Summary: This sermon introduces us to the book of Ecclesiastes.
During the 2007 NFL regular season, New England Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady set the record for most touchdown passes (50) in a regular season, paving the way for his winning the MVP award. At the age of 30, he has already won three Super Bowls—an accomplishment that sets him apart as one of the best quarterbacks ever to play the game.
In 2005, Tom Brady was interviewed by 60 Minutes journalist Steve Kroft. Despite the fame and career accomplishments he had achieved already, Brady told Kroft that it felt like something was still lacking in his life:
Why do I have three Super Bowl rings and still think there’s something greater out there for me? I mean, maybe a lot of people would say, “Hey man, this is what [it’s all about].” I reached my goal, my dream, my life. Me? I think, “It’s got to be more than this. I mean this isn’t—this can’t be—all it’s cracked up to be.”
Kroft pressed Brady as to what the right answer was, and Brady added:
What’s the answer? I wish I knew. . . . I love playing football, and I love being quarterback for this team. But at the same time, I think there are a lot of other parts about me that I’m trying to find.
Tom Brady is surprisingly frank about his quest for finding meaning in life.
People today want to live a meaningful life. They have questions such as:
• What is the meaning of life?
• Why am I so unhappy?
• Does God really care?
• Why is there so much suffering in the world?
• Why is there so much injustice in the world?
• Is life really worth living?
• Is this life all there is?
You may have entertained one of these questions at some point in your life. Perhaps you are thinking about one even now.
Today I plan to begin a new series of sermons on the book of Ecclesiastes. The book of Ecclesiastes answers these questions. The book of Ecclesiastes teaches us how to live a meaningful life. And so I have titled this series, “Living a Meaningful Life.”
As you know, I just finished a series of sermons on the New Testament letter of Jude. In my introductory sermon I mentioned that “Jude is one of the most neglected books of the New Testament.” If Jude is the most neglected book in the New Testament, then Ecclesiastes is the most neglected book in the Old Testament. In fact, it may be the most neglected book in the entire Bible. Listen to what various commentators have to say about Ecclesiastes:
• It’s best to be frank at the outset: Ecclesiastes is a difficult book.
• Ecclesiastes may be the most difficult book to interpret and preach.
• No book of the Bible has been so maligned and yet so misunderstood as the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes.
• Ecclesiastes is one of the most puzzling books of the Bible.
• There is perhaps no book in the Old Testament that has caused so many problems for interpreters as the book of Ecclesiastes.
And yet, while Ecclesiastes may indeed be a difficult and neglected book, the great American novelist Herman Melville called Ecclesiastes “the truest of all books.” The reason is that Ecclesiastes tells us how to live a meaningful life.
So, with that in mind, let me read Ecclesiastes 1:1:
1 The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. (Ecclesiastes 1:1)
Eutropius had fallen into disgrace. As the highest-ranking official in the Byzantine Empire (late fourth century), he served as the closest adviser to the emperor Arcadius, then ruling in Constantinople. But Eutropius abused his imperial power and aroused the anger of the empress Eudoxia, who orchestrated a campaign against him that resulted in a sentence of death.
Desperate to save his life, Eutropius slipped away from the palace and ran to the Hagia Sophia, where he clung to the altar and claimed sanctuary. Soon an angry mob of soldiers surrounded the great church, denouncing Eutropius and demanding his execution. Eventually, the crowds dispersed, but the next day was Sunday, and so they returned the following morning to see whether the pastor would give in to their demands for the execution of Eutropius.
The pastor was John Chrysostom, the famous preacher who served as the Bishop of Constantinople. As he mounted his pulpit, Chrysostom could see a church crowded with worshipers and thrill-seekers. They, in turn, could see Eutropius groveling at the altar. The great man had become a pitiable spectacle, with his teeth chattering and hopeless terror in his eyes.
The dramatic sermon Chrysostom preached that day may have been the finest he ever preached. For his text Chrysostom took Ecclesiastes 1:2 (“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity”), and for his primary illustration he used the decline and fall of Eutropius.