Summary: Dated 1989. Our faith is not joyless. God uses the simplest of things to bring us support and gladness in the midst of difficult times.
Says the poet, "A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and Thou beside me singing in the wilderness … Wilderness were paradise enow"
The very picture of romantic fulfillment. All I need is a chunk of good fragrant bread, a flask full of the vintner’s art, and you whom I love, and I will be fulfilled.
Idyllic, shimmering, romantic. A lazy fall morning. An afternoon of relaxation. Sounds nice, doesn’t it?
And if you and I are typical this morning of much of the Christian world, we expect to hear a sermon that puts it down. We expect to hear all that put down as self-indulgent, self-centered, frivolous, unworthy of serious Christians!
A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou singing beside me in the wilderness. Now be honest, when you heard me quote that scrap of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, didn’t you halfway expect me to launch out into a diatribe against alcohol? Didn’t you just about predict that the preacher would take off on folks who have nothing better to do with their time than to sit around and dream of paradise? Isn’t there something inside of you that thinks that with a lead like that … a loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and Thou beside me singing in the wilderness … that any sober preacher worth his salt would scream and holler about such laziness and such self-indulgence?
Why, you know and I know what I am supposed to say: that young people just don’t think about the things of the Lord and that the world is going to hell in a handbasket with this kind of stuff going on!
Oh, but, there is our problem. Our problem is that we take ourselves too seriously. Our problem is that we do not laugh enough. Our problem is that we do not hear the Gospel.
Let me say that again. We take ourselves too seriously, and thus we do not take the Gospel, the good news, seriously enough. We do not hear the good news. It isn’t good news for us anymore; it’s bad news, heavy news, but not good news.
Let me just state the thesis of this morning’s message. Let me capsule for you all that I will be developing:
Faith, genuine faith, gives us joy even in the middle of difficulty and disaster. Faith, authentic faith in Christ Jesus, enables us to laugh, to be full of joy, even when everything around us seems gloomy and sad. All we have to do is to hear the good news and celebrate, celebrate with the God of our redemption.
Consider now the peculiar Old Testament book called Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes is a part of the Wisdom literature, written very late in the Old Testament period, and it has by and large the most pessimistic, somber mood in all the Bible. The writer of Ecclesiastes, who calls himself the Preacher, I’m sorry to say, is full of the emptiness of life. He has lived through it all, he has seen it all, he has heard it all, and it stinks!
In Ecclesiastes you read such inspirational gems as, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity, says the preacher". Empty everything, nothing matters.
Or he says in another place, "I have seen everything under the sun, and there is nothing new... nothing new under the sun." Just the same old plodding existence.
He even has a word of advice for young people, based on the theory that when you get old, you aren’t going to like it. "Remember now thy creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them!"
It would be hard to find anywhere in the Bible a gloomier piece of literature than the Book of Ecclesiastes. He just doesn’t see much fun in his life at all.
And yet right in the middle of all this gloom and doom there is something else altogether. Right square in the middle of all this negativism, all this pessimism, there is a word of joy. There is a word of sheer laughter.
Ecclesiastes 10:19a: "Bread is made for laughter and wine gladdens life"
To have a word like that spoken to us by the gloomy Gus who penned Ecclesiastes is like having a sudden burst of sunshine on a stormy day. It reminds us that our God is capable of giving us joy, laughter, in the middle of everything somber and stormy and difficult. And further that he does it in the simplest of ways, the gentlest and simplest of ways. Bread and wine -- the most basic of foods and the essence of the grapevine -- the commonest of things. But they become vehicles for the joy of God.