Sunday 31st July 2016
Ecclesiastes 1:2,12-14;2:18-23; Colossians 3:1-11 & Luke 12:13-21
Two of the readings set in the lectionary for Sunday 31st July 2016 really are pretty depressing!!! The writer of Ecclesiastes tells us that ‘all is vanity and a chasing after the wind.’ Jesus tells a story of someone who relaxes back to enjoy his earnings only to die before he can reap the benefit!
Ecclesiastes is one of series of Old Testament books known as ‘Wisdom’ Literature – Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Lamentations. Books which contain reflections on the way the world was at the time they were written. Books which remain surprisingly relevant to our own world.
Ecclesiastes is written by someone who claims to be a Teacher, but someone who clearly has spent much of his life experimenting with all that life has to offer. He seems more like a typical teenager – in rebellion, determined to find out for himself, not prepared to listen to the wisdom of the earlier generation.
If you read through the twelve chapters of Ecclesiastes, you’ll find that the ‘Teacher’ pursues pleasure, wealth and possessions, he enjoys power and honour, he studies to become wise beyond all other people, he works hard in ‘honest toil’. And at the end of each of his escapades his reflections remain the same. All is vanity, just like chasing after the wind.
But can we really dismiss the Teacher as no more than a young man sowing his wild oats, another Prodigal Son, and comment in a patronising way, “He’ll settle down one day!” … Or allow ourselves a self-congratulatory, “Told you so! If you live that way you’ll reap your just reward.” … Is Ecclesiastes merely a defence of good steady living, good stewardship?
We might have thought so until we read the Gospel reading.
Jesus tells a story of a rich man. … In Jesus day, much as now, riches were interpreted as a sign of God’s blessing. This rich man is someone who has done really well for himself. Bought wisely, farmed well, and produced good crops. This is someone to look up to. Someone to place on a pedestal. Someone who is an example of industry and sensible provision. Someone who deserves to enjoy the fruit of his labours. Clearly someone that God has blessed! He has every right to celebrate … And isn’t he just the opposite of the ‘Teacher’ in Ecclesiastes?
But, “No!,” says Jesus, “This man is a fool!” ………………
Why? Because he is chasing illusive shadows, chasing the wind. Riches and wealth, Jesus says, are good for a season, but they have no eternal value. There’s more to life than that!
The rich man is to discover, the same thing as the ‘Teacher’ in Ecclesiastes. When we focus solely on things, on material wealth, the most we achieve is momentary pleasure and possibly a large inheritance for others to enjoy, or fight over.
It is not that God is in some way vindictive. It’s not a case of God taking the hump because we don’t give him time. It’s the way life is. The very best we can hope for in life, is that we get what we set our hearts on.
‘And’, says the ‘Teacher’, … ‘pursuing only these immediate things is like chasing the wind!’ … It doesn’t satisfy, it can’t hope to… Why? Because we are made for relationship, relationship with other people, but in the final analysis, relationship with God.
At the end of Ecclesiastes the Teacher says, “Remember your Creator, remember your God.” It is relationship with God that everything else has its place. Shape up, says the Teacher in Ecclesiastes, get your life back on track. Set your hearts on knowing God and you will be set free to enjoy what he provides.
Jesus agrees. …. The important thing, he says, is being rich toward God.
Paul’s letter to the Colossians needs to be heeded!
‘If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God’.
This passage from Colossians could easily have been written as a commentary on the passages from Luke and Ecclesiastes. “Choose to be renewed in the image of your creator,” says Paul, “and in that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!” …….All one in Christ – no longer male or female, straight or gay, rich or poor, no longer wise or foolish, … no longer are we to be determined by such temporal things, for we are in Christ and in Christ we are free.
Neither Ecclesiastes nor Luke are really as negative as they seem. They’re not intended to leave us feeling depressed. There’s nothing ‘killjoy’ about them. But they are a realistic reflection on the results of pursuing life without God. Whether we sow our wild oats and experiment with all that life can bring, or we get on with life, doing what others expect, working hard. It is ultimately meaningless – like chasing after the wind.
Only when we pursue relationship with God, and only when we place relationships with others above our material needs, only then say Jesus and the ‘Teacher’ and Paul too, … only then will life begin to have meaning, for then it is wrapped up in the Christ who sets us free.