An Inventory Our Blessings
What Means Something
Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12–14, 2:18–26
† Jesus, Son, Savior †
May the Grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus demonstrate to you that your life, in Christ, has meaning!
- A man at the end of his wits!
Solomon, the wisest man in the world’s history, had a severe problem. He is the Teacher of all of Israel, as well as the ruler of that country at its absolute greatest point.
He has riches; he has power; he has a level of wisdom that is beyond anything anyone has ever imagined. The leaders from all over the world come to him for advice.
And He is exhausted, mentally, physically and, most the critical—spiritually.
He is at the ends of his wits, hear His own words from our Old Testament reading:
So I gave up in despair, questioning the value of all my hard work in this world. Ecclesiastes 2:20 New Living Translation
I am not anywhere near Solomon’s intellect, nor do I run a nation. But I’ve known the despair he is discussing. I’ve known it when I was in the administration at Pepperdine. I’ve known it pursuing my Ph.D., and during and after covid, as I look at the church at large, and at Concordia, I’ve known it.
And I’ve been delivered from that despair, time after time.
- Does Devotion to a cause mean anything?
There are two different issues that cause Solomon to fall into this deep despair.
The first he described in verses 13-14 of chapter 1,
13 I devoted myself to search for understanding and to explore by wisdom everything being done under heaven. I soon discovered that God has dealt a tragic existence to the human race. 14 I observed everything going on under the sun, and really, it is all meaningless—like chasing the wind.
I don’t care how smart someone is, or they think they are, there are limits to a person’s intellect, and to the point of which they can apply that intellect.
We hate that we are limited, but it is what it is. We are now different than Adam and Eve, wanting to know it all, and why!
When we let that frustrate us, when we let pride mix with curiosity, it drives us to know as much as God knows, rather than trusting Him.
The effect when it becomes an issue of pride is devastating, for it is sinful, a lack of trust in God. And when we declare it is not worth it, when we declare it meaningless, we dive into despair!
- Does Hard Work mean anything?
The second issue Solomon has is with his hard work. He hated it, for He could not see a long-range benefit. He wrote,
18 I came to hate all my hard work here on earth, for I must leave to others everything I have earned. 19 And who can tell whether my successors will be wise or foolish? Yet they will control everything I have gained by my skill and hard work under the sun. How meaningless! Ecclesiastes 2:18-19
Have you ever felt like that?
It is as if Solomon knew his heir would shatter the Kingdom by listening to foolish advisors! That is exactly what happened!
Solomon’s son would shatter the promise given to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Judah. That those actions would lead to captivity.
Something you worked hard on, invested your life in, wanted to see come to fruition, only to realize that you won’t be able to make it continue after you are gone…
That insight can cause great despair, and as often as Solomon says life is meaningless, he complains about the difficulty of the job even more than He complains about how meaningless it all is!
And there are days like that—maybe it isn’t because you are about to retire, or move on, maybe it is that things at work, or at home aren’t working the way you thought they would, and you wonder if anything will ever change…
And it doesn’t.
Without God’s presence, everything we do, everything we think and ponder, is meaningless. With Solomon, we move from despair to hating where we are in life.
For our attempts to understand leave us without knowing what matters, and our work only makes a difference for a moment, if that.
- Recognize What God is doing and will do!
Two weeks ago, we heard the gospel story about Martha and Mary, and that Mary was drawn to listen to Jesus, and it was good, what had meaning.
Martha was moving towards Solomon’s despair. Whereas Mary was content, receiving the grace that Jesus poured out with every word.
Solomon comes to that conclusion in verses 24 and 25.
“24 So I decided there is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work. Then I realized that these pleasures are from the hand of God. 25 For who can eat or enjoy anything apart from him?” Ecclesiastes 2:24-25
He figured it out!
You can’t enjoy anything apart from God.
You cannot find joy or meaning In life, without Christ in your life!
This means that the answer to finding life’s meaning, and joy in that life is revealed
14 So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. John 1:14 (NLT2)
In that same way, Jesus promises this at the end of Matthew’s gospel. “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20 (NLT2)
Jesus came and lived and died and rose for one purpose, to live with us, both now and for eternity!
As we sit in His presence, he gives our minds something to think, to dwell on that means something—we are loved.
We are cared for…
Jesus does so much for us! From cleansing us of sin and its companions of guilt and shame. That includes our times where we forget to trust Him and enter seasons of despair. Or when our pride crashes our lives spectacularly. God cleans us up.
But that is only the beginning.
God makes every part of our lives holy. That means He sets it all aside for a purpose. He gives it meaning. And that meaning is the key—to walk with Him.
That is when our thoughts have meaning, because God is involved in them with us, sharing the moments, sharing the time.
HE makes it all happen; He gives us all the meaning and the joy that goes with it.
That is what the Christian faith is all about, helping us realize what God has done to become an intimate part of our life.
For that makes our life have all the meaning there is in our lives.
And then that life has meaning and incredible joy, and a peace that passes all understanding, even as Jesus guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. AMEN!
Surprised by Christmas!
What Do You Want now?
1 Kings 3:3-15
† Jesus, Son, and Savior †
May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ show you how to worship God…in His Presence!
Just curious – how many of you have heard this story about Solomon before, that instead of asking God for money or fame, or victory in battle, he asked God for wisdom to govern and lead his people?
How many of you knew that God said because He asked this, God would not only grant Solomon the wisdom he would need, but would give him all the other stuff, too?
Curious – I wonder how many of us would follow Solomon’s example – not really wanting to have the understanding about right and wrong that was the basis of wisdom, but secretly thinking that is the shortcut to getting “all the other stuff?”
You all mean I am the one that ever failed at using reverse psychology on God?
As we look at this passage, there is a reason we find it here, on the last Sunday of Christmas…
It isn’t because of the wisdom or the other gifts that Solomon received.
It is because this passage is really about worship, about praising God in a meaningful way… as we recognize we dwell, as Israel did, as the shepherds, as the apostles would, in the presence of God.
- Heterodox Worship – Solomon’s Sin
In the Old Reading, we see something a little confusing. Solomon leaves Jerusalem, his father’s city and heads to Gibeon and there slaughters 1000 head of cattle in a huge worship service.
The reason it is confusing is that the Ark of the Covenant was back in Jerusalem. Remember, David brought it there, dancing in his underwear? David wanted to build a temple around it, and God said no. Of the Ark, God told Moses this, for every generation to know,
21 Place inside the Ark the stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant, which I will give to you. Then put the atonement cover on top of the Ark. 22 I will meet with you there and talk to you from above the atonement cover between the gold cherubim that hover over the Ark of the Covenant. From there I will give you my commands for the people of Israel. Exodus 25:21-22 (NLT2)
So God promised to meet the people of God at the ark, which is in Jerusalem, and outlined a very clear way of worship – worship that was a response to what God had done….
And instead of that, Solomon leads them off to Gibeon, to worship at a empty tabernacle, the tent formerly used to house the Ark.
God didn’t promise to meet them there though, he promised to meet them at the Ark. So despite the show of 1000 cows being slaughtered to provide burnt offerings, the worship was useless – because of disobedience, because they didn’t seek God, they just sought what was familiar.
Basically, they were worshipping God in vain. They were there, they might have been using His name, but the used God’s name in vain, because they weren’t where His promises were, and they didn’t know the Lord was there… with them.
We do this too….
We sometimes come to church, and we aren’t looking for God. We have something else in mind, we have some agenda, or something is distracting us. It might be stuff we think is good, family stuff or church stuff…
But if we aren’t where God is… if we don’t recognize His presence here… we are just like Solomon…in the wrong place, doing what we do… and missing what we need.
And we are caught in our sin….
- God moves us to Worship Him… in His presence.
It tells us something about the character of God that He didn’t fry Solomon right there or allow one of Israel’s many enemies to do so.
Instead, God comes to Solomon, and works with Him.
Just as He does with you and me….
Whaddya want Solomon? I’ll give you whatever you want….
In the process, Solomon looks at his dad, and what he treasured the most – the love of God. He saw the reaction of David to that love – how David became a holy man, who struggled to depend on God when things were upside down and backward… and God loved him, still.
Of everything David had – this is what mattered the most!
Solomon could think of nothing better than to ask God for that kind of relationship – which was why he asked for the wisdom to govern hem, that they would know the difference between what is righteous, and what is evil. For that only comes through knowing God. That is what changed David.
One pastor wrote about this relationship this way,
prayer is a process of interior transformation, a conversation initiated by God and leading, if we consent, to divine union. One’s way of seeing reality changes in this process. A restructuring of consciousness takes place which empowers one to perceive, relate and respond with increasing sensitivity to the divine presence in, through, and beyond everything that exists
Solomon sees the relationship his father had with God as the priority for his people, there is nothing else more important for them, or for him.
The way to see this is simple.
What does Solomon do after his time talking to God is over?
Then Solomon woke up and realized it had been a dream. He returned to Jerusalem and stood before the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant, where he sacrificed burnt offerings and peace offerings. Then he invited all his officials to a great banquet
His reaction, when given the wisdom of God to lead his people to what was good and not evil was simple – he took them where God promised to be there for them, when the burnt offering would be acceptable, where the peace offering would celebrated – Israel would now experience a peace with God that would last Solomon’s life.
Solomon would have his ups and downs, but he would build the temple – a place for the people of God to meet God, to be cleansed and lifted up by God. Until Jesus came..
Today’s it’s not about location – where we gather is where God is, where He feeds us, because He offered the sacrifice.
But there still is a feast – for His people to celebrate that they dwell in peace, for they dwell in the presence of God….
You dwell in the presence of God…
As we go through this next year, let’s pray that we realize this all the more.
 Keating, Thomas. 2009. The Daily Reader for Contemplative Living: Excerpts from the Works of Father Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O., Sacred Scripture, and Other Spiritual Writings. Edited by S. Stephanie Iachetta. New York; London; New Delhi; Sydney: Bloomsbury.
Discussion/Devotion Thought of the Day:
2 “Everything is meaningless,” says the Teacher, “completely meaningless!” 3 What do people get for all their hard work under the sun? 4 Generations come and generations go, but the earth never changes. 5 The sun rises and the sun sets, then hurries around to rise again. 6 The wind blows south, and then turns north. Around and around it goes, blowing in circles. 7 Rivers run into the sea, but the sea is never full. Then the water returns again to the rivers and flows out again to the sea. 8 Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content. Ecclesiastes 1:2-8 (NLT)
Men are all too inclined—the great philosopher of religion opines—to wait placidly for proofs of the reality of revelation, to seek them out as if they were in the position of judge, not suppliant. “They have decided to put the Almighty to the proof—with controlled passion, a total freedom from bias, and a clear head.” But the individual who thus makes himself lord of the truth deceives himself, for truth shuns the arrogant and reveals itself only to those who approach it in an attitude of reverence, of respectful humility. (1)
425 To realize that you love me so much, my God, and yet I haven’t lost my mind!
I am not a natural born philosopher. Matter of fact, my “favorite” quote on Philosophy sums it up – I may be wise simply because I know I don’t know it all. ( Paraphrased of course)
I once did, well, at least I thought I did know it all. I knew a lot back then. No, let me rephrase that, I picked up an retained data, and found uses for it faster than some others. But knowing data is not the same things as having complete knowledge, much less being wise.
Solomon had this problem as well, at least in the early chapters. For his wisdom and knowledge, recognized by all, still led him into discontent, a sense of failure, a sense of meaninglessness.
In the same place are all philosophers who try and hold the position of judge, as Benedict XVI points out clearly. Philosophers must be observers of reality, to live in awe of it. To ponder its depth, not rule over it. Solomon would eventually get there, (tomorrow in my readings perhaps?) to the point where he will define himself by his relationship with God. But even that is a position of suppliance, of faith, of dependence.
The philosopher who approaches reality without the reverence and humility that Benedict recommends ends up in Solomon’s position, a place where we indeed lose our mind, our psyche, and perhaps, our soul.
I am not saying we are to give up on philosophy, on deep thought, on exploring, with great awe, the existence and meaning of life. To search out what is real, what is true. We need to do this, and St. Josemaria gives us the place to start, in realizing the love of God, for us. That is where philosophy and theology should, no must start. In the depth of a relationship with the God who not only defines reality, but creates it. As St. Paul encourages,
18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. Ephesians 3:18 (NLT)
Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans., I. Grassl, Ed.) (pp. 166–167). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Location 1053). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition