Monday, August 2, 2010

Tenth sunday after Pentecost

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
Ecclesiastes 1 and 2
Bror Erickson

[2] Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity. Eccles. 1:2 (ESV)

[12] I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. [13] And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. [14] I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind. Eccles. 1:12-14 (ESV)

[18] I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, [19] and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. [20] So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, [21] because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. [22] What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? [23] For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity.
[24] There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is h from the hand of God, [25] for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? [26] For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind. Eccles. 2:18-26 (ESV)

“There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also I say is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?”

Many years ago I was told I had too much life in me to become a pastor. An older lady I had been working with told me that, when my days in Italy were coming to an end. She was rather shocked to hear that I even planned on becoming a pastor, and thought I must be doing so because I felt guilty for enjoying life or something. Of course her idea of Christianity was that taught to her with a Roman Catholic upbringing, where religion tends to be about penance for doing wrong. Though I have to say I have run into not a few Lutherans with the same concept. “Too much life.” I don’t think that woman could even understand that that life, the joy of life, actually comes from believing in God, in contemplating the great sacrifice Christ made on the cross to redeem my life. And that it was because I wanted to share that joy, joy that comes from understanding justification by faith alone, that I decided I wanted to become a pastor. That because for two years I had seen the exact opposite being taught by liberals and fundamentalists alike, who did there best to suck that life out of me with vapid teaching emphasizing law.
“There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also I say is from the hand of God.”
I first read that as a teenager. It has stuck with me ever since. Ecclesiastes has become one of my favorite books. I read through the Bible once a year or so. But Ecclesiastes, that one I end up reading several times a year. I’ve just found it to be such a practical book for life. Maybe not everyone contemplates the meaning of life. Perhaps not everyone is given to melencholy and introspection the way that I am. Or at least have been in the past. Funny though that this book, Ecclesiastes, has always managed to pull me out. So many find it depressing.
It begins by affirming our worst fears about life. It is vanity. There is no real meaning to it. There really is nothing more to it. Perhaps that is the problem everyone has with the book. In the face of death they want life to have some purpose. They want there to be some reason for the suffering that we endure in this life. Perhaps preparing us for life to come or something. Perhaps it is a test to see if we deserve heaven or not.
In the face of death. We all face it. And of course that is what Ecclesiastes is about, living in the face of death. And there is no rhyme or reason. There is life and there is death, and death sucks all meaning and value out of life. Because of death, life is vanity. Death makes life, just a little bit hard to enjoy at times. It is death that makes us ask the questions about the purpose of life. In the face of death. It is death that takes all for which we worked and gives it over to another who did not work.
And we are tempted to blame God for this, for death. And then our life is even more meaningless. Death drives one to despair, and other great shames and vice. For many this is a false religion of works righteousness. That is their vice, the belief that they have to work for heaven. Others are driven the other way, not to the enjoyment of life, but to the abuse of life outlined for us in the Epistle reading, the earthly things of life that need to be put to death in us. Things like sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness.
And that is the other strange twist in life. So often when you talk about enjoying life it is these things people think you are talking about. But these things are not about enjoying life. Far from it. Those sorts of things suck the joy out of life just as quickly as they send you to the grave. That isn’t enjoyment but abuse. Abuse we have all been guilty of one way or another. Abuse we have all felt guilty about in life. Or perhaps should feel guilty about. We don’t always do the best job of putting these things to death. These are the types of sin that eat at life, that ultimately make life not so enjoyable. But they are also sins for which Christ died. In Christ crucified they are forgiven, taken away and replaced with life, life that can only truly be enjoyed in him.
See that is the thing that you come to realize when you contemplate the cross and resurrection. You realize that Jesus knew this life we live. Jesus knows this world in which we live. He knew how death robs life of meaning and enjoyment. He knew the temptation and despair in which the world lives when it does not have his forgiveness. So he came and died that we might live. That is he forgives. He forgives so that life once again can be the enjoyable gift that he meant it to be when he created us in the first place, when he created the world.
Yes, life was meant to be an enjoyable gift. And Jesus knew that the only way for it ever to be enjoyable again is that he forgive it and forgiving it restore it to what it should be. So that you and I could once again could eat, and drink and find enjoyment in our toil. That is that we could enjoy life in the manner in which God meant for us to enjoy it originally. He gives us our food. He gives us our drink. He gives us our labor. All which are meant to be enjoyed in life.
And so it is through eating and drinking that he gives us his life in the forgiveness of sins. The bread that is his body given into death, the wine that is his blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. And being forgiven our sins, our toil our labor our work in life becomes a sacrifice a pleasing aroma to God and a joy. Because every thing we do we do to the glory of God, and there is great joy in that. Great joy in serving God who forgives our sins, who gives us life itself, a gift to be enjoyed.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord Amen.

1 comment:

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