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Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service.
August 13, 2023
Ecclesiastes 1:1-11, 3:1-17
Let the words of my mouth and the mediation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
When people turn to the Bible for inspiration, the book of Ecclesiastes isn’t usually the first book that comes to mind. In fact, usually when people think of Ecclesiastes, they think of the 1965 song Turn! Turn! Turn! written by Pete Seeger and that became a hit for The Byrds. And maybe also Sunrise, Sunset from Fiddler on the Roof.
It’s estimated that Ecclesiastes was written about 300 years before Christ, and King Solomon – who lived longer ago than that – is traditionally credited as the author which makes the timeline a little fuzzy. But in the book, the author is identified simply as the Teacher. He is someone who has really struggled and been successful, but is still facing the question of, “What does it all mean?” Because it doesn’t seem to mean anything.
He describes everything as vanity – chasing after something that isn’t really there, like mist or vapor. In Hebrew, other translations for the word “vanity” include “mist” and “vapor” and also “pointless.”
The Teacher has tried to live the “good life” – embodying the virtues of honesty, hard work, self-control, and the fear of the Lord – and he’s skeptical about the results. He’s willing to name the times in his life when he’s given his best – and it all worked out, but at this point life is empty.
In chapter 1, the Teacher rants about how people work hard and get nothing. People live and die but the earth is still there. Streams only flow to the sea. Everything that has happened will happen again because there’s nothing new under the sun. In other words, the same struggles we have now are the struggles of our ancestors, and we still haven’t learned our lesson.
And then we skip to chapter 3, where the Teacher reminds us that life keeps going and things keep changing. He wonders why people work so hard for this life when we know eternity in our hearts.
And he knows that the best thing human beings can do is to find joy in their work and life now, because nothing will last forever. Injustice and evil are part of this world and life, but God will judge in the end.
All of what the Teacher writes is true. But he makes it seem like there’s really nothing we can do about the way things are, so we just have to live with it. Not very uplifting, is it?
Many of us have times in our lives when we ask, “What’s the point?” and become discouraged or disillusioned with the world. But as people of faith, we work at not being stuck in that way of thinking. Not least because it goes against who God is. But also because when it’s taken too far, this way of understanding the world does eventually collapse.
So, instead, we recognize the honesty of what the Teacher writes here – naming the reality of the world. And then we seek God and God’s will in the midst of that reality.
Yes, we are still facing the same problems of poverty, injustice, war, famine, melancholy, and struggle in daily life. The problems that have existed throughout history. But when we look at our ancestors of the faith, we see that their encounters with God, their relationship with God in the midst of all these things changed them as people, and through them, the lives of those they met.
And that’s a lesson or a perspective that we can hold onto.
When we turn to God, when we seek God through prayer, study of scripture, remembering our ancestors, through praise and worship, and serving God – we know that our lives are changed. Because in all that happens in daily life, in the comings and goings of the good and the bad and everything in between, God changes us. And through us, the lives of others.
Many of you know that we’re collaborating with Mt Si Lutheran and Sammamish Hills Lutheran to build a tiny home that will become part of a tiny home village. We started last week, and the work continues in the evenings this coming week. Check out our social media pages if you’d like to see the pictures.
On Friday, my sister asked me if the home we’re building has been assigned to a village yet – and it hasn’t been, which we expected. This was before I heard about the article on MSN about the 200 tiny homes currently sitting in a storage lot because there’s a shortage of suitable sites.
When we do things like invest money and time into building a tiny home, we do it for a couple of reasons. First, the tiny home villages have proven to be effective at helping people get into permanent housing. We celebrate that.
The other reason we invest ourselves is because it’s a tangible way for us to be part of that process. Donating time, money, and other resources is critically important. But there’s also value in having something tangible to show for our work. It makes us feel good and like we’ve made a difference. And that changes us.
So, when we invest ourselves like that, and then we hear about a bunch of tiny homes just sitting empty because people are arguing about where to put the villages – or not put them – it can be discouraging.
But that doesn’t mean we stop building. Or turn our backs on the process and the work that’s being done to help people move from being homeless to being housed. We name the reality of the situation, and then we seek God and God’s will in the midst of it.
And this is true for any of the major situations in our world today – the wildfires and flooding happening because of human-caused climate change and global warming; food insecurity and hunger issues; any form of discrimination or prejudice; war and other armed conflicts.
We also do this for the events in our lives – medical diagnoses; unemployment or underemployment; being able to buy a home. Because this isn’t only about the bad stuff.
As people of faith, we name the realities of the situations in our lives and in the world – good and bad. And as we seek God and God’s will in the midst of them, God changes us. And through us, the lives of others.
One tiny home at a time. One tiny home village at a time. One meal kit at a time. One financial donation at a time. One paycheck at a time.
In the moment of any situation – sometimes it can feel like what we’re doing or even life itself is pointless. Like we’re just chasing after vapor. But seeking God and God’s will in those moments, in the reality of whatever situation we’re in, changes us.
We recognize that it doesn’t last forever. We find the means and the courage to keep moving forward. And as we do, God changes us. And through us, God changes the lives of others. And there is nothing pointless about that. Thanks be to God! Amen.