Lutheranlady's Weblog


A Sermon on Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23 and Luke 12:13-21
August 5, 2013, 2:35 pm
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Our texts from Ecclesiastes and Luke raise up the kinds of questions that might be best pondered around the campfire, or over a long dinner with friends. But they are also the questions that rise up in moments of frustration or grief, or in times of exhaustion that even the youngest among us can feel. Questions like: What is the point of my life? Does anything I do matter? How can I make myself and my family secure? When will we be comfortable or successful? (and) When I die, how will people remember me?

Ecclesiastes might seem a bit dreary to many people, but I love its honesty: “all is vanity and a chasing after wind” (and) “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”

Have you ever felt this same sense that day after day you work, and you never really know if you’re accomplishing anything? Papers get shuffled across the desk, emails sent, dishes washed, kids transported from one activity to the next… and the endless cycle never stops. Then, suddenly, there’s a day when everything stops, and as I look towards that final day, I have to wonder, will my life have left anything behind?

As I walk through the halls of nursing homes, watching for the number of the room I’ll enter, I catch glimpses of others’ lives. At some care centers, there are memory boxes at the residents’ doors. There are photos of weddings lost past, spouses now deceased, farms since sold, and square dance dresses now traded for the wheelchair. There are momentos from grandchildren, four or five generation photographs, and cards from dear friends.

These are treasures of a life once lived, and now, not lost, but changed. They present joyful memories, but also a stark reminder that the life we now live, the freedom and health we may enjoy today, won’t last forever. 

Some elders may have joyfully passed their farms, recipes, wisdom and faith on to the next generation. They are secure in knowing that their legacy continues on. Others may not have gotten the chance: illness and bills drained their finances, family disagreements and difficulty in keeping friends have left them alone. Each looks back on a life filled with both sorrow and joy, perhaps with both gratitude and regret. No one is able to live forever, and no life stays the same throughout its course.

In Luke, Jesus picks up on Ecclesiastes’ reflections on death as the great equalizer. The pharoahs of old may have been buried with their treasures, but it does them no good in death. Neither will our riches make us any better off after death.

Jesus describes this situation with a parable of a rich farmer, whose exceedingly successful year has led him to build larger storage bins, and to believe that his future is secure. Yet at the very moment he thinks he has reached a stable place in his life, death claims him, and he learns that the worth that matters is based on God.

Jesus’ parable follows up on his caution again greed, his saying, “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” For me this parable reads as a caution about feeling overly secure and confident for the future. Surely that is a lesson many of us have lived, or watched friends and family live, over these past five years. 

One minute there was steady work in a stable job, a growing retirement account, and plans for vacation, and the next, a stunned realization that everything is uncertain, the job is gone and a new one is difficult to come by. 

In our lived parable, it’s hard to see the rich farmer’s desire to store his abundant crop as something foolish. It looks like wisdom, to save away, and ensure his future stability. Certainly a cushion of savings has made the difference between some families keeping their homes and others losing theirs. 

But what might resonate more clearly with us, given the recent years, is the sense that personal security cannot be fully trusted. Because financial well-being can so easily disappear, it will not fulfill us if we treat it as our ultimate goal. 

Jesus turns us towards a goal of being rich towards God. The wealth we’ve amassed in this life won’t matter when it leaves us or we leave it. 

These can be difficult texts, difficult because so many people resonate with the frustration and even despair they convey. But rather than finding these texts depressing, I find them freeing. Scripture acknowledges that our daily work can become a daily grind, tedious and repetitive, and sometimes not very fulfilling. Jesus tells us that making wealth the reason and goal of our work will fail us. Success in work and money is fleeting and elusive. We will find ourselves disappointed if we judge the worth and meaning of our lives on those things. 

 

Meaning in life, personal worth, and promise for something beyond death come from outside of ourselves. These are things we cannot create for ourselves with any certainty. Rather, they are gifts of God. 

 

God places you in the grand story of God’s creative and redeeming love. You are an essential person in this great drama of life. Your life, your following God in creating and caring for the world, is lived within the plan set forth at creation, when God delighted in creating all creatures, and gave to humankind certain abilities and responsibilities. It is for your sake that God became incarnate, that Jesus descended into this earth and human life. Daily life, with its tedium, and with its highest and lowest points, is brought into God’s experience, God’s memory, and made holy by God’s presence. 

 

God has determined your worth, and values you highly. You have been united with Jesus Christ, and God sees his righteousness when God looks at you. The path towards meaningful days is charted through union with Jesus. Jesus frees you from distracting earthly goals of wealth and stability, and the fear of losing them. Jesus frees you for the sake of your neighbor, so that you might live your life in the joy of following Jesus in sharing what you have with others. 

 

At the end, it will be Jesus’ accomplishments that determine your course. When you die, it will be the riches Jesus has won for you in his own faithfulness, his life and death, that will bring you peace and reward. The generations that remember you and your work may live on for many years, but your place in the community of God will last forever. 

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