Good Morning…Let’s pray…
I’d like to start off this morning by asking a couple of questions…
How would you define the good life? And what does it mean to live in the moment?
These are catch phrases that we often hear in our culture – usually accompanied by a cheesy picture of someone standing on top of a mountain with their arms stretched out gazing into the sunset.
One of the ways my family experiences the good life and living in the moment is when we breathe in God’s good creation through the activity of camping. Growing up here in Thunder Bay camping was a way of life. Now living in Alberta we’ve adjusted our way of camping to a tent trailer and instead of heading out to the lake we head out to the mountains.
What’s interesting about camping is that it’s actually a lot of work. There’s a lot of prep work like getting the groceries, packing clothes for all types of weather (because in Alberta you never know if you’ll be spending the weekend in the sun, the rain or a foot of snow J) The truck and trailer need to be packed with all the essentials for living in the elements. Then you drive to your campsite and unpack everything you just packed and set up camp. There’s wood to be chopped and a fire to be made. But once that’s all done…you crack open a nice cold drink, sit by the fire and take a deep breathe. Ah…the good life! And you’re engulfed by a sense that nothing else matters but being in that moment.
It may not be camping, but I’m sure each of you can think of that place or that moment when you feel like you’re living the good life. We read in Ecclesiastes 2:24, “A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God”
Today we’re going to look at the Bible’s book of Ecclesiastes which is an autobiographical narrative written by Qoheleth. Qoheleth, meaning Teacher appears to be a wise and wealthy man who has spent his life in the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom. This pursuit has led him to write about his investigations into the meaning of life and how to live life the best way possible. He compares the life of those who are wise and those who are foolish. Those who are righteous and those who are wicked. He looks at this contrast and comes to the conclusion that both paths are “vain,” “futile,” “meaningless,” and that ultimately we all suffer the same fate of death. Right from the opening verses he states, “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2) And in the middle of this book we read, “For who knows what is good for a person in life, during the few and meaningless days they pass through like a shadow? Who can tell them what will happen under the sun after they are gone?” (Ecclesiastes 6:12)
Qoheleth’s investigations into the meaning of life bring him much angst. Do you resonate with his angst? I know I do. I have days where it’s go, go go and at the end of it all I think, what was that all about, what was that all for, did I really even accomplish anything today…except for feeling totally exhausted?
As I resonate with these words of angst I can’t help but put this book into the category of pessimistic and cynical. I’m left with the idea that catch phrases like “the good life” and “living in the moment” are not truly a part of our reality here on earth. I find myself asking the universal questions; Why God? Why this life? Why in a world created by you do we still find spaces of chaos, unpredictability, suffering and lack of moral coherence? In the end what is it all for?
Qoheleth does seem to find relief from his angst in honoring the simple pleasures of life. In fact throughout what appears to be a very pessimistic and cynical book we find the Hebrew word for “good” used fifty two times. We get a glimpse throughout this narrative that against this backdrop of a meaningless life there is good, something positive and life affirming. Qoheleth seems to affirm God’s good creation in chapter 9 verse 7 when we states, “Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do.”
Qoheleth points out that this “good” is found in our everyday work, in our everyday lives. The good life isn’t something we need to go looking for…or like me and my family escape into the mountains to find. Each one of us, even with our struggles and life’s heavy burdens are already living the good life…right here and right now.
And this “good” that is found in our everyday activities and life experiences is expressed by Qoheleth as a gift from God. In chapter 3, verses 11-13 we read, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from the beginning to the end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.”
Ellen F. Davis, a Bible Professor at Duke University Divinity School writes about this gift from God and believes that it requires a response from us. By taking pleasure in our work, by finding enjoyment in our everyday activities we are actually responding appropriately to God’s gifts. Becoming active participants in the meaning of life. She states, “Those who wait for some great occasion for joy and gratitude to God are not likely to recognize it when it happens. But from a biblical perspective, lack of humble gratitude leads to loss far more significant than our own unhappiness. For if we fail to take delight in every single day, then God will not adequately be praised – and it is quite possible that resounding praise is the whole reason the world was made in the first place.”
Qoheleth not only expresses how to live the good life, by enjoying the simple acts of our everyday. He also expresses how to live the best life. He believes that the path of the wise and righteous produce the best results. But what does it mean to be wise and righteous?
Ecclesiastes is one of the five books in the Old Testament known as Wisdom literature. In these books we learn that God’s people were called to live a life defined by wisdom and righteousness. Wisdom in the Old Testament was associated with a concept called - Fear of the Lord and being in the presence of God. Fear of the Lord means to have reverence for God. To have a deep respect mixed with awe for our Creator. To be righteous means to be in right standing with God. And as God followers who live by faith we have been given right standing with God through Jesus Christ.
So the book of Ecclesiastes as seen through the lens of Wisdom literature helps us understand an eternal truth we are called to live into today. All of life is a gift from God, even with all the unknowns and struggles we face. When we respond to this gift with joy, seeing the blessings of our daily realities such as eating, drinking and working we begin to experience the good life. And in responding to God’s gifts this way we are being reverent to God. We are choosing the wise path as we allow ourselves to be…be in the moment. We are choosing God and in doing so He gives us a glimpse of heaven on earth. He points us in the direction of His ultimate gift the joy of an abundant life now found in Jesus Christ.
Jesus connects us to this joy, gladness and rejoicing. He models the good life…and didn’t do anything a part from God’s will and knew all good gifts came from His Father in heaven. Jesus is the meaning and the way to life in fullness with our Creator. He allows us to be in right standing with God. He allows us to be in the presence of God – His everywhere active presence.
In this life here on earth, where there are still spaces of chaos, unpredictability, suffering and lack of moral coherence, there is good…God is present.
While I was on campus this past spring doing seminary work our class participated in an exercise called “dislocated exegesis.” This is a fancy word for reading Scripture outside of your normal surroundings…this could be at a coffee shop, along a walking path, in the mountains, at the mall, or bus stop, etc. It’s the idea that reading the Bible out in the world around us doesn’t change the text but it helps to highlight different things found in the text.
So our professor asked us to go find a place around or close to campus to read the Bible’s book of Ecclesiastes and notice what was highlighted in the text for each of us - then we were asked to write a journal entry around this exercise. One of my colleagues has given me permission to share her journal reflections… And we’ll end this morning’s message with my colleague Nicole’s powerful words of wisdom.
As I lost myself in the words of Ecclesiastes I felt a surprising stillness in my spirit. Beneath the outward pessimistic message of the meaninglessness of life, I found comfort and hope. Ecclesiastes reminded me of my place in life and brought with it freedom. The voices I so often hear push me to make a difference in the world, to change it, to live in a way that I make history. They tell me that I have a calling and purpose to live out. They push me to maximize my potential, be efficient with my time, and squeeze as much in as possible. There is a focus on doing and earning.
Ecclesiastes, by contrast, pointed out the futility of striving after work, pleasure, or riches. All these things are like chasing the wind. In the middle of a sea of pressures to achieve and perform, these words were God saying to me “Be still and know that I am God.” Ecclesiastes is an invitation to simply be – to sit in awe and reverence at the maker of the universe and to find delight in the good gifts he has given us.
For so much of my life – I found my identity in what I did. Getting good grades. Exceeding expectations. Building a resume to wow future employers.
But the truly good life is not one based on those definitions of success. The good life is lived in rhythm with God’s will. It recognizes the different seasons of life and knows the secret to being content in every circumstance.
The sun rises and the sun sets, then hurries around to rise again. May each of my meaningless days on this earth find their purpose in Praise.