Text: Ecclesiastes 5:10-20
Date: Pentecost XXI (Proper 24) + 10/21/12
“Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’ And the disciples were amazed…. And they were exceedingly astonished” (Mark 10:23-24, 26). “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 5:10). “Uh, oh! It must be time for the annual stewardship program. Grab your checkbooks, gentlemen, the preacher’s going to preach about money.” And if that is your fear let me begin by putting your mind to rest. Today we’re not going to use these scripture readings to give Biblical advice only on God-pleasing financial planning and sensible budgeting, though we could.
Rather I draw your attention to the final two verses of today’s reading from Ecclesiastes. “Everyone to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God. For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.” “With Joy in Your Heart” is the message of how God’s people discover how to live in this world with the certain hope of the greater eternal life promised us by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Our experience agrees with the Preacher of Ecclesiastes. “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money.” We agree with the Apostle who warned, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Tim 6:10), and with the advice of the letter to the Hebrews, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have” (Heb 13:5), and with the words of our Lord who said, “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Luke 16:12-13). And yet here we are precisely in the predicament of serving God and money! But as our text says, to love money, “this also is vanity.” We hope that we can learn at least a little of St. Paul’s discovery when he said, “for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content…. I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:11-13).
Our text says, “There is a grievous evil that I have seen under the sun.” One commentator suggests the translation “a pathetic evil.” And what causes pathetic grief, debilitation and weakness but “riches kept by their owner to his hurt, and those riches lost in a bad venture.” It is at least interesting that all of us live and plan and have the highest regard for money as if we’re going to have it forever, while at the same time we all agree that, as for man, “as he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand” Eccl 5:15). In other words, “You can’t take it with you.”
So we can agree that all this is, in the end, vanity, meaningless, precisely because there is a bigger question and an eternal destiny to consider. However, though all of our possessions and the toil we put forth to get them is, after all, only for this life, this insight does not mean to call us to an ascetic life that denies if not the use at least the enjoyment of our android phones, flat screen TVs with remotes, houses, cars, families, picnics on the deck or 401(k)s. Yes, as Jesus said, it will be difficult for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God. “Difficult,” but not impossible, for “all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27).
So what’s the point if not to choose between riches and possessions for this life on the one hand and the heavenly treasure of eternal life on the other? “Behold,” says the Preacher, “you don’t have to choose.” If you have listened this far it may well be a little surprising to hear the Preacher say, “what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot.” What? I thought it was “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die” (Is 22:13). And indeed, St. Paul quotes this saying from Isaiah as the motto for when life becomes meaningless and without purpose or hope, then our eating and drinking and accumulating of wealth and “living it up” makes little difference. Or so we think. But that’s not what is being said here.
The key is in the phrase “the life that God has given, for this is his lot.” As God’s redeemed people your “lot” is no longer some uncontrollable “luck” or threatening “fate,” the result merely of your own work or random circumstances. As God’s redeemed people your “lot” is the gift God gives. It is what is behind the prayer,
Be present at our table, Lord;
Be here and everywhere adored;
Thy creatures bless, and grant that we
May feast in paradise with Thee. (LSB 775)
The second stanza of that hymn reads,
We thank Thee, Lord, for this our food,
For life and health and every good;
By Thine own hand may we be fed;
Give us each day our daily bread.
You see the difference. The lover only of the gift doesn’t see it as a gift but as his due and is blind to the Giver. The lover of the Giver also loves the gift for what it is.
So, “everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them…this is the gift of God.” So where our text began with the love of money and the sleepless, pathetic life of vanity that results, God’s people discover the goodness of God even while we toil and struggle against sin, decay and death knowing that God will deliver us from all that and raise us to the new life of perfect peace in the new heavens and earth of the kingdom of God.
We discover this outlook in Christ who did not come to condemn the world, to deny the goodness of the world as still God’s creation, but to save it, to free from sin and death and destruction, to restore deathless, sinless, eternal life to all including even the creation itself. This is the power of His sacrifice and His blood. The life is in His blood. In the forgiveness of our sins we can “eat and drink and find enjoyment” without guilt or fear. How do Lutherans like to say it? “Everything in moderation.” (Well, almost everything! But that’s another sermon.)
Yes, this life is about much that is, after all, temporary. “He will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.” This joy is in the faith and knowledge and conviction of our complete salvation, deliverance and life in Christ Jesus. So “With Joy in Your Heart” live as the forgiven redeemed people of God confident of a destiny of eternal fellowship with God in the great day of the resurrection.