Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Sermon - "The Meaning of Life" (Ecclesiastes)

On Sunday, Rev. Joshua Patty considered Ecclesiastes, essentially an essay (with some related proverbs) that considers nothing less than the meaning of life.  At first glance, it can be a terribly depressing book because the author, Qoheleth (usually in English called "Preacher" or "Teacher"), starts with two facts of life.  First, everyone dies -- no one, no matter how wise or powerful, has figured out how outlive death.  Second, everyone and their work is eventually forgotten -- despite our dreams of legacies, they too do not last forever.

Given these unavoidable facts, but guided by the unspoken belief that human life matters, Qoheleth considers the typical answers for life's purpose, but he finds them all lacking: wealth, power, wisdom, youth.  All are fleeting.  Ultimately, he decides that the best thing to do is to "eat, drink, and find pleasure in one's toil."  In the most famous passage (set to music by Pete Seeger as "Turn, Turn, Turn"), he suggests that there are many good things to do at various points of life -- times to laugh, cry, dance, fight, embrace, avoid, love, and many more.  Our challenge, it seems, is to figure out what we should be doing at various points in our lives.

Rev. Patty noted that Christians often see more hope in life through the gospel teaching of Jesus Christ, who offered hope alongside the challenges and frustrations of this life.  However, Jesus' own example of how to live seems rooted in the wisdom of doing the right thing at the right time.  More than that, people -- even Christians -- seem to forget Qoheleth's third point: joy.  So often, we look for reasons to complain and moan, instead of looking for the joy in our experiences -- even in our challenges.  We would do well to embrace the joy in life that Qoheleth (who clearly was no Pollyanna) insisted was a key part of a well-lived life.

You can listen to the sermon here.

You can also listen to the related Communion meditation and the extended benediction about prayer, ministry, purpose, and joy.