21st Sunday after Pentecost October 14, 2018
12, 292:1-4,9, 366, 283
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:16-17) Amen.
Dear Fellow Christians:
There is a razor thin line between good-persistent and stupid-stubborn. My guess is you’ve all seen examples of each. My guess is also that most, if not all, have wondered at one time or another if you yourself have crossed over from the one to the other. Do-it-yourselfers are especially at risk here. When are we better off just hiring someone to do something that is consuming far too much of our time and driving us nuts? When are we better off buying something already made as opposed to making it ourselves?
While that sort of stupid-stubborn can cause frustration, the problems increase dramatically when the stakes are raised. Early this summer, for example, a 46-year-old Chicago man was canoeing in a local lake with another man, a woman… and a cat. (You know this just isn’t going to end well.) The cat, as cats are wont to do, made the inexplicable decision to jump out of the boat and into the lake. In a panic and unable to get the cat back into the canoe, the man, bound and determined to rescue said cat, decided to jump in after it. In the process he capsized the canoe. A nearby pontoon rescued the other man, the woman, and the cat. The man who jumped in drown.
As tragic and stupid as that sort of thing is, imagine how frustrating it must be for God to see how stupid-stubborn his children are on such a regular basis. How pathetic we must look when we struggle for things that, if we ever did succeed in getting them, would probably do us more harm than good.
Keep that thought mind as you hear or read our text for this morning. Here our God offers us a reminder of just how important it is to analyze our lives from time to time—especially our goals, desires, and aspirations—and to reevaluate the direction our life is taking. Our text is found in Ecclesiastes 5, beginning with the 10th Verse:
He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity.
When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes?
Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep.
There is a grievous evil that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owner to his hurt, and those riches were lost in a bad venture. And he is father of a son, but he has nothing in his hand. As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand. This also is a grievous evil: just as he came, so shall he go, and what gain is there to him who toils for the wind? Moreover, all his days he eats in darkness in much vexation and sickness and anger.
Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God. For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.
So far the very words of our merciful God. Our God has preserved his Word down through the ages so that you and I could be saved. He has also given that Word to us so that we could learn to avoid the pain and suffering that we routinely and foolishly bring upon ourselves by our disobedience. We ask our God to again bless us this morning through our study of his truth as we pray: “Sanctify us by Your truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth!” Amen.
So much of the hurt that we suffer is self-imposed. So many of our wounds are self-inflicted. It’s a wonder that our God doesn’t just give up on us and abandon us to our own foolishness, our own sinful, selfish passions. Wouldn’t it be just exactly what we need if someone who has “been there and done that,” someone who could be trusted, could lay it all out for us and give it to us straight?
Someone has. In fact, someone just did in the text we just read. His name is Solomon and in addition to a couple of Psalms and a love song, he left us with two books of the Bible (Proverbs and Ecclesiastes) that combine to offer timeless, priceless guidance to every Christian of every age.
Solomon had seen it all and done it all. He started in such a great place as the heir to his father David’s throne and as the recipient of the blessing and good favor of God himself. But then Solomon took all of that and, at least for a time, just plain threw it all away.
If you are familiar with Solomon and his life’s story, you are probably already familiar with the summary of his life. He got pretty much every single thing he wanted—knowledge, wealth, popularity, wisdom, power, along with 700 wives and 300 concubines. If you know Solomon’s story, you also are aware that he followed all of those wives into their pagan idolatry and drifted from that good place he had once enjoyed.
But that would be an over-simplified look at the life of Solomon. He wasn’t like some modern-day lottery winner who let fame and fortune ruin him. God used Solomon not just to warn us about the dangers of wine, women, and song, he raised up Solomon and preserved his story in order to teach us something about our own lives—where we are, where want to be, and where we should be. In short, God here gave us a timeless message with universal application.
In his first book, Proverbs, Solomon laid out the path of wisdom. But the book of Proverbs is much more than just a collection of the wise sayings of his day. It was and is the divine blueprint for a full and happy life. Those who listen to the words and actually follow the advice there offered will find themselves on a very pleasant path.
In his second book, Ecclesiastes, the Holy Spirit through Solomon lays out the inevitable result of adopting any other course in life. More than that, he emphasizes the utter futility and emptiness of any existence that lacks the necessary relationship with our Savior-God. Do you remember the account of the Rich Young Man? That is the perfect example of how hollow and empty even an outwardly exemplary life can be without a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Why is this so critical? Why so universally important? Because by nature every single human being has dreams and aspirations, and those dreams and aspirations almost always revolve around, or focus on, something which holds the potential for tremendous spiritual harm.
That means that for a Christian who is on the right path, the Book of Ecclesiastes—including also our text for this morning—is primarily a book of comfort. Who here this morning hasn’t experienced feelings of “missing out” somehow? Who hasn’t dreamed, at one time or another, of bigger and better? Who hasn’t looked longingly at that which seems always to be just beyond your reach? Have you ever contemplated, for example, what it would be like to have a couple million adoring fans? Have you seen folks with unlimited financial resources and wondered what it would be like to never have to worry about money, or what it would feel like to be able to buy absolutely anything that your heart desired? Have you ever wished you had enough money to be able to shower your family and friends with whatever their hearts desired and to experience the joy and satisfaction something like that would bring?
Solomon lived just such a life, and in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes he tells all of us (who haven’t) just exactly what it is like. By the time he wrote Ecclesiastes Solomon is believed to have been an old man, having traveled from the horizon of his birth to the horizon of his old age, and he wanted to share something with each of us about that journey. He wants to leave you—you who could well spend a lifetime frustrating yourself by trying to gain that which he had been given—he wants to leave you with the sort of advice that only someone who has been there can really offer.
His timeless advice? “Don’t bother.” Really, don’t bother. All of that stuff is vanity. All of it is pointless, useless, hollow. It’s all a grand deception—a vapor without substance. It’s the carrot and stick that Satan uses to drive us where he wants us to go. Solomon begins our text with this simple summary: “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity.”
The root problem is that mankind naturally feels a void of sorts, an emptiness that he cannot quite understand or explain and a longing for something more, never quite sure of what that something is. Yet since we want that void filled, we grasp for all those things that seem like they might somehow satisfy that intangible longing. All of this is the inevitable result of mankind’s fall into sin. Sinful man knows instinctively that something is wrong, that something is missing. What escapes non-Christians is the realization that the problem is our broken relationship with our God, and a need that can only be filled by a Savior.
The cruel irony here is that while that longing is never really satisfied by stuff, it seems at times like we are almost there—or that we are getting there. Power, prestige, wealth, popularity, pleasure—all seem only to almost satisfy because those things give us a temporary thrill or a momentary respite from the longing. They are like drugs that make you yearn for just a bit more, which will then certainly be enough. Only it never is.
Solomon here gives us the absolute, rock-solid, bottom line: those things never get you where you want to go; they never fulfill or satisfy the longing. In fact, he gives an example in our text of something I suspect many of you have experienced. “When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes?” Has this ever happened to you? It has to me. You just get to the point where you think you are starting to get ahead of the game and something comes along to wipe it all out. The bonus you got at work is consumed by unexpected car repairs. The extra money from that second job gets poured into unanticipated medical bills. The raise at work just barely covers rising expenses for food and gas. That inheritance you had anticipated for so long was somehow only enough to preserve what you already had.
The profound message Solomon wants to convey to us is belied by its very simplicity: “Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot.” The world stands with mouths agape at such a message. It’s certainly neither what they wanted nor expected when seeking the secret of life. They want to believe in “happily ever after”—as though “getting there” or “making it” is actually achievable, and that, once there, “happily ever after” is possible. The path they choose never gets them there. The path that the Holy Spirit through Solomon lays out in our text, on the other hand, is a sure thing. Every single time.
The fact is you and I can only live quietly contented in this life because of the forgiveness that is ours through faith in Jesus Christ. Our greatest joy is therefore not our own obedience, but the perfect obedience of our Savior, which is now credited to our account. Our sins won’t be forgiven some day; they are forgiven right now. Solomon summed up his lifetime of experience in the final chapter of Ecclesiastes: “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” The best news of all is that we now struggle to live obedient lives not in fear of punishment but in the joy of forgiveness. We are God’s beloved children—heirs of eternal life. All has been done for us, and given to us, by our Savior Jesus. Life then on this earth is about thanking our God with the time that he gives us. Nothing in this life could ever be worth risking the eternity that Jesus Christ has earned for us when he paid the sin-debt we had accumulated.
This simple gospel message reminds us, moment by moment, that the only way we can possibly “miss out” during our time of grace on earth is if we wander—if we sacrifice the perfect thing we have been given by Jesus Christ for the myth of something better. Having been brought to faith, the only possible failure is to reject or discard the priceless gift of forgiveness that is ours through faith in Jesus Christ. From the perspective of heaven, we will never regret not earning more, or lost fame, or the fact that we were never important or famous in the eyes of the world. We will there only regret the opportunities for humble, faithful service that we missed, the contentment we forfeited, and the frustrations we brought upon ourselves.
May God the Holy Spirit keep us grounded and focused. We are saved by grace through faith. We are not “settling” for something less. We have been given the very best life has to offer through Jesus Christ. Do not allow anyone to convince you otherwise. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.