VAPOR | Finding Meaning Under the Sun | Ecclesiastes PART X | Authentic Life | Ecclesiastes 7
November 14, 2021 Speaker: Christopher Rich Series: VAPOR: Finding Meaning Under The Sun | Ecclesiastes
Topic: Old Testament Passage: Ecclesiastes 7
Christopher Rich – November 14, 2021
VAPOR | Finding Meaning Under the Sun | Ecclesiastes
PART X | Authentic Life | Ecclesiastes 7
Introduction | Day at the Museums
Good morning! Welcome to Mercy Fellowship where we are Saved by Jesus Work, Changed by Jesus’ Grace, and Living on Jesus’s Mission. This week we are continuing a sermon series walking though the book of Ecclesiastes called VAPOR: Finding Meaning Under the Sun. What’s the point? In life under the sun all seems to be vanity as we struggle to find our purpose and meaning apart from God. The message of this sermon of Ecclesiastes isn’t “all of life is meaningless and nothing matters”; it’s because of God as the source of all meaning, and goodness, as we live the life we are given EVERYTHING matters! Last week, we saw what it looks like when we put our hope in wealth alone, this week we’ll see what it looks like when we foolishly avoid engaging with adversity in life. When I was visiting Washington DC We only had one day to visit all the Smithsonian Museums. That meant we only had an hour or so in each. It wasn’t enough time to get to everything at a deep level but it did give us good idea of the layout of each one, it was profitable, and it gave me ideas of what I’d want to explore in depth later. The next few sermons are going to feel like some fast days at a bunch of different places.
PART I | Verse 7:1-8 | “Better Than” Showcases
Ecc 7:1-8 |1A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of birth. 2 It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart. 3 Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad. 4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. 5 It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools. 6 For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fools; this also is vanity. 7 Surely oppression drives the wise into madness, and a bribe corrupts the heart. 8 Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.
This starts with a popular proverb, “a good name is more valuable than riches or luxury.” “Name” has a deeper meaning than merely your reputation. It is speaking to the totality of your “underlying nature” it is a good reputation that all easily flows out of your character. It is being “authentic.” It doesn’t matter if you smell great if your life stinks and you’re rotten to the core. For the most part everyone is on board but things quickly turn to what a life of character might require engaging with the “authentic” challenges of life. We have a series of experiences that can easily be grouped into two distinct related groups
Showcase One: Day of Death, House of Mourning, Sorrow, sadness of face, Rebuke, the end, patient.
Showcase Two: Birthday, House of feasting, Laughter, house of mirth, songs, beginnings, proud.
Which one is more valuable or more desirable? Is there any logical reason we would choose showcase one? No we would all chose Showcase Two. Showcase One, sounds like hell, while Showcase Two sounds like an endless vacation. Yet we are told clearly and repeatedly told the items in Showcase One are “Better than Showecase Two. Better Than means “More Good”, not one is good and the other is bad. Regardless, this all seem counter intuitive. If we’re writing these verses “Be happy, at a feast with laughter, partying, that is just beginning is WAY better than mourning in sorrow over your short life that will end.” Yet the preacher of Ecclesiastes says “the heart of the wise is in the house of mourning” while the fools heart is in the “house of mirth.” Why? There is wisdom in being more than causally aquatinted with the fragility of your life.
There is so much more we can learn about the reality of life during these sacred moments; than dozens of parties. I’ve never been to a birthday party and thought about the finiteness of my life. But in grieving well, pressing into periods of morning our hearts have a real opportunity to heal. Verse 3 says our hearts are made glad, through engaging with the reality of sadness. Another translation is “put right”. We grieve and comfort poorly “They are no longer with us.” “They are in a better place.” “But I know they’re smiling down on me right now. Anything to avoid the cold, hard truth they have suffered death and we will be too.
Funerals are not for the dead they’re for the living to remember they will face the end of their lives on this earth as well. It is a call to truly live in light of the fact your life is short, temporary, and fragile. Funerals are a rebuke on the pride of our lives that says they will not end, because every funeral points to our own. We eagerly RSVP for parties, but we run from rebukes, yet we need the later way more than the former. There are time is necessary to grieve and be with those who are, but we don’t like reality so we flee. Our alternative is drown out the shadow of death and sorrow with an overabundance of “good times” and empty frivolity. Popular entertainment shows a caricature of reality with many jesters but few mourners, to blind us to any spiritual issues and the “authentic realty” of life and death. Avoid the house of the grieving it will only bring you down, hang in the house of feasting (more than food, a festival party.) Our world doesn’t want to merely whistling by the grave yard it wants to throw a rave in it. We will do anything to avoid sorrow. We endlessly entertain ourselves. Yet the cold rebuke of reality Better Than a nonsense Song of Fools. Ever tried to get deep comfort, solace, or theological perspective from popular music?
Nettles under kettles. Thorns burn fast and are quickly extinguished. Rather than feeling the real heat of true life and death moments, engaging with sadness that leads to warm glad hearts; we settle for fast burn of the jester of escapism. It crackles loudly and burns brightly but it’s more flame than fire. Short term party right now will always ends with the alarm being hit on another morning and reality to be faced.
“Invite death into our presence when it is still at a distance and not on the move.” -Martin Luther
So we are told the end of things is better than their beginnings. There can be a beautiful reflection in things completed. But that require a certain amount of patience. Patience is contrasted with pride because it requires humility that you way and your timing are not paramount and there is purpose in the process.
PART II | Verse 7:9-12 | Yesterday’s Gone Don’t be Angry with Today
Ecc 7:9-12 |9 Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools. 10 Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this. 11 Wisdom is good with an inheritance, an advantage to those who see the sun. 12 For the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money, and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of him who has it.
This desire to avoid pain, grief or even adversity leads us to be angry quickly when our comfort is disrupted. We can easily tell how much we actually trust God by how bent out of shape we get when things don’t go our way. When faced with adversity in our lives we need to respond with patient self-control. Not like rash spoiled children. James 1:19 tells us be “slow to anger” Here we see the reason why. Anger that is closely held gets feed, nurtured and grows until it cannot be contained. It becomes lodged in our hearts and keeps us from life like a clogged artery. We keep pumping harder and harder but life stops moving as we cling to our angry bitterness. The answer is not “vent quickly” but rather to be “slow” to anger and remain patient. So rather than trusting God today we compare today with our version of yesterday. Oh how we dress up the past with think lenses of nostalgia. We foolishly white wash our past and the past in a way that makes the present seem that much bleaker. This is another form of escapism. “That season was good, that period of life was better, “I remember when I was younger.” This is keeps us from being all in on life right here and now. It is another form of foolish self-indulgence. If these days aren’t that great then why should I be? Living wisely now is better than the foolishness of vain nostalgia. Celebrate, remember, reminisce, but avoid looking fondly backward at some imaginary yesterday that never existed while being robbed of authentic life God has given you today. Where are you going to turn when the good old days are gone the day of adversity is here. God made them both.
PART III | Verse 7:13-14 | God Given Days
Ecc 7:13-14 |13 Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked? 14 In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.
Wisdom is good, it’s indispensable but it’s not God. God has ordained somethings in this world to be awkward for us (Verse says crooked, not wicked). Full of pride we assume if we experience something we perceive as bent out of shape our circumstances need to be corrected and not us. What we’re saying in those quick moments is “God got in wrong.” Because we only see what is now. If we’re going to live a life trusting God, we have to recognize a longer view of our lives and experience exists beyond the immediate we are currently experiencing. We’re told God works all things out for good for those called according to his purpose. That doesn’t mean every day is awesome all the time. Authentic Life with Christ knows awesome and adversity are both part of our life experience. So when we are blessed with day, time, season of prosperity is should be seen as an opportunity to praise him. We can and should enjoy our lives a gifts from God. Don’t think you’re more holy if you don’t enjoy things that God gives as good. God is not off the hook on our “day of adversity”. We don’t have to sadistically enjoy when things are difficult, but we cannot think during those times God has checked out. We have to be comfortable with a measure of unpredictability from God that happens to regularly remind us we are not as self-sufficient as we think are. Adversity also comes from God and draws us close to him. We are dependent on Him and not our ability to predict what is coming next.
PART IV | Verse 7:15-19 | Realty Check
Ecc 7:15-19 | 15 In my vain life I have seen everything. There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing. 16 Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself? 17 Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time? 18 It is good that you should take hold of this, and from that withhold not your hand, for the one who fears God shall come out from both of them.19 Wisdom gives strength to the wise man more than ten rulers who are in a city.
Authentic Life means holding in tension two concepts: There are ways to live that are relatively better than others, while also recognizing “The world is full of contradictions and anomalies.” We need a solid frame work to deal with the paradoxes in the world we see between people who appear to be “wise” “righteous” and “upright” whose lives are cut short AND those who seem to be defined by wickedness and evil who appear to gain and have long life. Authentic Life is not solely defined or ruled by our experiences and observations. If it is, an apparent contradiction will lead us to crisis of faith. If something happens we believe is unjust or untimely we cry out “Where is God?” “He’s not just.” “Who does God think he is?” I give up on God if this is how he allows or ordains the world to function. Or we can push into religion and our own good and trying be “extra righteous” with the hope of avoiding an apparently random tragedy. That is not Christianity that is karma. So what is the prescription here for Authentic Life in verse 16? This isn’t saying don’t be righteous it’s or that you should pursue some worldly maxim of “all things in moderation.”
It is saying don’t think it is your righteousness that saves you, that if you are more vigorous in your pursuit of righteous living God will be so impressed with you he’ll give you a few more years. That is religion, assuming you can manipulate God’s blessings by your performance. Authentic Life is a call to humility and reliance. Don’t become so prideful in your wisdom you no longer think you’re dependent on God. Know also it is ok to flee from wickedness and not act a fool. Go ahead and restrain yourself from being an idiot. The apparent contradictions observed in life are not permission to live as wicked as you want to be.
PART V | Verse 20-22 | Never Good Enough
Ecc 7:20-22 |20 Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. 21 Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. 22 Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others.
The reason you can’t trust in your own righteousness is because it’s not as righteous as you think it is. Complete righteousness is not something that can be achieved by us. There is a universal truth we easily accept that “no one is perfect” In case it’s not clear this verse is telling us the nature of our “imperfection” is both the sin of omission, when we fail to do what we should (no one does “good”) commission when we actively do what we shouldn’t (we all sin) Everyone has failed. There is an apparent application for this: toughen up! Do not pay unnecessary attention to how mean others are towards you. Because of sin, expect people to say bad things about you. Expect to even be criticized even unfairly by others. Taking what people say about you too seriously is just asking to be hurt. And before you get all offended remember you’re pretty offensive to other people. Not one little slip up, but “many times” so don’t judge other quite so harshly. We have culture of victimization (righteousness through victimization) and outrage Don’t take people too seriously and don’t take yourself too seriously either.
“I didn’t insult me at all: in fact, he was talking about another man: the man he thought I was. If any man thinks ill of you, do not be angry with him, for you are worse than he thinks you to be.” -Spurgeon
PART VI | Verse 23-29 | Confession – Authentic Life Needs Jesus
Ecc 7:23-29 |23 All this I have tested by wisdom. I said, “I will be wise,” but it was far from me. 24 That which has been is far off, and deep, very deep; who can find it out? 25 I turned my heart to know and to search out and to seek wisdom and the scheme of things, and to know the wickedness of folly and the foolishness that is madness. 26 And I find something more bitter than death: the woman whose heart is snares and nets, and whose hands are fetters. He who pleases God escapes her, but the sinner is taken by her. 27 Behold, this is what I found, says the Preacher, while adding one thing to another to find the scheme of things—28 which my soul has sought repeatedly, but I have not found. One man among a thousand I found, but a woman among all these I have not found. 29 See, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.
The universal nature of sin doesn’t ensure a universal pardon. We have to be able to deal with this sin.
These last verses begin with an honest confession about our failure to live in the authentic way we desire. If we all do desire good character, reality shows us the overwhelming distance of true wisdom from humanity. “I tried to find rest in wisdom but it was both “far from me” and sunk deep, far away from me to engage with it.” In the preacher’s limited experience there is nearly no one who actually lives on the path of wisdom. Everyone is trusting in some scheme or anther to save them, or they’re ignoring their need for salvation in the first place while groping around the dark for something to hold on to. Because wisdom is far off foolishness and folly are both near and seductive. They have to be resisted. This women is the embodiment of the foolish house of mirth, it’s attractive but she’s a snare leading to death not authentic life.
We have to be captivated with something else. Something greater that leads to the authentic life we were created for. God made us in his image, we were not made sinful, or like a blank canvas, we were created “good.” “Upright” Sin entered into our word by our desire to turn from God to our “many schemes.” This is sin, it is universal, deliberate, and diverse. Rejecting God’s plan for our authentic life desiring and seek out our own “devices” is groping at something that will save us from our failure to live an authentic life on our own. Our sin is our fault, but in Jesus it doesn’t have to be our fate.
Christians don’t find authentic life in karma, religions super-righteousness, or self-delusion believing our sin doesn’t have eternal consequences. Christians have authentic life in Jesus Christ alone.
Christians worship Jesus who was a “Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” who still knew how to enjoy his brief life even being accused by the religious world of being a drunkard and a glutton. We celebrate Christmas recognizing how glorious it is that God would dwell with His people. Each week we gather we don’t remember “Christmas” the day of birth and beginning of Jesus life on earth. We remember something far better than his birth is the “day of death” the end on the Cross. It’s on that cross where the one righteous man (who is God) who never sinned bared the penalty for our fraudulent life of rebellion.
They day of Jesus Death is called Good Friday because He is on the cross instead of us.
Our sin and rebellion began in the garden but for those who have their faith in Jesus it is finished on the cross.
Do not trust your righteousness, to save you, and don’t presume you don’t need to be saved from your wickedness.
God’s first word about humanity was “Good” Our sin speaks “Death”. Jesus last word on the cross was “Finished” so “vanity” isn’t our last word when we Trust Jesus!
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