Is everything meaningless? (Ecc. 1: 1-12)

Publié le 5 septembre 2020 dans Non classé

Sermon 6th Sept 2020 – Ecclesiastes 1: 1-12, Pastor Samuel Niblack

How are you approaching the start of the school year this year? Some of you are enthusiastic: new school bag, new school, new mask, you may say « I will learn new things, make new friends, … » 

If you’re like that, that’s fine. Far from me to break your momentum… But maybe you are thinking, “Oh no another school year. The same old routine, the same journey every morning in traffic jams, or on the bus. Another job that tires me out. More housework to be done, diapers to change, meals to prepare. “Always a hassle.” Another full schedule, too full. 

Especially now, working life for many of us is more complicated, more painful, more uncertain than usual. There is a book in the Bible which understands you very well, which we are going to study and which helps us to make sense of it all. 

Let’s read Ecclesiastes 1.1-12 1 The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem: 2 “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” 3 What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun? 4 Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. 5 The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. 6 The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course. 7 All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again. 8 All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing. 9 What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. 10 Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. 11 No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them. 12 I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. 

This book is truly an amazing book … It’s like a cobblestone in the pond of the Bible. It talks about things that normally one should not find in the Bible: All is meaningless! Nothing matters! 

At times, Ecclesiastes seems to come to the same conclusion as Albert Camus, the French philosopher, (he said that « the meaning of life is the most pressing of questions »): « Life has no meaning, but it is worth living, provided you know that there is no meaning. ” 

Do we really have a good reason to go to work tomorrow morning? To start a family? To laugh at times? 

To introduce the book this morning, we will look at three points: 1. The author (the ecclesiast) 2. His thesis: (all is meaningless) 3. His first argument: (nothing new under the sun) 

1. The author: Ecclesiastes, v1 (+ v12) Here is the first riddle of this book: who is it, what is Ecclesiastes? Normally, when we talk about things of the Church, we talk about things that concern the Church. (The word church means assembly.) The ecclesiast is literally the Gatherer. It makes you think of a teacher, a lecturer who brings people together in a classroom. Also of someone who brings together truths, knowledge, to offer a coherent view of the world, like a philosophy teacher. 

v1 gives us some information about his identity: “son of David, king of Jerusalem.” (see also v12 I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem.) Obviously, this sentence makes us think of Solomon. Solomon is the only one who qualifies, of “king from Israel to Jerusalem ”. (All the other kings in Jerusalem ruled only over Judah.) At the same time, he never gives his name, and a few verses at the end hint that there is a narrator, an editor who has collected Solomon’s writings. 

Here is what we should remember about the author’s identity: It is worth listening to the testimony of a king like Solomon. He had total success, inexhaustible means, he had unparalleled intelligence, wisdom. His conclusions have merit. (If a young person fresh out of theological school says; I know the meaning of life, I know the secret of love, and I know the why of suffering, we aren’t necessarily going to take him very seriously.) 

2. His thesis: All is meaningless, v2-3 Everything is meaningless! The word meaningless comes up 7 times in 1 verse … 

If all is meaningless, this leads him to ask the biggest question of the book: what is the point of all the trouble (work) man gives himself? (Work = the essential activity of our life). 

The word Ecclesiastes was difficult to translate, this word meaningless too. All the translations offer something different. The height of inconsistency, everything is smoke. Derisory, absolutely derisory, meaningless. 

In Hebrew, the word means “vapor” and I find that this image evokes several aspects of our reality quite well. 

i. A vapor is something ephemeral, transitory, which leaves quickly. Like our existence as mortals. James says: « You are a vapor which appears for a little while, and which then disappears. » The famous Russian writer Tolstoy asked himself this question: Is there a meaning in life that would not be destroyed by death that inevitably awaits me? 

ii. The idea of vapor is also reminiscent of something empty, futile (the height of inconsistency), hence the phrase that comes up often: « All is meaningless and pursuit of the wind. » If you catch the wind, you have nothing in your hand. We may have more and more but happiness escapes us. 

ii. Finally, vapor, smoke also evokes something unfathomable, like being in the fog. So often in life, we find that the meaning, the reason, the why of things remains hidden from us. “The reality is so vast and so deep! Who will fully understand it? ” 

3. His first argument: nothing is new under the sun In verses 4-11 he describes the repetitive, cyclical side of life. In French, we say “The more it changes, the more it’s the same thing.” 

He gives three images of human existence: the sun rising and setting, the wind turning, the rivers flowing into the sea. 

Children, you like attraction parks. But let’s say you’re on a merry-go-round and can never get off. Many adults would say that life is like this. Daily life is boring. We hope for a new job, a new home, a new spouse, but in the end, we find the same problems, and the feeling of going round in circles. 

What gives the meaning to my life is that, through my work, my activity, my investments, I will be able to make the world a better place, I will leave a legacy for my children, I will pass on values, etc. But this never-ending cycle causes generations to pass and everything is quickly forgotten, v11 ‘No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them’. 

So, is everything really meaningless? Going to work, to school tomorrow morning: meaningless?! To have, to love children: meaningless?! Coming to church: meaningless?! 

The ecclesiast will wait until the end of the book to give the answer. But here, he gives us a little clue, in the expression “under the sun”, v3, v9. If we limit our point of view, our quest for the meaning in life to this visible world, indeed, all is meaningless, and there is no benefit to be gained from all our efforts. 

If God doesn’t exist, nothing matters. But nobody believes that. No one lives like that. If God exists (Creator, Judge, and Savior) then everything counts. We are not going to understand everything for the moment, but everything counts. 

Jesus’s resurrection broke the cycle. On the morning of his resurrection, we could no longer say: there is nothing new under the sun. 

Life and history are not an eternal merry-go-round. If Jesus is risen, if he comes back to judge the world, all is not meaningless. 

Sunday school (Envol) ‘The Parable of the Lost Coin’ This is Jesus who is the son of God and the savior of the world. While Jesus was on earth he taught everyone about God’s love He healed many people from their sickness, performed many miracles like calming storms and even raised people from the dead. Jesus taught everyone about God’s love. All kinds of people would come to hear Jesus speak including tax collectors and people who made bad choices. This made the Pharisees and Jewish leaders mad, they didn’t think that Jesus should be around these kind of people. So Jesus told them this story. Suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one, won’t she light a lamp and sweep the entire house and search carefully until she finds it? When she finds it she will call in her friends and neighbors and say celebrate with me and rejoice because I have found my lost coin. In the same way the angels of God are joyful and rejoice when even one person stops sinning and follows God.