A sermon given at Choral Evensong on Ecclesiastes 3: 9-22 by The Right Rev’d Chris McLeod, Dean
So, I saw that there is nothing better that all should enjoy their work …(Ecclesiastes 3: 22)
The Rev’d Dr Lynn Arnold preached an excellent sermon on Ecclesiastes last week; reminding us to ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’ to Jesus who makes ‘All things well’. I hope to do some justice to Lynn’s sermon by preaching on Ecclesiastes 3: 9 – 22 tonight.
Ecclesiastes is a sobering kind of book. It is a reflection on the mundaneness of life – the life most of us live. We rise and go to work, earn our money, and then go home again. That seems to occupy our life for most of our adult years. Most of our work is about putting food on the table and, if we can, have a few luxuries. When we retire, we still labour on in some way or another. So, we might as well enjoy it, right?
- Living Life in the Now
I think Ecclesiastes is saying some very important things. Most of us live our lives either in the past or the future. We can find ourselves reminiscing about the good old days. Remember when … we say to ourselves. It comes with age. I find myself doing it more and more. The world has changed, Adelaide has changed, and I find myself thinking about what brought me pleasure in the past – corner delis, simple afternoons spent down the beach, the Glenelg sideshows. Those sorts of things. It is really a quest for nostalgia. Nostalgia can be seductive though, and we can begin to look at the past through ‘rose coloured glasses’ and overlook the troublesome things we find in the past. We, the church, are very good at this looking back to the good old days when all seemed simple and assured.
Others, however, think about what’s ahead of us. We think about the future. When I have more money, when I get a house, when I retire, if my x-lotto ticket wins. We are impatient with the present. The future looks so promising, but it is often filled with ‘if onlys’. Sometimes we conflate the two, looking back and looking forward. If only tomorrow was like yesterday. Again, that is something we do very well in the church. If only next years was 1957 again when the church was strong and full of young people.
Ecclesiastes pulls us up short with this sort of thinking. He is concerned about the now. Life is to be lived now. The seductive past and the illusion of the future are not his concern. The here and now are what concerns him most. Ecclesiastes has learnt from the past for sure, but he does not dwell there. He is under no false romantic illusions. The lessons of the past give us wisdom for living in the present.
2. God – The missing piece
Is Ecclesiastes being a bit cynical? Some think he is. Is he saying that we should just accept our lot and get on with it? No, I think he is saying more than this. He is saying that we should enjoy life now. We can enjoy our work and enjoy what God has provided for us. However, Ecclesiastes is more than offering ‘tips’ for living well. Ecclesiastes is more than a lifestyle guru or life coach.
He is also saying that there is one thing that can be missing, however, in our quest for a meaningful life, and that is God. At end of the book Ecclesiastes says this: ‘The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of everyone’ (Eccles: 11: 13; and see also Eccles 3: 14). God is the missing piece for many of us. In God we find total satisfaction. This is picked up in the prayer of St Augustine of Hippo. This is the famous passage from St. Augustine’s Confessions in which Saint Augustine states “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you.”
Ecclesiastes clears the way in our thinking for God. It sweeps us clean of the idolatry of the past and the future, so we can be ready to receive the message of Jesus that he brings us life and in all its fullness (John 10: 10). We can enjoy that life now!
+Chris – Dean