The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Ecclesiastes 1:2,12-14 1 “‘Vanity of vanities,’ says the Preacher, ‘Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.’ . . 12 I, the Preacher, have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 And I set my mind to seek and explore by wisdom concerning all that has been done under heaven. It is a grievous task which God has given to the sons of men to be afflicted with. 14 I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after wind.” . .
Luke 12:13 “And someone in the crowd said to Him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’ 14 But He said to him, ‘Man, who appointed Me a judge or arbiter over you?’ 15 And He said to them, ‘Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.’ 16 And He told them a parable, saying, ‘The land of a certain rich man was very productive. 17 And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 “And he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.’ 20 ‘But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ 21 So is the man who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
Colossians 3:1 Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. 3 For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.
We have before us three readings. Two of them are pure law. There isn’t a bit of good news (Gospel) in either the assigned Old Testament or Gospel readings. If we want the good news, (the Gospel) we need to go to the Epistle lesson–Colossians 3:3-4 “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.” The Old Testament and Gospel readings speak to and against the dominate philosophies of this world and the innate motivations of sinful human nature.
The book of Ecclesiastes was written by King Solomon. Solomon was the son of King David. After Solomon had been coronated as king, God said to Solomon, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” Solomon prayed, (10-12) “Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?” God said to Solomon, ‘Since this is your heart’s desire and you have not asked for wealth, possessions or honor, nor for the death of your enemies, and since you have not asked for a long life but for wisdom and knowledge to govern my people over whom I have made you king, therefore wisdom and knowledge will be given you.’”
So it was and what in his wisdom does Solomon do with his divinely inspired wisdom? Does he write a treatise on the “power of positive thinking?”or a step program for self improvement, or a book on how to win friends and influence people, or a compendium of human achievement with an affirmation thereof? He does not. King Solomon calls himself “the Preacher” and the book God breathed into being through him is a book of law, of sad news, and of pessimism over human ability and achievement.
King Solomon was the most accomplished king in all of Israel’s history. Under his rule Israel increased in wealth, power, and prestige in the ancient world. He formed alliances with other countries and tribes that helped secure trade and peace. He created the best economy in the history of Israel. 1 Chronicles 9 catalogs Solomon’s wealth and it was massive. Verse 22 says the he was richer and wiser than any other king in the world.
Solomon oversaw the building of a grand palace and the temple. He was given to write the Book of Proverbs, the Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastes. He penned several other kinds of works outside the biblical cannon, musical songs, poetry, histories, and scientific works in botany and zoology. Under Solomon, Israel experienced a “golden age,” figuratively and literally. As is often the case with a very many Christians, Solomon drifted away from the Lord God and was less than faithful later years of his life. But when it comes to great accomplishments in temporal and spiritual matters, Solomon was the greatest of all Israel’s kings.
Of all his works, this is the one that lasted. Ecclesiastes 1:14, “I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after wind. . . (2:11) Thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun.”
Of his own works in this world Solomon wrote, (1:17) “I have set my heart to known wisdom and to known madness and folly. I perceived that this also is chasing after the wind. . . 2:15 I said to myself, ‘As is the fate of the fool, it will also befall me. Why then have I been extremely wise? So I said to myself, ‘This too is vanity.’”
The word for “meaningless” occurs 34 times in the Book of Ecclesiastes. Commentators have identified the theme of this book as “Meaninglessness.” The phrase “under the sun” occurs 27 times and is a statement of judgment. “Chasing after the wind” is used eight times and is usually accompanied by the word “vanity” to describe human achievements before the Lord God.
The opening verse of the book sets the tone for all that follows. “‘Vanity of vanities,’ says the Preacher, ‘Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.’” In subsequent chapters human wisdom is called “folly,” the pursuit of pleasure is called “vanity,” popularity does not last, injustice, war, and strife are the normal operating system of this world, and of material possessions and wealth, he writes (5:10) “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves abundance with its income. This too is vanity.”
Apart from the Lord God daily work passes away into nothing. (22) “For what does a man get in all his labor and in his striving with which he labors under the sun? (23) Because all his days his task is painful and grievous; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is vanity.” In essence apart from and without the Lord God, even eating a daily meal is something less that it is suppose to be. (25) “For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him?”
Every verse in the Book of Ecclesiastes condemns all of us in our sin, foolishness, pursuits, desires, deeds, and thinking. Nothing is merit worthy. Nothing and no one good in God’s sight by virtue of their thoughts, words, and deeds. From dust we came and to dust we return. Enter the Gospel lesson.
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” (Luke 12:13) Of all the questions asked of Jesus in the four Gospels, this is question is the most unusual. No where in the four Gospels is Jesus interested in adjudicating the assets of an estate or of any temporal affair for that matter. When He is asked about paying taxes, He doesn’t adjudicate a debate over taxes, He simply asks whose image is on the coin and says, pay Caesar what is due Caesar and God what is due God.
In the case before us this morning Jesus made it clear that settling an estate dispute was not part of His vocation. He said to him, ‘Man, who appointed Me a judge or arbiter over you?’ (Luke 12:14) Jesus didn’t hold the office of civil judge. Jesus rejected the role of an estate judge or mediator. He instead redirects the conversation to the heart, soul, mind, and purpose of a man’s existence. “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15)
Jesus went on to tell a parable about a man who became independently wealthy. He was so prosperous that he had to build additional storage sheds to store the surplus of grain and other goods. The parable teaches the same lesson the is taught in Ecclesiastes, all is vanity apart faith in the Lord God. What does God say in the parable to the rich man? 20 ‘But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” There it is – vanity of vanities.
Now there’s nothing wrong with money and being wealthy. I for one wouldn’t mind being wealthy. The truth be known, the visible church couldn’t survive very long without members who have worked hard and been blessed by earning a very good living and investing wisely. Jesus had many disciples who were wealthy. The Magi from the east had the means to offer Jesus gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Joseph of Arimethea who loaned his tomb to Jesus had the means to construct a tomb for himself in the honored real estate near Jerusalem. Lydia, one of the early disciples in Philippi and Mary the mother of Mark the Gospel writer were wealthy patrons of the church. There are other wealthy Christians and patrons named in the New Testament.
The problem is not with the wealth, but greed and making wealth and property into a god. The Large Catechism, explanation to the First Commandment; “It is the trust and faith of the heart alone that make both God and an idol. If your faith and trust are right, then your God is the true one. Conversely, where your trust is false and wrong, there you do not have the true God. For these two belong together, faith and God. Anything on which your heart relies and depends, I say, that is really your God.”
Does the wealthy one come into the presence of the Lord God Jesus Christ humble and contrite, confessing his/her sins? Does the person who is wealthy (or poor for that matter) live in their baptism, hear the words of absolution, and avail themselves of the body and blood of Jesus as a true Christian? Does the rich one pray to the Lord God for wisdom and finds it the Word of God?
But in Christ Jesus, everything is viewed differently by God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In Christ Jesus everything in life is forgiven, redeemed, and made worthy because it is all washed in the blood of the Lamb. We have been blessed in both worlds– this one and the one to come. We have daily bread to sustain all of our temporal needs and we have the riches and wisdom of God in Christ, in His Word and sacrament ministry.
The Old Testament preacher of the Law is right. “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” All our labor in this life, raising our children, serving our neighbor, even going to church are all in vain. They count for nothing. The prophet Isaiah says, “All of my works are filthy rags in Thy sight Oh Lord.”
In Christ, nothing in this life is in vain. Marriage, motherhood, fatherhood, serving our neighbor in our various vocations, our worship and praise, our offerings, and our confessions all have value in the God’s sight on account of Christ and our faith in Him.
“If you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.” That is, we are to think of things temporal and eternal as God sees and regards them. Don’t set your minds on, that is don’t make gods out of things that are not God. Don’t remain captive to the thinking of this world and how it regards value. “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. This is written in the past-tense. You have already died in Christ. Your life “is hidden with Christ in God,” present-tense – this is how God the Father sees you now. “When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.” Future tense. In other words a promise of what all will see. All will see our wealth in Christ when Christ comes again.
For now our spiritual poverty is concealed in Christ. Instead of seeing our spiritual poverty, God sees our riches. The Person and Work of Christ cover us. The things that matter eternally and most in this life aren’t the things you can buy, or feel, or do, or pile up. What matters most is what God has done in Christ and through the Word and sacrament ministry of the church. He has “purchased and won you for eternity purchased and won [delivered] you from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, in order that you may be [wholly] His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.”
What is the world to me! My Jesus is my treasure, My life, my health, my wealth, My friend, my love, my pleasure, My joy, my crown, my all, My bliss eternally. Once more, then, I declare; What is the world to me!”
May the Peace that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.