August 4, 2019

2019 August4_FrIan

Proper 13- Year C

A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Ian M. Delinger


“Eat, drink and be merry,
for tomorrow we die!”

 

How many of you knew that this well-worn exclamation is from the Bible? In fact, it’s in the Bible 3 other times:

 

  • Later in Ecclesiastes ch 8
  • Isaiah 22
  • 1 Corinthians 15

 

We live on the Central Coast of California with unfettered access to superior quality, mouth-watering, satiating food and drink of all types and at almost all price levels. The only barrier to gluttony for us is mere self-control. I often look at the list of food and drink events, or drive through wine country, or walk past the window seats of restaurants and see that “indulgence” is the norm! To many who are not from California, and particularly those who are not from the United States, what one witnesses in the restaurants, wineries, breweries, farmers’ markets and grocery stores would be considered over-indulgence and gluttony, and for us it is the norm!

 

Some of you may remember my Easter 2018 Sermon on the subject of YOLO: You Only Live Once. The concept is simple: do what you want to do now because once you’re gone, you’re gone! It’s the same concept as carpe diem or “Seize the Day”, or “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die!” Heck, it’s in the Bible, and Pope Francis said in 2016 that a celebration is not complete without wine, so let the parties begin! And after such a tragic week of shootings, who can blame a person for having such an attitude? If one’s life can be so easily taken for no reason and through our inability and unwillingness to deal with gun violence and domestic terrorism, why not eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we could be dead?

 

Ah, but…

 

With the possible exception of Ecclesiastes 8, the expressions of this joyous exclamation are a warning rather than an instruction or invitation. In the Gospel, Jesus tells the man that, to the person who exclaims, “relax, eat, drink, be merry,” God responds ‘You fool!’ And Jesus goes on to say, “This very night your life is being demanded of you” – meaning “You’re going to die!” So, on the surface, these readings appear to be religious-approved greed and gluttony. They aren’t. They are about death! Today’s readings are asking the reader the question: Are you prepared for death?

 

My question for you today is:
Are you prepared for death?


Death is an inevitability. The Psalm makes that very clear:

 

For we see that the wise die also; like the dull and stupid they perish
and leave their wealth to those who come after them.
Their graves shall be their homes for ever,
their dwelling places from generation to generation,
though they call the lands after their own names.
Even though honored, they cannot live for ever...

 

From a Christian perspective, preparing for death has little to do with ensuring that your wealth goes to your preferred offspring. It’s about preparing for an afterlife with Jesus at the Heavenly Banquet. Jesus’ Death and Resurrection gave us the hope of Eternal Life in Him.


Preparing for death is to
understand that our life here on
earth is not the end.

 

The indulgences we enjoy do not get us a special seat at the Heavenly Banquet; instead, our indulgences distract us from our relationship with God, from our understanding of Eternal Life and Salvation through Jesus Christ, from our preparations for the Heavenly Banquet.

 

Our liturgy is full of references to Eternal Life, but our sermons don’t tend to be. So, our understanding of Eternal Life and our preparations for it probably bounce around our head only occasionally, if that. So many people are afraid to talk about death, and many even fear death. It’s called thanatophobia, an irrational fear of death, and many people have it. The 2017 Chapman University Survey of American Fears showed that 20.3% of Americans fear dying. Fear of death edged out public speaking, financial fraud and small enclosed spaces, and tied with arachnophobia and illegal immigration. People who are afraid to die want to pursue a YOLO lifestyle, they want to seize the day, they want to eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die. And…dare I say…they have no hope. It is Christ and His Death and Resurrection that give us hope.


I think we have become blasé about the Christian view of death, that we are looking toward and living toward a new life in Christ after this life is over. Instead, we are obsessed with remaining young, ignoring the inevitable. Reuters reported a study conducted by Orbis Research stating that the Global Anti-Aging Market was worth over $42Bn in 2018, and it will reach $55Bn by 2023. There were not any statistics on the US independently, but we can all agree that the lion’s share of sales is here in the United States, and may very well include many of us here. With putty knives we’re applying products for UV absorption, anti-wrinkle, and anti-stretch marks, breast augmentation, liposuction, chemical peel, hair restoration and much, much more. Yet, more and more of us are becoming obese, and our “eat, drink and be merry” lifestyle is killing us faster than we can get rid of the stretch marks and freeze the fat cells.

 

We know this, yet we continue. Even Ecclesiastes 8, is not without its caution. Through his own experience, the Teacher discovers that the search for wisdom is futile, society is unjust, and the future cannot be predicted. Humans cannot change any of that, so they might as well enjoy life as it is:

 

“…there is nothing better for people under the sun than to eat, and drink, and enjoy themselves, for this will go with them in their toil through the days of life that God gives them under the sun.”

 

Basically, in this state of the world: It ain’t gettin’ any better.

 

But even the speaker in Ecclesiastes, as he lays out the futility of human life, he acknowledges the superiority of God. Whatever happens to us is better than this life, so we should enjoy this life, without being greedy or gluttonous.

 

So, what do we do about it? How do we have hope after a bloody weekend filled with death? How do we prepare for a Christian death?

 

First of all, Americans do believe in the afterlife and in Heaven. A CBS News poll in 2014 showed that 66% believe in both Heaven and hell, and 11% believe in Heaven only. That’s 77% who believe in a place where one might “go to” after death. Even among those who don’t specify a religion or who are atheist or agnostic, 36% believe in both Heaven and hell and 7% in heaven only, for a total of 43% believing in some sort of afterlife “place”. These numbers have not shifted significantly since 1968, when these questions were first asked in polls. We believe in an afterlife – even the atheists!

 

What is even more interesting is what people think Heaven will be like. The top 5 attributes in a 1988 Gallup/Newsweek study (yes, pretty old) were:

 

  • It will be peaceful.
  • One will be happy.
  • There will be love between people.
  • God’s love will be the center of life after death.
  • One will be in the presence of God or Jesus Christ. 83%.

 

83% of people in 1988 believed that in Heaven, one will be in the presence of God or Jesus Christ. If the numbers of those who believe in Heaven reflect what people believe Heaven will be like, the numbers have unlikely changed in 20 years.

 

People have hope in the
inexpressible love of God
through Jesus Christ.

 

So, we have that hope of Eternal Live, how do we get there? What do we do here on earth, in between our eating, drinking and merrymaking, to inherit the Eternal Life that is promised us through Jesus Christ? What we are to do is pretty clear from Scripture.

 

  • The Psalm tells us that we will all die: Rich or poor; wise or simple. Everyone!
  • The Teacher in Ecclesiastes tells us to enjoy life, but not to excess, and look toward the life we will have after Death
  • Paul states his usual mantra: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
  • Jesus tells us to not be overindulgent in this life, but to focus on Heaven. The very next story is His call for us to not worry about our lives.
  • And next week, Jesus makes it clear: “…it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms.”

 

We need to keep the foundation of Christianity alive in our own lives. Christians are often referred to in sermons as Easter People: we believe in the Resurrection to Eternal Life brought to us by Jesus’ conquering of the grave.

 

  • We live in the hope of our own resurrections.
  • We do that through the study of Scripture and the practice of private and corporate prayer.
  • We care for Creation, both people and planet.
  • And we show God’s love whenever and however we can.

 

Yes, eat, drink and be merry – I’m not going to go all Puritan on you. But know that indulgence is not what makes this life good, and the next life is better, so focus on things Heavenly, not things earthly.

 

The Emperor Constantine, who stopped the persecution of Christians in the 4C, was baptized on this deathbed. Both King Charles II of England and Poet Oscar Wilde converted back to the Church in Rome on their deathbeds. We may view these actions as cynical, hedging bets, or superstitions. However, they were the result of a deeply held faith in an afterlife that is better than this life.

 

  • If we, as Christians, do not believe that there is life in Christ after this one, then there is no hope for the 3 people who were killed by a cliff collapsing at Leucadia State Beach on Friday.
  • If we, as Christians, do not believe that there is life in Christ after this one, then there is no hope for 6yo Stephen Romero, 13yo Keyla Salazar, and 25yo Trevor Irby who were needlessly and senselessly killed by a gunman last weekend at the Gilroy Garlic Festival.
  • If we, as Christians, do not believe that there is life in Christ after this one, then there is no hope for the victims of the El Paso shooting and of the Dayton shooting yesterday.

 

We may have the luxury to eat and drink whatever we want, whenever we want and in whatever quantities we want. Yes – it is vanity, and that is something for each of us to reflect on and to pray about. For it, we should always be thankful and praise God. We should also use our money, intellect, energy and political clout to help those who do not enjoy such luxuries, and who struggle to meet their basic needs for whatever reason. Good deeds for the less fortunate do not diminish the vanities; they are the call from God to care for all of God’s people. Jesus says to the man, “‘And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” This means “share so that everyone may have what they need.”

 

Finally, when administering Last Rites – called Ministration at the Time of Death on page 462 of the BCP – we are not saying, “That’s it!” We are commending the person to wherever and whatever Heaven is.

 

That it may please you [O God] to grant [the dying] a place of refreshment and everlasting blessedness,
That it may please you to give [the dying] joy and gladness in your kingdom, with your saints in light,
We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.


And to the person dying:

 

May your rest be this day in peace, and your dwelling place in the Paradise of God.

 

If that is not what we are living for, then, yes, says Jesus, “Relax, Eat, Drink, Be Merry.” But

 

let’s have hope, let us give hope
to the victims in El Paso, in
Dayton, in Gilroy, in the 250
mass shootings that have taken
place across this country in the
last 7 months...
let us have hope for us all that
death is not the end.

May their rest be this day in peace,
and their dwelling place in the Paradise of God.

© 2019 St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
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