Sermon delivered by Helen Evans on 4th August 2019
Ecc 1: 2, 12-14 + 2: 18-23; Ps 49: 1-11; Col 3: 1-11; Lk 12: 13 – 21
Are you a glass half-full person or a glass half-empty person? Are you like the ever-cheerful Anne Shirley from the Anne of Green Gables novels or are you more like Winnie-the-Pooh’s friend Eeyore who seems perpetually gloomy? An optimist or a pessimist?
I don’t think I can claim to be as persistently up-beat as Anne Shirley but I do tend more towards optimism than pessimism. I must admit though that when I first read today’s readings my optimism took a bit of a knock. This is a seriously depressing set of readings don’t you think?
First there was Ecclesiastes, the third book written by Solomon, this one towards the end of his life. It has 12 chapters and almost all of them are like the parts we heard this morning. Solomon is looking back over his life and reflecting on how pointless it has all been.
The Psalm continues in a similar vein, warning us that we can’t buy God off with riches, v 7 says
We can never ransom ourselves,
or deliver to God the price of our life;
Jesus picks up that theme in his parable about the rich fool who spends his life gathering more and more wealth until he decides I’ve got enough to last me now, time to enjoy myself. Then God bursts his bubble!
It’s worth remembering that Solomon, the Psalmists and the people Jesus was addressing would have had a different idea of God, the type of relationship that was possible with him and of what happened after death than we do today. They did not have the benefit of knowing about Jesus’ death and resurrection with all the implications that has for us.
Even Solomon, who started out so well, lost his way when he did some things he’d been expressly told not to do. As Solomon looks back at all that he has done he sees how pointless most of it was because it didn’t involve God – the word we heard as ‘vanity’ is translated as ‘meaningless’ or ‘useless’ in other versions.
Then my natural optimism began to kick back in as I realised there are glimmers of hope, though not in the parts we read. At the end of probably his most famous passage – the one that begins ‘For everything there is a season’ – he says:
Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, Ecc 3: 11 (New Living Translation)
Then at the end of the last chapter he says:
Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty. Ecc 12: 13 (NLT)
He has given us the clue that Jesus re-iterates when he says at the end of his parable:
… a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God. Lk 12: 21 (NLT)
Another glimmer of hope – we can have a real relationship with God.
We can lean on his strength
turn to him for comfort
trust him with our hopes and dreams
laugh with him, cry with him.
Unfortunately, we live in a culture where we are taught to strive for the newest version, the latest gadget, to reach new targets, to keep trying to be better because we’re constantly evaluated and found wanting. We’re subtly pushed and pulled away from the one relationship that we should be nourishing and nurturing.
Paul reminds the Colossians – and us – to:
Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. Col 3: 2 (NLT)
He then goes on to list some of the behaviours that we need take off as we would take off dirty clothes. If you read on from where we stopped today you’ll discover the new, clean clothes that you can put on as your relationship with God deepens.
If you also read on in the Gospel you’ll find the passage in which Jesus tells us not to worry about anything because God knows what we need, saying:
Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need. Lk 12: 31 (NLT)
I think that is a good reason to be optimistic.
We can have this sort of relationship with God because of the sacrifice Jesus made, he is the reason that our lives do not have to be as meaningless as Solomon felt his was. As Paul says:
Christ is all and in all! Col 3: 11b (NRSVA)
I’m going to finish by playing you a song, I know it won’t be to everyone’s musical taste but it was written by two very talented song writers who use the gift God has given them to spread his gospel in our modern world. This song reminds us of what God has done for us in sending Jesus into the world, he is our hope, not any politician, new technology or any other thing of this world.
It reminds us that we’re accepted as we are, for who we are.
It reminds us that ‘Christ is all and in all’.