Proper 13C’22
31 July 2022
Eccl 1.2,12-14;2.18-23
Col. 3.1-11; Luke 12.13-21
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
North Little Rock, Arkansas

I am the resurrection and the life, says the Lord; they that believe in me, though they were dead, yet shall they live; and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

                -from The Burial of the Dead, The Book of Common Prayer p. 469 (revised)

I’d like to begin my sermon with a riddle and then attempt to unpack it’s meaning. First, some background of the riddle. The riddle is carved in Greek onto the arch at the entrance of St. Paul’s monastery, high atop Mount Athos in southern Greece, where there has been a monastery since the year 1054. The English translation is as follows:   

“If you die, before you die, then when you die, you won’t die.”               

What can we make of this? Is it the secret of the Holy Grail, the fountain of youth? Or, could it be the secret to the Christian life?

Upon reflection it appears that the key the riddle presents is “to die – before we die” So there are two deaths, the first being a phenomenon that somehow happens to us while we are still alive on the earth, and the second happening to us at the end of our earthly lives when we physically die. “If we die before we die, then when we die, we won’t die.”

The writer of the letter to the Colossians makes a very good stab at describing the first death by the metaphor of a change of clothes:

“You have stripped off the old self with its practices (and the writer names a few of them to get our attention: anger, (uh yeah) wrath, malice, slander (um huh, and abusive language, lying (yep, got it), etc.) and you have clothed yourselves with the new self which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.”

The Message translation makes it even clearer:

“You’re done with that old life. It’s like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you’ve stripped off and put in the fire. Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it.”

From Old self – to New self – Turning from the Old Life to the New Life.

As an aid to better understanding I’d like to add one more description: The False Self – and the True Self. These terms were coined by Fr. Thomas Keating in his book Open Mind, Open Heart. Fr. Keating defined the False Self as:

 “The self-developed in our own likeness rather than the likeness of God, and thus the distortion of the image of God in which we are created. It seeks happiness in gratifying the instinctual needs of security/survival, affection/esteem, and power/control, and bases its self-worth and identity on cultural and group identification.” (P.187)

This is the part of ourselves that says “It really is ALL about ME, my security, my adulation, my maintaining the power and control. I’m going to get all I can, can all I get, and then sit on the can.” God help us, God help our families, and God help our neighbors if our false self is in the driver’s seat of our lives. This gives us tunnel vision, and brings this apostolic admonition:

“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.”


“For you have died “– there it is = the first death mentioned in the riddle, “If you die before you die… It is this death to the Old Self, the Old Life of the False Self that opens the door to the New Life of the True Self.

Fr. Keating described the True Self as:

“The image of God in which every human being is created; and is our participation in the divine life manifested in our uniqueness,” (p.190)

The Stories of our faith are filled with Men, Women, and Children who reveal what this death to the false self looks like: There’s Abraham and Sarah at the very beginning of the faith journey being told to set out and weren’t told where they were going. There’s David though small compared to Goliath found that a rock was all it took to take down a giant. There was Mary who embraced the shame and scandal of being an unwed pregnant mother but was the mother of God. Saul who was blinded by the light, got his life ambushed by God, and got a new name – Paul, and in the voice of the New Self said, “I die daily. Jesus in the wilderness of temptation was enabled to say no to the offers to take a shortcut to satisfy his false self, till finally in the garden of Gethsemane where he utters those words “Father, not my will but thy will be done.” At each of these times, and places they were each invited in their unique personalities and circumstances, to choose a death so that they could live in God’s new life. These are the heroes and heroines, the saints that point us toward the death to the false self and opening the path to the new life of the True Self.

Some questions for us to consider:

How can I become more present in those every day, ordinary moments, and difficulties, and to see them as invitations to a new life?

Where is the place or places where I am being called to die to the false self so that my true self can live?   


“If you die before you die, then when you die, you won’t die.” Amen.

[1] Colossians 3.2