Preach the gospel. Die. Be forgotten (Nikolaus Ludwig Von Zinzendorf)
Over the next twelve Sundays we’re going to be exploring the book of Ecclesiastes. It’s part of the Bible’s wisdom literature but the wisdom which the author, whom we shall refer to as the ‘Teacher’, is gleaned from his ‘no holds barred’ quest for the meaning in life. Perhaps this is why Ecclesiastes resonates deeply with many people. Herman Melville, who wrote ‘Moby Dick’, called Ecclesiastes ‘the truest of all books’, a book you could trust.
For all of his wealth, power, unlimited resources, and famed wisdom at his disposal, the “Teacher”, concludes that, “All is vanity” (Eccl 1:2), that life on earth is not meaningless as it is temporary and fleeting, like breath, mist, a puff of wind. King David expressed a similar sentiment, “As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more” (Ps 103:15-16).
Nothing lasts. I remember James Dobson (Founder of Focus on the Family), the ‘guru’ on family recalling how devastated he felt when he found what was once upon a time, his best-selling book, “Dare To Discipline” in a bin. Riches? You could lose it all very suddenly. Even if you manage to hang on to it, you can’t take it with you when you die.
Achievements? Leaving a legacy? Do any of us know or care about Rev Leitch’s legacy, the longest serving pastor of WRBC? Within a short space of time after we leave Windsor Road, people will go, “Who’s Mark and Sue?”. WRBC will keep going, with new pastors and congregations coming after us and you. The world just keeps going. Life is repetitive and feels more like the film ‘Groundhog Day’ than we care to admit. “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl 1:9).
Then, the sucker punch, that overshadowing everything in our world is the reality of death. The teacher’s fate is the same as everyone else on the planet: he’ll be six feet under sooner or later. You are born, you live and you die.
Far from being pessimistic, the Teacher is teaching us to live life backward, that it is only as we live ‘in the light of our death can we ‘live wisely and freely and generously’ (Gibson). How? By embracing life as a gift from God; life for what it is rather than what we would like it to be, to be lived out “before God, reverencing and obeying him…even though puzzlement and pain will be found…and there are never guarantees about how things will turn out” (Provan). He will take the whole book to unpack this.