450 Third Street

Chesapeake City, MD 21915
Pastor Neil Gutmaker

Chesapeake City United Methodist Charge

Trinity United Methodist Church

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9/17/2017                        “Living by God’s Wisdom -- Ecclesiastes”
Scripture:  Ecclesiastes 1:2, 3:1-8

Sermon Series: Living by God’s Wisdom

This morning we continue a three-part series on what it looks like to live a good life, and how that’s most possible. In it, we explore “Living by God’s Wisdom.”

Theme: As we desire and seek a good life, we gain much by learning and living from God’s wisdom.  We continue with The Book of Ecclesiastes, which wrestles with the fleeting, unpredictable, and sometimes unjust nature of life upon earth.  It affirms respect for God and God’s ways, finding enjoyment in the simple gifts of life like family, friends and work.

The Bible Project video portrays Ecclesiastes as a “middle-aged critic” smoking a cigar and blowing smoke.   While that may be one way of seeing him, especially in today’s world, I have long seen Ecclesiastes as someone who has lived long enough to see the workings and realities of his life experiences and the world around him. The Hebrew word for Ecclesiastes is “Kohelet”, which means “one who gathers people together,” and is usually translated as “Preacher” or “Teacher.”

The author of the book, who shares the Teacher’s wisdom, refers to him as “the son of David, king in Jerusalem,” which means that it could have been Solomon, or another in the lineage of David, as “son of” also implies. Because of his position in life, he has had opportunity to see and do many things. 

Listen to how he begins . . .

Ecclesiastes 1:2 “Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.”  (NRSV)

The word translated “vanity” in some translations (hevel in the Hebrew), means “like vapor, mist or smoke”, and is also translated as “meaningless”(NIV), “pointless”(CEB), “futile”(CSB), “useless”(GNT), and “smoke”(MSG).  So, it’s fleeting and like a mist – you can’t really grasp hold of it, and in some ways, doesn’t stay the same.

A couple of weeks ago, a woman who occasionally visits our church was here. Her name is Carolyn Barrett. In talking with her afterwards, she gave me her card so I could be in touch with her. She told me she is a writer. I noticed that her website was on her card. So later in the week, as I was sending her an email, I checked her blog site on the internet. I discovered it’s called Life Isn’t Easy. Coincidently, if you want to call it that, I was already working on this week’s message.

Strangely enough, the title of her most recent blog, from August 20, is . . . Even a Vapor, by Carolyn Barrett.  Listen to her witness.

“Each year for our anniversary, my husband and I stay at our favorite inn, overlooking the Delaware River in Buck’s County. If you get up early enough, you might see a mist arising from the river. Not only that, but also arising from the canal behind the trees. It is so cool to see, but you can’t get up too late, or turn your eyes away for too long or you will miss the scene entirely.

More from Carolyn’s blog in just a bit. 😊

First, let’s consider other words of wisdom from Ecclesiastes, some of which may sound familiar:

Ecclesiastes 1:9b   “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (NRSV) “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
      2 a time to be born, and a time to die;
         a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
      3 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
         a time to break down, and a time to build up;
      4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
         a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
      5 a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
         a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
      6 a time to seek, and a time to lose;
         a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
      7 a time to tear, and a time to sew;
         a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
      8 a time to love, and a time to hate;
         a time for war, and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:9-13   “9 What do workers gain from their toil?  10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race.  He has made everything beautiful in its time. 11 He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.  12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. 13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.

Ecclesiastes  9:11  (NRSV)  “I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.

Ecclesiastes 11:1-2 (NRSV)Send out your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will get it back.  2 Divide your means seven ways, or even eight, for you do not know what disaster may happen on earth.

(NIV)  “Ship your grain across the sea; after many days you may receive a return. Send out your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will get it back.  2 Invest in seven ventures, yes, in eight; you do not know what disaster may come upon the land.

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 (NIV)13 Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.

How do we relate this wisdom to Jesus Christ and our life in Christ as his followers?

The words of Jesus the Christ, are filled with God’s wisdom for our daily lives now, and eternal life to come.

King Solomon, the son of David in the Old Testament, was said to be the wisest man who ever lived, given the gift of wisdom by God.  (1 King 3:10-12).  But in Matthew’s account of the gospel we hear the words of Jesus, who says of himself . . .
Matthew 12:42The Queen of the South (Sheba) will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon's wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here.”

While Ecclesiastes repeatedly asks, “Who knows. . .?” (3:21, 6:12b, 7:14), Jesus reveals to us God’s greater truth and plan.  The words of Jesus Christ are light and life itself.    They will lead in ways of truth and peace, right living and happiness.  They will draw us ever closer to God, living in God’s will and spirit.

But here is the thing.  We can’t just listen to them, think about them or even just believe them.  We must heed them.  We need to pay close attention to them.   And by close attention, Jesus means doing them. . . putting them into daily practice.                      

Not even just doing great works in his name will get us into the kingdom of heaven, but those who believe and follow his teachings and example.

After his lengthy sermon on the mount, recorded in Matthew, chapters five through seven, Jesus says:
Matthew 7:21-27 “21 Not everyone who says to me, `Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?'23 Then I will tell them plainly, `I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!
24 Therefore,” Jesus said, “everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man (person) who built his house on the rock.  25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.  26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

What a great metaphor for these past few weeks.

We can’t always predict or control everything around us. It’s how we prepare and respond, living day by day, that determines the true quality of our lives here on earth, and in the life to come.

Carolyn Barrett goes on to say in her blog “Only a Vapor”…
 “As a young teenager, I attended a Christian summer camp, where there was a speaker who was a disabled man. A powerful speaker who, even though he spoke slowly and haltingly, had a huge impact on all of us.  He talked about our life and what it meant, and how short it really was. I can still hear him struggling to get the words out, as he quoted James 4:14-15.  Yet his faithfulness and enthusiasm shone through, and we were fixated on every word he stumbled over.

James 4:14-15 (KJV) “14 Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. 15 For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.”

“It’s been too many years to remember exactly what he said from there, although I remember the theme of it and the impact it had. The scene has often played over again in my mind, while I am transported back to that question. What IS my life?

“Recently, my sister became a maker for the My Intent project. She asked me what I wanted for my word, so she could make me a bracelet. I chose a phrase from the above Bible verse:

“I want to remind myself of who I am, whose I am, and what is truly important. After all, life is fleeting, eternity is forever. My chance to do good, to be loving, to live as God intended, is now. I am not promised tomorrow. So I glance at my wrist and ask myself, if I knew today was my last day, what would I do differently?

“Seeking God’s will is powerful stuff.  I may fail, but I will keep on trying, especially with this visual reminder now attached to me.  Life is short and I want to make it count.”

I’m sure many of you were watching the news last week about Hurricane Irma, with some like Karen and I, having family in its path.
Kenney Chesney, who himself lost a home on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands to the devastation from Hurricane Irma, as well as many others -- of all ethnicities, colors, economic groups, faiths, political parties, and other things that can often separate us from one another – are again responding with the love of God, whether for family, friends, neighbors, or even strangers.

Let us ever be those who desire and seek a good life, gaining much by learning and living from God’s wisdom.  As we acknowledge the fleeting, unpredictable, and sometimes unjust nature of life upon earth, let us always respect God and God’s ways, finding enjoyment in the simple gifts of life like family, friends and even the work that we can do.

And may God ever bless and keep you in His grace and care!


 For Reflection:

For what do/have you spent your life laboring?  What do you have to show for it?

What have found most lasting and important?

Where “under heaven” have you searched for meaning?  Where have you found it?

How do you want to be remembered?  How do you live by the wisdom of God as a follower of Jesus?