Occasionally, I’m asked to lead the services and give the sermon at St. Mark Lutheran Church in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Here is my sermon from 8/1/2010:
For me, the best part about being asked to give a sermon is that, during the study to prepare for the sermon, I learn SO much. The first thing I always learn is that I don’t know very much! I have never read the entire Bible, and I’ve never studied its contents at length, so this gives me a great opportunity to gain more knowledge about my faith.
One of the many things I learned this week that King Solomon, in his old age, likely wrote Ecclesiastes about his frustrations with life; he also wrote Proverbs from his wisdom in his middle years; and he wrote Song of Solomon about the love of his youth – from the woman’s point of view. According to 1st Kings, Solomon wrote 1005 songs – the Song of Solomon might have just been one of them. Solomon is also said to have had 700 wives and 300 concubines. Times have certainly changed; who could afford that.
For Colossians, I learned that most people attribute the writing of the Book to Paul although there are suspicions and arguments that it wasn’t written during his lifetime. Scholars say it uses a different literary style and words that are not found in any of the other of the undisputed books of Paul.
I learned that the writer of Luke may have been a traveling companion of Paul, and he is also credited with writing the book of Acts.
I learned many other things including a reminder of the fact that the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, and the Hebrew language of the time only had 22 consonants – no vowels.
I said in a previous sermon that one of the things I like most about Pastor Malone is that he fills in the blanks about the activity surrounding the readings for today.
So, I always read several chapters around the Gospel text for the day. That way I can understand the reading in the context of what part of Jesus’ ministry and life it occurred. If time permits, I do the same for the Old Testament and Epistle readings.
The Gospel verses for today, from Luke 12, are smack-dab in the middle of the book. There are 24 chapters in the Gospel of Luke and a total of 19,400 words. To me, chronologically as well, today’s the Gospel reading is situated smack-dab in the middle of Jesus’ ministry with some of our favorite parables and stories all around it… …and some interesting ones too.
In Luke 10, the 72 disciples were sent out and told to heal, be welcomed, or shake the dust from your feet. We also have the story of the Good Samaritan there.
In Luke 11, Jesus teaches how to pray and gives us the Lord’s Prayer
In Luke 13, the old woman is healed in the temple on the Sabbath
In Luke 14, Jesus told the parable of choosing the place of lowest honor and humbling yourself. He said, “For those that exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humbled themselves will be exalted”
Shortly before that parable in Luke 14, I read that, “Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy. And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, ‘Is it lawful to cure people on the Sabbath, or not?’ But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away.”
Ever heard of dropsy? I hadn’t, so I looked it up. The first definition I read seemed to minimize the malady as ‘retaining fluids’. I couldn’t help but joke to myself that Jesus might have been curing PMS if the man had been a woman. But further reading talked of edema and congestive heart failure giving more gravity to the description of ‘retaining fluids’. So, I take back my joke.
Another thing I like about Pastor’s sermons is when he fills in the blanks WITHIN the given readings, as in our text today from Ecclesiastes, which gives us 4 verses from Chapter 1 and 6 verses from Chapter 2. It’s interesting to see what the “the powers-that-be” decided to skip over.
The missing verses of today’s lesson fill out a bit different story than what we read. Solomon purposefully tests himself with ALL earthly things. He writes in Verse 1 of Chapter 2, (which we didn’t read), “1I said to myself, ‘Come now, I will make a test of pleasure; enjoy yourself.’… … But again, this also was vanity. 2I said of laughter, ‘It is mad’, and of pleasure, ‘What use is it?’ 3I searched with my mind how to cheer my body with wine—my mind still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, until I might see what was good for mortals to do under heaven during the few days of their life”
And, boy did he do it: great works, houses, vineyards, gardens, parks, fruit trees, pools, male slaves, female slaves, herds, flocks, silver, gold, singers, delights of the flesh… …and of course 700 wives and 300 concubines.
So, in our reading, we see Solomon’s statements AFTER having engaged in all of the Earthly pleasures.
Right after that, in chapter 3, Solomon writes the words for The Byrds song , “Turn! Turn! Turn!” Hope he got the royalties!
Another thing that Pastor Malone does regularly is to give more flavor to the text by including the Greek — or Hebrew or Aramaic — translation and describing certain words in the color of that language.
So, Ecclesiastes, written in Hebrew, sometimes picked up a bit of different meaning as it made its way to English. For example, in Verse 2 of Chapter 1, Solomon uses the Hebrew Qoheleth, which is usually transcribed as Preacher and means Solomon was calling himself Preacher and not Teacher.
In several verses, King Solomon describes earthly folly as “a chasing after wind” which can also be “a feeding on the wind”. Both describe a “useless effort” in different ways.
In our Colossians reading, verse 8 can be translated, “But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and FILTHY language from your mouth.” …instead of “abusive language.” To me, that sounds quite a bit different. To me, filthy language is just a bunch of foul language about expletive this and expletive that. Abusive language is directed, typically, at a person. Maybe we should get rid of both.
Verse 20 of Luke says, “This very night your life is being demanded of you.” However other translations give a different gist. “You fool, this very night THEY are demanding your soul back from you.” Who is this THEY? Where did THEY come from? How did I borrow my life from THEY? According to that Greek usage, this is a figure a speech and the human life is but a loan. It is credit. And the creditors will demand repayment in full. There was a reference to Psalms where it appears that THEY is a council of angels that makes decisions on behalf of God.
Another item that helped me better understand the texts this week, and I believe the Pastor has used it before in his sermons: My iPhone. No, I didn’t get a phone call from the Pastor with some suggestion to better deal with the text. No, I didn’t get a good text message from a friend that helped me see more clearly. No, I did get a funny joke from Fred that was relatable. A few months ago, I downloaded an application that would let me read The Bible. And, I have been slowly working through reading The Bible when I have time to sit and stare at it.
And because I’ve spent that little bit of time with the iPhone Bible, I was able to realize that King Solomon had something else on his mind when he wrote the 1st half of Ecclesiastes. He wrote “Vanity of vanities… …All is vanity”. Biblical vanity does not refer to an excessive care on good looks. It’s not me checking myself in the mirror to see if my hair looks good. Biblical vanity is emptiness or worthlessness. It refers to the emptiness of life; in fact, of meaning of any sort, if God is left out and there is no eternity or heaven. And, Solomon complained “it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with.” To me he is referring to the story of the Garden of Eden that I just re-read, yes, on my iPhone. God’s punishment for man is to toil and work for the needs of his life.
God spoke, “cursed is the ground because of you;
in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread
until you return to the ground,
Obviously, Solomon’s writings in Ecclesiastes are what piqued my interest this week. It was interesting to look at the skipped verses, the alternate meaning, and the reference back to Genesis. And, it goes nicely along with our Epistle and Gospel readings for today. All three make the case against Earthly vices in favor of a rich life with God.
Solomon, in his test, learns to skip the great works, houses, vineyards, gardens, parks, fruit trees, pools, male slaves, female slaves, herds, flocks, silver, gold, singers, delights of the flesh… …and of course 700 wives and 300 concubines. After having engaged in all of those activities, he says life is still worthless and meaningless without God. Vanity of Vanities.
Paul tells us to “put to death” fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, greed, anger, wrath, malice, slander, and filthy (or abusive) language. And Jesus reminds that our earthly riches are of no use when our life is taken from us.
In years past, with today’s lessons, I pictured a real hellfire and brimstone sermon with yelling and fist pounding and beating of my chest. But one writer, discussing our reading, mentioned our issue is like poison ivy. When I was a kid, I was zapped by poison ivy several times. The key to poison ivy, once you get it, is not to scratch. Restraining yourself is hard, because your skin itches and you want relief. But scratching only makes poison ivy worse. (I always rubbed it)
The Earthly haunts are the same way. Focusing on the new TV, car, house, 700 wives, gold are fun! And engaging in impurity and greed is easy. Restraining ourselves is hard.
But the bottom line is a pretty simple lesson in logic, and being a computer geek, that’s how I tend to view things – logical or not. God through Jesus Christ is saying – and I’m paraphrasing just a little bit here – Hey DUMMY, you can’t take it with you.
You might get hit by a bus the day you pay off your fancy car; you might have a piano dropped on you the morning you can afford that flat screen TV; you might have a massive coronary the day you own that million dollar house. So yes, it’s pretty illogical to spend all your time focusing these things when they could be gone in a moment.
Instead we should focus on a rich life toward God and sharing with each other. The last verse of our Gospel practically writes our church’s mission statement. It reads, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.
So, instead we will celebrate the Word of God and be rich toward Him. And we will use our time and stored up treasures to respond to Human Need.
Martin Luther put it this way, “I have held many things in my hands and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands – that, I still possess.”
That’s what we’ll do; put our lives in God’s hands.