One of our favorite summer time activities is to go to the beach.
Our favorite beach out here is Mayflower beach in Dennis.
There’s tons of sand and some really cool sand bars to play on as the tide comes in or goes out.
Of course, what is one of the favorite past times of kids all over the world when they go to the beach?
Digging in the sand and building sand castles.
I remember being a kid and thinking I would be able to dig through the sand until I arrived in China.
Digging in the sand often becomes a source of contention among my kids however.
One of the problems of having little boys is that they are little balls of destruction.
So when my girls are digging massive moats for their sand castles, they are constantly yelling at the boys to keep away.
They know that the moment that Owen or Brian steps too close, a ton of sand will pour in and ruin their creation.
It’s kind of funny if you think about it.
Here they are, sweating and slaving away in the sand, guarding their castles with their lives, when in just a matter of a couple of hours the whole thing will be washed away with the incoming tide.
The whole enterprise is meaningless, isn’t it?
I know the kids enjoy it for the time being, but what are they really accomplishing?
Do you ever feel as though life was meaningless?
It sure seems that way.
Consider all of the pain and suffering and brokenness in the world.
Want to be depressed?
Read the news.
We are as powerless to change the disasters around us as we are to build permanent sand castles.
It can make you wonder what the point of it all is.
I find that such thoughts scare many Christians.
So we put on rose colored glasses, put our fingers in our ears, and stick our heads in the sand.
We act as though everything is fine.
We put on our positive alternative music and our campy feel good Christian movies and pretend that in the world everything always works out in the end.
But does it?
Is the world fine?
It doesn’t feel fine.
Terrorists strap bombs to their chests and walk into concerts filled with children.
Our political leaders are embroiled in scandal after scandal.
Children get sick with cancer.
Countries are on the verge of nuclear war.
No, the world is not fine.
The world isn’t helped by our safe and sterile outlook on the world.
The Bible doesn’t agree with it either.
The Bible is far more realistic about the messiness of this life than we often let ourselves be.
We are beginning a sermon series in the book of Ecclesiastes this morning, a book that will take our rose colored glasses and shatter them, better equipping us to navigate this broken world and love our neighbors in the process.
So with that, let’s turn to chapter 1, verse 1.
The author of the book is identified using three titles.
First he is called the Preacher, (or maybe teacher in your translation) which is fitting since he’s got a sermon he wants to deliver to us, one that can be somewhat unnerving if you have a tendency to wear rose colored glasses.
He is also called the son of David and king in Jerusalem.
Naturally, this leads us to consider David’s immediate son, Solomon.
In fact much of what the Preacher says will draw upon images of Solomon’s life.
Most people throughout church history believed that Solomon was the author.
Today though, most Christian scholars aren’t so sure.
It is possible that a later king wrote the book, or even someone editing Solomon’s words.
The book is technically anonymous, so if Solomon didn’t write the book it is no attack on the legitimacy of the book as a part of God’s word.
I lean toward thinking that Solomon is the author, the minority position today, simply because I find it’s usually better to side with saints long passed.
For the duration of this series though, I’m just going to call him the Preacher.
What does the Preacher have to say?
The Main Theme of the Book
We are now introduced to the theme of the book and it is quite unsettling at first pass.
Everything is vanity.
Everything is meaningless.
Everything is futile.
The word here that we are translating as vanity is the word for vapor or mist or breath.
In other words, life is fleeting and slips through our fingers like fog.
The Preacher will repeat this phrase at the end of the book, serving as bookends to his message.
Between these two bookends of everything is meaningless, is the Preacher’s argument backing up this statement.
I’m not sure that we are quite prepared for what the Preacher is saying here.
We have a way of treating life as if it can be wrapped up in a nice little bow.
Everything fits together and has purpose.
We find little messages in even the most mundane of circumstances.
The Preacher does not share our optimism.
He looks at this life, this world, and he cannot say, “Everything is just fine.”
No, he looks at the world and says, “It’s all gone to hell in a hand basket.”
To quote the popular phrase, “Life sucks and then you die.”
I hate most Christian movies for this very reason.
Aside from the poor acting and lousy writing, most Christian movies also have this infuriating tendency to have happy, clean, and neat endings.
The marriage is reconciled, the cancer is healed, the son returns home, the farm is saved, the atheist becomes a Christian.
Ecclesiastes’ message is quite different.
Sometimes the marriage is destroyed, the cancer kills, the son never returns, the farm burns down, and people continue to reject the gospel.
The Preacher has a way of shattering our rose colored glasses.
The intended audience for the book of Ecclesiastes appears to be those outside the Israelite faith.
We will see that the book ultimately is an extended argument, meant to win people over to faith in God.
I find the Preacher’s approach refreshing.
What he does is to essentially strip himself of all of the religious language and history of faith and enter into the world of those who do not know his God.
Rather than appealing to his established religious practices he will regularly appeal to the shared humanity he has with his audience.
No Gain Under the Sun
What good comes from our lives?
The Preacher begins to unpack his claim that all is meaningless by asking the question of what gain there is to be had by all of our work under the sun.
In other words, he is asking us, “What is the point?”
“What are you really accomplishing with your life?”
Now, most people live as though their lives count for something.
But the Preacher disagrees.
His answer to the question of what is gain by all our toil under the sun is clear: NOTHING.
Lest you think this message is un-Christian, what the Preacher says is not far from what Jesus says when he asks his disciples what does it profit (what gain is there) if a man gains the whole world but loses his soul?
Jesus’ implied answer is the same as the Preacher: NOTHING.
The key phrase the Preacher is using here that let’s us in on what he is doing is the phrase, “under the sun.”
This is a key phrase he will repeat in the rest of the book.
There is a way of living that sees all of life from the perspective of being under the sun.
What is under the sun is all that there is.
In other words, under the sun simply means from an earthly or worldly or secular perspective.
When a person sees their entire existence as one simply from a secular or earthly perspective, they have no ultimate purpose or meaning to their lives.
Now, the irreligious person is quick to interject.
I have meaning!