God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
A wise ruler is looking back over the task he had set for himself--to study and to probe with wisdom all that happens under the sun. He has spent his life appraising wisdom and madness and folly. But what he has deduced is that the same fate awaits both the wise man and the fool. He concludes that all the effort we expend is pretty useless--that we might as well have spent our time chasing the wind.
It's pretty disconcerting to some people to find the writings of Ecclesiastes in our Bible. We may be more accustomed to reading passages about hope and reward rather than this rather pessimistic collection. Much of it challenges much of what is written in the rest of the Bible. It's not pious. Well, sometimes some of us are in situations that aren't very good. Our troubles may or may not have been our fault, but we are in trouble, anyway. At those times, we can find ourselves reflected in the writings of Ecclesiastes. We aren't the first to know futility. Being in pain does not disallow us from being in God's family.
Allen & Williamson in their Preaching the Old Testament suggest questions we might ponder: What is the point of my life? What can we expect of life? What sense can we make of life?
Ecclesiastes says all things are futile, that nothing lasts. I'm grateful to Gene Tucker who wrote about this in Preaching Through the Christian Year C: If this book and the Book of Job were not in our canon, the powerful but also potentially destructive wisdom doctrine that all is fair could go unchallenged. And that voice of challenge--rather than the positive and pious additions or the attribution of the work to Solomon--probably explains why this book is a part of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. At least some of our ancestors in the faith did not cringe before Koheleth's strong words If the preacher finds it impossible to agree with Koheleth's conclusions about the futility of life, he or she can be sure that there are those in the congregation who at least now and then--if not always--experience such profound futility. Those voices deserve to be expressed and understood, even--and especially--in the context of Christian worship.
2 Corinthians 6:1-13
Paul described the life of a Christian missionary. "Here's how we commended ourselves to you: great endurance, afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger."
That is, servants of God will go through a lot as they reach out to people who are themselves going through a lot.
Paul offers a checklist that is still useful for us as we invite people into our Christian community: purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech.
After reading Paul's description of evangelism, does your congregation have any repenting to do?
Psalm 46 recognizes that life does have pain and disruptions. It speaks of disruptions in nature and among people. Mountains tumble into the sea because of earthquakes. Nations fall to attack by enemies.
Yet, in times of affliction, we have the comfort of the presence of God.
Listen to the comfort of Psalm 46.
Prayer for Today: We turn to you, O God, in gratitude for your gifts to us. Inspire us now to invite other people into our Christian community. And, O God, we ask that you inspire us to demonstrate your place in our lives by showing others purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech. Amen.