Value of Life
Read this week's text, Ecclesiastes 1:1-11, 3:1-17
I'm struck by the tension between the words from chapter one - everything is vanity, nothing is new under the sun and chapter three - there is time for everything, the world contains every possible activity and emotion known to humankind. There doesn't have to be tension, of course. The entire course of humankind can be both comprehensive and nothing but vanity but it doesn't seem so to me. At least today that is.
I've been helping a woman die for the past couple weeks. She has finally entered hospice care after more than two decades of fighting a heart condition. She's 51 years old. Her 17 year old daughter said to her a week ago, "Mom, I hope you know it's ok if you let go." Her friends and family have been visiting, one at a time, remembering moments of life - those moments mentioned in Ecclesiastes 3 - moments of laughter and moments of tears, moments of building things and moments of tearing things down, moments of love and hate and speaking and silence. How do you let go of all of that?
Our lives are actually so very precious, every small or large moment of it. This rather vain and I would add mundane human life is - well, it leaves me speechless at times. I feel the writer of Ecclesiastes was writing from a position of incredible privilege - of wealth and power, with health and time in his favor. It's only when we are privileged enough to take life for granted that we lose sight of the preciousness of it all.
Is life vain or is it valuable?
Is life a worthless endeavor or is it worth every precious moment?
The writer of Ecclesiastes could use a dose of Zen Buddhism and a lesson in living in the present. We could all use a lesson in living in the present.
What season from that list in chapter 3 are you in today? Not tomorrow or yesterday but today - what is today for you? Are your sowing or reaping? Mourning or dancing? Tearing or sowing? What is your present moment filled with?
What value do you place on it? Or do you agree with the sentiment of chapter one, that this present moment for you holds nothing new under the sun? Is this present moment like the wind, coming and going?
I dare say if we spend any time in the present moment, we find tremendous newness. We may find it to be like the wind in its coming and going but the wind feels really wonderful against our faces. This day may run into all the others but it still has to go through us. I wonder if what the writer considers vanity is that he or she missed out on so many present moments trying to find meaning in them.
Preaching Ideas -
Eating a Raising Meditation - Have you heard of this? This simple meditation allows a person to savor every aspect of a single raisin. I think this would be a fantastic exercise to do during worship.
The Precious Present By Spencer Johnson. This book may be a helpful illustration. It's simple, a parable of sorts. And I know Eckert Tolle has a book called Here and Now - but years ago Henri Nouwen wrote one with the same title. I commend it to you for devotional reading. Here and Now: Living in the Spirit
Sophia at the Crossroads
The text this week is Proverbs 8:1-11, 22-36
Wisdom here is personified as a woman who calls out – at the crossroads, at the city gates. She yells to whoever will listen it seems – learn prudence, find intelligence. Be seekers of righteousness, of right living.
Last week, I had a short set of slides to show my congregation of how Sophia has been artistically interpreted over time. Here are some of the renditions of Sophia that caught my eye.
And it seems this same Lady Wisdom was calling this righteousness at the beginning of creation – telling the mighty waters of the ocean where its limits were (v. 29) The image of assigning the ocean its limit is one of my favorites in all of scripture. I live only an hour from the shores of NJ. The “psshh” of the water as it hits the sand and the sound of it being drawn away by the undertow has a calming affect on my breathing and my heartrate. To imagine Wisdom personified standing beside the Creator, instructing how the waters should be gathered, where they should begin and where it should end. Was it wisdom who instructed the ocean to make that sound that I love so?
We're not a culture that likes to be given limits. In spending, in eating, in time spent binge watching netflix. We enjoy excess; perhaps what we really enjoy is the lack of limitation, the freedom to do as we please for no reason other than we can.
Wisdom seems to be the person who draws limits in our lives. She defines righteousness. She does it at the crossroads of our lives and at the places where things come and go (the gate).
Last week, I began the series by suggesting that Lady Wisdom “get a seat” at the table of our mind. When we are seeking the right path, she wants a say. And personifying her like this helps us imagine her pulling up a seat beside the others who already get a say in our lives. I suggested a table that looks like this -
I'm challenged by this idea that Wisdom asserts herself - calling to us from the crossroads and at the place of coming and going in our life. Last week, I was suggesting we need to be intentional about Sophia getting a seat at the table, having a say. This week I'm wondering if Sophia is speaking freely but our job is to look at the right areas of our lives - the crossroads or the comings and goings of our lives, the transitions.
Proverbs and Puzzles
Read Proverbs 1:1-7
These proverbs are meant to instruct, to offer insight that is righteous and just, full of integrity. These proverbs allow one to grow into wisdom. These proverbs help us understand puzzles, riddles, games.
Wisdom is something we grow into and the fear of the Lord is the first step of that growth. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. The fear or awe or recognition that wisdom is the process that figures out enigmas, riddles, puzzles.
The fear of the Lord is having the humility to respect the puzzle. The fear of the Lord is to lack the arrogance that may approach this riddle with contempt or maybe just a little too much confidence. The fear of the Lord is the first thing we must have in order to hold the riddle at the appropriate length in order to see the riddle laid before us.
I'm reminded that Paul used the same word in 1 Corinthians 13, specifically verse 12 that says, “for now I see in a mirror, as if life were a riddle. But then face to face, now I know in part, then I will know fully, even as I am fully known.” The word that is translated as riddle is actually the word for enigma - a puzzling or inexplicable situation or occurrence.
I don't know if I ever go a day without some puzzling or inexplicable situation or occurrence. Do you? Particularly for those of us who have chosen life in community, we see an exponential amount of puzzling occurrences in our communities of faith.
Step one -fear of the Lord. An appropriate amount of humility to begin the working out of the puzzle. That's step one. Wisdom is not found at once. Wisdom is something that begins and continues to unfold.
Creative worship idea – Put a piece of a puzzle on the cover of your bulletin. Encourage the congregation to write down a riddle that they are currently praying about. What issue or occurrence in their life is puzzling and for which they need wisdom. Cut out the puzzle piece and put it somewhere they will see it throughout the week to remind them to insert God into their search for the answer to this puzzle.
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