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Ecclesiastes 12:1-14 ‘Living for Today' Sunday 19th.April 2009-04-17
We have just had Purim, Passover and Easter Sunday. Now we are back to Ecclesiastes - whether we have been good, bad orindifferent, we al die! Dead flies give perfume a bad name! Fools are put in high positions! What is twisted cannot bestraightened! I have seen the tears of the oppressed and they have no comforter! No wonder this is cal ed ‘Low Sunday.' You evenhave me droning on, and on and on!
Why is Ecclesiastes in the Hebrew Scripture? Where does it fit in?
The first thing I want to say is that Ecclesiastes was part of ‘the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms' that Jesus came to explain. Ecclesiastes is clearly part of the group of holy writings. The Jewish scriptures had been reviewed just before Jesus came to earth -in 70BC, 70 scholars sat for 70 days to translate the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek. This is cal ed the Septuagint.
How did they know it was 70BC? They did not, but it gives us a reminder of when the translation took place. I believe it was a littlebefore this. The important thing is that in order to do the work the scholars reviewed what was in their scriptures and what was not. Ecclesiastes was in. Was it 70 scholars? Probably not, but it was a significant number that gathered for the work and this gives usconfidence that the work had wide support. Did they take 70 days? No, but they did it in just a few years - a remarkable feat.
So Ecclesiastes is very much a part of the Hebrew Scriptures - what we now cal the Old Testament.
How does it fit into the overal teaching and understanding of Judaism? Present day orthodox Judaism is apparently remarkablysimilar to the time of Jesus and before then, so a look at their beliefs today can help us understand the wider theological setting of OldTestament. Judaism has a large focus on ‘the today.' Living ones life in accordance with God's directions, being his people. Christianity by comparison does the same but it also has a much higher focus on the saving Grace of God and the life hereafter. Judaism expects a life hereafter, but it is in the future when the Messiah comes.
There is a belief that when the Messiah returns he wil ride out of the Golden Gate of Jerusalem and those that are buried in front of thegate wil arise and be part of his glory on this earth. That is why there are cemeteries in front of the gate. There is also, incidental y, aMuslim cemetery there. This is to stop the Messiah riding forth, so even in death Muslims can stil fight for their faith.
So for the Jews, and the teacher, the writer of Ecclesiastes, the present is the main focus. This is seen in the Jewish festivals; theyhave always had many festivals and they go on for several days, even a week. There is always eating and joy. I mentioned Purim atthe beginning; this takes place in February/March and is just for joy. Al the other festivals have a reference to God and his works, butPurim is just to enjoy the present. This is fol owed by Passover, which is primarily celebrated as a family gathering when the Exodusis remembered. When God, with his mighty arm, reached into Egypt, the super power of the day, and removed his people form theirsuffering. He had heard their cries, he responded to the appeals for help, and he took them from bondage to a land of their own, abeautiful land flowing with milk and honey. They would be his people and he would be their God.
So when reading Ecclesiastes we must always have these other sayings ringing in our ears - I am your God and you are my people!
Let us look at our reading today - Ecclesiastes 11. ‘Cast your bread upon the waters for after many days you wil find it again.' Soggy, days old bread - no thank you!
‘Give portions to seven, yes to eight, for you do not know what disaster may come upon the land.' If a disaster is looming surely itwould be better create reserves?
Is this what the teacher is saying? No! Invest for the future, give credit is the message. From other writings using our money andresources wisely could also be added. Being wise in this case is fol owing God's commands, God's directions to healthy living. Godinvested in the Israelites when he brought them out of Egypt - he gave them credit.
Is this not what we are doing here in Christ Church? We are investing in our children, and in our young people. Not so that they willook after us in our old age, though that would be a blessing - both for us AND for them - but because it is God's wil . It is ‘beingfamily.' It is also about ‘handing on.' I mentioned Passover, this is both about remembering God's mighty saving works, but also it isabout passing on the stories of God's love to the next generation. He is our God and we are his people.
Verse 4. ‘Whoever watches the wind wil not plant, whoever looks at the clouds wil not reap.' Just get on with what you are doing,circumstances change.
Verse 5. ‘As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother's womb, so you cannot understand the workof God, the maker of al things.' Is this true today? We have satel ites and computer models and analysis to understand and predictthe weather. We know much more than the teacher did 2 and a half thousand years ago about weather patterns. We know hugeamounts about our bodies, we can scan the growth of a baby in its mother's womb.
We do know many more facts than the Teacher did, and we can predict fairly accurately what weather patterns, but the more we learn,we also uncover more questions. But the Teacher is not real y talking about weather patterns nor about the growth of a foetus. He isgiving these as examples we have finite knowledge and understanding, we have definite limits to our abilities to predict the future. But we do not need to worry because God does - we are his people, he is our God.
‘Sow your seed in the morning' says verse 6. ‘and in the evening let not yours hands be idle, for you do not know which wil succeed,whether this or that, or whether both wil do equal y wel .'
This reminds me of the work we did here in designing this building, or rather in the huge extension we built just a few years ago. WithJim and Katie Garner, Hugh More and Keith Lang, I was on the building committee. We were charged with writing the requirementspec, developing the deign with the architect, and overseeing the construction. We tried to ask the right questions; to look into thefuture as to what the church would need. We tried to create a buildings that did what we then did, would help us to develop as wewanted to develop and to provide ‘possibilties.' We did our best, we did it enthusiastical y, and, very largely, we enjoyed it!
What we did not know was what the future held - we went forward prayerful y and trusted in God.
Did our plans work? Wel , it is al around us and I think the answer is ‘yes it does work.' Keith did a connectivity model. Fairlysimple for this building - virtual y everything needed to connect to the entrance hal . Sounds simple and obvious now, but at the time ittold us we needed to give attention to the entrance, to look at the size and the flow of people to the other rooms. I think it works verywel in the various times and activities that go on here.
Are the al details perfect? Not quite! The PA gal ery, for example, does generate a certain amount of groan, grizzle grumblings -they cannot hear what is going on very wel in the worship area. We visited Bursledon church for inspiration. This is a new churchwhich we visited, and they enthusiastical y showed us the PA desk. Actual y it was a PA cupboard. At the back of the worship areawas a line of built in storage cupboards. One of them, when the doors were opened out, was a large and wel laid out PA desk. Verysmart. The problem was that when the congregation stood to sing, the PA person could not see the musicians! I could solve that Icried, we wil put it in the roof. So we have a large area and additional y we created another store behind it. I think we did discussthe PA operator needing to listen to what was happening in the main worship area, but headphones was the answer. Unfortunatelythey are not quite the answer. Never mind, at least you guys can see what is happening!
The third example is the theatre poles. These are those poles in front of the PA gal ery and are for mounting spot lights etc. Theyare wired for power. We put these in because we used such lights a lot in the old worship area and we wanted to continue thoseactivities. They have never been used! Al the activities that use such lights go on in the Wesley Hal - our old worship area.
So three examples - one where things have worked out wel , one where some things could have been better and one which has notbeen used at al . We did these things, under God, and doing them with the best of intentions and as professional y as we could. BUT, we did not know whether they would actual y work wel , that they would actual y be used. The Teacher in Ecclesiastes warns usof this. However he then goes on in verses 7 to 10 that we should be happy and be joyful in doing these things.
Be happy. let your heart give you joy.banish anxiety from your heart - don't worry!
See though at the end of verse 9, the Teacher reminds us that in the end God wil be our judge. Judaism may wel be largely about‘today,' but it does not forget that God wil judge us. Blessings and judgement are al part of the package of ‘You are my people and Iam your God.'
So far, under the title of Living for Today? I have our activities, our doings. Not real y surprising as I am a ‘doer.' But we are not aldoers, we do not al have the same basic personality. When we did ‘Life Shapes' we looked at one view of personality types. If youremember there were Prophets, Teachers, Apostles etc. Some years ago I went on another personality course. This was theEnneagram, but the model is not important. There was alady on the course who found it very chal enging and not a little upsetting. You see she had grown up in a vicarage and then she had become the wife of a vicar. As such, society and the church just expectedher to be a ‘helper.' Someone who always took her turn on the flower rota, who made cakes and visited the sick. I am sure you getthe picture. Her and her husband were planning their retirement when unfortunately her husband died suddenly. Shades ofEcclesiastes! So there she was not only having been bereaved, but also having to move home as wel .
It was at this time that I met her on the personality course. Here she found she was not basical y a helper. The role she had playedfor 60 years as a daughter and then as a wife was not her. We al found the weekend chal enging, but for her it seemed a disaster.
Some 9 months later I went on a fol ow-up course and there was the same lady. This time she was radiant, lively, joy was in her heart.
She had moved from lovely Dorset to inner Portsmouth - ugh!
She had moved from a healthy parish church to a cathedral - ugh!
She had said ‘no,' to al requests to join the flower rota, and al the other activities when she had joined the cathedral congregation. She had taken her time to look around and to pray, and then she had decided what she would be involved with. She had takencharge of her life! She was who she was.
The ughs to Portsmouth and to the cathedral just reflect my view of where I wish to be, and I am sure the lady enjoyed flowerarrangements even if she didn't like to do them herself. The important thing is that she had taken time to understand herself, to talkwith Jesus as to what he wanted her to do, and then to take charge of her life, under God. Result - she was enjoying life.
When looking for guidance from the Hebrew Scripture, I usual y want to check out the message with the NT, to make sure I understandthe Scriptures as Jesus wants me to. In the NT passage chosen, Paul's 1st. letter to the Corinthians, he says, verse 10, ‘I am what Iam.' He looks at what he does; paraphrasing it he says he preaches Jesus' death for our sins, his descent into hel and hisresurrection. Jesus often taught in parables - stories. Paul never does, he is what he is, and he sticks to it.
Is Paul being selfish, doing his own thing? He says he worked harder than al the other apostles. Is this being bigheaded? I feelPaul is just been realistical y objective, for he lays stress on how he does these things ‘By the Grace of God.'
Don't expect too much from what you do.
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At the end of the period of capitalist triumphalism and neoliberalideological hegemony, must we return to the old analytical categories ofMarxism and the political strategies of the twentieth-century workers’movement, to the horizons of democratic socialism or revolutionarycommunism? Nothing would be more inconclusive. The capitalism ofmass networks that was fully implemented in the 1990s has