Is there meaning?
Ecclesiastes 1:1, 12-14; 2:18-26
My text for today is Ecclesiastes chapter 1 and 2. King Solomon wrote it, and it is a very depressing book. As we read it, we wish we had our handy dandy TV remotes available so we might find a better channel. This is the kind of stuff that we don’t want to hear. We want to hear happy stuff, amusing stuff, and exciting stuff; anything to take our minds away from what Solomon here talks about. We already know what he’s going to tell us and we’ve spent our lives avoiding the thought of it. It’s the thought that maybe life “under the sun” on this earth, doesn’t really matter
Now before you change the channel on me, I want you to know that what I’m going to say today ends well. But we need to hear Solomon out. For remember on that day he became king as a very young man, God was so pleased with his request for a discerning and wise heart, God told him that he would be renowned and remembered for his wisdom. So even though we might be tempted to reacted badly to his proclamation, we should still give ear. For these are the words of a God-certified wise man….and of course it is scripture.
And Solomon’s favorite word to describe the doings of men under the sun: “vanity.” When we speak of vanity we are usually talking about someone who is excessively concerned about how things look and are continually preening themselves. Indeed that’s part of it, but “Vanity” as Solomon here uses it is more akin to “emptiness” “Vaporousness” “Vacuousness” “meaninglessness.” That’s his conclusion about the things that men do on earth. Here’s his own words in the text: “It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 14I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.” See what I mean? Solomon was not a cheery man when he wrote this.
So how did he come to this point? Well, solomon made his life an experiment to discover life’s meaning. First he sought to find meaning through wisdom, Not only was he given wisdom by God, but he developed it and pursued it and became strong in wisdom. (Ecc.1:16-18) But this he called a vanity and striving after the wind. Yeah, he had become very smart, but that just meant he was able to see the full extent of the problem as well as to realize that he wasn’t smart enough to fix it! This was a great vexation to him.
Next he sought out meaning in pleasures, then labor, then wealth, and on each account he concluded that these too are vanity and a chasing after the wind. He despaired of everything that a person could try in this life and ultimately called it empty. And many of us take the same path. We try everything as we search for meaning. Ultimately we realize that everything is transitory and vaporous. The things we establish will ultimately end up in the hands of those who do not care for what we’ve done. The things we’ve acquired will go into the hands of those who have earned it. And what good things we’ve been able to do will ultimately be forgotten soon after we die.
Even the best things, the love that we’ve worked to forge will also come to an end because we ourselves come to and end as we go the way of all flesh. This is the reality we try to avoid noticing. We live out our lives, for the most part in denial of our own death. We are surprised when it’s our turn to go. Yet it is the way things go for us who live under the Sun. Thank you Solomon for leading us to such an abyss!
But notice how careful the wise man was with his words: he is speaking only about that region of reality that is “under the sun”….. namely the earth. He’s referring to curse that is upon the ground and also about man himself as a result of sin. And he does this with the full understanding that there is one who is above and beyond the Sun… namely God. In the next he says “Apart from him, who can eat or have enjoyment?” And “To the who pleases him, God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy.”
Do you remember king Nebuchadnezzar: Completely focused on his own little world under the sun. full of self-satisfaction and bragging about all the great things he did? Do you remember How right then and there became like a beast? He lived in the wild, crawled around on all fours, his finger nails growing out like talons, eating grass for food? Do you remember how it wasn’t until he stopped and looked up to heaven and acknowledged God that his senses returned to him? This is what must happen to each of us if ever we are to get out of the inevitable funk that comes over us if we pay any attention to how the world really is. We must look up and see that there is more than this life and this world.
Today’s reading from Colossians says is quite wonderfully. “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is…. Set your minds on things that are above.” (Col. 3:1-2) . He is not saying that we are to walk around the earth with our head in the clouds ignoring our responsibilities and lives and duties and friendships, nor is calling us to be sanctimonious monks who retreat and ignore the world, but he is saying live your life being fully cognizant of what you have up there: All the promises, All the eternity, and all the love. God himself we have!
You mean something to him. Your life means something to him. He shows that by the way he was willing to send his own son to join us to this broken world under the sun and suffer on our behalf so that we might be forgiven and restored to God, so that a new and living way into the eternity of God…. through the curtain which is his flesh. God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish…..” (John 3:16)
You mean something to God. Your life means something to God. But not only that, The things you’ve done while in the faith also mean something. Do you remember that scene of the last day that Jesus speaks of In Matthew? He says to the people on his right: “Welcome blessed ones. When I was hungry you gave me food; when I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink; I was stranger and you welcomed me…..” (Matt. 25) And the people are shocked? What? When? “Whatever you’ve done to the least of these you’ve done to me.” He points out that when they lived out their live in obedience and love that their deeds were remembered.
You see, when you are in Christ, your sins are forgiven. This forgiveness in which you now live so purifies the things you do during life that they have lasting significance and will be recalled and remembered forever, even though you didn’t do them perfectly. So the vanity, the futility, the emptiness that Solomon describes defeated. The life you now live in Christ has meaning. What love you have been able to offer to others, what duties you have been asked to carry out…. and the things you’ve been asked to endure in the faith will not be forgotten. They have meaning
So What have we learned Solomon? Do not live as if the things of earth is all there is. Do not put your hopes in them or life becomes a quest for nothingness. Put your hopes rather in the God who is above it all, set your hearts there. Live on the promises of Christ and you will find meaning both now and forevermore. AMEN