Faithlife Sermons

Ecclesiastes 1:1-11

The excitement of anticipating an event comes close at times to the actual excitement of the actual event. As a 6th or 7th grader such anticipation would be in my mind while sitting in school waiting for the evening basketball game. I remember this excitement being compounded on a particular event in which we were going to a weekend basketball tournament. Due to the time distance I only remember a couple of the preceding events before the tournament. Because we were taking off early the next morning, we stayed at the trailer house of our coach together with some of my friends. The next morning we loaded up in a conversion van and, if I recollect right, stopped by the house of one of my teachers and got a pan of hot buttermilk biscuits. I don’t remember much about the ride, I just remember what happened when we arrived at the gym. In Louisiana, certain gyms were not always best suited for the humidity challenge. The floors would “sweat” hence making the floor impossible to play on. Needless to say, but the tournament was canceled. What a let down!!
Now When disappointments like this happen. There can be a variety of responses in which one tries to alleviate the let down. One that never seems to work is the attempt to try and recreate another event so as to imitate or replace the scheduled event. It is true that one has to move one, but to act as though the event was never canceled and move on seems to indicate that one is not living in reality.
I use the let-down of the canceled basketball game to set the stage for the introduction of the book of Ecclesiastes. As on author put it, we live outside of Eden- the beginning in which everything created was good. The author does not treat this reality lightly. He deals honestly with a world that has gone wrong. One can ignore this reality and try to pursue satisfaction in the vast opportunities of the world around him. Another can so bemoan life out of Eden and consider everything in the created order and something to be avoided.
In the Introduction to Ecclesiastes the author highlights the limitations of living in the created order as a means to stir us up toward real gain.
The book starts with a conclusion about the limitations under the created order. I would say the conclusion is one of the greatest limitations- You are going to die.

What is the conclusion about life under the created order?- You are going to die.

Ecclesiastes 1:1-2 The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. “Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher; “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”
The word die is not mentioned in verse 2, so why would I declare it a concluding word of verse 2. The Hebrew word for vanity would expand beyond some of the limited meanings we may give to the word.
As is translated in other passages, this word can carry the meaning of breath. Something that is quickly fading.
The picture of breath can also point to the fact of life being something unable to grasp.
There also seems to be the consequential frustration, skepticism over the meaningless nature of life.
Before we call that a negative conclusion of life, we need to consider its accuracy
The superlatives in this section are meant to make a strong statement.
“ All” conveys that nothing in the created order has escaped this
The statement about meaninglessness is full of meaning.
The statement is very accurate, but is meant to awaken us and make us think and live wisely in the created order
For those of us who have listened to Dan’s wilderness introductions many times, we find it quite humorous to watch the responses of those who here it for the the first time. It usually sounds a simple as this: “You could die out here today.” The eyes grow big and they begin to wonder what they have got themselves into. The reality is true, and it is meant to awaken every person to the gravity of the situation. When they accept the reality, they can then enjoy the many things about the trip.
The author then move to an example to show the fragile and futile nature of the created order

In what particular way is life fragile and futile?- Gain cannot be reached

Ecclesiastes 1:3 What profit has a man from all his labor In which he toils under the sun?
The idea of gain is having a surplus- something left over. Money left over in the bank, food in the pantry, making a difference in life, making a legacy beyond my life.
This toilsome endeavor for gain will never happen in this created order- under the sun
Meaning was sought only from this perspective
Gain was sought only from the resources under the sun.
This does not mean that the things in this world are all wrong. They have value in that they are part of God’s created order.
Illustration: I think most of us would consider Big Rays an essential store in Fairbanks. However, if you went to get your weekly groceries there, you would be greatly disappointed. You would not come out with any gain with regards to your food needs.

Why can gain not be reached?- the nature of God’s created order is not set up for gain

Ecclesiastes 1:4–7 NKJV
One generation passes away, and another generation comes; But the earth abides forever. The sun also rises, and the sun goes down, And hastens to the place where it arose. The wind goes toward the south, And turns around to the north; The wind whirls about continually, And comes again on its circuit. All the rivers run into the sea, Yet the sea is not full; To the place from which the rivers come, There they return again.
No matter what one attains, he cannot break from the cyclic nature of the created order. (The order picture you going and another coming. He passes away and creation goes on without him
Three examples from nature are given to show this cyclic nature. It is helpful to consider the perspective from which this is being made- under the sun. Psalm 104 looks at some of the same created order and rejoices in God’s manifold works that He carries out with wisdom. However in this passage the enduring things of nature are considered from another perspective.
The sun is pictured as going round and round on and endless cycled. The word used to describe its return to rise again conveys that it is weary.
The wind seems to freely roam, but it too is one a circuit.
The moving water of the earth are considered and seen as never full even in all their movement.
Transition: There are times when a parent has said to a child - find a way. The emphasis is on persistence and diligence. At other times there needs to be the admonition- submit to reality. As the never ending and never full aspect of creation is contemplated, the author then looks at life and sees that he is subject to that same reality.
Ecclesiastes 1:8 NKJV
All things are full of labor; Man cannot express it. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, Nor the ear filled with hearing.
He is unable to express or grasp what is going on in the created order around Him.
There is never a time when what he hears and sees is ever full. There is always more to take in.

Why is gain apparently happening?- newness is seen as gain

Ecclesiastes 1:9–11 NKJV
That which has been is what will be, That which is done is what will be done, And there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which it may be said, “See, this is new”? It has already been in ancient times before us. There is no remembrance of former things, Nor will there be any remembrance of things that are to come By those who will come after.
The writer shifts from viewing the lack of gain in nature to viewing the lack of gain in history.
It is important to keep in mind the needed but limited perspective of life under the sun. Ecclesiastes is not out of line with the developing flow of history in which God is ruling and bringing about His redemptive plan. However, there still the reality summarized in verse 9.
The needs, limitations, and concerns of past generations are still those of today and will be those of tomorrow.
Babies, families, jobs, wars, food. etc. Even with the technological advances there will always be the cyclic nature for discovering something else.
The pushback from such a reality is expressed in v. 10. The newness seems to offer a legitimate reason for something that has never occurred before. It seems to hold out the hope that man may have broken from the cyclic nature of creation. However, the conclusion is still: it has already been.
There is also the push back of man so wanting something to be permanent. Their striving for novelty and permanence seems to ignore the past and the future. The work of those from the past is forgotten. Their own work will be forgotten by others in the future.
As we conclude the introduction of the book of Ecclesiastes in which the conclusion of fragile futility was declared and the impossibility of gain was explored, it may seem appropriate to end with a look at the positive side of things. In His wisdom, God has directed the writer of Ecclesiastes to take the slower track. A jump to the topic of permanent gain in the midst of a fragile world, very well could miss the reorienting God intends to bring about in our lives through this book. There is something to be discovered about God in living within limitations. Is there richer joys in living in our limitations rather than trying to break from them? Is our idea of gain even correct?
We long for change in a world of permanent repetition, and we dream of how to interrupt it. We long for lives of permanence in a world of constant change, and we strive to achieve it. We spend our lives aligning our better selves with a different future that we envisage as more rewarding. And in it all we are simply trying to make permanent what is not meant to be permanent (us), and by constant change we are trying to control what is not meant to be controlled (the world).- Living Life Backwards
God has made change and newness pleasurable to human beings. But, says Screwtape, because God does not want his creatures “to make change, any more than eating, an end in itself, He has balanced the love of change in them by a love of permanence.”11Change and constancy are the two balancing weights on the see-saw of human experience, and God has given humanity the means to enjoy both of them by patterning the world with rhythm. We love the fact that springtime feels new; we love the fact that it is springtime again. And the Devil goes to work right at this point.Screwtape explains:Now just as we pick out and exaggerate the pleasure of eating to produce gluttony, so we pick out this natural pleasantness of change and twist it into a demand for absolute novelty. This demand is entirely our workmanship. If we neglect our duty, men will be not only contented but transported by the mixed novelty and familiarity of snowdrops this January, sunrise this morning, plum pudding this Christmas. Children, until we have taught them better, will be perfectly happy with a seasonal round of games in which conkers succeed hopscotch as regularly as autumn follows summer- Living Life Backward
The desires for newness and permanence seem to be placed in us by our Creator. Left to ourselves this desire is gorged with so man things that leave us starving more. Ask you God to teach you what gain is. As Him to find and enjoy the rhythms of of newness and routine.
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