INI + AMEN.
(1. Oops!: Everything is vain, vanity, meaningless, nothingness.)
It’s all vanity! Everything! Everything is vain, vanity, meaningless, nothingness. As we just sang: The world seeks after wealth and all that mammon offers Yet never is content though gold should fill its coffers. The world, everything that’s done underneath the sun—nothingness, vanity. “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” “Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” The money, the stuff, the stature, the work, the jobs, the desires, the cravings, the hopes for the future—all meaningless, nothingness, vain, vanity!
The song from Mary Poppins is quite telling: “If you invest your tuppence / Wisely in the bank / Safe and sound / Soon that tuppence, Safely invested in the bank, / Will compound. // And you’ll achieve that sense of conquest / As your affluence expands.” Money! More is better than less. But what does all the money get you? More trouble, more worry. Besides, “Thieves break in and destroy.”
But the money is often just a means to an end: getting more stuff. You’ve gotta keep up with the Jones’ after all. There are trade deficits all over the world—consumerism. More, more, more! If you don’t have more, you’re missing out. But, “moth and rust destroy.”
The world seeks after vanity, nothingness, what is meaningless, and this too is vain, nothingness. The world thinks, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” Or they think like the man from our Gospel lesson, “I’ll build bigger barns.” As David says, “Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue for ever, and their dwelling places to all generations; they call their lands after their own names.” And what’s most vain!—they all think, “Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die!” As God says, “You fool! Tonight your life is required of you!” This is what Solomon is talking about in our text: “I hated all my labor which I did underneath the sun, which I leaven to a man after me. And who knows if he will be wise or a fool.” He also says, “For there is a man who labors in wisdom, knowledge, and skill, but he must give his portion to a man that did not labor for it.”
(2. Ugh!: But we set our hearts on these things.)
Solomon is right! “This is a great evil!” We’d be quick to mouth our approval of such a sentiment. We mouth agreement with David when he says, “If riches increase, set not your heart upon them.” But, really? Is it really that cut and dry? The worst part isn’t that we see the world going to hell in a hand basket in its mad-dash to be king of the hill—though this is a great evil. It’s worse because we find ourselves doing the same thing! What is the world to me? Pretty much everything.
We want the money! We do. You’ve gotta get the education, the degree, the big paying job. We hide behind the idea, “Well, I need to live don’t I?” Again, we agree with, “If riches increase set not your heart upon them,” but we really set our heart on them if the decrease! If something has to get cut, or we can’t do something because money’s become tighter, we despair. We fret. We worry. We doubt God’s caring hand if the money gets tight. Think about what discussion gets people the most uptight at church? Offerings, pledges, money! “Uh oh! No! Don’t talk about my first love.”
We want the stuff too. Bigger house, better car, better stuff. We all become agog about that new video game, that new car—even if its just “new to me.” New tech announcement, even better! We all think, “We’re blessed with all these things, but I’ll only part with it when it’s pried from my cold dead hand.” “Some people think I have a lot of stuff, but I really need it” or “They’re all gifts” or “Their heirlooms” what have you. The love of money is the root of all sorts of evil! “Vanity of vanities!” Utter nothingness! There’s no U-hauls that follow hearses. After you’re dead, it could all be chucked and junked by your heirs.
Maybe it’s not stuff at all. “How will people remember me?” Maybe we want a legacy. To be remembered. But Solomon says elsewhere in Ecclesiastes 2: “For there is no more remembrance of the wise than of the fool forever, Since all that now is will be forgotten in the days to come. And how does a wise man die? As the fool!” You won’t be remembered except for a name two maybe three generations from now!
(3. Aha!: Christ’s death and resurrection resurrect us!)
Truly there is nothing left: not money, not stuff, not fame. Fame and fortune fail. Truly everything is vanity, meaningless, nothingness. Truly life under the sun is death. And who who will save us from this body of death! Christ will. In fact,
CHRIST’S DEATH AND RESURRECTION RESURRECT US FROM LIFE’S NOTHINGNESS.
(4. Whee!: We are resurrected!)
We are given life from death, life out of nothingness. Jesus dies and rises to save us from our vanity. Jesus was and is focussed on what isn’t vanity—your very salvation. He didn’t even have a place to lay His head, but gave His head to be struck, crowned with thorns, and bowed in death, His death on the cross. When all of the work and strivings of man under the sun is vain, what Christ did when the sun hid its face is not vain, but the richest and truest thing around—His death for you.
On the cross Christ bore your vanity in His body. He became nothingness, sin, a curse, poor—for you! On the cross He was vanity, your vanity, my vanity, the world’s vanity. Doing that He shed His blood to redeem you from your nothingness. And His resurrection, His new life, His life from death is your justification—your being right with God, that is, your being vanity free before God.
And Jesus gives you His crucified and resurrected life: it’s bodied and blooded to you in His Supper, it’s rosy-red blood is washed over you at the holy font. In that—your Baptism—Jesus gives His resurrected, new-life to you. This is what Paul says in our reading from Colossians: “For you died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” You now have a resurrected life. You free, in Christ. Free from vanity. You’re no longer a slave to the vanity of this life. You too, in Christ,—indeed only in Him, through faith in Him—do you, as Solomon, “hate all things for which I have labored under the sun.” You now use all things for good. You use all things in this earth without fear because you have all things in God’s kingdom: eternal forgiveness, life, and salvation—the true riches God bestows upon you abundantly in Christ.
(5. Yeah!: We will be resurrected to an eternal life)
You don’t just have this now, in this life, but eternally. You have this most precious life—paid for not with gold or silver but with the holy, precious blood and innocent suffering and death of Jesus. Indeed this life passes away as nothing, but in Christ, in His death and resurrection, we’ve been resurrected to new life. A new life of eternal righteousness, innocence, and blessedness with our God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit bought and paid for by the blood of Jesus. Once more, then, I declare: What is the world to me?
INI + AMEN.