Reading Ramblings – August 4, 2013


Date: August 4th,
2013 – Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14,
2:18-26; Psalm 100; Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21

Context: If the theme for the
last two weeks centered on relationship with God and prayer, this
week’s readings take us into the meaning of life. Why is it that we
do what we do? What wisdom is there in seeking wealth or power or
youth or beauty for their own sakes? Do any of these things last?
How we spend our lives as an expression of our relationship with our
God is what defines us. If we attempt to define ourselves by
anything else, we run the risk of great unhappiness or, worse yet,
severing our relationship with our Lord and Savior.

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-26:
If we think that the meaning of life is a question that has only
really been a source of angst in the last 100 years or so, we are
fooling ourselves. Even ancient people wondered what life was for.
Ecclesiastes is attributed to King Solomon (verse 1), though there is
serious doubt that he actually wrote the book. Regardless, the
content is still fitting for consideration today.

Verse 2 sets up the situation –
everything in our lives that we do is meaningless. Verses 12-14
select the specific aspect of life for today’s consideration – how
we live our lives in terms of our work. Work is not an effect of sin
and the Fall from Genesis 3 – it is part and parcel of our identity
as human beings, Genesis 1-2 stuff. We are made to work. Work is
not a punishment, but work can be skewed by the sin that Genesis 3
reveals. Our author indicates that he has the means with which to
investigate such weighty matters as the meaning of life, as he has
been king over Jerusalem. He has been gifted with great wisdom (1
Kings 3), so we are to assume that his investigations are adequate.

Verses 18-26 show the crux of the
problem. Hard work isn’t the problem, the problem is that we work
hard for the wrong reasons – often the accumulation of wealth. But
once acquired, we really have little control over that wealth,
particularly in the matter of how those after us will use it. If our
striving to accumulate leads us to sorrow and vexation (v.23), how
sad a situation we find ourselves in! The solution is provided in
verses 24-26. We should enjoy our lives, the simple pleasures of
eating and drinking and working as we have been given to. God gives
us these abilities, and given the uncertainties of life and those who
will inherit what we work so hard for, spending our efforts wisely is
what we are commended to.

Psalm 100: While not appearing
to deal with work at first, it does deal with our identity. Our
identity is not forged chiefly from our family name or our level of
wealth or our professional successes, but rather from the fact that
God created us. Bearing this in mind is what helps us to balance our
lives better, seeking out the joy of worshiping our creator, and
recognizing that in much or little, God is good because He is the
creator of all.

Colossians 3:1-11: During the
season of Ordinary Time the Epistle lesson isn’t chosen to link with
the Gospel and Old Testament. But today, it certainly does work with
them. Paul encourages the Colossians to remember whose they are.
They are not just themselves, not the ordinary people they think of
and their neighbors think of. They are somebody else – somebody
more, perhaps more accurately. They don’t even fully know this
identity – only when Christ returns will they see themselves as
they truly are.

As such, the list of behaviors that
Paul warns the Colossians against are not merely rules – they are
indicative of the person that the Colossians are in Christ. That
sort of person will not engage in these behaviors. As they seek to
prepare themselves for this new identity, setting aside these
incongruous behaviors is only natural. It is not a law, not a work,
it is simply embracing who they have been made in Christ and acting
accordingly. It may be uncomfortable at first, but one day it will
be completely natural.

Luke 12:13-21: The emphasis here
is not on action and reaction. The man is not dying because of his
greed. It is not fundamentally a story about judgment and punishment
but rather a reflection of reality. How many times a week do we see
another headline about a celebrity who has it all, yet their life is
a train wreck? How many times do we read about someone with a
promising career ahead of them who dies unexpectedly? We don’t know
the time of our death. But we do know that – barring Christ’s
return first – we will die. How are we then going to spend
the time we have? This day? This minute?

The world leads us to live our lives as
if we are the ones in control, as if we are the ones who deserve this
or that, who have earned this or that. Yet all we have is a gift.
Some have a lot. Some have barely any at all. None of which is a
problem that couldn’t be solved if we began to take seriously the
reality that we are creations of God, and our lives and our
belongings are not strictly ours for the keeping. We can’t keep
them. We know this. Someone once said that the first half of life
consists of acquiring things, and the second half of life consists of
giving them up (voluntarily or involuntarily).

Note the reason that Jesus tells this
parable. There is a dispute. A dispute between brothers. A dispute
between brothers over the material possessions of their father.
Having read Ecclesiastes we can imagine how disappointed that father
would be to know that his hard work has resulted not in joy and love
between his sons, but rather animosity and bitterness. Where are
there priorities?

Jesus’ response reminds us that the Son
of God is not here to force us to play fair. He is not here to
settle our squabbles over stuff. The kingdom that comes in Jesus is
not one where our fundamental concern should be our material
possessions, or whether what we have is the same or better than what
someone else has. In asking Jesus to settle their dispute, these
brothers miss what Jesus has come to offer them. Not the solution to
a short-term problem, but eternal life where such issues are not
issues any longer.

Finally, this is not a parable about
tithing. This is not an admonition to give more to the church.
Jesus’ final statement has to do with our relationship with God. We
can tithe 50% of our income and still have a lousy relationship with
our Lord. God does not need our money. He desires us. All
of us, not just ten or twenty or thirty percent of us. Giving to the
church is not being rich with God, it is being rich with his church.
Being rich with God recognizes our proper relationship as his
creature who should seek the will of our Creator. In doing so, our
priorities are reordered, and we should find it easier to be rich
with others because we are so thankful for the riches of forgiveness
(and perhaps material blessing!) that God has poured into our lives.

All together, the readings remind us to
keep perspective about our lives. Our lives are not our own. We
were created for them, and to our Creator we must answer. He
dictates the priorities, not the world around us or our parents our
spouse – not even ourselves. Remembering this prepares us to see
our blessings in this world not as something to be hoarded and fought
over, but rather as a means of demonstrating our love for God through
love for others.   

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