Summary: Second in an eight part series in the Book of Ecclesiastes... this sermon tackles the claim that everything is meaningless.
You have to be glad that you came to church this morning. If you’ve ever wondered what makes different versions of the Bible different, you can turn to Ecclesiastes 1.
• NIV: Meaningless
• KJV: Vanity
• Holman: Futility
• Contemporary: Nonsense
• Message: Smoke
1These are the words of the Quester, David’s son and king in Jerusalem
2-11 Smoke, nothing but smoke. [That’s what the Quester says.] There’s nothing to anything—it’s all smoke.
What’s there to show for a lifetime of work,
a lifetime of working your fingers to the bone?
One generation goes its way, the next one arrives,
but nothing changes—it’s business as usual for old planet earth.
The sun comes up and the sun goes down,
then does it again, and again—the same old round.
The wind blows south, the wind blows north.
Around and around and around it blows,
blowing this way, then that—the whirling, erratic wind.
All the rivers flow into the sea,
but the sea never fills up.
The rivers keep flowing to the same old place,
and then start all over and do it again.
Everything’s boring, utterly boring—
no one can find any meaning in it.
Boring to the eye,
boring to the ear.
What was will be again,
what happened will happen again.
There’s nothing new on this earth.
Year after year it’s the same old thing.
Does someone call out, "Hey, this is new"?
Don’t get excited—it’s the same old story.
Nobody remembers what happened yesterday.
And the things that will happen tomorrow?
Nobody’ll remember them either.
Don’t count on being remembered.
Vanity, futility, nonsense, smoke… they are all getting to the fleeting nature of life.
Since we generally use the NIV here at The Chapel (pew Bibles), then we’ll go ahead and go with meaningless.
If you do a quick read, like I’ve suggested, of the Book of Ecclesiastes, you might come to the conclusion that the Teacher who originally penned these words concludes that since everything is meaningless, we might as well just live like dogs. Don’t worry… be happy. Enjoy life… don’t work so hard. Get whatever joy you can out of your life because everything is meaningless… and then you’re dead.
Early in my study, the message got through. These are the end of my notes. I went shopping with Laurie instead of writing a sermon… I’m winging it from here on out!
Meaningless… the word just sort of sits there and mocks us… doesn’t it? If in the wrong state of mind, one could really find this all fairly depressing.
I talked with one of you this week… reflecting on dealing with Ecclesiastes in college. It turns out that lots of us here have had college level courses in Bible and Theology.
• Northwest and SPU
• Graduate work
• PhDs in Bible and Theology
Nobody needs to feel out of place. If I can preach to the Ph.D.s without feeling too awfully intimidated, you can certainly go to church with them.
Anyway… this certain someone explained that at one point, closing out a very busy senior year with a few too many credits, an assignment was skipped (and a grade was sacrificed) because of an aversion to dealing with this Book of Ecclesiastes.
That is understandable… but not necessary.
I can’t believe that God put this in His book to depress us. It would be out of character for God to just slip something in to bum us out. There is an important message here.
I think the message stares us right in the face with this simple word: meaningless.
More specifically, it is in the first part of this compound word: meaning. If this in-your-face literary style that we find in Ecclesiastes rubs you the wrong way, try turning some of the negative words into positives.
Meaning makes sense to us. We understand this primal urge to find meaning. We want to figure things out. We need to put things in order. We don’t want to waste time, or energy, or effort, or even thought. We want meaning.
Even here at The Chapel we have this habit of asking ourselves so what? This is really a tactic to find meaning. We have this bias that these words given from this pulpit on a Sunday morning are important... that we shouldn’t be casual about encountering God’s word. These words mean something and should make a difference in our lives, so we purposefully ask ourselves so what… and expect there to be an answer. We expect meaning.
It is no wonder, then, that this claim in the first verses of Ecclesiastes offends us. Especially here… here in this place, and here in this Book.
We might be willing to expect meaninglessness from other parts of our lives. But not here. We are looking for meaning; we expect to find hope here.