In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
God, with you as our Ruler and Guide, may we so pass through things temporal that we lose not the things eternal.
It’s been quite a week. It’s been a week filled with the pain and tragedy of death. A reality that has touched our life in one way or another. There is a saying that death comes in threes. And so it has been these past several days. John Kennedy, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy and Loren Bessette are killed in their small plane as it crashes into the sea. They are buried at sea. Vice Admiral Donald Engan, director of the Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian here in Washington, died when the glider he was piloting crashed in the Nevada desert. His funeral was held in this Cathedral last Friday. Then, later in the week, Vernon Holloman, Jr., a notable Washington businessman and a member of this Chapter of this Cathedral, died suddenly as the result of a heart attack. His attack was held in his parish church yesterday.
As these people are mourned, we pray for their families, and remember all families who mourn the loss of a family member. All of us have experienced the death of a loved one, and we know it is a painful, wrenching loss.
There is nothing like death, the death of people that we know or with whom we feel a bond, to remind us of the fragility and uncertainty of life. So we pray, “God, may we pass through things temporal that we lose not the things eternal.”
Then, on this Sunday, as an amazing gift of grace, we received the appointed lessons, all of which point us to these questions. Am I letting the things of this world obscure what is eternal? Do I really want to experience the eternal? What do I really want in my life?
We can imagine tripping over or discovering that magic bottle, which when we rub, produces the Genie who asks what three wishes we have. What would they be? What would you or I choose? What do we really seek?
Recently, I stopped at a service station and went into convenience store to pay for the gas I’d just pumped. In line I was behind two people who were purchasing lottery tickets. As each person paid five dollars for the tickets, I wondered how else the money might have been used. Could it have been used to feed a child? I speculated. The allure of the lottery, of course, is that you will get the winning ticket, especially if you play often enough, and then you will be rich with all that allegedly promises. Is that what we seek?
While Solomon who had succeeded his father David as king of Israel did not encounter a Genie or play the lottery, he engaged in a common practice of his day. He went to a holy spot at Gibeon, a location known as a place of meeting with the divine. There, in a dream, he encountered God who said, “Ask what I should give you.” Solomon replied, “Give your servant an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil.” We are told in the account that God was pleased that Solomon had not asked for a long life or riches, or the life of his enemies; but instead had asked for understanding what is right.
So it was that God gave this gift to King Solomon, a ruler who epitomized wisdom in action. For Solomon, the gift he sought was understanding to discern good from evil. This made him a wise ruler of his people. And also opened him to a growing relationship with God, the author of all wisdom.
Jesus demonstrates through his words and actions, that it is relationship with God that is to be sought above all other things. Using an imagine of a tiny mustard seed, grown to a great tree, Jesus teaches us that this happens to our faith when we allow God to be our ruler and guide. He tells us that God acts like yeast in the midst of our life, which increases our relationship with God. Connection with God is the ultimate relationship that is the source of life, not only in this present world, but eternally.
The Apostle Paul relinquished all he had in a temporal way for that which is eternal. That is, for his relationship with Jesus as Lord and Savior. As a successful merchant, a learned Jew and Roman citizen, Paul had it made, as we say today. He worked hard to preserve his life style, going as far as persecuting the emerging group called Christians when their claimed what he held dear. It was his meeting with the risen Christ on the Road to Damascus that changed all that. After that encounter, Paul had no doubt that he had met Jesus in the most personal way, in a way that began with each of them calling the other by name. Out of this encounter, a relationship developed and the one known as Saul was renamed Paul. The one known as Jesus of Nazareth was identified as Lord and Savior. And for Paul, everything changed.
His life had been focused on the temporal. Now, he knew the eternal. He had come to a new understanding of greater wisdom. God’s plan for the world, indeed the whole creation, was accessible to him. And little by little, he came to perceive it more fully and more deeply.
The transcendent God was intimately connected with this world. God interacted with it, creating it, loving it, redeeming it, restoring it, transforming it, so that God’s will would be completely done on earth as it is in heaven.
In a statement filled with divine wisdom and human praise, Paul says, “We know that all things work together for good, for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”
Death brings us up short. It makes us wonder what life is truly all about. It makes us evaluate what’s most important. The question looms, How can we go through the temporal, which can be so demanding, so insistent, and not lose the eternal?
The answer is to place our trust in God and in God alone. It is God who endures. It is only in God that we endure. “If God is for us, who is against us?” Paul asks. And then continues, “While I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ, our Lord.”
Let us pray.
God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy, increase and multiply upon us your mercy, that with you as our Ruler and Guide, we may so pass through things temporal that we lose not the things eternal, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.