August 4, 2013
Stephens City UMC
Scriptures: Luke 12:13-21
Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14
We don’t know exactly how old the rich man in our Luke text was. But it is clear that he seems to rely on riches as the controlling factor in his life. We know what the rich man didn’t know – the words of Jesus in verse 15: “Beware and be on your guard against every form of greed, for not even when one has abundance does his life consist of his possessions.” He also didn’t know that he was near the end of his life, but in verse 20, God says to him, “You fool! This very night, your soul is required of you, and now who will own what you have prepared?”
Oscar Wilde once said that there are only two tragedies in life: not getting what you want, and getting what you want. Sometimes we do get what we want, only to realize that we are still empty. We might ask the same question Peggy Lee asks in the song of some years ago, “Is That All There Is?” We realize that we have a need for something more.
Tradition states that Solomon wrote the Song of Songs in his youth, Proverbs in middle age and Ecclesiastes in old age, as he looked back and reflected on his life. Solomon had everything a person could possibly want – he was the king, he had unlimited power, lands, riches, wives and concubines. He was reputed to be the wisest man in the world. He seemingly had it all, but at the beginning of the book of Ecclesiastes, the Preacher (Solomon) says, “Vanitiy of vanities; all is vanity.”
If you are a teenager or a young adult, you may have a little trouble identifying with Solomon in this passage. But as we get older, we may look back on our lives and realize that we’ve been caught up in making money or rising to the top of our professions, only to ask if it’s all been worth it. We may ask, “Is that all there is?” Like Solomon reflecting on his life, there comes a time when we want more, when we may realize there is a void in our life which cannot be filled by possessions, but only by God.
In Chapter 2 of Ecclesiastes, Solomon recounts the things he has done with his life, and finally in verse 11 says, “Thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold, all was vanity and striving after wind, and there was no profit under the sun.”
This is not to say that we shouldn’t plan for the future, or work to take care of our families – of course we should. But the question is, Will our quest for material security get in the way of our relationship with God?
In the 10th chapter of Mark, Jesus tells the story of the rich young ruler. The young man comes to Jesus and asks, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He reminds Jesus that he is familiar with all the religious rules and texts and he has kept all the commandments. Jesus responds by saying, “One thing you lack – go and sell all your possessions and give to the poor, and you shall have eternal life, and come follow me.” Mark says that on hearing these words, the young man’s face fell, and he went away grieved, because he owned much property. Jesus concludes by saying , “How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God.”
The rich young ruler’s problem was not that he was rich, but that he refused to put God above his possessions. He wanted more out of life, but he was not willing to give up anything to get it.
In the June 25 Metro section of The Washington Post, there was an article entitled, “Praying to an Imaginary God.” The story was about a man named Sigfried Gold, who got down on his knees every night in his bedroom, lowered his head and prayed . Not unusual, except that Sigfried Gold is an atheist. Four years ago, he found himself unhappy, drifting from his family and battling a food addiction. He needed to change his life. So he joined a 12-step program, and like many 12-step programs, he had to acknowledge a higher power in his life. So he invented an imaginary ‘god’ to pray to. Today he is healthy again, happier in his relationships and free from a life of listlessness and dissatisfaction.
The need for a higher power in our lives is so strong that we will invent one if we have to, or we may give that place of honor to something else – money, power or prestige.
Rabbi Harold Kushner, who wrote a book called When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough, says that the existence of God is not the issue; the issue is whether or not God makes any difference in our lives. We can believe that God exists, but if God does not make a difference in our lives, we live as functional atheists.
If we stopped reading Ecclesiastes here, we might go away pretty depressed. But keep on reading. Solomon finally discovers the secret to life and he states it in the final chapter, chapter 12, verse 13: “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is this – fear God and keep his commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.”
Ecclesiastes calls us to reject the popular materialistic understanding of life and live our lives on a deeper level . This world, our bodies and our possessions, are transitory. What do you have that won’t pass away?
St. Augustine, in his Confessions, put it this way: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”