The Preacher Pontificates Pointlessness
I’ve been reading the book/sermon found in the Old Testament of the Bible called, Ecclesiastes. That’s a big word meaning, the gathering. It’s a final teaching by Solomon, King David’s son, who refers to himself as “the Teacher” or as some translations may say, “the Preacher.”
Either way it’s clear this is a last teaching by Solomon. A king who lived life to the fullest in every way you can imagine. He really gets at that point in this transcript. He did all of the things you do to pursue all of the things humans think means something; sex, fame, education, work, city building, pleasure, politics, leading, and more.
This guy experienced it all and the book of Ecclesiastes is his farewell address to life and kingdom. So, it’s probably a wonderful speech full of life stories, fond remembrances, and no regrets right?
This guy begins and ends the whole thing with the meaninglessness, futility, and brokenness that is life on earth as a human. He’s seen it all and it only brought despair. He describes pursuit of meaning as “chasing the wind.” In the end it doesn’t matter what you pursue, because you’re all gonna die.
This isn’t a part of ancient scripture that anyone uses to inspire greatness. But I do think he hints at something else to be inspired. Presence.
The Preacher Prefers Presence
Solomon does not go easy on himself or others who give their lives to pursuit of meaning. But he does throw in some advice every now and then that I’m sure original listeners and readers would have noticed. It’s a variation of this phrase…
“Even so, I have noticed one thing, at least, that is good. It is good for people to eat, drink, and enjoy their work under the sun…”
While so many things come down to pointlessness or futility, the things that do not are simply to eat and drink and enjoy life and the people in it. This is where we find the real wisdom in this piece of ancient wisdom literature. And let me say, this ancient writing is incredibly relevant to modern struggles.
I love “the hustle.” We have so many friends in DTLV that are working hard to pay bills and working even harder to pursue a dream. I love it. The energy that kind of life brings to a community is infectious. But I think there’s a real danger in it too. As a downtown pastor I think it’s wise to address both the wisdom and the foolishness in pursuit.
That being said, I’m currently working on a discussion series for our gathering around the themes found in Ecclesiastes. But until then I want to address three problems with pursuit and three solutions through presence…
Problems with Pursuit and Solutions Through Presence…
- Pursuit takes time and there’s always a trade-off. Every time we choose to do something with our time, there’s something else we aren’t doing. True wisdom discovers what is most important and prioritizes accordingly. And if we are honest with ourselves, it’s people closest to us that suffer the blow of time trade-offs. Solomon stresses that time and presence with these people might be the wisest use of our time in the end.
- Pursuit can leave you wanting more. Instead of pursuit of more leaving you satisfied, it tends to have the opposite effect. All of us have heard someone we admire or envy express the emptiness found at the end of their dream. They are living it, and still not feeling it. Solomon calls this, “chasing the wind” because no matter how hard you try it’s just not possible. He encourages people to instead enjoy the life they have with gladness. Why? Because worrying about where you aren’t in life takes you away from noticing where you are in life and who’s there with you.
- Pursuit causes us to forget what really matters. Solomon ends his talk with a strong reminder to remember what matters in life and the Source of that life. Pursuing our dreams can often leave us competing with God’s plan. From what we know of Solomon he is speaking from experience here. He often lost sight of God while trying to see everything else. He missed the Creator in creation. Instead of pursuing we should slow down, be present, and remember God. Without this we can find ourselves in the middle of our dreams but far away from the Divine.
My hope is that people can wisely pursue their hopes. This means not missing the moment. It requires us to slow down. Maybe it means eating well, drinking responsibly, and smiling at the person across from us. This is all very difficult when we tend to eat on the run, drink uncontrollably, and search our smartphones for the place we’d rather be and the people we wish we were with.
Life is here, now. Don’t miss it.