21st Sunday after Pentecost “The Path to Prosperity”
October 17, 2021 Ecclesiastes 5:10-20
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
If I would hold up my fingers like THIS (hand spread in a ‘v’ shape), would you happen to know what is the SAYING that goes along with it? (ans: ‘live long & prosper’) That hand gesture is a pretty well-known ‘Vulcan greeting’ from the Star Trek TV show & movies. It’s a nice greeting, & a little more than ‘have a nice day.’ Who wouldn’t want to ‘live a long time and succeed in life?’ Sounds pretty good! But, what is a ‘long time’ and what is ‘prosperity’? Before Jesus spoke truth to the disciples in Mark 10, the Spirit of God spoke truth thru Solomon in Ecc.5. Both of these Scriptures teach the same godly truth about real prosperity. So, *what does the ‘good life’ look like?
This question consumes King Solomon’s attention toward the end of his life. In Ecclesiastes we have the observations of a man who was given access to almost unlimited /wisdom, /wealth, /enjoyments, /& power. And he used it all to see if he could achieve the good life = to ‘live long & prosper.’ *Is one wife part of the good life? Of course; so Solomon had 700 wives, along with 300 personal female servants. With them, King Solomon also gained influential international connections for his kingdom. Kings & queens brought him gifts, seeking his knowledge, and wanting to make business deals == so he amassed staggering amounts of money. He built houses & cities; he bought horses & chariots; he imported exotic animals, and goods from far-off countries.
He truly ‘had it all’; and yet as he comes to the end of his life =as everyone of us must=
this wise//wealthy//world-renowned man writes with some sadness & despair. In his opening words
he says, “Vanity of vanities . . . all is vanity.” All this earthly stuff is meaningless in the end; it’s a chasing after the wind. I’ve wondered if Solomon seems sad because he’s disappointed in himself
for foolishly trying to ‘chase after the wind’, or if he’s sad because he knows that too many of us
will try the same thing, and not listen to God’s wise word about the good life.
This pursuit of prosperity in wealth & possessions is so common, we -Americans- might think there’s no other definition of having ‘a good life’ than having ‘alotta nice stuff.’ So, to pursue that goal, people will gamble away the rent money in a casino, or in buy lottery tickets for $1or $2 at a time.
Each year Americans spend several billion dollars playing a game hoping to ‘hit it big.’ Vanity!
So, millions of people waste resources that God has given them to manage wisely; and the tiny percentage of those who do win something, find that the trouble from extra taxes, and begging family & friends, does not make a happy life.
Every financial advisor advises against running up too much debt as a way to have a happy life with nice & new things. People often don’t consider the unintentional -or hidden costs- of maintaining all the things they have. *I wonder if Solomon considered the maintenance costs associated with 700 wives?
The fact that we can hold our ‘ABC’ rummage sale every year, and -each yr- fill up our property and then sell the majority of it, might say something about how much extra stuff we have around. *Why is that? *Do we think that having many things means being prosperous? For some reason, having stuff makes us happy. We all need things to live; so we logically think that having more things means /more ‘living’, /more security, /more choices & recreation & happiness. …partly true.
Well, the man to whom God gave the most wisdom, learned something illogical and a bit mysterious about this human thinking, and about life in a spiritually fallen world. And when we are willing to ponder it in a humble & prayerful way, we will find that what Solomon experienced about 3,000 yrs ago is a universal truth. We must beware of ‘meaninglessness.’ In vrs.10 we hear: “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, & he who loves wealth (will not be satisfied) with his income; this also is vanity.” This is a truth that sinful man wants to deny: if you love money, you will never be satisfied with the amount you have. So, the definition of being ‘rich’ has no real final number; it just means ‘more.’
Then, in vrs.11, Solomon reminds us that our lives are connected to those around us. As our wealth increases there becomes an increase of those around us who think we have enough to share with them. He said, “When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes?” At first, the advantage is that my eyes see people attracted to me = yet not really to me, but to what I can benefit them. The human heart & mind won’t put up with that for very long. Even the heart & mind of young children learns that yucky feeling of when a friend comes to their house, but is not interested in playing with them as much as playing with their toys.
If you pay attention to politics, this is largely the yucky relationship between politicians and lobbyists; it’s not a relationship based on person-friendship, but it’s based on the trading of money or perks for influence & favors.
In several places in Scripture, God warns us sternly how wicked it is to let this kind of favoritism for the wealthy creep into His Church and among His people. God is truly impartial; He does not treat us better if we’re rich, or worse if we’re poor. And if we can’t ‘buy’ God & His blessings, then God’s people & their blessings should also not be ‘for sale.’ Life is truly more than the money & possessions you have. Therefore, says vs.12, just because the rich person has a full stomach doesn’t mean they will sleep well.
Thru Solomon, the HSp continues in vs.13. This dedication to money causes -not just anxiousness- but also harm. “There is a grievous evil that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owner to his hurt.” We know of the harm that comes from the outside, from those who would steal what others have; that’s why we are concerned to have padlocks & deadbolts, safes & online security.
But even greater harm can come from within, from our twisted human hearts, which are constantly looking away from God to something else to provide us a good life. Last Sunday we talked about Jesus’ encounter with that rich young man in Mark 10, who said he was interested in eternal life, but sadly walked away from the only One who gives eternal life because Jesus challenged him to sell everything he had & follow Him.
As that young man walked away from Life’s Savior & King, Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.”
Maybe we’ve encountered someone like Solomon mentions in vs.17 == the lover of money who eats in darkness, in much vexation and sickness and anger. And maybe we’ve had times in our lives when our days are gloomy, and our food doesn’t taste good, because we’re acting like ‘a scrooge’,
selfishly hoarding our stuff for ourselves.
Solomon also mentions the fact that riches can be lost very quickly. In vs.14, he says he has seen it happen: the sad story of a man losing his wealth thru a bad business venture, and then have nothing left in his hand to care for his son. That story doesn’t have to be about a lost investment; it could be about losing a job, or a business failing, and having to face your spouse & children with the fear of not being able to provide for them. In our day, it can be some illness with medical costs that wipes out the wealth & possessions of a family. The same can happen with a flood or a fire. So Solomon is just recounting the reality of living in this fallen world. The riches & things we have can be lost very quickly. So, *what does our Creator want us to know & take to heart here? Don’t build your life on your wealth & possessions == your life is more than that.
The Spirit says is vs.15: “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.”
Solomon speaks to us with the heart of a grandparent, who is determined to convince us to abandon our ‘chasing after the wind-of-wealth’, and to convince us that there’s a different & better path to true prosperity. This fits with another part of Ecclesiastes, where Solomon exposes a deceptive & wicked LIE. The lie of man’s heart is THIS: that you will achieve prosperity with enough self-sufficiency and independence. We can all be tempted to believe that if we just /‘did it our way’, /saved more & worked harder, /sacrificed more & got more education, /or if we just rubbed shoulders with the right people, /or even cut some corners & fudged the numbers, we can achieve the good life.
The wisest man in the world is trying to tell us that, if that’s our focus, we’ve already fallen off the path to prosperity, and we won’t have a good life.
That view that prosperity equals money & possessions is an illusion, a dream, & like the wind; with many things out of our control. Grandpa-Solomon knows the wise truth about the good life & real prosperity; and it’s the life that is in-concert with the One who created us == the One who knows us, loves us, and has given us His perfect assignment as our ‘life.’ Once Solomon has our attention with a reality slap-in-the-face, now he says ‘behold!’ and turns our heart & mind back into the path of our vocations == that is, our callings /in the home, /at our job, /at school, /in our community, /& with our God-given abilities & skills & station in life. These are the things he calls our ‘lot’ that God gives us in life. I like to call them our ‘assigned roles’ or positions in this life. As we confess that God gave us life, in this time & place, we are called to trust His roles for us; even if those parts we play do not seem very important, or are not very valuable in the eyes of the world.
Wise-Solomon is teaching us true wisdom: to realize that -as a servant- we will be most satisfied when we are doing what our Master has assigned us to do; and to do it gladly, and with gusto.
Because, in the end, it all belongs to Him; and He is the One who wants to say to us: ‘Well done,
good & faithful servant. Come and enter into the joy of your Master.’
So with God’s Spirit, Solomon says, ‘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/ his assignment. …for he will not much look back & mope over the days of his life because God keeps him occupied daily with joy in his heart.’ That’s ‘prosperity’.
For the child of God, these truths are all good news. God reminds us of our smallness, and encourages us with His greatness. God calls us to stop pursuing prosperity on paths of our own ideas, and -instead- to trust that He has done everything to guarantee our real prosperity today, tomorrow, and forever in giving us our Savior & our Shepherd Jesus.
That news has the power to give us a joy & a peace in a way that a full bank account, a full house, or full storage garage can never give. We see this truth in the account of Zacchaeus in Luke 19. He was a man whose pockets were overflowing but his heart was desperate & alone. He had believed the lie of accumulating wealth, and he knew the hatred of the people he had squeezed to get it. He was the poorest-rich-man in Jericho. ….until Jesus looked up in that tree, and called him by name to come down & back to God’s path. That grace of God changed Zacchaeus for good & forever. Now that rich man saw his real purpose in having some money; which was to bless the poor, and to reconcile relationships he had damaged.
Now, *what has God’s good news done for Solomon and Zacchaeus that has not been done for you & for me? That same Gospel is proclaimed in even clearer words in our Savior. Jesus calls you by name, because you were washed in His Water of Baptism. And that has gained you prosperity. 2 Corinthians 8 says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich,
yet for your sake he became poor, so that you -by his poverty- might become rich.”
In these NT days, we are able to look to Jesus, and see the richest expression of love seen in the extreme poverty of death on a cross; so that we sinners, eternally poor in soul, would receive true prosperity in belonging to him. In Holy Baptism, God has given you the business-deal of a lifetime: you have traded a world of trinkets for an eternal kingdom. You have been given the treasure of forgiveness and a future.
While you wait for that future, give thanks for ‘the good life’ of being occupied in the good fruit of this faith & hope, and in being a blessing to others thru the things God has given you to manage. And give thanks for your Savior who has found you, and called you by name to walk with Him on this path of true prosperity. The ‘vulcan greeting’ may be nice, (‘v’ live long and prosper), but the Lord’s calling is far better; as we hear in Jeremiah 29: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you, not to harm you, to give you hope & a future.”