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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
 cloverdalecanrc.org
 
Title:Meaningless, Meaningless!
Text:Ecclesiastes 1:1-11 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Unclassified
 
Added:2022-06-21
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: Genesis 2

Text: Ecclesiastes 1:1-11

 

MEANINGLESS!  MEANINGLESS!

  1. Life Itself is Meaningless

  2. Life is For Meaning

 

  1. Psalm 144: 1, 2, 6

  2. Psalm 103: 1, 5, 6

  3. Psalm 39: 2, 3

  4. Hymn 71:1-2

  5. Psalm 3: 2, 3

  6. Hymn 77:1-3

 

Words to Listen For: 6000, dash, bunch, Testamental, waiting room

 

Questions For Understanding:

  1. What is Ecclesiastes?

  2. What is “vanity?” (literally)

  3. Compare/contrast “under the sun” with “above the sun.”

  4. Fill in the blanks: We are not satisfied ___ ______  ______, by ______  ______, because _____ ______ isn’t about ______ ______.

  5. What is the answer we find in Genesis?  In Romans?  In Revelation?

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


Beloved brothers and sisters,

The unexamined life is not worth living.

These were some of the last words out of the mouth of the famous philosopher Socrates.

The unexamined life is not worth living.

To be fully human, according to Socrates, was so much more than merely existing.  So much more than merely eating, sleeping, and working, day in and day out.  If this were all that life was…then we would be no different than the animals.

But we ARE different, not only in DEGREE, but in KIND from the animals.

What this means is that we do not merely eat better food, sleep on more comfortable beds, and do more complex work than the animals.  We are not merely THE BEST ANIMAL, but we are different.  We are unique creations of God.

We saw this in our reading.

Unlike the rest of God’s creation, which was merely SPOKEN into being…God did something different with us.

He formed Adam out of the dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.

  • Stars were flung into the night sky
  • Mountains were commanded to rise up from the earth
  • The seas fled to their boundaries at the voice of the Lord

But man…mankind was hand fashioned.  Mankind received, you could say, the kiss of life, when God breathed into His nostrils HIS OWN BREATH.

So we are unique.  We are unique in HOW we were created, and we are unique in WHAT WE WERE CREATED FOR.

We were created to think.  To think about ourselves, to know ourselves.  We were created to think critically about ourselves, creation, and our place within it.

The problem with this is…when we examine life…at least at the beginning…when we examine life, we will cry out with the Preacher:

MEANINGLESS!  MEANINGLESS!  All is meaningless!  We will conclude that

  1. Life Itself is Meaningless, but hopefully also that

  2. Life is For Meaning

 

Life Itself Is Meaningless

As we begin this journey into the book of Ecclesiastes, we begin with some questions.

What kind of book is this?  It’s not prophecy, it’s not really history, it could be seen as wisdom literature, on par with Proverbs…but it’s not really the same.  Proverbs gives us short pithy remarks, pious phrases, and bold statements.  

With a few notable exceptions, Proverbs doesn’t dive deeply into matters, instead, simply saying it like it is:

 

Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

Memorable.  Good and wise advice.  Proper parenting is important, and even essential to the flourishing of children.

 

Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, “I am only joking!”

Memorable.  Good and wise advice.  Truth is important, and even essential to relationships.

 

But that’s not really what we find here in Ecclesiastes, is it?

With a few notable exceptions, these pithy remarks are absent.  And the ones that we have, tend to confuse us.

Sorrow is better than laughter…really?  What exactly does this mean?

The day of death is better than the day of birth?  How can you say this??

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

What IS this book?

It seems more on par with a paper for a philosophy class.  “What is the meaning of life?” Write a minimum of 12 chapters.  6000 word limit.  But that’s not quite it either.

I have heard this description of Ecclesiastes, and it’s a good one:   Ecclesiastes is the personal journal of one man’s journey through life, as he searching for meaning and joy APART FROM GOD.

The Preacher sets aside, so to speak, the DIVINITY of it all, and tries to find meaning under the sun.

About 30 times in Ecclesiastes does the Preacher use the phrase “under the sun.”

  • What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils UNDER THE SUN

  • I have seen everything that is done UNDER THE SUN and behold, all is vanity.

  • There was nothing to be gained UNDER THE SUN

And on and on it goes.

What this tells us is that the Preacher has chosen to examine a limited sphere of influence.  By only examining what goes on UNDER THE SUN, he is choosing to neglect what happens OVER THE SUN.  Or ABOVE THE SUN.  The Preacher removes God from the equation and tries out life for its own sake.

The Preacher, like Socrates, and Plato after him, chose to live the examined life, and, at the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, chose to record it for us here.

So let’s dive in.

The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.

Now, there are those who take these words to mean that Solomon, and only Solomon could have written this book.  And that’s fine.  Maybe Solomon wrote it.  But his name’s not on it.

We know that “son of” doesn’t necessarily mean the first generation after, it could be a descendant of David who ruled in Jerusalem.  There are those who say that it was Uzziah.  And there’s some evidence throughout that seems to point that way.

Others say it was written in the voice of Solomon by a school of Scribes.  Could be!

But all of these discussions, though interesting to some, change absolutely nothing about the content.  They change absolutely nothing about the ultimate author: God Himself.

And so, we will go through this book over the summer, speaking of “The Author” and “The Preacher,” since Scripture does not furnish us with an iron clad identity.

The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.

Vanity of vanities, says the preacher, vanity of vanities!  All is vanity!

Vanity.  Or, as some other translations have it “Meaningless!”

Meaningless, meaningless, utterly meaningless, everything is meaningless!

Whatever word you choose here, the idea is that everything is as breath.  Or vapour.

There was once a minister who was preaching on Ecclesiastes, and it must have been some 20 years ago or more, because he wouldn’t be allowed to do today what he did then.

To start the sermon, he pulled a lighter out of his pocket, and a cigarette.  He stuck the cigarette in his mouth, lit it, and blew the smoke towards the congregation.

Everything is as smoke.  You can see it, you can smell it, it seems you can reach out and grab it…but very quickly it comes to nothing.

Everything like smoke - is temporary, nothing is forever.  And so what is the point?

 

What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?

This can be seen as the life of a farmer, but really any worker.

What is the point of WORK?

You plant crops, you water them, you weed around them, you remove insects, and then you harvest them.  You have enough food to live, enough money to buy seeds and tools for next year, and the process continues.  Maybe you can put some money away in savings…but year in, year out…it’s the same.

Or you work as a lawyer, as a policeman.  There will always be legal disputes…you put one file in your filing cabinet, and there’s another on your desk.  There will always be criminals.  You de-escalate a situation, you put an armed robber in jail, but tomorrow, there’s another one.

Even as a Pastor.  You write a sermon this week, proclaiming the excellencies of God, proclaiming the gospel…but next Sunday is coming, and there’s another sermon.  You visit someone in distress, you visit someone who is lonely…but tomorrow there’s someone else who needs you.

The work never ends.  It’s an endless cycle until you retire, or you die.  You can like your work, you can love your work…but there’s no denying that it’s the same.  Like a hamster running in its wheel.  So what is work but a bigger hamster wheel?

A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.

While children and young people may feel that they are completely unique, that nobody has ever struggled the way they have, that mom and dad just don’t understand…every adult, every senior has been young before.  Nobody is born as an old man or an old woman.  The completely unique, never-before-seen children grow up and have children of their own who claim to be completely unique and never-before seen.  On and on it goes.

It is, as we sang in Psalm 103 - Life is like grass, so quick to fade and perish.

There will always be another generation.  Life doesn’t just stop after you’re done.  The world doesn’t close up.

People are born, merely to die, and nothing changes this...nothing CAN change it.  And so there is the question: Why BE, if all that will happen to you is that you will CEASE TO BE?  Why BE, if all that will happen to you is that you will CEASE TO BE?  What’s the point?  What’s the point in being alive?

To answer: Well, we’re stuck with it, I suppose  - isn’t good enough to scratch that itch.

HUMANLY SPEAKING…remember…this is all HUMANLY SPEAKING - we’ll get there!…your life will amount to nothing more than the little dash on your gravestone between your birth and your death.  That little line.  That’s all there is.  This is meaningless.  Breath.  Vapour.

_____________________

The Preacher then moves on to creation.  Creation is on a never-ending cycle.

Despite the fears of another ice-age where all the world will be frozen - all icecaps - as we were warned 30 years ago, despite the current fears of global warming, where there will be no ice-caps left…the world will continue, generally as it is, until the end.

  • Until the last day, the sun will rise the sun will set…
  • Until the last day, the wind will blow around and around…
  • Until the last day, the streams will run into the sea, but will never fill it…

Whatever diseases, natural disasters, climate catastrophes come, or amount to nothing…this world remains the same, as though set on autopilot.

And so we see here:

  • We cannot find ultimate meaning in our work

  • We cannot find ultimate meaning in our history

  • We cannot find ultimate meaning in creation

Indeed…

Verse 8 - All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.

The unexamined life is not worth living…

But…what happens when the EXAMINED LIFE…isn’t much better?

What happens when everything under the sun is nothing but breath, nothing but vapour?  Nothing but vanity?  MEANINGLESS MEANINGLESS we cry.  MEANINGLESS so says the Preacher.

There’s not an argument that we can really make…under the sun.  This life IS MEANINGLESS.

Apart from God…and we’ll get there very shortly…but apart from God…what is the most meaning we can find?

Money and wealth?  To get…what?  Pleasure?  That evaporates like breath?

Doing good deeds and showing kindness and care to those who are suffering?  For what end?  They will suffer again.  For all the comfort that you can provide…that comfort evaporates like breath, and they will die.

Having children and grandchildren to carry on your name…for what end?  They will forget you, and your name will evaporate like breath.

So now that we are sufficiently depressed, now that we are sufficiently hopeless, now that things are sufficiently dark…let’s bring in the happiness.  Let’s bring in the hope.  Let’s bring in the light.  This life itself IS MEANINGLESS…but this life is given to us FOR MEANING.  Our second point.

So what does it mean for life ABOVE the sun, if life UNDER the sun is so meaningless?

If this life, created by God is meaningless…does that mean God HIMSELF is meaningless too?  That this world is a picture of who God is?  He is meaningless as this is meaningless?

By no means!

And here, I draw on the work of C.S. Lewis in his book Surprised by Joy, which details Lewis’ journey from atheism to Christianity.

We are born with desires.  We all are.  And some of these desires can be fulfilled here on this earth.

  • A baby feels hunger - there is such a thing as mother’s milk.
  • A duckling wants to swim - there is such a thing as water.

But what about the deeper things?  What about deeper meaning?  What about deeper satisfaction?

As human beings, we desire DEEPER things

And so, says Lewis, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.  If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud.  Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.”

To put it simply…and if you’re the kind of person to write notes, write this one down: “We are not satisfied by this life in this life because this life isn’t about this life.”

I said “this life” a bunch of times there, so I’ll say it again slowly for you to write

We are not satisfied 

    BY THIS LIFE

        IN THIS LIFE

Because THIS LIFE

    Isn’t about

        THIS LIFE

So what IS it about?  Why are we here?

Well…it’s all about breath you see.  It’s all about BREATH.  You might be skeptical about this, but hear me out.

Ecclesiastes says: EVERYTHING IS VANITY.  Remember…vanity, vapour, breath.  Like that minister who blew smoke out into the congregation.  Everything is breath, it’s temporary it’s meaningless.  This is what Ecclesiastes says.

But what does Genesis say?

Genesis 2:7 - The Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.

These aren’t the same kinds of breath, beloved.  These are WILDLY DIFFERENT KINDS OF BREATH, and thank God that they are.

  • You have the breath of the earth - temporary, meaningless, here today, gone tomorrow…

  • And you have the breath of God - eternal, filled with meaning, giving life…giving ETERNAL LIFE

The breath that we are filled with as human beings, the breath that gives us immortal souls…this is breath from above the sun, and it is the only thing that will ultimately fulfill us.

The breath that we take in here on earth, the breath of work and possessions, history, family, friends and creation around us…this is breath from below the sun, and it’s not meant for ultimate fulfillment.  It’s meant for something else.

That’s all well and good you might say…how wonderful, earthly breath, heavenly breath…but…if this is the answer…then why didn’t the Preacher just…realize this?  Why did he keep going?  If the answer is faith…then why does he abandon it and focus only on life under the sun?

WHY?

Because, you see...just like the unexamined LIFE…an unexamined life is not worth living…yes and no…

Based on the Preacher, we come to another saying.  A similar saying.  Let’s try it on for size.

The unexamined life is not worth living…

    The unexamined faith is not worth believing.

Is this true?

Because not only was the Preacher examining what life was like under the sun…but by excluding God, he was also TESTING GOD.  It was all TOO EASY for him.

The Preacher broke down life and broke down faith, only to build it back up again.

What is life?

    The repetition of days.

        That sounds meaningless…could it be more?

What is faith?

    The belief in God.

        That sounds too simple…could it be more?

Because faith, on the one hand, is so very simple.  We must have faith like that of a child.  We must take God at His Word.  We must trust in Him for all good things like a child trusts their earthly parents.

But on the other hand, faith is so difficult.

Faith is, at the same time, a confidence…and a longing.

A longing, a hoping, a desire to journey to the end and to find one’s way back to fellowship with God and man.

Faith is, at the same time, a destination and a journey.

Faith is the result of years spent with God, and faith IS the years spent with God.

Faith is both a gift, and something we must practice, like a habit.

By grace you have been saved, through faith, and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God…but also something that can be strengthened in ourselves by spiritual dedication.

Faith, just like life…can be so confusing.  It can feel so false, so flimsy, so empty.

And the Preacher decided that he would break down life to its depressing meaningless meaning, and that he would also see what living without faith was like.  The Preacher was, we could say, the Old Testamental, Philosophical, Prodigal Son.

Run away from everything good so that you can truly appreciate it.

And should we follow the example of the Preacher?  Should we abandon everything for the hope of coming back stronger?

By no means!  This is foolishness!  This is foolishness, because, first of all, we are running away from, instead of embracing meaning and purpose and goodness.  This is what we must PURSUE, not FLEE FROM.

The unexamined faith isn’t worth believing?  NO!  The unexamined faith IS WORTH BELIEVING…the faith of a child is something truly wonderful.  But at the same time…the unexamined faith isn’t everything it can be.  So examine it!  Examine it, yourself, by living it out!  Examine it by walking through the book of Ecclesiastes!

Don’t abandon everything for the hope of coming back stronger…the Preacher already did that for us!

By reading Ecclesiastes, we are going on this journey with him, with one foot still tethered to the spiritual reality.  The reality that exists both under and above the sun.

The Preacher is calling out to us: Try education, intellectualism, hedonism, materialism…atheism…come down these roads with me if you wish, and I’ll prove that they’re a dead-end street!

Come down these roads with him…from your armchair.  He actually did it so that you don’t have to risk everything yourself.

____________

But…for all the dancing around the issue…for the answering of the WHAT - the breath of the earth and the breath of God - for the answering of the WHERE - where do we go from here, do we walk a road apart from God…we still haven’t answered the WHY.

WHY is this life so meaningless?

Is it because GOD CREATED IT as meaningless?

No.

Why questions are notoriously difficult, and Scripture leaves many of them unanswered…but not this one.

This why question is answered, and it is answered beautifully.

For the answer, please turn with me to the book of Romans, chapter 8.

Verse 18 -

             For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.  And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.  And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.  And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

It is NO ACCIDENT that this world is meaningless.  That this world is futile and groaning and like breath.

This isn’t how we were CREATED TO BE, but rather, this is how we were CURSED TO BE.

Adam and Eve, in a similar move to the Preacher, shoved God off to the side, but they went a step further.  Instead of merely investigating the world, they decided they wanted to rule it.  To become gods themselves.

And so, by turning away from God, the earth, the creation, was cursed.

Cursed is the ground because of you;

    in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;

thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;

    and you shall eat the plants of the field.

By the sweat of your face

    you shall eat bread,

till you return to the ground,

    for out of it you were taken;

for you are dust,

    and to dust you shall return.”

Meaningless meaningless, everything is meaningless!

Creation was involuntarily cursed as the result of voluntary sin and rebellion, and fall.

BUT.

BUT GOD.

But there is hope.  It was subjected in hope that it would be set free.

And it has been set free.

It has been set free by God the Son.

He came to free us for the sake of freedom.  This we heard in our sermon series leading up to Easter.  We are FREED PEOPLE!  Freed from the curse of the law, freed from the curse of futility.

This life, so meaningless in itself, is SO MEANINGFUL when we realize that this is our waiting room, this is our training ground for the life to come.  In this life, we will have difficulties and sorrows, but our God is there with us through it all.

God the Son DIED to take the curse on Himself.  The curse of sin, the curse of death, the curse of meaninglessness.

This world that is so meaningless without Him…is filled with His fingerprints, His breath, His meaning, His life, and His joy.

Imagine the pinnacle of human achievement.  Imagine a scientist has dedicated his life to knowing more and more about astronomy.  Let’s say, the sun.  A man who knows more than ANYONE ELSE ON EARTH about the sun.  He knows the exact size, he knows how much power it emits, he knows how far away it is, a solar flare from a sun spot.  Does that knowledge give him joy and peace and confidence?  It’s COOL that he goes to conferences to speak, it’s COOL that he gets applause…but…nothing more than that.  Nothing REAL.  Nothing LASTING.

And compare this to a believer, who, when opening the blinds in the morning, sees the sun streaming in and can say, “My God, how great Thou art.  How wonderful your creation, how magnificent the things you have done and will do…please bless my life under the sun this day.”

This is the power of Jesus Christ.

 

And this is the power of God the Holy Spirit.

Through the Spirit we groan inwardly.  Through the Spirit we pray as we ought to pray.  Through the Spirit, we are given hope.  Through the Spirit…the BREATH OF GOD.

 

And finally, there is hope and there is meaning because of the promise of God the Father at the end of the last book of the Bible.

  • In the first book, we were subjected to futility.
  • At the halfway point we see meaning infused and hope given
  • And at the end, we see this promise: Behold, I am making all things new.

The Preacher says:

What has been is what will be,

    and what has been done is what will be done,

    and there is nothing new under the sun.

Is there a thing of which it is said,

    “See, this is new”?

It has been already

    in the ages before us.

And God says: Behold, I make all things new.

The things that are NEVER NEW…

  • Creation operating, seemingly, on autopilot…
  • The earth revolving around the sun, rotating on its axis…

One day…one day all this will be NEW.

  • We will be new - no more death or mourning or crying or pain

  • The earth will be new - no more corruption, no more futility

  • Heaven itself will be new - no longer built as a temple with the need for sacrifices, but as a city, where we will all dwell together with each other and with God, in perfect peace and harmony.

The meaning that exists above the sun will exist under the sun, for heaven and earth will be one, and we will be with our God and Father, the source of meaning, the source of life, the source of every good things.

The examined life, when we examine ALL it’s aspects, is very much so, WORTH LIVING.

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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