Wednesday, September 11, 2013

May He bring to completion what He began in us...

Sermon for Pentecost 16, Proper 18C, preached on Sunday, September 8, 2013.

    In 1884 Sarah Winchester began construction of a house in Southern California.  It was to be under construction for 38 years.  The construction ended only because Sarah Winchester died.  She believed that if she ceased construction, she would die.  Instead she died and construction ceased.  And the house was left unfinished.
    Sometimes we think of our lives as unfinished endeavors.  We have our bucket lists of things we hope to do or accomplish.  We often find it hard to deal with hopes and dreams which will not be met.  Perhaps there is a part of us that thinks our lives will not end as long as we are working toward some future goal.
    The Gospel reading for today about counting the cost of building sometimes is used to put the burden back upon us, as if Jesus has given us a good foundation and now it is up to us to build something worthy and good on it.  But do you think that Christ has invested the holy and precious resources of His flesh crucified and His blood shed just so we can screw it up?  Our lives are indeed foundations but not foundations on which we build to please God for this is nothing but a religion of human work.  Our lives are foundations on which Christ builds us into the people we were declared to be in our baptism – the religion of grace.  He brings to completion what He began.  It is not our endeavor but His work in us, with us, and for us.  How easy it is to forget this.
    A 2005 movie based on a novel by Mark Spragg had the title "An Unfinished Life."  It might be a description of our own lives.  People trying to put back together the pieces when sorrow and struggle take their toll.  We search for meaning and satisfaction in a lot of places.  In our work, in our families, in our hobbies, in our dreams...  We direct our lives as if they were movies and we Christians often direct the Lord as if He were merely a cast member in our script of characters.  We presume that our lives are what we make of them, that we direct and build them.  
    So it is not unusual for even Christians to take our comfort in destinations, in achievements, in the self-improvements we think we have made, in our successes, and in the pleasure we obtain from these things.  The problem is that you cannot direct your lives.  You cannot control what happens to you – only how you respond to it.  You cannot build your life as you want it to be.  There are too many others competing for the same things.  For us to direct and build our lives is a recipe for disappointment.
    But we forget the most important fact:  we are Christians.  We are a people whose lives died in the waters of our baptism.  God raised us up new people from the waters of that baptism.  We are not who we were anymore.  We may not be yet who we shall become but we are not who we were.  We belong to Him.  Our lives are not blank canvases for us to fill but the foundations on which He builds us, directs us, and leads us to our appointed goals.
    Our lives are the unfinished foundations on which Christ, the builder, the potter (as in Isaiah), finishes us.  Faith begins and ends in Christ.  As an old missionary saying often quoted by my family said “What's yours will pass, what's Christ's will last," borrowing one hundred year old lines from a poem by C. T. Studd.  Counting the cost of completing the building is not surveying to see if we have the resources to bring what God began to completion.  No, it means living by faith.  We trust the Lord especially for what we do not see, cannot understand, and cannot control. We give up to Christ not some uncertain work but that which is already His.  We do not finish our unfinished lives in the hope that they are found worthy by God.  We know that Christ completes us, that He will make us into something lasting and worthy.
    It is not that we are something passive.  We are not.  But the realm of our activity is primarily keeping close to Christ who works in us.  We come to Church.  We hear His Word.  We confess our sins.  We receive His forgiveness. We eat at His table His body and blood. We are close to Him.  We are close to Him so that He may complete us.  We are His workmanship.  We are not the builders of our lives or the directors of our stories but the ones whom God builds and directs for His purpose and for His glory.  That is why the end of our lives is always worthy.  Because we were begun in Christ and we end in Christ.
    Do you remember how we end our confession and absolution each week?  May He who began this good work within you bring it to completion on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  It is Philippians 1:6.  That is the perspective of faith on our lives.  Our lives are from Him and move to Him.  In between it is not left up to us but Christ is at work in us by His Word and Sacraments.  We are unfinished lives not because we have things to do but because Christ is still at work in us and through us by the Spirit.
    We are here each week before His throne of grace for just this reason.  Christ is here.  Through the means of grace His Spirit works in us and through us.  In Word and Sacrament He works to bring forth in us what He began in us by baptism, what lives in us by faith, and what He has prepared for us.  That is why we speak of Christian life as a calling or vocation.  God is working in us, for us, through us.  We have this confidence not because we see the progress but because we trust His Word.  He will not abandon us – not even to ourselves.
    What is Christ's will last... what is ours will pass.  Apart from Christ nothing is eternal.  Apart from Christ it is chaff to be burned, dust to blow away, manure that has only its stink.  For this reason St. Paul is confident of His future and begs us to learn such confidence in faith, trusting the Lord alone.  Far be it from me to boast except in Christ in whom I have been crucified to the world the world to me, dead to sin and alive to Christ.  Who can have such confidence except those who know Christ is the builder.  In faith we pray that Christ may continue and bring to completion what He has begun in us.  Amen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Autonomy, the great myth of our time.