“The Preacher’s Very Bad Day”; scripture for Aug. 4

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12–14; 2:1–6, 8–11, 18–26
Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. I, the Teacher, when king over Israel in Jerusalem, applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with. I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind. I said to myself, “Come now, I will make a test of pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But again, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” I 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. I made great works; I built houses and planted vineyards for myself; I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees. I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and of the provinces; I got singers, both men and women, and delights of the flesh, and many concubines. So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem; also my wisdom remained with me. Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them; I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and again, all was vanity and a chasing after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after me—and who knows whether they will be wise or foolish? Yet they will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. So I turned and gave my heart up to despair concerning all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes one who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity. There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God; for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy; but to the sinner he gives the work of gathering and heaping, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a chasing after wind.
The book of Ecclesiastes has been declared inappropriate as part of sacred scripture. The gloomy perspective he takes seems cynical and the answer he gives life’s questions seems trite. “Eat, drink and be merry!” Can this really be the meaning of human existence?

Still, there is a certain comfort to read in sacred text the questions so many of us ask. Why are we here? What difference do our efforts make? Is there a sacred calling that embraces us all?

What have you found to be of ultimate comfort in the search for deeper meaning? What are the limitations in the lesson the author of Ecclesiastes teaches: “Eat, drink and be merry?”

Isn’t more expected of us?

Jeffrey Sartain
Executive Minister

About PlymouthSpirit

Plymouth Congregational Church is a progressive faith community grounded in the Christian tradition. We are spiritual, loving, relevant and transforming.
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One Response to “The Preacher’s Very Bad Day”; scripture for Aug. 4

  1. joan smiley says:

    The Ecclesiastics verses appear to me to be giving a mixed message regarding how to live a life that is pleasing to God. However, the title of your sermon suggests that after wrestling with the writing you are able to give meaning and relevance to its message . Perhaps you will give us reason to smile as well.

    Another lectionary reading for Sunday, August 4th, is Psalm 107:1-9, 43. I found that it’s message encourages us to have confidence in the providence (goodness) of God (the Lord) to see us through difficulty. I like to think that living with respect and for others, nurture of children, and encouraging greater concern for the environment is what God desires of me. Hopefully, in the process, I find that life brings happiness and satisfaction.

    Psalm 107:1-9, 43
    107:1 O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.

    107:2 Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, those he redeemed from trouble

    107:3 and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.

    107:4 Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to an inhabited town;

    107:5 hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them.

    107:6 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress;

    107:7 he led them by a straight way, until they reached an inhabited town.

    107:8 Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind.

    107:9 For he satisfies the thirsty, and the hungry he fills with good things.

    107:43 Let those who are wise give heed to these things, and consider the steadfast love of the LORD.

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