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August 04, 2013
Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23 Colossians 3:1-11 Luke 12:13-21
A few weeks ago, I warned you that the world is trying to convince you to believe “The Lie of I.” One of the biggest traps that we can fall into is to believe that the world revolves around us. At some point however, we may realize that life is pretty shallow if all there is, is to accumulate stuff, and to do things, just so that I can feel good and have a good time. The more we focus on ourselves, the less that we find that life has meaning. While this affliction impacts rich and poor alike, the poor are often so busy trying to scrape by, that they don’t spend a lot of time worrying about it, but the more comfortable our lives become, we begin to notice that life just has us chasing our tails. We go to work so we can make money, so we can have a family, a car and a nice house and then the expenses for those things send us back to work so we can pay for them. If we’re not careful, we borrow money from the bank to buy things that we think will make us happy and then we end up going to work, so that we can make money, so that we can pay the bank for things that we already used and starting to fall apart, and then we have to make more money to take care of the things that we bought and to cover them with insurance so that we can replace them in the event that something might happen to them. The more things that we own, the more that this cycle is repeated, and eventually we realize that our possessions own us. This problem is shared by all of us just as it affected the wealthiest man who ever lived, King Solomon. We remember Solomon for many of the Psalms and much of the book of Proverbs, but scripture also records a much darker side of King Solomon. In the book of Ecclesiastes (1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23), Solomon laments (weeps over) the dark side of being rich. Solomon had it all and he tried it all. He had more money than he could spend, exotic pets from far off countries, beautiful horses, gold covered chariots, fine food, fine wine, and more beautiful women from more countries than any sensible man could ever want. He had wealth, power, authority, influence, houses, horses, chariots, sex, alcohol and he experimented with every form of excess that he could imagine and discovered that… It wasn’t enough. Solomon said:
“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”
I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind! 14 I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. 18 I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. 19 And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is 1
meaningless. 20 So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. 21 For a person may labor with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. 22 What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? 23 All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless. Solomon, who could afford to buy anything or do anything that he wanted, the wealthiest, possibly the most powerful king who ever lived, discovers that none of the things that money, or power, or influence can buy have given his life meaning. He weeps that a person could spend their entire lives pursuing wealth, but in the end will leave it all to someone who didn’t work a single day or ooze a single drop of sweat in order to get it. If this is where the book of Ecclesiastes ended, it would be horribly depressing. But in the end, Solomon begins to understand that there is something in the world that is greater than his own pleasure. In the last few verses of Ecclesiastes, Solomon says, “Here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment including every hidden thing whether it is good or evil.” In Luke 12:13-21, Jesus gives a message that is incredibly similar to Solomon’s.
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”
A man asks Jesus if he will help him to get a portion of an inheritance that he thinks his brother should share with him but Jesus isn’t very helpful. Instead, Jesus warns the man and his brother to guard themselves from greed. They had lost a close relative, someone close enough to share the fortune that they had worked for during their lives, probably a parent, and their concern is how much money they are going to get out of it. Jesus warns that this is greed. It is the same as the rich man who saw an abundant harvest only as a way to have more for himself. Jesus says that, just as Solomon feared, all that the rich man has worked for will be given to someone else. Paul sees the same things and he sees how much pain it causes to focus on the wrong things. In his letter to the church in Colossae, (Colossians 3:1-11) Paul lists eleven things that come naturally to us, things that belong to our earthly nature, cause us to lose sight of the truth and focus on ourselves (me) instead of God or others. Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now 2
hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Jesus said that the two greatest commandments are first, to love God and him only and second, to love your neighbor as yourself. Two things: Love God, Love your neighbor. While the first five things on Paul’s list come naturally to us: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, Paul says that all of these are sources of idolatry because they get that first commandment backward. All five of these are ways in which we put ourselves or our own pleasure ahead of God. The nest six things on Paul’s list: anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language, and lying to each other, are ways in which we get the second of the two commandments backward because in these things we hurt others in order to lift ourselves up. In these ways we put ourselves ahead of our neighbor. Eleven things that seem to come all too naturally to the human condition and all of them focus on “Me” instead of Meaning. Solomon used all of his wealth and power to find pleasure and wept that he could not find meaning. Solomon could not find meaning because he looked for meaning in “Me.” Jesus warns his followers that this is how it will be for anyone who stores things up for himself without any generosity toward God. When we get stuck on "Me," we cannot find meaning. Paul lists eleven sins that are common to the human condition, and every one of them grows out of a focus on “Me” instead of God. The lesson from Jesus, Paul, and Solomon is that if we desire to find meaning in life, the first thing we have to do, is to stop focusing all of our attention on “Me.”
You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry heights in Massillon, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at email@example.com. If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online). These messages can also be found online at http://www.scribd.com/Pastor John Partridge. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.
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