Aug 15th | The Reverend Kevin Scott Fleming | Ecclesiastes 1:1-9
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This week, I went back to check on the veracity of the statement I am about to make. Based on my research, I can truthfully say that I have never preached a “back to school” sermon in the 35 years of my ministry. I don’t know why that is. Sloth, perhaps. So, this is an auspicious moment for me – and perhaps for you. We’ll see.
I need to suggest that while it is a “back to school” sermon, it is for everyone. If you are going to pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, high school, college, graduate school, the University of Google Medical School, or just post-graduate studies in the school of hard knocks, this sermon is for you. However, because I am a semi-retired youth pastor and director of Christian Education, I am inviting middle and high school students to pay particular attention.
Let’s begin by directing our attention to the Book of Ecclesiastes. The only thing we truly know about the author of the book is that he – or she – was known as Koheleth. That is a Hebrew word that means “Teacher.” Typically, we think of Koheleth as someone who has lived a long time and seen all that life has to offer. Koheleth has grown exhausted by life’s changes and fluctuations.
From his geezerly perspective he offers us this observation:
Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities!
All is vanity.
Say what? The word we translate as vanity is the Hebrew word hevel. More accurately translated, we might choose the words absurdity, meaninglessness, or vapor. Everything – including life – says Koheleth is meaningless and pointless. Stay with me.
Koheleth then summarizes his observation with these words:
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done;
there is nothing new under the sun.
This is where I can imagine Koheleth being like a teenager. Teens and pre-teens have excellent powers of observation. You look at the world around you and see its foolishness. You notice the silly and the strange. Truth be told, the adults around you do the same thing.
The danger is in falling into cynicism. Cynicism is marked by pessimism, doubt, and hopelessness. You can hear a bit of it when you might hear someone say, “This is so boring.” Or, “I don’t know why we have to study science. I’ll never use it when I get out of school.” Or, when asked what a favorite thing about school is, the answer comes back, “Recess.” Or when the highlight of your day is a tick-tock that a friend shares. Moments like that are Koheleth moments.
And grown ups have them too. “Nothing ever goes right for me,” you’ll hear them say. “I can’t believe how much that costs.” Or, “I don’t understand how anyone can be that stupid.” If none of those sound familiar, they sometimes put bumperstickers on their cars that say, “Same stuff, different day.” “There is nothing new under the sun.”
We are easily bored. We are easily disinterested. We become jaded and jaundiced. Then we become judgmental. Then we move on to being hypercritical. And then we become, bitter.
So, let me offer a few suggestions.
First, when you read on in Ecclesiastes, Koheleth reminds us that we are mortal. Life goes by pretty quickly. I can remember high school like it was yesterday and I’ll be 64 this December. Life goes by at an astounding pace.
And that means we should live it fully. Don’t get to some point in your life and say, “I wish I had done this,” or “I wish I had said that,” or “I regret…” Because life moves so very quickly, we need to value every day that we are given. We need to fill every day that is ours with laughter, happiness, and discovery. You and I are given each new day to be of some service to our neighbors and those who need our help. We are called to fully embrace the gift of life that God has given to us.
Second, make it a point to discover something new each day. It doesn’t have to be huge or of the utmost importance. It can be something small or inconsequential. I’ll give you an example. A while back, I was sitting on the porch reading and I could smell rain coming. I remember as a kid, learning to smell for rain. It is an unforgettable aroma. It’s musky and pungent and very pleasant.
Well, what I learned on Thursday – which is sermon writing day – is that this is due to a process called petrichor. Discovered in 1964 by Australian scientists, petrichor happens when the rain falls on grasses and plants and trees which produce oils. As the rain moves in, the air becomes more humid and the oils are released into the air. Rain, which has no scent, pushes ozone closer to the ground, adding to petrichor.
Now, that may not mean much to you – though I will point out that no other congregation in town is receiving this information today – but I learned something new on Thursday. What will you discover today?
Third, and this one is tricky, we all need to spend a little less time with technology and a little more time in reality. Technology is a good thing, don’t get me wrong. But you can get too much of a good thing.
Spend some time outdoors. Take up a new hobby. Talk to friends without texting. Enjoy the taste of a food you’ve never tried. Read more. When you think you’ve read enough, read more. Learn to bake. Perfect your own chili recipe.
We can become entirely too distracted by our gizmos and gadgets. They can actually make us less human. We were created with a need to be with other people. When we withdraw from people and become glued to a screen, we become less than what we were created to be.
Finally, whenever you are led to believe that “there is nothing new under the sun,” remember this:
And the one who was seated on the throne said,
“See, I am making all things new.”
God continually and constantly makes all things new. Things change every day. New discoveries are made every day. We have not begun to catch up with all that God is doing.
God possesses this amazing power to transform everything – even us. God has the power to make us new – to change us from what we are to what God intended for us to be. God has the capacity to lead us into living compassionate, caring, kindhearted lives. God is willing to teach us a new way – a better way – the way God had in mind when God breathed into us the breath of life.
When we find ourselves slipping into the patterns of cynical living, when we find ourselves being judgmental and negative, when we can’t seem to find meaning or purpose, God can help turn that all around.
“See, I am making all things new.”
Or, “there’s nothing new under the sun,”
Life is short and there is so much to be discovered and enjoyed.
Don’t miss out on it. Not now and not forevermore. Amen.