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May 27, 2018, 12:00 AM

The Meaning of Life


This morning we read from Ecclesiastes. This is a most interesting book to me. It sort of reads like the writings of the Buddha. You have an extremely wealth prince who goes out to seek the meaning of life. In the process the prince tries many different options. He tries doing whatever comes to mind, hedonism or the belief that what feels good is the highest good, he tries learning, he tries gluttony or consuming to excess, he tries all sorts and manners of ways to give meaning to life. And from all of that we get this chapter we read today as a conclusion.

Before we get into the reading though I want to commend the reading of this whole book to especially; For those of us living in a materialist culture that often tells us to live via hedonism or maybe simply that we must need more than whatever it is we already have, For a people living in this society and who need a way to answer no to the Memorial Day sales that promise you will save tons of money by getting 65% off something you would not have otherwise purchased, For those of us trying to live modestly in a society that says if you only manage to curate the correct set of things and situations, For us we have a book by someone who sought the meaning of life through the ways of this world, which therefore has some pretty direct correlations.

We did not read it today but one of those moments where this book shares an insight in short form it reads, “There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their work.” What a novel concept to our society, which is always trying to find ways to work less and in which often are heard complaints about the work we need to do. In this book we learn that much of life is about eating and drinking and working and so we should try to find enjoyment in these things, which consume much of our time. It goes on to say, “This also, I saw, is from the hand of God; for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases God is given wisdom and knowledge and joy; but to the sinner is given the work of gathering and heaping, only to give to one who pleases God.” Ecc 2:24-26 and so we learn what we already know in our hearts that those who can be satisfied with the things they have gotten often get more without much work and those who constantly only seek more, find it given to others. And yet often the world around us would mimic the words Madonna wrote for the song More in Dick Tracy where after listing all of the things she had accumulated she sings, “More is better than nothing, true - But nothing's better than more, more, more.”

I will note that in other more serious place Madonna has written about the frivolity of believing that if you have all the correct things that you will be happy. But let us return to the text we started with this morning, the final chapter of Ecclesiastes. This book closes in an interesting way. It has four epilogues. The first is in chapter 8 and contains the refrain found throughout the book, “Vanity of Vanities, all is Vanity.” Vanity is an old translation of the Hebrew word Hebel, which translates today better maybe as breath or vapor and thus refers to the fleeting and perishable nature of the things of life and life itself. So this epilogue which is the repetition of a refrain throughout the text points to the fleeting and perishable nature of all that this life presents us and all the things we strive hard to get and achieve. It sort of mirrors where Jesus talks about the one who works hard and saves only to die and see it all given to the fool. And thus I think, “Vanity of Vanities, all is vanity” works in the sense that vanity is something ephemeral and not permanent and then it is in that context that we look at the earlier suggestion that we should find enjoyment in the things we eat and drink and in the work we do, because that is real, what we have today in front of us is all that is assured and so find the joy in it.

The two epilogues found in chapters 9-12 simply describe the book that you have just read, while mirroring the vanity question as it questions the value of seeing all that you say or think written down when that too can go away. But then we get this final epilogue and it is the beginning of the series we are going to follow over the next few weeks.

Our text today closes with the following words, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.” Ecc 12:13-14 From this we get the thought that all things are seen by God. There is nothing hidden from God and all things will be judged by God. We as Christians bear an advantage, in that all of the things we have done, which are counter to the will of God, are as we say, “Covered by the blood of the lamb.” This is a nice neat way of saying that we serve under this notion of Grace, Grace being the receipt of something we did not deserve, and in this case what we received even without deserving it or doing all the right things is the forgiveness of those things we have done which are sins. So we get to  read this text in light of our Christian faith but we also have to read all of the parts from people like Luther and Bonhoeffer that suggest strongly that the correct response to having received this Grace is to want to and attempt to do things the way God would have and want them to be. In other words our grateful response to the gift of Grace is to lead a life in keeping with God's will and way and we have a glimpse of that today.

The teacher is suggesting to us that all of what we have done will be accounted for on that day of judgment, even those things we thought no one else would no about. This is true we find out for the bad things we did, which will come to light and for the good things we have done in secret, those to shall be brought to the light and counted in the balances. In some ways the author is suggesting that we not bother to be secretive about all that we do. So what would the author have us to do, “Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone.” And we are going to be talking about what it means to fear God and keep the commandments over the next few weeks. We are going to spend time covering the ten commandments, one of the very few parts of the Old Testament that Jesus did not change but commended to us in their whole. Yes we are going to spend time talking about what it means to keep the commandments and in so doing also talk about what it means to fear God.

So let us wrap up this morning with the following. The best we have in life is to find some enjoyment in the things we eat and drink and in the work we do because everything is like vapor in that it is ultimately perishable and passing, no matter how much we accumulate and plan for the future it can all go away tomorrow. So go forth from here this morning keeping the commandments and enjoying this very day, the day that the Lord has made.


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