Text: Ecclesiastes 3:9-22
If any of you have every tried to read Ecclesiastes all the way through, you may have found it to be a frustrating and maybe circular read. Its observations about life can certainly come across as being far more cynical and jaded than other parts of the Bible. That is deliberate. Ecclesiastes represents part of the wisdom tradition of scripture, which we’re not that familiar with already. Within Biblical wisdom itself, there are a few different streams of thought, and much of Ecclesiastes challenges so-called “conventional” wisdom
It offers observations about our life and relationship with God while allowing room for doubt and uncertainty. I think many of us have been raised that doubt is bad… and yet throughout Ecclesiastes, the Teacher acknowledges that there is a limit to what we can truly understand. Uncertainty is a reality of life, and any attempts to deny it is, in fact, an exercise in vanity. Ecclesiastes helps us explore our faith with doubt and uncertainty… and in fact that is a healthy approach.
There is a saying that we go to school to learn how much we don’t know. People that I know who have pursued post-graduate work observe that in becoming very knowledgeable about one subject, they begin realize how much they don’t know or don’t understand about other subjects. Part of it has to do with the level of detail we can get into on one thing, but we simply cannot get into the same level of detail with all things. We can know a little about a lot of things, or a lot about a few things… but we cannot know a lot about a lot of things. There’s nothing new under the sun isn’t it? The writer of Ecclesiastes made this observation 2500 years ago… the more he learned, the less he felt he really knew.
The parts of the book that you heard me read earlier come after that most famous of passages that Clint read at Ken’s funeral this past Monday. The Teacher is being very deliberate about reminding us that as human beings we are limited, and yet we do have a gift to be able to stop and step back from the moment and catch a brief glimpse of eternity. Even so, we cannot get our head around all of it, precisely because we are human. But being aware of our limitations is the first step on the path to wisdom.
The more we learn, the less we really know… and in fact the more we realize how much of our lives really are in God’s hands. This is what wisdom really is. The writer of Ecclesiastes has spent a lifetime of considering these questions, observing the world, and placing it into the context of our relationship with God. On one hand they comes across as being downright agnostic in places, and he the question of life after death without providing a definitive answer.
This observation emerges out of a genuine and honest realization that what happens to us after we die is truly in God’s hands. If anything, the Teacher is cautioning us against overstating our case and our place in the universe… Oddly enough, in his pursuit of wisdom, the Teacher is very reluctant to make declarations to know about those things that is exclusively God’s territory. For Ecclesiastes, any such pursuit is vanity… because we are in danger of speaking for God when we have no business doing so. We cannot know for sure, because we are not God, we have our limits. What is more important is to place ourselves in God’s hands and to trust that our lives have meaning, even if we can’t figure it out on our own.
Underlying it all is this theme: the enjoyment of life. In the midst of what comes across almost as despair, Ecclesiastes comes back to the refrain that there nothing better for us to than to eat and drink and take pleasure in all our work. In other words… enjoy life because it is a gift from God.
Maybe this is something we need to pay attention to… I think too often we’ve spent time trying to earn God’s favour, rather than to realize that we already have it. Life in and of itself is a gift to be treasured, cherished, and enjoyed… but it’s not something that we deserve or earn.
I have a question for you. How many of you chose to be born? How many of you earned the right to become a living breathing human being? Didn’t think so… None of us asked to be born, and none of us had any control over the circumstances of our own birth. Life is a gift that was handed to us whether we wanted it or not… whether we think we deserve it or not… So the Teacher is asking us what we are doing with this gift that God has given us? Are we enjoying it? Are we helping others enjoy it?
It is truly a Spiritual Discipline to enjoy life!
It can be a discipline for to actually take a moment to stop being so busy and appreciate simply being alive… rather than consumed by the next thing coming. The schedule can wait, the to-do list can be put aside, and spend time with life… and by extension… spending time with God. After all, we can be so busy making a living that we forget how to live.
About ten years ago, when Megan was three, I got up to do my usual Saturday morning routine. Saturday mornings were a special time for us, as I took her to an activity at the church I served at. But it was still a routine: Get up early, get Megan out of bed, and hustle us off to Sportball for 9:00am. I still remember it vividly. Instead of turning on the light, as Megan was still asleep, I opened one of the shutters in her room. A bright ray of sun blazed into the room, lighting up a large array of floating particles in the air. My first thought was “ew… dust…” and then followed by “great… another thing to do on my list of things to do…” the house hasn’t been dusted in a while… and I’m not sure when I’d get the time. Sighing to myself I turned to the business of dragging my sleepy daughter out of bed, because we had a schedule to keep.
Once Megan had fully woken up and dressed, I put her down on the floor so that we could walk downstairs. She looked up, saw the beam of light, and all those free floating particles lazily drifting about the room… “Look Daddy, Sparkles!!!”
The look on her face was one of absolute glee. She had a huge open-mouthed smile, and her inquisitive eyes were wide with wonder… She saw something magical in something I saw as just another thing to do.
I gave her a huge hug. For a brief moment I remembered my own moments as a child, appreciating the dancing dust in a sunbeam…and thanks to the wisdom of a child, I got a glimpse of maybe the way that God wants us to see the world. That sense of Awe and wonder of the things around us, when I was too busy with all the things I had to do to really appreciate it.
When it comes to our own lives, and our own relationships, how often do we take a moment to simply enjoy them for what they are? Maybe Jesus is calling us to see the world as it was meant to be… without the burdens that we lay upon ourselves, or the world lays upon us, or that we might lay upon others… After all, Jesus did say “come to me, all you who are carry heavy burdens and I will give you rest…” Ecclesiastes is trying to point out the same thing… how often do we really take a moment to stop and enjoy what life has to offer?
Maybe we need to try a bit more often. Maybe we need to consciously enjoy life, by setting aside those things that demand of our time, even if only for a moment. Maybe we also need to be conscious to let others do the same, and that our demands on others can wait. Maybe we need to see some sparkles, when all we see is dust.