First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (Sunday ~ July 12, 2020)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor
Ecclesiastes 1:12-18; John 4:13-14
Alexander the Great (356 BC – 323 BC), was the King of the ancient Greek Kingdom of Macedon, and one of the great warriors the world has ever known. He led many military campaigns and by the age of 30 years old, he ruled over one of the largest empires ever, stretching from Greece to India.
While returning home after one of his successful military campaigns, Alexander the Great fell ill in Babylon. While he was on his death bed, he thought of the vast empire he has built and the might of his military machine. Alexander the Great went into depression, realizing nothing was worth it; even after an extremely successful life, he could not avoid death.
Knowing that his days on earth are short, Alexander the Great called his loyal generals and made three last wishes before dying. “I have three last wishes, please carry them out, for soon I will depart,” Alexander said. My first wish is that my doctors should alone carry my coffin. My second wish is that the path towards my grave shall be strewn with gold, silver and all the precious possessions in my treasury, while my body is being brought to be buried. My third and last wish is that both my hands shall be kept dangling out of my coffin.
Though the generals wondered at the king’s strange wishes, no one dared to question or ask him the reason for these three wishes. One of Alexander’s favorite generals after kissing his hand and pressing it to his heart said, “Your Majesty, we assure you that all your wishes will be fulfilled. But could you please enlighten us on why you make such strange wishes?”
At this Alexander took a deep breath and said: “I would like the world to know of these three fundamentals: I want my physicians to carry my coffin because people should realize that no doctor can really cure anybody. Doctors are powerless and cannot save a person from the clutches of death. My second wish to strew gold, silver and other precious stones on the way to the graveyard is to let the people know that though I spent all my life accumulating riches, not even a grain of gold will come with me when I leave this world. I want people to understand that it is a sheer waste of time, energy, and peace of mind when one yearns to be rich. With my third wish of having my hands dangling out of the coffin, I want people to know that I came empty handed into this world and likewise will go empty handed from this world.”
This morning we continue our summer sermon series on the book of Ecclesiastes. Last week we said that Ecclesiastes is written by King Solomon as Ecclesiastes 1:1 states, “The words of the Teacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.” The title of the book in Hebrew is “Qoheleth.” It is the same Hebrew word that is translated “teacher” or “preacher” or “leader” in chapter 1:1, so the book is actually a long sermon delivered by King Solomon.
The language of Ecclesiastes may suggest that the author was a pessimist or someone who is worn out and has given up on life, but I truly believe the words of Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes are the words of someone who has searched and examined life and came to a conclusion. His conclusion, his thesis, is Ecclesiastes 1:2: “Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” The word “vanity” is found 38 times in Ecclesiastes. In our Scripture reading today, Solomon clarifies his thesis and he states in Ecclesiastes 1:14, “I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”
So what is at stake in Ecclesiastes 1:12-18? If life is “meaningless and a chasing after the wind”, as Solomon says, should we quit our daily activities and other obligations? Are we endorsing epicurean lifestyle ~ those who pursue pleasure as the chief aim of life ~ “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we must die" philosophy”? Absolutely not. I think Solomon is calling us to be mindful of two things:
First: Lamenting the Futility of Life
I think what Solomon is doing here is that he is lamenting the futility of life. Ecclesiastes could be read as a song of lament. The Preacher laments the fact that everything is transitory, ephemeral and elusive, just beyond our grasp, resistant to our control, here today and gone tomorrow. Everything is ultimately worthless. Life, the Preacher says, feels like chasing after the wind, trying to catch something that cannot be caught.
Life under the sun is full of futility and frustration. I am sure you’ve experienced some of life’s futility and lamented this reality. You just want to be all set financially, but something always goes wrong, or there’s always car trouble or another bill to be paid. You just want to have a close friend, but you can’t find one, or when you find one, they always move away or drift away. You just want to be healthy, but every day you experience in one way or another the decline of your body. You just want to be the person God created you to be, but the more you try the more you fail. You want the church to be a fulfilling community, but you just can’t seem to experience that. We want to see justice in this world, but the suffering and injustice we see is out of control and there is no end in sight. Trying to keep things under control and to be satisfied is like chasing the wind. We lament the futility of life.
Second: Only God Can Fill our Deepest Void
Like chasing the wind, human effort is futile. Not that nothing we do matters, but the “net profit” is not to be found in human effort. It doesn’t matter what kind of effort or how much effort we pour our lives into, Solomon says that no human effort in and of itself can possibly fill our deepest void.
Solomon says that every kind of activity that people invest their lives on is just vanity. It’s chasing the wind. In John 4:13-14, Jesus said these great words to the Samaritan woman, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Friends, apart from God, human’s ongoing pursuit of money, success, joy, wisdom is never satisfied and never satisfying. In his Confessions, Augustine of Hippo (354 AD – 430 AD) prayed “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in you.”
Only in Jesus Christ do we find the rest our hearts have always longed for. Only in Jesus do we hear the promise: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” Matthew 11:28-30. Ecclesiastes calls us to have more of Jesus and less of the world. It leaves us hungry for the grace of Christ. It’s only His grace that makes our work and efforts valuable. Our actions and efforts gain their true value when eternity in mind; when they are done for the glory of God and the expansion of His Kingdom. Amen!
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