or not we are happy, successful, and at peace.
    Into the sea of self-interest, self-centeredness, and self-identity, the preacher of Ecclesiastes comes crying.  "Vanity, vanity... all is vanity."  Most of the mirrors we look into in order to define who we are, whether we are happy, successful or content are vanity.  They are a sham.  If we stare into the mirror of our wallets or our watches or our priorities, what we see staring back at us is sin and all its emptiness.  Sin has taught us to think of ourselves first and others second.  Sin has taught us to see ourselves as the center of the world.  Sin has taught us that money is to make us happy, that our time is more important than others, that our wants, needs, and lives come first before everything else.
    Today Jesus invites us to see something else in the mirror of our souls and lives – the face of God.  He challenges the idea that if we put me first, we will be rich and happy and satisfied.  Instead, He directs us to the another riches – the treasure of God's grace and to the contentment borne of our awareness of what God's love has bought us and to a the joy borne of what this undeserved mercy and favor has won for us.
    In troubled times it is easier for us to admit that the things we count on are not always there for us.  The things we expect to be permanent, are fleeting.  They come and go – just like you and me.  If you came from outer space and judged all of us by the things advertized on TV, what would you think of us?
    It would be hard not to conclude that beauty and youth are the most important things of value to us.  We spend our money in the pursuit of an impossible dream of beauty and good looks.  We spare no dime for the miracles of modern science that promise to take off the wrinkles and signs that time has worn into our faces.  This life comes and goes and only the life we can count on is the life which is eternal 
    We seek after the newest and the best of technology's toys and we define our live's success according to the world's values – He who has the most toys wins – forgetting that the one with the most toys still dies.  We pursue a financial dream of living without worrying about how much it costs.  We seek a fame that can keep us alive long after we are dead.  But instead of finding these, we find only illusion and emptiness.  We are confronted only with our own vanity and the relative and fleeting goals of these illusive dreams.
    Clearly we as Christians are caught between the things the world finds so attractive and the blessed gift won for us on the cross and displayed in the empty tomb.  Jesus comes to us with a riches and treasure that do not pass away, that cannot be stolen from us, and that finally satisfies the wanderlust within us.  He give us this treasure as the gift of His grace and promises we will never be disappointed with what His suffering and death have won for us.  But this requires us to let go of the false and misleading dreams the world presses upon us and our own sinful hearts find so tempting.
    What is this treasure that stands in such stark contrast with the things of the world?  Jesus points us to the riches of His grace that provides a forgiveness bigger than all our sins.  He points us to a conscience washed clean from guilt and emptied of all our shame.  He points to us a life made new by His blood and built not for the moment but for all eternity.
    Jesus offers to us a life abundant – not because it is rich with the fleeting treasures of today but the riches of God's presence, the power of God's promise, and the purpose of God's plan.  Jesus offers to us a life that death cannot steal away from us, that the grave cannot overcome, and that no one can diminish.  This is the unfading treasure, immune to the ups and downs of the markets and not longer captive to the whims and desires of a world where things are in and out in a moment.
    Jesus offers to us a salvation that is sure – one that is not based upon our works and our own righteousness but the work of Christ on the cross and His righteousness given to us as clothing we wear by baptism.  Jesus offers to us a salvation which is not based upon the strength or size of our faith but the power of His Word to do what it says.  In our weakest moments of believing, when we look inside us and fail to see faith staring back, we are not left alone or isolated.  For when our faith is weak, His Word is strong and His faithfulness is the handle on which we grasp our salvation.
    When we look at the mirrors of affirmation and fail to see signs of improvement in us or change for the better, when the world is not becoming a better place, and when hope seems fleeting, we have Christ to hold on to.  The riches of the cross and the treasure of the empty tomb are what we cling to and in which we trust when all around us is nothing but vanity.
    The vanity of self is mirrored to us in the things of the moment that are fleeting and relative; they come and go.  The promise of the Gospel is hidden in the cross and seen only through eyes of faith promises another treasure.  The riches of God’s grace are the truest riches of all and it is this treasure that makes us wealthy and blessed.  What this world can never give us and what cannot satisfy us, God in His mercy, supplies graciously and in abundance through His Son.  He is so lavish and generous that it is beyond all reason and mortal expectation.  We are His today and eternally.  Our sins are washed away and our lives reborn for eternity in baptism.  Our faith sees Him and His Word at work in us, among us, and through us.  Nothing can separate us from the power of this love at work in Christ.  This is the true treasure of grace.
    So what will it be...  What mirror will we look into to find happiness, contentment, and peace?  Where will be find the one lasting treasure that can give us what we need and desire most of all?  Will we look into the mirror of beauty or youth, into the wallet in our pocket, into the fame of fifteen minutes in the spotlight, or into the mirror of success as the world would define it... Or will we look into the mirror of the cross?  There we are not told we are the fairest in the land but we are loved so much that He gave His only Son that all who believe in Him shall live forever... This is the true riches of His grace that give us eternal wealth and treasure that cannot disappoint us.  It sounds rather dramatic – as if it were a life or death struggle.  And that is the point, it is a life or death struggle. The mirror on the wall will always say either what we want or it will say what we fear.  That is the vanity of it all.  And that is why God calls on us to see ourselves through the lens of the cross and empty tomb, where He has provided the treasure of grace that will not disappoint us and mercy beyond all expectation.  Amen.

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