We spend an incredible amount of time wishing the world were different, more resources, more jobs, more money, more wholeness… real issues and real needs undoubtedly, but the primary solution to the problems in our world is spiritual. We must turn back to God, rediscover Jesus Christ. A transformation from within of our hearts ~ being changed by Jesus Christ to accept his Lordship over our lives and over all people.
A profound story: In the late 1800’s, an American tourist visiting Poland was welcomed at the home of a well known Rabbi, [Hofetz Chaim]. The tourist was surprised to find the Rabbi’s home was a simple room filled with books, plus a table and bench. He asked, “Rabbi, where is your furniture?” “Where is yours?” replied the Rabbi. “Mine?” asked the puzzled American. “but I’m a visitor here; I’m only passing through.” “So am I”, //said the Rabbi.
“I am only passing through this world.” May that be the theme of your life as we live out the yearning for eternity that God has placed within everyone of us. “I am only passing through.” The problems of this messy old world are temporary.
Let’s not get too tied to this world, we’re not home yet. How easy it is to feel like we are being squeezed: The local bar was so sure that its bartender was the strongest man around that they offered a standing $1000 bet. The bartender would squeeze a lemon until all the juice ran into a glass, and hand the lemon to a patron. Anyone who could squeeze one more drop of juice would win the money. Many people had tried over time (weight-lifters, longshoremen, etc.) but nobody could do it. One day this scrawny little man came into the bar, wearing thick glasses and a polyester suit, and said in a tiny squeaky voice " I'd like to try the bet" After the laughter had died down, the bartender said OK, grabbed a lemon, and squeezed away. Then he handed the wrinkled remains of the rind to the little man. The crowd's laughter turned to total silence as the man clenched his fist around the lemon and six drops fell into the glass. As the crowd cheered, the bartender paid the $1000, and asked the little man "what do you do for a living? Are you a lumberjack, a weight-lifter, or what?" The man replied "I work for the IRS."
In today’s scripture Solomon continues his questions of life, the unfairness of life, and he turns to the problem of money. Solomon, the King of Israel, amassed a vast fortune in his lifetime; he concludes money is overrated! The thing about money is that it seems to have a lure, almost like a god, money seems to stand above just about anything else of causing us to lose perspective of what is really most important. Money does something to our brains… few people will say money is the most important thing to them, but the proof is in the pudding, the crazy things people do… A famous Jack Benny skit: a robber held him up, pointed a gun at him and said, “Your money or your life.” After a long pause, Jack Benny says, “I’m thinking! I’m thinking!”
Solomon wants us to think about money, because it is near the top in sidetracking us from what’s most important… throwing our priorities completely out of whack. Too much can be a problem… and too little…
Many people find purpose in the delusion of possessions. Solomon isn’t opposed to wealth, but only against the unhealthy pursuit of happiness through any means apart from God. As one person said, “You can’t hug a mutual fund! If our primary goal in life is material wealth, we will end up with empty, futile lives and spiritual bankruptcy.”
Ecc. 5:8-9 is a simple statement, a fact. “Don’t be surprised…” is a key to the sentence… This is the way the NLT says it… READ. Solomon isn’t saying “don’t care about injustice.” He’s saying keep a healthy perspective. Determine in your heart to find peace and contentment in spite of the unfairness of life all around us. The world does not need spiritually bankrupt people. The world needs people who are alive in Christ, people who are excited about God ~ people with a healthy perspective…How much money you have or don’t have is of little importance. Be prepared for injustice because it will happen. Yet the Lord is calling us to live in the depth of the knowledge of Christ.
Solomon goes on for many more verses with simple observations. I am going to use the NLT because of the straight-forward translation…
Ecc. 5: 10…. I heard about a T-shirt that said, “Lord, let me prove that winning the lottery won’t ruin me.” We laugh, deep down we know winning the lottery brings more problems than solutions, this is part of the insane thinking we all engage in…
Ecc. 5:11… Why is money so important to us? A train traveling through the West was held up by masked bandits. Two friends, who were on their way to California, were among the passengers.
"Here's where we lose all our money," one said, as a robber entered the car.
"You don't think they'll take everything, do you?" the other asked nervously.
"Certainly," the first replied. "These fellows never miss anything."
"That will be terrible," the second friend said. "Are you quite sure they won't leave us any money?" he persisted.
"Of course," was the reply. "Why do you ask?"
The other was silent for a minute. Then, taking a fifty-dollar note from his pocket, he handed it to his friend.
"What is this for?" the first asked, taking the money.
"That's the fifty dollars I owe you," the other answered. "Now we're square."
Ecc. 5:12… there is wisdom in this verse. Be a responsible person, do the best you can. There is something good and healthy about getting your head on straight. I know jobs are so hard to come by these days, they really are, so one of the things I try to do, which I wish I could do a whole let better at, is to help people volunteer, productive people are so much happier, so much healthier, doing something, contributing. God wired us to find meaning in work. Work does not save us. But work does give us satisfaction and meaning. Volunteer, get involved, make a difference… it’s not the reward of money, it’s the thrill of helping others…
Hoarding is a problem it says in Ecc. 5:13… hoarding is an attitude, a mindset… having too much money causes you to lose sleep because of the risk, as it says in Ecc. 5:14… You’ve heard the joke about the millionaire who goes back to the church of his youth and stood up to say how ten years ago he was at this church and all he had was just a dollar. He was listening to a missionary and he felt that God was telling him to give his all, which he did and now he is a millionaire. When he sat down, the little old church lady sitting next to him says to him, “I dare you to do it again!” We laugh, but I am not so sure it is a joke. If God is calling us to give extravagantly then why not. God’s economics is different from our own. My mission professor, Peter Wagner, once said in class, “as soon as you get your first stick of furniture, you are less likely to go out on the mission field.” This gets to the idea of letting money, the things we own, compromise our lives. I have no particular person in mind…, but some of you should consider getting rid of your storage units and giving everything away. Some of us should clean out our basement/closet and get rid of everything...
Ecc. 5:15 ends, “you can’t take your riches with you.” I like this joke, insight about heaven’s perspective on this world’s treasures: There once was a rich man who was near death. He was grieved because he had worked hard for his money and he wanted to be able to take it with him to heaven. So he began to pray that he might be able to take some of his wealth with him.
An angel hears his plea and appears to him. "Sorry, but you can't take your wealth with you." The man implores the angel to speak to God to see if He might bend the rules. The angel reappears and informs the man that God has decided to allow him to take one suitcase. Overjoyed, the man gathers his largest suitcase and fills it with pure gold bars.
Soon afterward the man dies and shows up at the Gates of Heaven to greet St. Peter. St. Peter seeing the suitcase says, "Hold on, you can't bring that in here!" But, the man explains to St. Peter that he has permission and asks him to verify his story with the Lord. Sure enough, St. Peter checks and comes back saying, "You're right. You are allowed one carry-on bag, but I'm supposed to check its contents before letting it through." St. Peter opens the suitcase to inspect the worldly items that the man found too precious to leave behind and exclaims, "You brought pavement?!!!"
“The things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.” As I have grown older, things mean less to me. Do you find the same thing? I’m still too greedy, too worldly, too much stuff…
Keeping a healthy perspective on stuff, money, is a key to finding peace and contentment. Years ago I sat through a Christian seminar on money management. I’ve never forgotten a wonderful nugget of wisdom from Ken Blue: as you are building towards retirement, ask yourself, “how much is enough?” He said most people never ask, they start accumulating and never quit. “A bit more” is the motto, a never ending cycle of more security, more wealth, more possessions… His advice, figure out how much is enough, is it half a million, a million, two million, then give the rest away responsibly …
Ecc. 5:16-17 Summary: “So what?” If our lives lack meaning and purpose, all the money in the world won’t make a bit of difference. I’m sure Jesus had these verses in mind when He said that people can “gain the whole world but lose their soul.” We need a spiritual perspective on our fleeting possessions.
Ecc. 5:18-20 is the great reversal… Do we think affluence will bring us happiness…go try it! Solomon did, and it brought him nothing but grief. I like the quote in the bulletin: “The purpose of life is not prosperity as we are made to believe, but the maturing of the human soul.” Money has never made anyone truly rich. Only God can enable us to enjoy our possessions, once we realize that they cannot be the source of our joy. It’s all perspective, a healthy perspective is first and foremost about life in the Spirit.
“Satisfaction” is a key word in Ecc. 5:18. The early church theologian Augustine once wrote, “Thou hast made us for thyself and our hearts are restless until we find our rest in thee.” True riches are not found in accumulating more and more, but rather, in living with the peace and satisfaction with whatever the Lord has given us. Peace and contentment is a choice, made possible because it is a gift from God, a gift that you can accept or reject. Sometimes I like watching the Olympics on the Canadian channel because they are so proud of all their athletes even though they get far less medals. Last night I saw a 22 year old Canadian interviewed that got 5th place in the decathalon. He did not get first place, but he was satisfied. Better to be 5th place and satisfied, than 2nd place and feel like a failure.
True riches are found in accepting what the Lord has provided you. The world needs people who are satisfied in God, a constant thank you on their lips, living lives of peace and contentment. Solomon discovered wealth and power did not make him happy ~ learn the lesson early, learn it well. Some of my personal heroes are several people I know here in Sumas that have very little, but when they find someone with less, they give out of the little they have. Striving after more is a dead end, reading between the lines of Ecclesiastes, I think Solomon was a restless man that did not get a lot of sleep ~ so what’s the answer? Whatever God has given you, wealth or poverty, little or much, true riches is glorifying God in the middle of whatever your situation is today. We are only passing through this old world, therefore, prioritize the things of eternity, the yearning for God. True riches on this earth are found in accepting what the Lord has provided you. Amen.