Materialism is the air that we breathe. We barely notice how much value we place upon money, possessions, and material wealth. While our world plunges into a recession, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Great Depression, it’s our misplaced hearts that need to change.
We see injustice everywhere. But it’s not as simple as pointing to others. If we’re honest within ourselves, we see that it’s not someone else’s doing—it’s our doing. Our hearts are selfish. We’re part of the problem. O, for a just world! But that will mean us changing too. We can see so many problems, but finding a just solution is no easy matter. God, when will you put things right?
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My schooling years were characterised by reports that always said much the same thing: “David talks too much and distracts those around him. He would get better outcomes from his work if he listened more and spoke less.”
When it comes to listening to God, we should put away the distractions, think about who it is who’s speaking, and focus attentively on his word. In these days of multi-sensory inputs and high tech gadgets, do you need to turn them off and set aside some time exclusively to listen to God? What might this look like?
How many friends do you have on Facebook? How many followers on Instagram? What does this say about us? Do we become more important the more ‘likes’ we get? We love to be loved. We want to have influence. But popularity is fleeting. People, like things, go in and out of fashion. What can we commit to that will really make a difference?
Some of us are finding the forced ‘stay home’ especially difficult. When there is no one around to share life with, to encourage us, to support us, or to work together, we struggle with being alone. Isolation is not part of God’s good plan for his people. Having pronounced everything to be good in Genesis 1, God declares in the following chapter that it is not good for man to be alone. We were made for companionship. Ecclesiastes recognises the blessings of relationship with others.
What motivates us to work and to keep on working? Seems like there are a number of motivations. The most basic would have to be survival. We work to eat and stay alive. But where I come from many of us have that’s covered. We work for significance or satisfaction or security. Ecclesiastes nails it when it states that so much achievement come from a person’s envy of their neighbour. We work so as to keep up with one another. The trouble is, we can invest more in our work than it can possibly bear.
Recent events have turned our lives inside out. Many people are are struggling, depressed, anxious, and wondering what their lives are all about. We seem to be surviving the pandemic pretty well, especially when compared to our ‘allies’, the US an UK. But people are now facing troubling and uncertain futures. Relationship strains, poor health, job losses, business shutdowns, digging into our super, relying on government handouts, cut off from friends, isolated from our families… These are all serious stressors. It’s easy to take our minds to dark places. How are you holding up? There are times when it all seems too hard. Friends, there is a way. There is hope. And there is help available.
This short talk features our ageing labradoodle, Bonnie, who is 127 in dog years. Are we any different to the animals? We breathe, they breathe. They die, we die? Who goes where? Ecclesiastes doesn’t seem to have the answers, but there is a place that does.
I’ve been feeling a little guilty lately. I think they call it survivor guilt. Why am I doing so well, why is my ‘lockdown’ so comfortable, how have we escaped the impact of this virus? Friends in New York, London, Trento have been confronted by disease and death in their neighbourhoods. From time to time we may feel the problem of injustice acutely. Evildoers escaping judgement. The innocent suffering unfairly. What is God doing? Is he just? Will there be a time for justice?
Arthur Stace, or Mr Eternity as he became known, left his mark all over Sydney in the mid 1900s. He wrote only one word— ‘eternity’—in beautiful copperplate script with chalk on pavements from Martin Place to Parramatta. Why did he do this thousands upon thousands of times over more than 30 years? On the night of 6 August 1930 Stace walked into St Barnabas Church on Broadway and heard the preaching of RBS Hammond. Something impacted Stace that changed his life for… eternity.
A friend and I used to share a joke. I would ask, “What’s the essence of a good joke?” and before I had even said the word ‘joke’, he would reply, “Timing”! Ecclesiastes chapter 3 is arguably the most famous section in the book of Ecclesiastes. It’s been popularised by The Byrds and Bob Dylan. There is something very beautiful about a timely word, a timely gift, or even a timely cup of coffee. Yet the beauty of this poem can veil the futility of life. For every good and timely action has it’s counter. What is done will one day be undone. Nothing seems to last.
Work can be painful and tough. Can it also be stimulating and enjoyable. You might look forward to your work. You might not be able to wait until it’s over. We have seen the frustrations that come from work that is unsatisfying, but is there a way to find enjoyment and happiness in our work?
One third of our lives spent at work. And they say no one looks back from their death bed and wishes they’d spent more time at the office. Why do we work, labour, and toil? And why does Ecclesiastes describe work as meaningless? At this time of crisis, with jobs on the line, massive unemployment, pay cuts, and business collapses, what are we doing it all for?
Of course, it’s better to be wise than foolish. We do well to slow down, take some time out, reflect, and consider what we are on about. But at the end of the day, does it really change anything? I’ve accumulated three degrees, some diplomas, and a few certificates. They’re collecting dust somewhere in the basement. If we invest everything in the accumulation of wisdom, but forget to live live, and forget that life will come to an end, then we prove ourselves to be foolish. The wise person begins with the end in mind.
I read recently that the key to finding happiness is to stop seeking happiness. Is this right? Why is happiness so important to us? And why is it so fleeting and short-lived? Why does it seem like we are just chasing after the wind?
These are difficult days. Locked down, isolated, fearful, confused. Sickness, death, unemployment, recession. What is happening? Ecclesiastes describes a heavy burden that God has laid on people. Yet far from being a reason for despair—this is the foundation of hope. Nothing has escaped our sovereign Lord. We can turn to him in our need.
So much of our lives are spent working. We toil day after day after day. Why do we do it? What do we hope to gain? Ecclesiastes 1:3-11 asks us to consider what we are working for?
This pandemic, and the demands to stay at home, are placing many stresses on us. It’s also created unique opportunities. We get to hit pause on some of the things that have highjacked our lives, stolen our time, and drained our bank accounts. We get to slow down a little and think.
Let me encourage you to make the most of the moment. Such a time might never come again—most likely never will. So stop and smell the roses. Pause and consider the questions of meaning and purpose and life and death and faith and hope and love. Embark on a quest for meaning. See if you can discover a reason, a purpose, a worthwhile destination. Ask questions of God: “Are you there?” “Do you care?” “Can I know you?” “Can you please make yourself known to me?”
I recommend doing some exploration of the Bible. Grab hold of a modern translation, open to one of the four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, John—and ask questions of Jesus. Explore the Scriptures, do a bit of soul searching, but don’t make it theoretical. Ask the what and the so what.
There is a book in the Bible that examines the big questions of existence, purpose and meaning. It doesn’t provide all the answers, but it sure asks good questions. Taken together with the rest of the Bible, and especially the message of Jesus, it is a word for the season. I’d love to help you get into this unusual part of the Bible, so most days I will be posting a brief video (between 3 and 9 minutes) that exposes this book, explores the matters it raises, and connects with life now.
I invite you to join me in exploring Ecclesiastes together. You can do this on your own or together with others in your household. You might want to watch a video, read over the words in Ecclesiastes, talk together, pray about things… whatever you want really. Feel free to point others to the videos (currently stored on the Salt Church website), share on Facebook, email a friend, use for coffee chats, or ask a friend to check out Ecclesiastes with you.
My hope is that this will be a blessing to you.
It is better to go to a house of mourning
than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
the living should take this to heart.
(Ecclesiastes 7:2 NIV)
The horrors of the COVID-19 pandemic have plastered our screens with death, day after day after day. We watch death tolls rising in the virus epicentres. We follow, in fear and relief, the flattening of the curve in our midst. Everything has changed. And yet nothing has changed. We all face death and the coronavirus is inescapably confronting us with this harsh reality.