March 19th 2017 – EnjoyLENT, Week 3

A Wise Joy

Romans 5: 1-11 & Ecclesiastes 9: 7-11, 13-18

Call to Worship

Listen!  Wisdom is calling!

We hear it! Ringing its truth through the ages of God’s creation.

Singing from the tops of mountains and from the depths of the forest.

Listen!  Wisdom is calling!

We hear it! In the stories of those who have come before us. 

Testimonies of hope born of struggle, legacies of trust in the Lord of All.

Listen!  Wisdom is calling!

We hear it and we celebrate its enduring melody!

In this time and in this place, we join in the joyous song of grace!

Opening Prayer

Ever-Present Lord, as we gather this morning in your house of worship and rest, may we be emboldened to once again fix our eyes upon your cross.  May it be for us a North-Star drawing us onward.  We walk this path of suffering and triumph together, praying that the journey yields endurance and character and hope. Lord, be our wisdom and our guide.  May your name be glorified today.

Sermon

A boat docked in a tiny Thai village, and the fisherman aboard, began to unload his catch-of-the-day to take into town.

There was an American tourist standing near by and he called out a compliment to the fisherman on the quality of his fish and walking closer he asked how long it had taken him to catch the fish.

“Oh, not very long at all,” answered the fisherman.

“But then, why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more?” asked the puzzled American.

The fisherman explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his needs and those of his family.

The American asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”

“I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, and take a nap with my wife. In the evenings, I go into the village to see my friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar, and sing a few songs…”

But the American interrupted, saying, “Listen, I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you! You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat.”

“And after that?” asked the fisherman.

“With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers. Instead of selling your fish to a middle man, you can then negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant. You can then leave this little village and move to Bangkok, or Singapore, or even Hong Kong! From there you can direct your huge new enterprise.”

“…How long would that take?” asked the fisherman.

“Twenty, perhaps twenty-five years,” replied the American.

“And after that?”

“Afterwards? Well my friend, that’s when it gets really interesting,” answered the American, laughing. “When your business gets really big, you can start buying and selling stocks and make millions!”

“Millions? Really? And after that?” asked the fisherman.

“After that you’ll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, play with your children, catch a few fish, take a nap with your wife and spend your evenings drinking, playing guitar and enjoying your friends.”

Perhaps, you have heard that little wisdom parable before…

It’s a story that reminds us there is joy to be found in simplicity/ that far too often we over complicate those things that are truly important in life.

Our Scripture passage today is another wisdom writing, and it carries a similar message

book of Ecclesiastes (or Qoheleth in the Hebrew, its true name- meaning Preacher).

David Hubbard once said that, “Anyone to whom the book of Ecclesiastes is not a puzzle has not yet read it.”  The book of Ecclesiastes (or Qoheleth in the Hebrew, its true name – meaning The Preacher) is to be approached with great humility…

The teachings of the Qoheleth come together in a confusing and often depressing kind of way.  It declares that life is fleeting, that “all is vanity!”  … And any effort that one puts into studying the book itself, parsing out its words, mapping its themes and structure… trying, earnestly, to get to the bottom of why the Qoheleth is saying these hard things… is itself a demonstration of what it has just declared- for all is futile.

It reminds me of the 90’s movie Mallrats, where William stars for hours at one of those Magic Eye posters trying to see the hidden image in all the noise… and people keep walking by, stopping for just the briefest of moment in front of the poster, they tip their head in consideration… and then… “Oh, look!  A sailboat.” William just gets more and more frustrated.  A few of his friends try to coach him saying, “Dude, you just have to relax your eyes.  Take it in.  Don’t work so hard trying to see it.” By the end of the day he just ends up kicking down the poster stand.

If we just “take in” the teaching of Qoheleth without trying to pick them apart… We will find that its grim trues are leading us somewhere important.

So, its lessons:

    • Life really is fleeting.
    • Little is guaranteed to us during our time on earth, except for struggle, pain and toil.
    • Those deemed wise and powerful in the world are often the most foolish.  And that the poor, like our Thai fisherman, posses a wisdom the world often overlooks and is far too quick to dismiss.

But Qoheleth (the preacher) after stating these bruising reality checks echoes again and again that enjoyment – living with an indwelling of joy through all circumstances- is God’s gift to us.

In a book that is generally set aside because it is just far to pessimistic for polite society, or merely dusted off at funerals to read: “for everything there is a reason, and a time for every matter under heaven.”  It’s message is really about joy.

Granted, the warm and fuzzy moments are few and far between… but if we sit with the stark realism of Qoheleth, if we honor its tale of sorrow and turmoil… it will show us a path to joy.  A kind of joy that is gritty, and strong, and can endure all things.

Elsa Tames, may explain it best, writing,

“The book of Qoheleth or Ecclesiastes has become timely again today, when horizons are closing in and the present become a hard master, demanding sacrifices and suppressing dreams… we see Qoheleth’s saying as rays of light, shining through the cracks in a dark, depressing room.”

Qoheleth offers us a gift, if we are patient: that gift is a joy, birthed of wisdom.  A joy that has withstood the labor pains of hardship – perhaps those well known by our fisherman friend.  A joy that has been tested and found to be enough. 

Go, eat your bread with enjoyment, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has long approved what you do.  Let your garments always be white; do not let oil be lacking on your head.  Enjoy loving community… whatever your hands find to do, do it with all your might.

We have enough.  We are enough.  God is enough.

When was the last time you gave yourself permission to be enough?

In a world that constantly pressures us to do more, be more, buy more, achieve more… the wisdom of enough is like a burst of fresh air to a drowning man!

Qoheleth reminds us that in our flaws, and finitude… we are completely whole through our Creator. When we dare to acknowledge that we are enough, and that God is enough… there is a joy in us like a backbone made out of steel.  It allows us, in hard seasons of grief, in places of oppression and frustrating listlessness, to savor even the most fleeting moments of bliss.

When we acknowledge that we are enough, that God is enough… we will find that we can do far more than we ever thought possible.

Consider Sophia Scholl, she was a twenty-one year old college student in Munich in 1942.  She, and a group of others at the college, produced and distributed pamphlets called The White Rose.  This pamphlet blatantly named the evils of the Nazi regime.  It called for the end of a nationalist ideology and tyranny.

But, Sophia and her classmates were eventually arrested and put on trial.

The judge, couldn’t understand how such nice, educated German young adults could be “corrupted” into speaking out on behalf of Jews and against the government.

True wisdom is often seen as foolishness in the eyes of the powerful…

And Sophia responded, “Somebody, after all, had to make a start.  What we wrote and said is also believed by many others.  They just don’t dare to express themselves as we did.”  Looking straight into the judges eyes, she said to him, “You know the war is lost.  Why don’t you have the courage to face it?”

Sophia and the others were sentenced to death.

Witnesses there that day wrote of her interaction with her parents, their final goodbye.  They say she was calm and clear eyed, and when her mother offered her a candy, she smiled, delighting in it, and said “Gladly! After all, I haven’t had any lunch.”

It was just a piece of candy.

And yet, on the day of her execution Sophia still found gladness in something.  Even in something as simple as a piece of candy.

Wise Sophia knew that the work she had done, that her resistance to tyranny was enough.  She was enough. She had the strong backbone of God given joy.

Qoheleth opens and closes his book with a declaration that, “All is breath.” Meaning that all is enigmatic (that is difficult to understand) and mysterious.  Trying to get our minds around all that God is doing in this world, is like trying to grab hold of breath, like wrangling the wind. Anytime we think we’ve got, it will surely blow in another direction.

Coughs and car accidents, miscarriages and cancers. Violence on the news and violence done to us.  Jobs lost.  The foolishness of the powerful… they send us flailing, frantically trying to grab hold. Yet, “all is breath.”

Qoheleth, tells us to trust the mystery and be joyful. Easier said than done at 3am, when the baby just won’t be consoled.

But the joy given to us by God is not bound to circumstances. The joy given to us by God is not mere happiness.  The joy of God is a strength that endures and carries us forward. 

As it says in Ecclesiastes 1:5 “The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens again to the place where it rises.”  God is the One that carries us quickly through the night’s darkness to greet the new day.

If you are someone who feels lost in that darkness, be assured that you are enough to meets its challenges.  Know that God has placed in you a joy that will see you through.  The dawn is coming.

But if you are someone that has no problem in seeing and naming the light of God’s goodness today, soak it all in.  Embrace it, remember it, for it will serve to sustain you when storms come your way.

Wherever we are, may we all be reminded to savor the sweetness around us.  Go for a walk, and breath in the clean air.  Get on the floor to play with the grandkids (trusting that help will come when we need to get back up).  Take the time to be thankful before your meal.  Go out of your way to hug and hold and say I love you.  And, most of all remember your Creator.  Trust in the mystery and just be joyful.

Amen.

 

 

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