Archives for August 2010

Let mutual love continue, Pentecost 14, Proper 17 (C) – 2010

[RCL] Jeremiah 2:4-13 and Psalm 81:1, 10-16 or Sirach 10:12-18 (Track 2: Proverbs 25:6-7 and Psalm 112); Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16; Luke 14:1, 7-14

Get a group of Episcopal clergy talking, and sooner or later the conversation will turn to their experiences officiating at weddings. Someone in the group will no doubt relate a moving story of an estranged family reconciled and reunited at the wedding of a son or daughter. Before long, another cleric will begin reminiscing about a great-grandmother’s tears of joy as she watched the next generation of her family grow to adulthood and wed. But then – inevitably – someone else in the group will bring up with a sigh of resignation the difficult bride with unrealistic expectations and demands or the tipsy best man who barely made it through the service.

Truth is, no wedding ceremony ever seems to go exactly according to plan. Weddings just seem somehow to bring out the best – and sometimes the worst – in people. Clergy know that. Indeed, we all know it. And apparently, so does Jesus if our gospel account today is any indication. It is probably not for nothing that he sets his parable lesson today at a wedding feast where everyone is already anxious – trying their hardest to look and act their best – and vying for the best seats and places.

At first glance, this story appears to be nothing more than a straightforward, practical lesson in the twin virtues of courtesy and hospitality – among the most esteemed in the ancient world. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet,” our Lord begins, “do not sit down at the place of honor.” After all, there may well be other, more distinguished, guests who outrank you. Choose instead the lower places at table, he continues, “so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’”

Common sense, we might rightly say, nodding our heads in agreement. Just good manners.

But Jesus is, of course, no first-century Miss Manners, and he has far more important things on his mind than table etiquette and protocol. Our selfish instincts, he knows, are not confined to wedding banquets and the dinner table. In every age and culture, it has been part of human nature for folks to act in their own self-interest – sometimes even while seemingly acquiescing to the needs and wants of others. We do it all the time, often without even thinking about it.

Whole economies are based on the principle of rugged individualism and self-reliance, the notion that, without interference from others, we are all better off depending on our own initiative and enterprise – acting in our own self-interest. Social scientists might even tell us that this is unavoidable and simply part of human evolution. After all, all creatures have a natural propensity to foster and advance their own survival. We are no exception. As one bumper sticker popular in California puts it: “It’s About Me.” That pretty much says it all.

At a certain level, of course, some might argue that there is nothing inherently wrong with this. Flight attendants warn us to secure our own oxygen masks first before assisting others – and for fairly obvious reasons. Therapists urge clients to be sure they are “getting their own needs met” before trying to reach out to others when already psychically exhausted. And we are all learning anew the importance of self-care – taking responsibility for our own health and well-being every day.

But what takes place at the wedding banquet in Jesus’ parable is emblematic of different and much deeper truths.

“All who exalt themselves will be humbled,” our Lord concludes, “and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” This is not the practical experience of the workaday world we know so well. And if we are to believe Jesus, the ordinary rules of human self-aggrandizement, greed, and pride suddenly no longer apply. In the upside-down, topsy-turvy world of the gospel, everything is turned around. The humble are the exalted ones. The poor are the rich. The crippled and lame are the well. And the blind are the ones who see.

And it is not about me after all.

The world turns out to be not as solid and real as we had believed. Ultimately, our self-reliance turns out to be an illusion. For we all depend upon one another whether we recognize it or not. And whether we like it or not, we all depend on God. More than that, our Lord insists, it is only in emptying ourselves of our selfish impulses and accepting our sheer dependence upon God and others that we truly come to realize our own worth and value. Only by humbling ourselves can we approach the One who humbled himself on the cross.

This is the paradox – and the challenge – of the gospel. The kingdom, of which our Lord so often speaks, is a realm at odds with this everyday world of ours and its values. In the spiritual realm of God’s kingdom, survival of the fittest takes on a whole new meaning. And the second law of thermodynamics no longer applies: there is no limit – no end – to the energy of God’s love; it goes on forever. The “resurrection of the righteous,” as Jesus calls it here, reveals our true and genuine nature. And we will be repaid – not in ever higher salaries and exalted titles – but in the only currency that counts, the love God has for us and which we share with one another.

Any bride and groom who survive the wedding and go on to a happy married and family life soon enough learn first hand the important lesson of Jesus’ parable today; they soon enough come to know the meaning of selfless giving; they soon enough glimpse the kingdom at play in spouse and children. But you do not have to be married to find God and his “angels” masquerading as “strangers” in your midst. The kingdom, after all, is close at hand.

We pray today with the author of our reading from Hebrews, “Let mutual love continue.”

Now, that would make a nifty bumper sticker.

Written by the Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedus
The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedus, who is single, serves as interim minister of “The Episcopal Church in Almaden” (www.eca-sj.org) in San Jose, California.

Take note, Pentecost 13, Proper 16 (C) – 2010

[RCL] Jeremiah 1:4-10 and Psalm 71:1-6 (Track 2: Isaiah 58:9b-14 and Psalm 103:1-8); Hebrews 12:18-29; Luke 13:10-17

It is a wonder, why, in their infinite wisdom, the compilers of the Revised Common Lectionary chose to begin this week’s epistle where they did. The syntax and cadence are difficult enough, without even beginning to look at the content and context thereof. The reading seems to drop right into the middle of an ongoing discussion and retelling of the history of the Hebrew people – referring to the awe-inspiring display of God’s power and presence as Yahweh descended on Mt. Sinai in the fourth and fifth chapters of Deuteronomy. And yet, when we look to the immediately preceding verses, we realize that today’s reading is the beginning of a new thought pattern in the epistle.

The author expects that his audience is well enough acquainted with the history of the Hebrews that there is no explanation or context needed. It is simply necessary to remind the people of how God appeared to their ancestors on Mt. Sinai, in order to contrast with God’s arrival on Mt. Zion. A warning is not, however, far behind, for if they decide to reject the voice of God, now mediated through the blood of Jesus, they will be removed with those created things that will be shaken.

The question might now be asked, How then does Jesus’ rather terse discussion the synagogue leader in the passage from Luke, correlate with the cautionary note that pervades our reading from the Epistle to the Hebrews? Let’s look, briefly, at exactly what actually transpires as a result of Jesus’ healing of the crippled woman.

As the fourth of the Ten Commandments, the Sabbath (or Shabbat) is sacred for the observant Jew and strict rules govern the acceptable activities performed on the Sabbath. The twenty-four hour period – from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday – is marked by the cessation of anything considered work by the religious authorities. The crux of the Sabbath prohibition of work can be found in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. In her book, Mudhouse Sabbath, Lauren Winner, an Orthodox Jewish convert to Christianity, mentions that:

“Over time, the rabbis teased out of the text just what the prohibition on work meant, first indentifying thirty-nine categories of activities to be avoided on Shabbat, and then fleshing out the implication of those thirty-nine (if one is not to light a fire, for example, one also ought not handle matches or kindling.)”

So this prohibition was not some flip or casual expectation. The sacred nature of the Sabbath was expected to be preserved, at all costs. And yet, as Jesus heals, yet again, on the Sabbath, a distinction is drawn between the accepted view of the religious officials, and millennia of theological interpretation.

One of the things that observant Jews are required to do on the Sabbath is attend worship at the synagogue. It must have taken a herculean effort for the woman in today’s gospel, clearly struggling with a debilitating physical condition, to make it to worship on this day. How difficult would it be for her to follow the synagogue leader’s directive to come back on another day to be healed – which, incidentally, makes the case that we must be very careful to remove as many of the possible obstacles that we can, so that we do not deter those now among us who are struggling with issues of mobility.

Throughout the gospels, Jesus manages to get himself into considerable trouble by healing on the Sabbath. Jesus draws the line in the proverbial sand, confronting the leader’s rebuke of him and laying claim to a higher commandment, that of the two great commandments, of which Jesus speaks in the twenty-second chapter of Matthew: to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and your neighbor as yourself. By indicating the care taken to unbind livestock so that they may continue to live, he pointed to the care that God has taken for this woman, by unbinding her so that she might fully live.

It is clear how easily many in Jesus’ time might become overzealous in their observance of the Sabbath, but today, we see evidence of Jesus leading the people of his time, and ours also, to lay claim to and stand firmly on those things that cannot be shaken, of which our Hebrews reading spoke. For many, the Sabbath might be thought of as one of the things that cannot be shaken, and very truly it is. But Jesus’ healing of the crippled woman and admonition of the synagogue leader indicates that those things done in the service of others for God’s Glory and Purpose are to be done whenever and wherever needed, even on the Sabbath. Jesus seems to be saying with each incident of this Sabbath “work” that when we have the opportunity, regardless of when or where it is, we must do the work that we are given to do – heal, welcome, love, encourage, serve.

The author of Hebrews warns, in verse 25, not to “refuse the one who is speaking,” for that One is about to shake heaven and earth and those things will be removed that are able to be shaken. But we are also reminded that followers of Christ are the inheritors of a kingdom that is unshakable.

That unshakable kingdom is built on the foundation of Jesus, his establishment of the new covenant that is based, not simply on obedience to a set of rules, but on engaged and inspired reactions to the great love of the One God. It is to this God that we are invited to come and join in the celebration of the angels in the heavenly Jerusalem, it is to this God that we give thanks and worship and honor and glory.

We are called into relationship with the God who shows power in loving acts of healing that break the bounds of our understanding and comprehension. It is, founded upon the unshakeable love of God, made accessible through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

The collect for this Sunday prays that we might be able to show God’s power to all people. It also reminds us that we can only be gathered together in unity, by the power of the Holy Spirit. In our prayer and praise this day, we have reconnected ourselves to the power that God makes available to us. Having received this gift, we are asked to give it away in loving and healing acts of service to those whom God sends to us. Look around and see the people that God has sent to be present with us on this day. Take note of those, who for whatever reason, are not with us today. Use the power granted by God’s Grace and make sure that those folks are made to feel the healing love that God has for them, through you. Take care to move with the joy that comes through our relationship with Christ and allow ourselves to be consumed by the fire of God’s love and join with the crowd that witnessed Jesus’ Sabbath work of healing and rejoice at all the wonderful things Jesus is doing still.

Written by the Rev. Lawrence Womack
The Rev. Lawrence Womack currently serves as associate rector at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, in Charlotte, North Carolina, and has served parishes in Baltimore, Maryland; and Buffalo, New York (as a seminarian). He is active in HIV-AIDS ministry and advocacy and proudly serves as a husband and father of three children.

Open ourselves, Pentecost 12, Proper 15 (C) – 2010

[RCL] Isaiah 5:1-7 and Psalm 80:1-2, 8-18 (Track 2: Jeremiah 23:23-29 and Psalm 82); Hebrews 11:29-12:2; Luke 12:49-56

Hebrews and the gospel this week! Read them again when you get home. Then read them again and again – maybe every day this week – because if we could really understand and then take to heart these two passages, we just might be convicted enough to open ourselves to the fire of the Spirit and then to bring that fire to our church.

Jesus uses that exact image: “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” He’s speaking to his disciples – the ones who would have to take up his mission and message and make it known to the rest of the world. Can you hear his frustration? “What stress I am under until it is completed.” Jesus knew he would not be among the people much longer. Those religious leaders of the time, who had lost a real sense of faithfulness, were already wondering how to get rid of him. Their fire had long ago gone out and their hearts were set on their own glory and not the glory of God.

That’s what can happen. The people who stopped reading their scriptures with fire in their hearts and a passion for knowing they were made in the image and likeness of God got self-centered, forgot about loving their neighbors as themselves, and turned their backs when the going got tough.

Jesus threw some harsh words at them. “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” That doesn’t sound like our pal, Jesus. Not peace? Can he really mean that? He then gives a list of all the folks who will be divided against each other, and it’s hard to swallow. Will children be against their parents and maybe worse, parents against their children?

And then he called his followers hypocrites. He told them they could interpret nature’s signs well enough, but they couldn’t interpret the present time. That “present time” is the kingdom of God that he, Jesus, came to make clear and vibrant on the earth. He wasn’t seeing it happen.

We need to remember that the Gospel of Luke was not written for our ears. It was written for that time and for those who were just learning about what it meant to be a follower of Jesus. The gospel writer was most likely addressing a gentile audience in a time when people who turned from their pagan religions to become followers of Jesus would most likely have caused division even in their own families. We know historically about the Christian persecutions that happened in those times, and we need to understand that this gospel was written to establish Jesus as Messiah, to show that he has authority over all things, and that his teachings and message were for all God’s people, Jew and gentile alike.

Jesus wasn’t saying that he wanted division to come to God’s people, he was just saying that he knew that there would be those who would turn their backs not only on him, but on those who followed him. Jesus died so that we might have life and have it to the fullest, remember. Jesus’ frustration may well have been that he dearly wanted God’s people to live out the two great commandments, to be happy and at peace, to care for the poor and needy; and as he didn’t see it happening, he cried out in anger.

That said, don’t get comfortable. We read scripture every week not just to hear about our past, but to reflect on what they have to say to us. Would Jesus have something different to say to us if he walked into our churches today?

If we’re honest with ourselves, we’d have to say he might just have to say the same thing. Aren’t households divided against each other still? Sometimes those “households” are groups of people or nations. Has peace really come to the world yet? Even in places where peace seems to reign on the surface, selfishness, hate, division, cruelty, and ignorance still grasp at the souls of God’s people. We’re often no better than the religious leaders of Jesus’ time who imposed impossible laws on the people but did not follow those laws themselves. We still see the clouds and predict rain, so to speak, but we don’t know how to live in the kingdom of God. We might not even believe it’s here.

So, what do we do? Are we to be as frustrated as Jesus was? Is there hope? After all the centuries that have passed from Jesus’ time to ours, shouldn’t we have learned something?

Yes, we should. And fortunately, yes, we have.

Look at the letter to the Hebrews. The author sings the praise of those who did get the message and acted on it. Look at the list of what these people did: through faith they conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, received promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, and put foreign armies to flight. Pretty impressive, really, and these were folks in both the Old and New Testaments – God’s people, full of the fire of God’s spirit. Women were praised for their faithfulness. Martyrs were praised for their courage. Those who were ill-treated and hated for their passion for God were praised.

We don’t have to think very hard to name people in our own time we can add to this list. There are of course, the named ones: Oscar Romero, Desmond Tutu, Mother Teresa, Katharine Jefferts Schori. But there are also the ones who aren’t famous – those people who have been our mentors and teachers, those who have taught us to be faithful. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who help us grasp Jesus’ message in many, many ways. We, too, should count ourselves part of that great cloud. Don’t forget to consider every day not only the ways you could be better, but also the ways you were indeed an example of what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God. It’s critically important for us to accept God’s gift of the Spirit and to know with absolute certainly that we are bearers of God to the world with every breath we take.

So, let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God where we too will sit one day.

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Written by the Rev. Dr. Susanna Metz
The Rev. Dr. Susanna Metz is executive director of the Center for Ministry in Small Churches at the School of Theology, Sewanee, Tennessee, and assistant professor of Contextual Education. She is also publisher of “Tuesday Morning,” a quarterly journal of ministry and liturgical preaching.

People of the question, Pentecost 11, Proper 14 (C) – 2010

[RCL] Isaiah 1:1, 10-20 and Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24 (Track 2: Genesis 15:1-6 and Psalm 33:12-22); Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40

A young man decided to plant a church in a southern suburb of Seattle. The neighborhood was marked by lower income and lower educational attainment than the suburbs to the north. His plan was simple: gather, share, explore.
Gathered around a table, around a hearth, his small band of friends and neighborhood acquaintances shared their experiences of faith, God, and church, and they explored their common longing. In the absence of a building, they discovered what kind of a home they desired. In the absence of a clergyperson they raised up a leader they could respect. And in the absence of the Eucharist they explored what it was they hungered for. They were on a quest to discover the question to which their faith was the answer.

We are a people of the question. We celebrate this as Episcopalians, our ability and space to question, to doubt, to wrestle and rest in the tensions. But as Christians, we are also the faith descendants of people of the question.

Today’s reading from the letter to the Hebrews refers to the ancient Israelites wandering in the desert: “They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.” In the writer’s interpretation, the Israelites’ very identity becomes a question, a longing.

Like our faith ancestors, our identity is stated as a question, a hope, an unfulfilled and always fulfilling prophecy: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. We, by our identity as Christians, choose to live in a liminal place of hope. Is hope not always liminal, marginal? Is hope not always searching, traveling, and restless? To be hopeful and to be Christian is akin to and descended from a long line of nomadic peoples.

A nomad by definition is a person who travels according to the seasons but has a place to call home. Is it then inaccurate to call the Israelites “nomads”? For their home was not known to them. And yet, they resided spiritually in the home that had been promised to them, to their ancestors by their God. Is a home hoped for not a home? Can we claim a home of faith and yet be wanderers in a foreign land?

Every Sunday, Christians gather in just that hope. We come to this table with our umbrellas in hand, our keys burning holes in our pockets, and our watches ticking away the minutes until brunch. We do not see this as a place we come to stay, and yet it is the central table around which we, as Christians, live our lives. Away from here we are strangers and wanderers; but if we resided here full time, our faith would be dead. The life of the nomad is the life to which we are called.

Two words spring to mind around the identity of a nomad: readiness and detachment. He who is always traveling in lands he does not own is detached from the world. Nowhere is this Christian vocation more clearly articulated than in the writings of Paul. But Jesus states it differently in today’s scripture. The readiness to which Jesus calls us is not detached but springs from a profound attachment to both the master and, by extension, the master’s property. The ready servant waits for the coming of the Lord and guards that which belongs to the master out of reverence.

By extension, we cannot truly be devoted to Christ without being also devoted to that which Christ loves: God’s people and God’s beloved creation.

And yet we live in a world of ever-increasing homelessness and placelessness. In our own country we might consider the rates of homelessness, unemployment, and underemployment in the wake of wave after wave of layoffs, downsizing, and outsourcing. Thousands of people are losing their homes, moving to cities, moving outward, westward, homeward.

Placelessness also affects business. Consider the fleets of jets that carry business women and men hundreds of miles each week, each day, rewarding them with silver, gold, platinum, and diamond elite status for a more comfortable home amid the clouds. Consider the young adults without clear career trajectories, facing the uncertainty of the seemingly daily rise and fall of entire industries: one year an intern in San Francisco; the next, back in school in Minneapolis; a few years later, moving to Boston for a job.

Also consider the larger displacement of people due to climate change. As glaciers melt and rivers dry, entire countries are without place. Bangladesh, a largely underdeveloped, agrarian nation that has contributed only minimally to greenhouse gas emissions is soon to be one of the hardest hit by climate change. Not only are they facing a less abundant Ganges river as the Himalayan glaciers disappear, but rising sea levels are forcing more salt into the heart of their agricultural heartland. With 150 million people to feed in a nation the size of Wisconsin, they will soon find themselves among the growing number of climate refugees, placeless in the world.

What is the Christian call in a world of such placelessness? Is it to erect fences, fortify borders, and protect our own sense of place? Is it to sit idly by while ethnic tensions erupt into religious warfare because people are so afraid of being without a place? In a world such as this, the call to placelessness, to the life of a nomad, to care for place while exerting no ownership, is increasingly necessary, increasingly desperate.

Hospitality is not merely coffee hour and greeters, but it is a radical welcoming of the stranger into a home we ourselves do not own. It is a readiness, always, to welcome the master home, in whatever form he or she takes.

As a church, we currently sit on some of the most beautiful architectural assets of our communities. We occupy spaces, places, that are not our own. How might we make these spaces available to the communities that surround us? How do we open our doors wide enough, inviting others into a mutual responsibility for that over which none of us hold ownership, so that we all might have a place? And how also do we open the inner doors of our faith to invite others into that city “whose architect and builder is God”?

Our calling is one of courage. The nomads, the placeless, must have courage, must rely on hospitality just as readily as we provide it, if we are to have a place at all in this world of wanderers.

This is the call of the hope in which we reside – forever placeless and yet always home.

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Written by Jason Sierra
Jason Sierra is a member of the Office for Young Adult and Campus Ministries at the Episcopal Church Center. He resides in Seattle, Washington, and holds a BA in American Studies from Stanford University.

You have been blessed, Pentecost 10, Proper 13 (C) – 2010

[RCL] Hosea 11:1-11 and Psalm 107:1-9, 43 (Track 2: Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23 and Psalm 49:1-11); Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21

There is a popular saying for church signs, “Too Blessed to Be Depressed.” It’s a nice idea, isn’t it? Think about being so blessed by God and knowing it, that you can’t possibly be depressed. That is a wonderful thought. Unfortunately, it’s not scriptural. Very seldom does theology do well condensed to bumper-sticker length. And also unfortunately, the notion that when blessed by God, we are beyond the reach of depression is just wrong.

In this morning’s reading from Ecclesiastes, we encounter a writer better described as blessed and depressed. Sitting right in the middle of our Bibles is a cynic who is blessed and depressed, and he’s not afraid to say so. The Teacher writes that he was King of Israel in Jerusalem and later goes on to tell of his accomplishments, saying, “I made great works; I built houses and planted vineyards for myself; I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees.”

What did this wealthy man think of all he had done? He wrote, “Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and again, all was vanity and a chasing after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.”

The word translated there and throughout the Book of Ecclesiastes as “vanity” is the Hebrew word hevel. The plain sense meaning of the word is “a puff of wind,” “vapor,” “a breath.” The Teacher uses hevel to describe how everything is quickly passing away. The Teacher looks at all his accomplishments and says that they are but a puff of wind, a vapor, something that passes before it ever fully existed.

Our reading for today leaves us with the cheeriest thought of all. The Teacher says, “What do mortals get from all their toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? For all their days are full of pain, and their work is vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.”

This week we find in the words of Holy Scripture that everything we do is so ephemeral that it is gone before it is fully formed. The Bible gives us the definitive word from a man who has really made it to the top and found all he had seen and done and become is worthless. The Teacher describes himself saying, “I had everything a man could desire!” and yet he says, “There was nothing worthwhile anywhere.”

If you read the entire Book of Ecclesiastes, the picture gets even bleaker. Here is a sampling. The second verse of the book says, “Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” A closer translation of the Hebrew word hevel would be something like, “A puff of wind of a puff of wind, everything is fleeting.” The New Living Translation does a great job of capturing the sense of the words in writing, “Everything is meaningless, utterly meaningless.” There’s a Bible verse not likely to be emblazoned on T-shirts and bumper stickers.

We can read further, after our reading for this Sunday, and it only gets worse. In Chapter Three he writes, “I saw under the sun in the place of justice, wickedness was there, and in the place of righteousness, wickedness was there as well.”

In the fourth chapter he writes, “I concluded that the dead are better off than the living. And most fortunate of all are those who were never born. For they have never seen all the evil that is done in our world.”

Ecclesiastes goes on for 12 chapters of brutal honesty. Do you think you can get ahead with wealth? He writes, “Those who love money will never have enough. How absurd to think that wealth brings true happiness! The more you have, the more people come to help you spend it. So what is the advantage of wealth – except perhaps to watch it run through your fingers!”

Do you think that your work will bring you deep satisfaction? He writes, “All human toil is for the mouth, yet the appetite is not satisfied.”

One last example shows what an optimist the Teacher is. He writes, “I have observed something else in this world of ours. The fastest runner does not always win the race, and the strongest warrior doesn’t always win the battle. The wise are often poor, and the skillful are not necessarily wealthy. And those who are educated don’t always lead successful lives. It is all decided by chance, by being at the right place at the right time.”

The Teacher seems content to pose the questions without giving any lengthy discourse that can be considered an answer. If you think you’ll find the answer in a book, even this book, the Teacher clears that up, writing, “Of making many books, there is no end, and much study is weariness of flesh.”

What in the world is this depressing little book doing tucked in after the great poetry of the Psalms and the pithy statements of Proverbs? First and foremost, this book goes against our every attempt at bumper-sticker theology. The Teacher would scoff at “Too Blessed to Be Depressed,” saying that the person who wrote it probably had observed too little of all the evil done in this world to both the good and the bad. Ecclesiastes also tells us that it’s Biblical to question all that we have seen and experienced. The Teacher is not afraid to present life in all its frustratingly contradictory absurdity.

Before leaping to any conclusions, it’s important to pause just long enough to take in a breath of fresh air. In a world that will pressure you, as a Christian, to have all the answers and present a public face that says you have your act together, the Teacher says all of that is meaningless. It’s fine to have more questions than answers. It’s even all right to find yourself blessed and depressed at times. That doesn’t make you any less Christian. It just makes you all the more human. And being human is a key to understanding Ecclesiastes. For through his questioning, the Teacher learns his place in the universe. Understanding what a fleeting puff of wind human life is teaches the humility. Being humble is no small trick for a great king who possesses land, property, and other wealth exceeding all who have come before him. Seeing how fleeting and meaningless all his possessions are humbles the writer.

Then through this book of questions, the Teacher hints at the answers. Woven in the very fabric of this book is the idea that all that we have is a gift from God to be enjoyed. The Teacher says that God gives wisdom, knowledge and joy. He tells us that God has made everything beautiful for its own time.

The way to find more fulfillment is to take joy in the gifts God has given you rather than to join in the all too human pursuit of the things you don’t have. The Teacher writes, “I have noticed one thing at least that is good. It is good for people to eat well, drink a glass of good wine, and enjoy their work – whatever they do under the sun – for however long God lets them live. And it is a good thing to receive wealth from God and the good health to enjoy it. To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life – that is indeed a gift from God. People who do this rarely look with sorrow on the past, for God has given them reasons for joy.”

The Teacher tells us that life is fleeting, but rather than being upset by that he concludes that we should get the enjoyment out of life that we can. Live life to the fullest by enjoying what you have or can achieve rather than by an endless pursuit of things that will not in themselves bring happiness. If you are not happy with what you have now, you will not become happier by getting more of it, or even something else. For happiness does not come from stuff. Know and appreciate what you have, the good and bad, as a gift from God.

The great church reformer Martin Luther wrote of Ecclesiastes, saying, “If someone compares the good things he has with the bad things he does not have, he will finally recognize what a treasure of good things he has.”

Take joy in the many good things God has given you. You have been blessed. Perhaps not always too blessed to be depressed, but blessed nonetheless. If you take joy in what you have already been given – the good and the bad – and enjoy your work as a gift from God, then you will have little to look back on with sorrow, for God has given you reasons for joy.

The Rev. Canon Frank Logue is canon for Congregational Ministries in the Diocese of Georgia.