Today we’re talking about Ecclesiastes, a book in the wisdom section of the Bible. The author refers to him or herself as the Teacher but for the record, we don’t actually know the identity of the teacher. Apparently a king in Jerusalem and if you read all of Ecclesiastes I’m guessing the Teacher has been around a while. There is some wisdom here.[audio http://www.buzzsprout.com/33052/300087-what-s-the-point.mp3]
So for today’s story, let’s set the stage. Vanity is a word that gets used several times early on in today’s reading. It is the usual translation from a Hebrew word hevel. What comes to mind when you hear the word vanity? At our house we’re just wrapping up a several month long bathroom remodel so I tend to think of a vanity as the cabinet the sink sits in. Further research with Google also lets me know that Vanity is a women’s clothing retailer but that might have been a paid ad.
In terms of English usage, vanity is a fair translation from the Hebrew but we don’t use vanity in the way the author, the Teacher means. It works really well poetically but it is hard to latch onto the direction the Teacher is headed. This is important because it isn’t particularly helpful in my understanding of this piece of scripture. Visualizing v2 “All is vanity” as “All is bathroom cabinets” doesn’t do much for me.
Instead, it is probably closer to common usage today to translate hevel to something like absurd or meaningless.
Let’s try that out:
1 The words of the Teacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
2 Meaningless of meaningless, says the Teacher,
meaningless of meaningless! All is meaningless.
Meaningless. All is meaningless. That’s probably a little clearer translation for us than vanity.
Though a bit depressing perhaps. All is meaningless? If that’s true, then what’s the point of our lives? What’s the point of our faith? What’s the point of it all? What’s the point?
It almost seems like the Teacher is telling us that everything we do is meaningless. If this is true, we could easily be led to the notion that since it’s all meaningless I’m just going to give up. Why work? Why come to church? Why take care of my family? It’s all meaningless anyway, right? What’s the point?
Or the opposite extreme. If everything we do is meaningless then let’s do everything. All that stuff we keep ourselves from doing because we shouldn’t be doing it, well, let’s just have at it. Let’s have us some fun. It’s all meaningless so let’s not concern ourselves with common decency. We can do whatever we want, right? What’s the point?
Therein, lies exactly the point that the Teacher is making.
Martin Luther put it this way about the point of what the teacher is saying in Ecclesiastes: “What is being condemned in this book, therefore, is not the creatures [i.e. the things God has created] but the depraved affection and desire of us men, who are not content with the creatures of God that we have and with their use but are always anxious and concerned to accumulate riches, honors, glory, and fame, as though we were going to live here forever; and meanwhile we become bored with the things that are present and continually yearn for other things, and then still others.”
Nearly 500 years ago he wrote that. And we think we’ve invented something new. There’s nothing new under the sun, a fact even the Teacher recognizes in v9.
“not content with the creatures of God that we have and with their use but are always anxious and concerned to accumulate riches, honors, glory, and fame, as though we were going to live here forever; and meanwhile we become bored with the things that are present and continually yearn for other things, and then still others.” What’s the point?
We all know we’re going to die, in spite of society denying that. And yet we worry about accumulating stuff as if we’re going to be around forever. We are subjected to a constant onslaught about getting more and having more. If you don’t buy this you’re going to miss out. If you don’t get that you’re less than a perfect person. If you don’t buy the other thing you’re a bad parent. There’s an entire industry surrounding the idea of #mommyguilt
Instead of chasing after the meaningless things in the world what if we admitted we were going to die sometime, had hope in the resurrection and then lived life today like it was the only life that we had? Since we’re not going to live forever here on earth but instead we will be made new, what if we passed over the meaningless things and focused on things that are truly important.
This is where you come in. You are in the vanguard of just what the world needs. Think of it this way, consider the two options I mentioned earlier. Doesn’t it seem that a lot of the world has either given up and doesn’t care? Or the other extreme, they don’t care what they do and they’ve gone amok? It seems that all we see and hear about are the extremes. Where is the middle?
Why don’t we hear about the people who have the wisdom to not focus their lives on things that are meaningless but have figured out what is really important? Why don’t we hear about the people who skip over the meaningless pursuit of this, that and the other thing and instead focus on relationships? Relationships with their family. Relationships with their friends. Relationships with God.
Why don’t we hear about you? You are what the world needs to hear about. As you go about your day to day lives Bringing Christ’s Love to Life you are what the world needs to hear about. The good news that our possessions and things are meaningless but our relationships with one another and with God are not.
That is the point.