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Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Pastors pride themselves on their punctuality and ability to gauge time. There was one pastor who had a particularly, uncanny ability to finish his worship service every Sunday precisely at 12:00 noon. Then one Sunday, the impossible happened. He preached until 12:30. On the way out, one of the elders angrily inquired, “What happened to you?” The pastor answered, “Well, for years I have been putting a candy mint in the side of my mouth at the beginning of the service. It was always gone at exactly noon. That way, I never had to look at the clock or worry about the time. But today, it didn’t go away, and I finally realized that I had put a button in my mouth.”
Pastors, of course, are not the only ones who are obsessed with time. We all have deadlines to meet, schedules to keep, airlines to catch, and zoom meeting to attend. Calendars and clocks have become our masters, and every once in a while we think we can master them. The biblical writer of Ecclesiastes speaks to the true nature of time in God’s plan.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.
Yes, in the writing of Ecclesiastes, the author declares that all our human attempts to control and manage time are “vain” and “futile.” There is little in life that we actually can control. Anyone who has raised a child knows that truth. Some critics see the author of Ecclesiastes as the ultimate cynic, sighing, “All is vanity.” While others say that the author might be more of a realist than a cynic, who refuses to look at life through rose-colored glasses. Things are the way they are, set in motion by God. The universe unfolds according to its own inner logic and set of reasons and only God knows why. In the face of such a world, the author warns that one should not waste time and energy of fretting or chasing after dreams, instead he advises, “The best thing to do is to be happy and enjoy yourself for as long as you can.”
Jesus understood the wisdom of the book of Ecclesiastes and God’s desire that we should enjoy life everyday as it comes. He echoes its sentiments and cites the author of Ecclesiastes in his own parable of the man who built larger granaries to store his grain. “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow, we may be dead.” Jesus’ concern for his followers, and that includes you and me, is that our human pursuits can be vain, futile exercises. We pursue wealth, experiences, and collections that have no real meaning to others or to life itself.
In his Gospel, St. Mark writes that Jesus was setting out on his journey, when a young, rich man ran up to him. It is a wonderful scene of contrasts. The young man dressed in his finest Armani suit, Italian leather shoes, bronzed skin, magnificent hair knelt before Jesus. The rabbi stood before him in the tattered, dusty tunic and robe of an itinerant teacher, scuffed sandals, sun-parched and wind blown skin and disheveled hair. The young man took out his leather- bound notebook, and his gold-plated, monogrammed Cross pen and asked Jesus, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” It was a sincere question.
Jesus answered him with a question concerning the commandments, to which the young man responded truthfully, “Teacher, I have kept all of these since my youth.” Jesus stood and studied the young, and, he loved him. They were perhaps the same age. Jesus cared for him as a brother. Jesus’ counsel for the young man was as a friend who wanted only the best for his companion. “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” When the young man heard this, he was disheartened and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
The rich young man had come to the right person. He had asked the right question. And he had received the right answer: Sadly, the man could not follow Jesus. Instead, he started to grieve. His riches were the center of his identity. And to lose his riches would have been to lose himself.
I’ve seen that disheartened look hundreds of times. I have seen in the face of graduates who have been looking to their future vocations: they know what they long for, but the economic and social pressures of the world are too great, so they walk away grieving. I have visited with couples whose marriage is on the brink of divorce, they know what they desire, but the pressures of pride and ego are too great, so they walk away grieving. I have seen young couples who keep postponing joy of family. If we just get the right job, live in the right neighborhood, and send our kids to right school, everything will work out. The young, rich man too, knew want he wanted. He could even call it by name “eternal life,” but he wasn’t ready to abandon the comfort, security and identity he had found in his riches.
My friends, the riches of this world aren’t inherently evil. When Jesus taught his disciples that “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God,” he wasn’t merely offering a prophetic warning to those who possess great wealth. No, Jesus was speaking a profound word of truth. “How hard it is for those with wealth to enter the kingdom of God.” Why, you may ask? Simply said, when you have all the comforts, securities, and entertainment amenities that the world offers, and have been nurtured to believe that they are heaven on earth, there will be no need, nor room for God’s kingdom.
“So pastor, what must I do to receive eternal life?” It really is a rather peculiar question. For in order for anyone to inherit something, someone must die. It is really not the question of men and women who have grown to know a God who so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son to die, so that everyone who believe in him would have eternal life freely here and now. No, for us the question might be, “What must I do to grow in trust in God’s eternal promise?”
The Westminster Shorter Catechism of the Presbyterian Church provides us a wonderful starting point for that road to faith and trust. It asks the question, “What is the chief end of man?” The answer, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” It is such an easy and yet difficult invitation for people who are trying to figure out what they have to do. But my friends, Jesus would have us remember, that in the midst of life’s uncertainty and sorrows, we can enjoy God promise of joy and hope. In this midst of all the vain activities and pursuits, we can still simply enjoy the life that God has given to us. For everything there is a season, and as the author of Ecclesiastes concludes, “For I commend to you the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for man under the sun than to eat and drink and be merry.” It is that wisdom and confidence that Jesus longed for the young man, and for you and me to understand and embrace. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.