“it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with.”
The writer of Ecclesiastes is a philosopher more than a theologian perhaps and at that possibly more of an existential philosopher. It is someone who can look carefully at the here and now, what was, what is, and most likely what will be and conclude that it is cradle to the grave with lots of toil in between. He allows there is a God and man ought to keep God’s commandments but not because they will merit you anything. Good and bad happen to to all whether you believe God and keep his commandments or not. Oblivion awaits everyone.
You me ask what is such a book doing in the Bible? Good question and starting in September on Tuesday evening we will have a study of the OT or Hebrew Bible by a Yale scholar who will answer many such questions.
Generally the Bible posits a very different understanding of human existence. There is meaning and purpose for human existence and God, creator and sustainer of it all, is concerned, invested, involved, and active with all that is, including human beings as a race and as individuals.
So why this book? Why is it for the author that even if there is only oblivion ultimately that the works of men and women are meaningless?
Well, if we are looking at existence with purely rational eyes, observing what is in detail, the passage of time, the coming and going of people and things, then yes maybe we can conclude that it is a bit of a circular activity. Live and die. Build and decay.
One of the great needs that came out of two world wars was man’s search for meaning.
Even today some people who experience military combat will lose their sense of meaning.
Looking life in the face can leave us stunned and bewildered. Better to be distracted or numb out, some argue.
Or like the author of today’s OT reading, be brave! Look at life with all its beauty and ugliness and deeply and profoundly embrace and ponder it all.
Do not dismiss beauty and do not hide from its demise.
Affirm youth and strength and look honestly upon aging, infirmity, and death.
Behold the rose and also the vampire bat. God made then both.
Behold peace and war – take in the very different realities and messages of both.
Let the inspiring inspire and let the horrible horrify.
Mature religion will let us do both. Deep spirituality will mine the depths of both.
For more than 50 years now we have very sophisticated and highly technological listening devises with a very alert “ear” tuned in to outer space.
We are listening for life out there in the distance. Our listening is justified on the mathematical formula that there is a significant possibility of life elsewhere.
In 50 years we have heard NOTHING. Dead silence only.
We continue to listen.
Are we alone? In the great universe are we a one of? Or are there others like us?
The answer either way is important.
If we are alone – wow! Think more deeply of thyself o man o woman!
If we are not alone – wow! How are they doing? What have they that could benefit us? Etc.
Is it really an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with? 14
I think we would say it has its challenges but what a journey!
One of the consequences of starring life in the face is that we can choose to have the approach of eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow you die.
We can live without reference to anything or anyone other than ourself, own own needs and pleasures.
God and neighbour need not enter into the equation at all.
Or we can have a non-inclusive view of God that says you are in and all is yours and those others are not in and there is nothing for them.
There are religions that can sound like that.
It is not the teaching of Jesus though and it is not what we find in the Gospel of Luke. No, for Jesus and for Luke, love of God and neighbour must shape how we live life. Not self absorbed religion and not self above all others’ ethics.
Followers of Jesus will have love of God and love of neighbour plainly in view. It will guide their worship and their works of charity and justice.
It is interesting how today’s gospel reading starts.
Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.
A father of a family I know just died. He left $300,000 in his estate. Of the five children one inherited the whole amount – apparently not according to the father’s intention.
Now there is a family feud.
Jesus stayed out of the family feud. Who put me in charge of that he asked. But it gave him a teaching moment. Beware of greed and preoccupation with worldly possessions.
A famous actor said he has never seen a UHaul truck behind a funeral hearse. No, but there are most likely possessions belonging to the deceased and people with their hands out.
The view today for many of us living in the first world pondering
the meaning of life may not be more than life is in what we possess.
I remember a school whose motto was: You Are What You Produce.
What if what you produce is not valued? What if you are unable to produce much at all? What are you then?
A focus on possessions may lead to the belief that You Are What You Possess.
Well, while alive and well maybe all good.
Who are you when no longer well and all belongs to someone else?
Who are you when your soul is asked of you?
We can be rich in this life and yet very poor.
What does that say to us at least from the perspective of Jesus and Luke?
I say us because they are asking me too even I am the preacher.
Someone slammed me the other day because of my emphasis on ‘love of neighbour.’
My friends, it is not my emphasis. I have no authority to make no such emphasis. Jesus makes this his emphasis and so does Luke, our gospel readings for this summer. I am no different that the person objecting. The challenge is for me as well as for him. It is the gospel’s challenge and how Jesus summed up over 600 Jewish laws – love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and your neighbour as yourself.
And throughout John’s gospel we have Jesus commanding his disciples to love one another. And indeed he said to the disciples, Love your enemies.
But to the topic at hand – man’s focus on possessions to the exclusion of God and one might add neighbour as they go together.
For the man in the parable it had been a good year. Biggest year yet and the barns too small to hold it all. In modern day thinking he needed a better financial consultant to manage it all so he could sit back and take his ease.
But our years are not totally in our control. It could be we have many years yet or that we have none at all.
We are focused on only one side of the coin.
Invest here sure but remember it is terminal. A start time and an end time. It is not our whole “life” but rather only this side of it. There is another side to this life – life beyond this life. Have we invested anything there?
Jesus and Luke are saying to us – don’t become greedy about possessions here to the point that with God you are found impoverished and maybe even spiritually bankrupt. That will cause us gnashing of teeth. Full barns but no U Haul. Jesus asks that we have both God and neighbour in view: this world and the next. Let’s invest in both.