Summary: Passing the baton. Establishing proper motives
Sermon Preached at Grace Community Church (EPC)
Sun City Grand, Surprise, AZ
Sunday, August 19, 2001
by the Reverend Cooper McWhirter
An Age of Nonsense: “The Futility of Labor”
Many competitive sports are designed for the individual athlete [e.g., snow skiing, golf, tennis, and track and field]. But there’s one track and field event that requires both an individual and a team effort and that is running the relays. Each runner is focused on beating the other runners in his leg of the race, but usually the most crucial part of any relay is handing off the baton to the next runner. Precious seconds can be lost if the transfer is not done smoothly. And so while an individual’s speed is crucial; teamwork is absolutely essential if you are going to win the race. But, in today’s passage, we are not talking about an athletic event. Solomon is talking about the race of life; a race that we are all compelled to run.
In this third of a five-part sermon series from the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon is speaking about “passing the baton.” These past two weeks we have talked about the futility of man’s wisdom and the futility of hoarding wealth. Well, today, we catch a glimpse of Solomon’s frustration and his bitter disappointment in himself for in assessing a lifetime of work and achievement, he concludes that his labors were meaningless.
Passing the baton can be one of life’s bitter disappointments. To give up something that one loves to do is difficult enough. But then to see some incompetent person botch a program, a project, or an assignment that you had poured your life into can lead to resentment and serious depression. Your instinct is to shake your fist and yell out loud, “Hey, fella, that’s a part of me you’re tampering with!” Towards the end of his life, Solomon became disgusted in his works and he concluded that all of man’s labor “under the sun” is futile.
When we read Ecclesiastes, we meet up with Qoheleth, “the Preacher,” who is desperately searching for answers. He is searching for the meaning to life and death, to work and wealth, to wisdom and folly, to pleasure and pain. Here was a man who had it all! And yet it seemed that the more he owned, the emptier he felt. And so, he began “grasping for the wind” [1:17].
Solomon admits, “I denied myself nothing ... I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor. Yet, when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun” [2:10-12].
It’s not as if all of his labors were done for personal gain or even personal recognition. He had built vineyards, gardens, parks and palaces. He constructed reservoirs and planted forests. Many of these projects were built for the benefit of the people of Israel for generations to come. That was well and good. The crux of the problem for Solomon was that he did not want to relinquish oversight of these projects that he himself had conceived. Part of Solomon’s frustration was in having to give up control of or perhaps a better way of saying it was giving over control to someone else.