Today we continue where we left off last Sunday with the Old Testament book of wisdom, Ecclesiastes. The author, who refers to himself in this narrative as the Teacher, continues to sound a little bit of a debby-downer in today’s reading, doesn’t he? More vanity upon vanity, more meaningless upon meaningless and today’s story highlights that in our work.[audio http://www.buzzsprout.com/33052/302145-grow-best-where-you-are-planted.mp3]
Many people prefer to read rather than listen to audio (I’m one of them) but the sermon audio is usually a better capture of the sermon than the text. There’s usually a bit of improvisation going on.
The Teacher seems a little annoyed at the idea of working really hard and then leaving the results of all the hard work for someone who comes after. He even takes it a little bit further and is annoyed at the possibility that the recipient of the result of his hard work may not be worthy. Seems a little miffed, doesn’t he. V18 gives us “because sometimes one who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil.”
On the one hand, it is easy to kind of set the Teacher aside a bit as Mr Crankypants. Nothing ever seems good at all, much less good enough for the Teacher. It’s all just meaningless! But then in truth, who hasn’t felt that way at some point. Who hasn’t felt like everything they do benefits someone else who hasn’t done anything to earn it? Maybe someone here feels that way right now.
Anyone who’s been around me for more than 10 minutes knows that I’ve no patience with simple and trite God comments. Those “God works everything for good” or “God needed another angel” and those kind of statements that fly all over social media or out of people’s mouths when something bad happens. So hear me when I say this.
The learning from the Teacher is simply this. Take joy in what it is. That’s pretty wise when it gets right down to it. Fighting the reality and constantly seeking the greener grass on the other side of the fence is oftentimes pretty pointless. Or as the Teacher calls it, meaningless.
You grow best where you’re planted. We can and should work to change our circumstances when we’re not where we planned or even wanted to be. But there are also times when that isn’t going to change.
We then have a choice. We may not have a choice when it comes to what life has handed us. But we do have a choice how we respond to our circumstances. We can be bitter and angry or we can come to terms with our life.
Who here hasn’t known someone that was bitter and angry about their circumstances? It makes me thing about people I’ve known, and you see this on social media fairly frequently, who hate their jobs. Or hate a situation in their life. Is their job or situation better because they hate it? Or is their job or situation made worse?
In some ways, some people have earned the right to be bitter and angry about their circumstances. Some people are in some wicked bad circumstances that are absolutely heartbreaking. If I were them I’d be tempted to stay bitter and angry, too.
And yet we can’t avoid the fact that being bitter and angry about our circumstances will ever improve anything. Usually it makes it worse. Which brings us back to the Teacher’s comment in v24. “There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God; 25 for apart from him[d]who can eat or who can have enjoyment?
In our work, in our lives we may as well enjoy ourselves along the way. It is what it is so we make the choice to bog ourselves down in anger and bitterness. Or not. We grow best where we’re planted.
On the same lines here’s another assurance from the Teacher – God has chosen us. What else matters? Bad things happen and most, maybe all of us, have been or are angry at God. But God manages to stay with us, however things are turning out.
An important point, God choosing us. Some parts of the Christian world make the claim that we have to make a decision for Christ. As if the choice, and responsibility were up to us and our imperfect approaches to pretty much everything in our lives. Fortunately for us, the decisions we make aren’t really high on the priority list for God because God has chosen us and saves us from ourselves through Christ and lives within each of us in the Holy Spirit.
I’m not bringing this idea up in the sense that we’re right and they’re wrong in what we believe. Different people believe different things. Fair enough. I’m emphasizing God choosing us rather than the other way around because it is dangerous to our faith to believe that we’re in control. It’s dangerous to believe that we have to do things right for God to love us. It’s dangerous because when things get sideways, and they will, it is easy to believe that we didn’t do enough, we didn’t make enough right decisions for God to choose us.
Think about that for a moment. God has chosen us and saves us from ourselves through Christ and lives within each of us in the Holy Spirit. It’s almost like God is inescapable. Okay, it is exactly like God is inescapable. Our decisions don’t change God’s presence in our lives.
That might seem a little scary for some but when we reflect on that a bit, we’re never alone. Whatever circumstances we find ourselves in, God is with us. Not causing the situation we’re in but supporting us, loving us. Forgiving us.
When we realize that we realize that whatever else happens, God is with us.
We grow best where we’re planted.