October 21, 2018 The Meaning of Life Ecclesiastes 5:10-20
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
*Is the meaning of life in earthly treasures that are seen OR is the meaning of life in treasures that are not seen? We know which one we’re supposed to say is true. But, if someone looked closely at the level of anxiety that we have in our life they could tell which one is actually true in our life.
Today’s OT reading is from the book of Ecclesiastes, a word that could be translated as ‘the preacher.’ It’s thought that wise king Solomon is ‘the preacher’; and near the end of his life, he dispenses his God-given wisdom, now honed & sharpened with life-experience.
This part of chapt.5 is chosen to relate to the gospel lesson from Mark 10, where Jesus relates thru Mark the same thing He spoke thru Solomon about 900 years earlier: the love of money is a real problem to human beings, making it difficult to enter the kingdom of God!
Many people relate their financial well-being as the sign of God’s favor; /money & job, /house & possessions, /food & clothing & cars & vacations, /& toys & technology == if you have all those things you are blessed & loved by God, and so you love God back. BUT, if you don’t have them, or you lose them, God must be frowning at you, punishing you, and you have a reason to be mad at God. How common it is to think like that = and how foolish & wrong. Solomon pleads with us not to make that mistake.
One of our Ft.Wayne seminary professors noticed this story in his local paper some years back: Jack was a man who lived a life of great material success. He had served valiantly in WW II and, like many of that generation, returned home to his wife & children, and became a business-owner in his medium-sized town.
Jack came to believe that life was a game called ‘Whoever dies with the most toys wins.’ For him, the evidence of his value was that he drove the best & biggest car in town. If he saw someone who had a bigger or nicer car, he would head to the dealership and get a newer & better one. His game-of-life ended rather sadly. One day, he left the ignition on while opening the trunk and, in a freak accident, the car slipped from park to reverse &ended his life. The prized possession that characterized his life took his life away. Thru Solomon, the Lord says that if the meaning of life is found in any of our possessions, then we’re in trouble.
God created humans to have meaning in our life; but, sin has confused our view of what it is. So, we’re all on a search to find meaning. The most obvious possible meaning is from what we SEE. And the things of this world can be quite alluring as the proof that our lives have meaning. At first, we might not agree when Ecclesiastes condemns all our efforts as being ‘vanity’ =OR meaningless, /perishable, /worthless & ineffective. What wise Solomon says is that all our stuff is good & fine, but it’s utterly meaningless IF God is excluded. When God is present & first, THEN, in place of a pointless existence, God enables us to know the Meaning of Life.
Let’s compare & contrast those two original possibilities: *In what is the meaning of life? 1) Is meaning in earthly treasures that are seen OR 2) is meaning in treasures that are not seen?
Most people know that you can’t really count on possessions to give meaning to life because they come & go, they wear out or go out-of-date. And yet, we look to our possessions to give us PEACE; and ‘peace’ in life is meaningful. Most of us (if not all) don’t want a life of conflict, but a life that is peaceful & serene. We want to be at peace with ourselves and with others.
Our culture, with freedom & capitalism, holds up material success as the key to peace = if you have enough of the things of this world, you can insulate yourself from much conflict. It’s a good theory; but, in practice, it doesn’t always work. Having money & stuff often increases conflict with others, not peace.
Eccl.5 told us this truth: “When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but (only) to see them with his eyes?” This is true; when you have things that others don’t, others will come to you & expect you to share. ‘when your goods increase, others will flock to consume them.’ An elderly woman, Elizabeth, once won the lottery, and went from a modest income to being a millionaire. She commented on how many long-lost relatives she had rediscovered since winning the money. So many relatives that she moved and shut off her phone service to finally have some external peace.
Neither can money buy internal peace. Eccl. warns us, “The full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep.” When earthly possessions are the most important part of a person’s life, keeping those things safe is a big & constant worry; makes a person restless, with sleepless nights.
We want our stuff to make us happy & comfortable; but all the riches of this world cannot buy peace. So… they are ‘meaningless,’ says Ecclesiastes.
*Can our money & possessions help us find meaning in a ‘legacy’? That’s kind of like ‘fame’. Most of us don’t care if we’re ‘famous’ to the world; but, many people want to be ‘remembered.’ They want their ‘name’ to live on with the /book they write, / the business they start, /the record they set, /the building that bears their name, /the youtube video that goes ‘viral’, /or their facebook page that’s around long after they’re gone. But *is meaning in life achieved by our search for a legacy?
The trouble with these things is that nothing lasts. How quickly /buildings are out-of-date, or damaged by weather or fire & torn down; /new records are set; /computers crash or get hacked; /pictures fade; /businesses go out-of-business, /hot investments grow cold, /& the politicians tax your estate == so it doesn’t last long, // or the good name you’ve spent years building up is town down by mere allegations of misconduct.
Legacy is also ‘vanity’ says Eccl.; it doesn’t hold a lasting meaning. Even in 900 BC, Solomon says that he has seen where “riches were lost in a bad venture. And he is father of a son, but he has nothing in his hand.” So, a man works hard, investments go bad & has nothing to pass on to his family. In Europe, there are descendants of kings/queens who today might have some title of ‘duke’ or ‘earl’, but the family fortunes, property, castles & servants have been gone for many years.
So, neither money, possessions, nor fame can be life’s meaning; they’re not certain,
they don’t last, and a person can’t take it with them. As the old saying goes: there are no trailer hitches on a hearse. Eccl. puts it, “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.”
So, *what’s the deal here? *Is it a cruel trick that we spend so much time & effort living in this world with things, laboring after money & possessions, with jobs & goals, needing material things just to live, and then we can’t take it with, we can’t impress God with it, and we won’t be remembered long because of it….is much of our life a hoax? Like a joke God is playing with us?
Well, it might be compared to a hoax or a trick, but we can’t blame God for it. All these earthly things in life were never meant to be our ‘ultimate meaning’ or purpose for life.
It’s not God who’s playing a trick, but sin. It’s Satan’s deception and our own sinful perspective. That’s what’s at the root of all this ‘meaninglessness’ of earthly possessions. Vs.10 says it well: “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity.”
The key word here is ‘love.’ It is translated as that ‘agape’ love; not affection or emotion, but a loyalty & serving love, a loving-devotion. This is the love God has for poor sinners; it is the love we have toward God with child-like faith & trust in all things. If our God-devotion is put in our earthly possessions or money, we’re in trouble; we’ll never, ever have real meaning in life. This is the greatest danger of our sin.
This vs.10-truth is restated in 1Tim.6, and is one of the most misquoted verses of the Bible; people often say, “money is the root of all evil.” Not true! ‘the love of money’ is the root of all evil. Money & possessions are completely neutral; but you & I are not neutral.
That’s the truth; and that’s the trouble. Whatever a person trusts in, and loves so much that it becomes the most important thing in his or her life that has become that person’s god & meaning for living. Our Small Catechism says in the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods.” *What does this mean? “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”
There is the heart of the problem in a search for the meaning of life; it has been since Genesis 3 when both Adam & Eve took their eyes off God, and looked at & desired that fruit, which God said ‘don’t touch.’ Now, we ALL say with our mouth that The Lord is our God; *do we believe that in our heart? *Do we practice that in our lives? Who or what is your god? The answer will determine whether your life has meaning or not.
In the beginning, I asked if meaning in life came from earthly treasures that are seen or treasures that are not seen. We ‘ve talked about the first one; now let’s think about the second. *Is meaning found in treasures that are not seen?
True peace IS meaningful in life. And if money/possessions don’t bring peace, but bring worry & conflict, then *what does bring peace? The answer begins at vs.18: “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.”
Possessions are neutral; God is not. He is good & the source of good. That we have life from God is good & meaningful in itself. That we have toil & labor & things to do is good == but not as good as God. That we have possessions & money enough to pay our bills is good == but not as good as God. We came naked from the womb, and we will leave the same way. The only thing that matters is whether we still belong to God, that He is the Lord of our life, and that His mercy, His love, & His forgiveness is what we value above all other things.
When we confess, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth,” we are confessing that all of God’s creation is good. The things we have & use in this life, therefore, are his good gifts to us; and all of them are to be enjoyed by us in their proper use; but these things don’t define us or control us.
The peace we have in this life is the peace of knowing that God is at peace with us;
He has nothing against us, & He only cares for us. His love is His greatest gift. And this gift has a Name; He had an earthly face; He made himself known by a human body & historic life. Jesus, the Son of God & prince of peace, spoke peace to us when He said: ‘peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you == not as the world gives.’ Earthly silver or gold would never be valuable enough to buy this peace. It is only attained thru something priceless ~ the holy life & blood of Jesus. So, only God’s eternal things are meaningful to our eternal souls.
Just as we can see earthly things crumble & disappear, so we know our earthly life cannot have true peace by being tied to earthly things that perish. Therefore, God himself has come to us to bind us to his own eternal self. In fact, he has bound our lives up with the life of his own Son.
By Water, Word, & Spirit, you were joined to the Son of God; that’s the biblical language of your Holy Baptism. You were washed in the life of Jesus. His earthly life was not one of earthly riches, why should it be (?) = he came to be one of us. He never amassed wealth or possessions, not houses or cattle, fields or businesses. His only real possession was that seamless tunic he wore; but even that was taken from Him by the soldiers who crucified him. Yet, His earthly life was filled with purpose: the of sacrificial giving of himself to the poor, the needy, the hurting, the afflicted; the sinner.
Normally, one life cannot substitute for another’s; we are each accountable for ourselves. But because Jesus was perfect he was sent to be our substitute. This also happened when God’s Spirit washed & regenerated you. Thru Baptism, your unrighteousness was replaced with Christ & his own righteousness.
It was the shedding of His innocent blood that sets us free from the world & its condemnation. This whole universe will not last, it will have its end; it all ends in death. There cannot be any lasting meaning in it. Instead, true meaning is demonstrated in the One whose lifeless body was placed in a borrowed tomb, BUT He forced it to release Him. That shows His purpose & power; and He’s the One you are baptized into. Your baptism gives you meaning in this life.
The One who rose over death & the grave is ruling even now as this earth’s ascended Lord & God. His own Word & Spirit sustains us in our daily living, as we wait for our turn to go & be with Him in His Father’s home. *How can any earthly thing = dollars or possessions = ever compare to the meaning we receive by being a child of God by grace & thru faith in Christ Jesus?
So, *did wise Solomon answer the question for us? *Did we hear the truth that the Holy Spirit has caused to be written down & preserved for us so that every day we can answer that question, and not get sidetracked with what our earthly eyes see & tempt us to value? What is the meaning of life?
Meaning is found only in that which brings peace & supports eternity. It is to know God as your heavenly Father who embraces you thru the love of His Son & His cross, and is brought to us by the Spirit in Word & Sacrament == in His eternal churchly things.
Our search for meaning ended when God searched for us & found us thru the Water & the Word. This is life’s meaning for ‘all nations’, all peoples; men, women & children.
Loving money & possessions can’t do it; it’s not enough. But, God loving us is more than enough.
This wisdom of Solomon is wisdom for our soul. What is good & satisfying is: /to find enjoyment in your toil & few days which God has given you; /to accept whatever gifts God gives; /to use His blessings for yourself & for your neighbor; /& to look forward to His unseen eternal things. And ‘God will keep you occupied with joy in your heart.’ Amen