Last Sunday was a busy and confusing one. I had three morning services and I was meant to do two in the afternoon, but thankfully our lay reader took the final one off me, I may well have died if she didn’t.
There was great excitement at the news of the bishops intention to appoint Revd Beth Bailey to the updated/ re-formed Ministry Area.
I had three sermons for Sunday. One for the Eucharistic services, one for the Family Service, and one for Gosber (Welsh Evensong), all based upon the set readings, so I’m not going to post all three up because there are too many repetitions and overlaps.
In the Eucharistic Service I spoke about what the most important things in life are. Earthly wealth and riches are not comparable to heavenly wealth. And earthly riches are worth even less if we cannot, and do not share them with others.
I used this story I found about the legend of Alexander the Great. Legend has it that after conquering many kingdoms, he was returning home but he fell seriously ill and he came to the point of death.
With death staring at him in the face, Alexander realized that his conquests, his great army, his sharp sword and all his wealth were of no consequence.
Knowing that his end is near, he called his generals and said, “I will depart from this world soon, but I have three wishes and they must be carried out without fail.”
“Firstly, my physicians alone must carry my coffin. Secondly, when my coffin is being carried to the grave, the path leading to the grave will be strewn with all the gold and silver and precious stones that I have collected.”
“Finally, my last wish is that both my hands be kept dangling out of my coffin.”
His generals assured him that his three wishes would be fulfilled, but they would like to know why those three strange wishes, and so he explained.
“I want my physicians to carry my coffin because people should realize that no doctor can cure every illness. They are powerless and cannot save a person from the clutches of death. So let people not take life for granted.
As for strewing the gold and silver and other riches along the way to the grave, that is to tell people that not even a fraction of gold will come with me. I spent all my life gaining riches but cannot take anything with me. Let people realize that it is a sheer waste of time to chase wealth.
And about my third wish of having my hands dangling out of the coffin, I want people to know that I came empty handed into this world and empty handed I will go out of this world.”
And with those final words, Alexander the Great closed his eyes and breathed his last.
I ended with this line “what you do for yourself dies with you. What you do for others, lives on, and makes you rich in the sight of God.”
In the Family Service I started by speaking of our favourite toys and how much we love the things that we have. There were two little girls who had brought their toy dogs with them, they brought them up and spoke about how much they liked their toys. I went on to re-tell the story of the brothers and how they had fallen out because they didn’t know how to share, and that they thought their ‘stuff’ was more important than their friendship and relationship.
Sometimes we want something so much, and think about something so much that we make other people sad or angry, we forget how we make other people feel. Jesus says that the amount of stuff we collect doesn’t matter, that there are more important things, like filling our lives with the love of God and sharing that with those around us.
In the final Eucharistic Service, there were questions at the end about the use of the word ‘vanity’ and its origins because the welsh made the passage more clear. The welsh word used is ‘Gwagedd’ which conveys the sense of emptiness and futility. So for Gosber I was able to pick up on these questions and explore the meaning of the Old Testament reading in the change of language.
“Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!
I explained the meaning of the original Hebrew term ‘hebel’ which means ‘breath’ or ‘vapor’, relating to the emptiness of a breath, making “Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!” into “Empty of emptiness! All things are empty!” or “Futility of futilities! All is futile!”
In the context of God, and the whole of eternity, all is meaningless, and without God, everything is empty, everything is void.
The use of vanity in scripture is closer the concept of futility, but we do not mean vain in the modern sense of the word, it’s not about not being able to pull ourselves away from the mirror. We can think of vanity as a disordered attachment to ourselves, which in the context of God and eternity of all meaningless.
We try too often to hold onto those fleeting things. Let’s hold onto those things that count most in life, and learn the lesson of life from the scriptures and teachings of Jesus, so that we know how to live now, as well as forever.