What strikes me about this scripture is that the writer, King Solomon, is at war in his mind as he tries to find an elusive peace, he is depressed, confused, trying to make sense of the world. Injustice plagues him. A friend once observed that it seems we as humans are either way behind what God is doing, or we are way ahead of God, and most of the time, we are way ahead of God, “Come on God, catch up with me,” “I’m ready for this war in my life to end.” Isn’t that what Solomon is doing when you read the whole of Ecclesiastes: Come on God, I’m waiting for justice, I’m waiting for you to make sense of the world, I’m running out of patience, I knew there’d be problems when I put my faith in you, but I wasn’t expecting problems this deep, this long….hurry up God and set everything right!” The book of Ecclesiastes puts in writing an inner voice that doubts and wonders as we impatiently wait and wait and wait for God to set everything right.
God has placed a yearning for eternity in the hearts of his people ~ a deep longing for Him. We may stray in our hearts, but somewhere in the depth of our souls there is a knowledge of God... This scripture today is a time-out for Solomon, his negative destructive thoughts are plunging him into despair, and he goes back to God: “Guard your steps when you go into the house of God.” The NLB starts out Ecc. 5:1 this way: “As you enter the house of God, keep your ears open and your mouth shut.”
The presence of God puts life into perspective! I don’t know what people do without God! I know people in this town that have a reputation for bad behavior, yet now and then, it is my honor, to catch them when their guard is down, and they let me in on the secret thoughts of their heart, their longing for God. They are not just telling me what they think I want to hear, rather, they are reminding themselves of a deep longing, a deep yearning for the things of God. This is why we can never give up on anybody, as long as there is breath, you really do not know what is going on in a person’s heart. The outside appearance does not tell the final tale. This is why I love this scripture: Solomon takes a time out, as he remembers God. He regains a healthy perspective. He longs for God. Here is the perspective of a child: My grandson was visiting one day when he asked, "Grandma, do you know how you and God are alike?" I mentally polished my halo while I asked, "No, how are we alike?" "You're both old," he replied.
“Guard your steps when you go into the house of God…” Keep your ears open and your mouth shut when you go into the presence of God. Let’s be real. God is not found in Church alone, the people in the OT never believed God was only in the temple, yet it was a place set apart to still the heart and calm the soul, a place of sacrifice and to be set right with God. This is a place to gain a healthy perspective on what is most important. When your life is in chaos, when you are confused, you need God… I personally like to think of this sanctuary at SACC as a place that is different from the rest of our world, set apart, a place of rest, a place of peace. God surely can impact us anywhere, yet to have a place for the people of God to come together is good. A place to be refreshed. A place to hear from God.
Oh, silly things happen in church: 6-year old Angie and her 4-year old brother, Joel, were sitting together in church. Joel giggled, sang and talked out loud. Finally, his big sister had had enough. "You're not supposed to talk out loud in church." "Why? Who's going to stop me?" Joel asked. Angie pointed to the back of the church and said, "See those two men standing by the door? They're hushers."
Here’s a joke we wish did not ring true which speaks to the tension we find too often within churches: One balmy day in the South Pacific, a navy ship saw smoke coming from one of three huts on an uncharted island. Upon arriving at the shore they were met by a shipwreck survivor. He said, "I'm so glad you're here! I've been alone on this island for more than five years!"
The captain replied, "If you're all alone on the island why do I see THREE huts."
The survivor said, "Oh. We'll, I live in one, and go to church in another."
"What about the THIRD hut?" asked the captain.
"That's where I USED to go to church."
Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. A most profound reason is then given to spend time in the presence of God: “Go near to listen…” How often we want to dump all over God, we want our way, we demand our questions be answered, we want to know why bad things happen, why the world isn’t adjusting itself to my needs, my will. “Go near to listen” go to gain a healthy perspective, to put the world in order according to God’s perspective. Speak to me Lord… my ears are open and my mouth is shut.
I invited people on Facebook to share their thoughts of what “Open Ears, Closed Mouth” means: “Sometimes listening is more helpful then anything you could say.” “get in sit down shut up and hold on” “You can’t hear what’s being said if you’re talking at the same time.” Kizzy: “we should listen twice as much as we talk.” These people on Facebook did not know I was talking about listening to God, but everything they said makes sense not only in the listening to other people, but also God: “When we have a closed mouth and open ears we are not thinking about what to say to respond but we are truly listening to a person's heart. We are trying to feel what they feel. We are listening not only with our ears but with our heart as well.” Truly listen to God’s heart… his perspective… it’s different than ours…
Draw near to God in order to Listen. Be quiet and stay calm because God has the best perspective on your life: Ecclesiastes 5:2-3 READ. Listen before speaking. This means you are teachable. I don’t know how to help people who think they know it all…
Here’s a woman who really did seem to know it all: A small town prosecuting attorney called his first witness to the stand in a trial--a grandmotherly, elderly woman. He approached her and asked, "Mrs. Jones, do you know me?"
She responded, "Why, yes, I do know you Mr. Williams. I've known you since you were a young boy. And frankly, you've been a big disappointment to me. You lie, you cheat on your wife, you manipulate people and talk about them behind their backs. You think you're a rising big shot when you haven't the brains to realize you never will amount to anything more than a two-bit paper pusher. Yes, I know you."
The lawyer was stunned. Not knowing what else to do he pointed across the room and asked, "Mrs. Williams, do you know the defense attorney?"
She again replied, "Why, yes I do. I've known Mr. Bradley since he was a youngster, too. I used to baby-sit him for his parents. And he, too, has been a real disappointment to me. He's lazy, bigoted, he has a drinking problem. The man can't build a normal relationship with anyone and his law practice is one of the shoddiest in the entire state. Yes, I know him."
At this point, the judge rapped the courtroom to silence and called both counsellors to the bench. In a very quiet voice, he said with menace, "If either of you asks her if she knows me, you'll be in jail for contempt within 5 minutes!"
There are people who think they know everything about God, their mind is made up and there is not a lot that can be done. They are not teachable. Be a teachable person, and to do that means listening. I love the phrase in the scripture: “God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.” We don’t always know, but God does…
Ecc. 5:4-5, I believe, is focusing on the games we commonly play with God, as a means to try and bribe God into doing what we want. READ. God, if you set my life right, if you take away my problem, if you let me win the lottery, I’ll go to church, I’ll change my life, I’ll do something good for you… If you must make a bargain with God, then do whatever you say you will do… don’t tell God you will change your life if you don’t mean it… God isn’t interested in making a bargain with us… again, listening is a primary means to hearing from God. You don’t do it by bargaining with God, but simply listening. You have nothing that God needs!!!!! God loves you and is simply offering the gift of peace, the gift of Christ.
Here is an incredible truth: God takes you seriously. READ Ecc. 5:6-7. God is listening to our words. I remember once I was acting kind of arrogantly ~ a lot arrogantly! My neighbor in school in Pasadena was the secretary for one of the Professors, Ralph Martin. He’d probably written a dozen books and a thousand scholarly articles. I was in the office talking to my neighbor and for some unfathomable reason I started explaining my theory about how Professor Martin was a great scholar, but his lectures were boring. Mid-sentence, I am waxing eloquent about how dull her boss was, when the door behind her suddenly opened and their stood Professor Ralph Martin. He saw I was talking to my neighbor and he politely waited for me to finish my sentence as he stood and listened attentively. I was speechless, I was embarrassed, and I learned a huge lesson!
God is listening to our words and he takes us seriously! I believe God gives us limited control on this earth, and one of those control is our mouth! And the mouth is the gateway to the heart. The bottom line for a healthy perspective, for the richness of what God has to offer: “Stand in awe of God.” Be amazed by God. The only way to find peace and health and stillness of soul is to be amazed by the Lord, to stand in his presence. We know that feeling when we see a newborn child, an incredible sunset, the waves of the ocean, witnessing a daughter get married…: to be in awe of God is a posture of listening, for words cannot express the feeling, no picture can do justice to the reality. Open ears and closed mouth.
No games with God, be teachable, listen twice as much as you speak and you will do well… God is in heaven and I am on earth, listen to the Lord and he will be amazed by the healthy perspective as the problems and questions that plague you somehow get put in place. God has the best perspective of your life. Open ears. Close mouth. Amen.