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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
 cloverdalecanrc.org
 
Title:The Real Facts of Life
Text:Psalms 103:14-18 (View)
Occasion:Lord's Supper
Topic:Unclassified
 
Added:2022-01-25
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: Ecclesiastes 1:1-18; Psalm 103: 1-22

Text: Psalm 103:14-18

 

THE REAL FACTS OF LIFE

  1. Our Lives are Fleeting

  2. His Love is Forever

 

1. Psalm 90:1-3, 8

2. Psalm 127:1-4

3. Psalm 103:4-7

4. Hymn 74:1-4

5. Hymn 60:1-3

6. Hymn 60:4-6

7. Hymn 54: 1, 4, 5, 7, 8

 

Words to Listen For: airplane, beginning, black-and-white, actor, retrain

 

Questions for Understanding:

  1. What does “vanity” mean in Ecclesiastes?

  2. What is special about our creation?

  3. What is the most tragic part of a gravestone? Why?

  4. What one (or two) word(s) make all the hopelessness fade away?

  5. Does verse 18 mean that we are the ones who EARN God’s love?  Why or why not?

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ our Lord,

 

How far back can you remember?  What is your first memory of your life?  Think about that.  Hold on to it.

You know that you EXISTED from before your first memory.  You existed as a newborn baby in the hospital.  You existed when you were still in your mother’s womb.  It was you in there, growing, kicking, moving around.

But what about before that?  You know about the lives of other people too.  Your parents for example.  Who were they?  Who are they?  What details do you know about their life?  Probably quite a few, right?  You might know the story of what they studied in college.  How they met.  What their first house was like.  And so many other things.

Then go a generation further back.  Your grandparents.  Who were they?  You might know the story of how they met, a general idea of the struggles in their life...but not many other things.

And, if you will indulge me, follow me for another few generations.

Your great grandparents.  You might know their names.  You might have seen some pictures of them and know how many siblings they each had.  Maybe.

You great-great grandparents.  Do you know their names?  Do you know their years?  I know that I don’t.

Already in 3 or 4 generations, all the details of your life are forgotten.  As human beings, we are so easily forgotten.  Even the great men and women of the past have mostly just become synonymous with their greatest or worst actions.

  • Nero was the emperor who burned Rome
  • Churchill was the prime minister who kept morale high and worked tirelessly to defeat Hitler
  • The Wright brothers invented the airplane

The details of their lives have completely disappeared, and they are only remembered for their big actions.

If we think about this too long without seeing the bigger picture, it can be very depressing and cause us to wonder what the point of all of this is.  What is the point of all of our struggles and joys here if they will be so quickly forgotten?  Our psalm this morning helps us understand all of this.  It clears everything up with:

THE REAL FACTS OF LIFE

  1. Our Lives are Fleeting

  2. His Love is Forever

The real facts of life seem to be meaningless when we look at them through an exclusively earthly lens.

This is what we heard in our reading from Ecclesiastes this morning: Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities!  All is vanity.

Do we truly understand what this means?  It is unfortunate that in our day and age, the word “vanity” typically means something different than what the preacher is saying here.

Is he mourning over the self-obsessed celebrities who are addicted to plastic surgery?  Who spend all day everyday looking into a mirror, wondering, like the Queen in Snow White: Who is the fairest one of them all?  That’s not what is meant here.

This word “vanity” is translated in other versions as “meaninglessness” or “useless” or “pointless.”  It is interesting to note that the word literally means breath, or vapour.  You can think of it like this: When it is a cold day, and you breathe out, you can see your breath.  But only for a second.  Your breath is there, and then its not there.  And that is how the preacher in Ecclesiastes views life.

Human life on this planet is here and then it is gone.  The world goes on, seemingly uncaring.  The sun rises and the sun goes down, all streams run to the sea...to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again.  The world is in this seemingly endless cycle, and as a human being, we see that cycle, but we are not endless.  We are mist.  We are vapour.

And the preacher is trying to come to terms with this.  How can the PINNACLE of creation be like this?

If the mountains stand for thousands and thousands of years, millions of years if Christ doesn’t return before that time...how is it that a human being only lives for 70 or 80 years?  Some make it into their 90s...how does this make sense?

And the psalmist is much like the preacher here.  Picking up Psalm 103 at verse 14

For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.

This is what we are.  The preacher uses figurative language to describe our lives...we are like vapour or mist.

But the psalmist describes us rather more literally.  We are dust.  This is how we were created: The LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.

We have come from dust.

But let’s not stop there.

We have come from dust...but God HIMSELF formed us.  He hand-fashioned the first man, Adam, and then hand-fashioned the first woman, Eve, from Adam’s rib.  He hand-fashions each and every one of us in our mother’s womb.

We may be dust, but we are ELEVATED dust.  We are dust that the LORD GOD HIMSELF chose to form, and gave the breath of life.  And we were the only creation formed in this way.

Light?  God spoke, and it came to be.

Land?  Seas?  God said, and it was.

Fruit? Stars? Animals?  God commanded and they were there.

But it was human beings that God formed and fashioned from dust.  And that is what verse 13 tells us.  Verse 13 informs verse 14.  We can see that with the word “for” starting verse 14.  It is there for a reason - to connect us backwards.

As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear Him.  FOR He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.

Just as we needed God to breathe life in us at the beginning, we still need God to show us compassion and love.  Each and every day of our lives.  Our God knows us inside and out.  He knows our frame, He knows our every thought.  And so He knows our weaknesses and what we need to be supported in those weaknesses.

As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.

There are few things more tragic and sobering than looking at a gravestone.  To be in a graveyard and see row upon row of stones.  Each marking the place where someone is buried.  And on that gravestone you see the name, and maybe a short description: beloved mother.

But what is more tragic to me than seeing those rows of stones that slowly get worn away...is the dash.  There is a dash on each gravestone.  Between the year of birth and the year of death.  Just a short horizontal line.

And why that is so tragic, is because that line is what marks that person’s life.  Little more than a dash.  Between 1925 and 2020 was their life.  And it is represented by that line.  That’s it.  Your life in a snapshot.  And this is tragic.  It truly is.

We can see why, when the preacher in Ecclesiastes was confronted with the futility of life, he cried out: Meaningless!  Meaningless!  He tried so many things to forget the meaninglessness of life.  He devoted himself to wisdom and to madness and folly.  But all of it was a striving after the wind.

In chapter 2, we read that he devoted himself to the pleasures of this life.  Anything and everything to fill that little dash with meaning.  He drank a lot of wine.  He built houses and planted vineyards.  But nothing truly satisfied the preacher.

These are the facts of life.  And they’re depressing.

BUT.

HOWEVER.

Let us not forget verse 17.

But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting

This is a blessed “but.”  An AMAZING and comforting exception.

It has been said that the entire gospel can be summed up in two words: BUT GOD.  Even though our earthly lives are fleeting, His love is forever.  Our second point.

You may have noticed that our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ was not mentioned at all in our first point.  Not one mention.  And that was intentional.  For a life without Jesus Christ IS meaningless.  If our Saviour had never come, there would be no hope for us.  No hope for any of us.

Our gravestones would be an accurate picture of our entire life.  Not just our earthly life.  But our entire existence.  All summed up in that one dash.

BUT.  BUT GOD.

You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world...BUT GOD, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us...made us alive together with Christ!  It is by grace you have been saved.

BUT GOD.  How amazing!  How gracious!  How wonderful!  Suddenly the hopelessness of this life fades away.  Because there is more.  There is so much more to it.  Although our lives on this earth pass by like a vapour, compared with the everlasting mountains and the sea that never runs dry...God steps in with something more majestic than any mountain.  More cleansing than the rush of water to the sea.  And so much more permanent.

For these mountains that seem eternal, the sunrise and set that has been going on for thousands of years ever since God said “let there be light” will one day end.

In the New Jerusalem there will be no more sun, for the glory of God gives it light.

BUT GOD.  How delightful.  It brings us from the black and white hopelessness of verses 15 and 16 into this world full of color and glorious light!

But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting

What a magnificent contrast.  The weakness of humanity and the strength of Yahweh.

It is interesting, that in this contrast, where man is so very clearly presented as weak and temporary, and God is just as clearly presented as strong and eternal...it is his steadfast love that is presented here.

Our God has a treasure trove of perfections that He could bring out here.

His absolute POWER of speaking all creation into being.

Or His utter DOMINANCE over evil.  That Satan’s heavenly rebellion ended with a fallen angel bowing before God on the throne.

But it isn’t the chalice of creation that is revealed here.

It’s not the diadem of dominance.

It’s not any alliterative treasure, but instead it is STEADFAST LOVE.  Mercy.  Favor.  Grace.

This is our favorite Hebrew word, back once again.  We were introduced to it in the sermon on David, the King after God’s own heart.  We heard it the last time I preached on Psalm 103.  HESED.  The steadfast covenant love of the LORD.  This HESED is how our God shows His ultimate power.

While He is Creator...He didn’t just create to show His might.  He created in love.

He is Redeemer...but He didn’t just redeem to show His glory.  He redeemed in love.

For all the many many wondrous things that our God is...He is a lover above them all.  Our God LOVES WITH AN EVERLASTING LOVE.  An ENDLESS LOVE.  Our God IS love.

What a contrast...the fading flower of mankind compared to the limitless love of our God.

This is the love that reached down into the darkness.  This is the love that saw the wickedness and depravity of the human heart.  That saw us as captives to the Devil and declared NO MORE!

NO MORE.  Just as the words “justice” and “mercy” can be stamped on the cross, so too these words: NO MORE.

Satan will not have dominion, but Christ shall have dominion.  Evil will not win the day, but love will win the day.

The overwhelming, never-ending, HESED love of God.

This is the joy of Christ’s sacrifice.  This is what makes Good Friday good.  This is why we can say that we CELEBRATE the Lord’s Supper.  We celebrate a sacrifice.  We take great comfort in the pain of our Lord.

Because it was all out of love.

The overwhelming, never-ending, HESED love of God.

 

But this love...who is it for?

But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children.

This HESED love is for those who fear Him.  And then, in verse 18, we see this expanded and explained.

To those who keep His covenant and remember to do His commandments

And this makes sense.  God’s covenant love and mercy is to His covenant people.

But then what?  Who started all of this?  Who was the first actor?  Was it us, just by the fact that we are covenant people?  Can we say that the HESED of Yahweh is our birthright?

His righteousness is to children’s children after all.

And what about those of us not born into the covenant?  What about the visitor off the street?  For those not born into the covenant...is this love for them, or not?

 

Though you may not remember it, because it was 5, 10, or 20 generations back...there were ancestors in your family who were not born as covenant people.  Even if you are ethnically Jewish, and you have to go back to Abraham...Abraham was the son of a pagan who worshipped false gods.  So all of us are descended from pagans if we go back far enough.  So how does this work?  Where does this leave us?  

It leaves us in the same place that we started this point.  With that marvellous “but God” of the gospel.

Of course it was GOD who acted first.  His love does not depend on us!  He was the one who acted first.

God’s covenant mercy can’t DEPEND on our obedience, because then it wouldn’t be mercy anymore!  Mercy is sparing us from the punishment that we justly deserve.

God’s HESED love, His righteousness shown to generations...it comes to us...not because we are holy.  Not because one day we will earn it...but it comes to us so that He can make us holy!

And that is the obedience that the psalmist sings of here.

It is because we are people claimed by the love of God that we will fear Him.

We will be filled with that deep-seated reverence and respect.  That worshipful awe.

Not so that we can EARN that love...but because we have already received it.

It is because we are so dearly loved that we want to keep His covenant and do what He commands.  We do this in thankfulness and joy.  And His commandments are not burdensome.  Not really.

They show us the best way to live.  We have to retrain ourselves from our old sinful way of life...we are USED to doing things the wrong way, living for ourselves, disobeying, hating, lying...but the very fact that we ARE LOVED gives us hope.  It gives us strength to make this the new way of living.

THESE are the facts of life.  Simply put, beloved…

We are so weak and temporary on our own.

We pass away like the grass of the field.

 

But God.

 

But God’s love...it remains forever.  And that love...it makes us infinite too.  Our earthly lives are SO MUCH MORE than just that dash between our earthly birth and our earthly death.  Because our HEAVENLY birth,...when we are claimed by God to be His own possession...that is the start of a never-ending life.

A life of colour.

A life of joy.

A life of peace.

A life of hope.

A life with God, kept forever in His HESED love.

AMEN.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Jeremy Segstro

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