March 19, 2017 - Third Sunday in Lent
7 Go, eat your bread with enjoyment, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has long ago approved what you do. 8 Let your garments always be white; do not let oil be lacking on your head. 9 Enjoy life with the spouse whom you love, all the days of your vain life that are given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life, and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. 10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do with your might; for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.
11 Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to the skillful; but time and chance happen to them all. 12 For no one can anticipate the time of disaster. Like fish taken in a cruel net, and like birds caught in a snare, so mortals are snared at a time of calamity, when it suddenly falls upon them.
13 I have also seen this example of wisdom under the sun, and it seemed great to me. 14 There was a little city with few people in it. A great king came against it and besieged it, building great siege works against it. 15 Now there was found in it a poor wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city. Yet no one remembered that poor man. 16 So I said, “Wisdom is better than might; yet the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are not heeded.”
17 The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded
than the shouting of a ruler among fools.
18 Wisdom is better than weapons of war,
but one bungler destroys much good.
Sermon: enjoyLENT: Wise Joy
A boat docked in a tiny Thai village. An American tourist complimented the local fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took him to catch them.
“Not very long,” answered the fisherman.
“But then, why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more?” asked the American.
The fisherman explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his needs and those of his family.
The American asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”
“I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, and take a nap with my wife. In the evenings, I go into the village to see my friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar, and sing a few songs. I have a full life…”
The American interrupted, “I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you! You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat.”
“And after that?” asked the fisherman.
“With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers. Instead of selling your fish to a middle man, you can then negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant. You can then leave this little village and move to Bangkok, Singapore, or even Hong Kong! From there you can direct your huge new enterprise.”
“How long would that take?” asked the fisherman.
“Twenty, perhaps twenty-five years,” replied the American.
“And after that?”
“Afterwards? Well my friend, that’s when it gets really interesting,” answered the American, laughing. “When your business gets really big, you can start buying and selling stocks and make millions!”
“Millions? Really? And after that?” asked the fisherman.
“After that you’ll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, play with your grandchildren, catch a few fish, take a nap with your wife, and spend your evenings drinking and enjoying your friends.”
You may have heard this parable before. It reveals to us the inherent wisdom and joy to be found in simplicity. It’s the same message the book of Ecclesiastes (or Qoheleth in the Hebrew, its true name) is trying to convey.
Life is fleeing. The effects of time and hardship happen to us all. But enjoyment – living with an indwelling of joy in all circumstances – is God’s gift to us. Those deemed wise and powerful in this world are often the most foolish; the poor, like our Thai fisherman, possess a wisdom the world tends to overlook or dismiss.
This book is often dismissed in the same way: it comes across as inherently pessimistic (“all is vanity!”) or something to dust off only for funerals (“for everything there is a season, and a time for ever matter under heaven.”). It names the uncomfortable realities of life and death, presents confusing contradictions to us, and certainly does not seem to exude joy.
Well, at least not joy in a simplistic understanding of it: the stark realism of these words doesn’t conjure up warm fuzzy feelings for us. But these words do, if we’re brave enough to sit with them, show us the path of joy.
Elsa Tamez explains this best, writing, “The book of Qoheleth or Ecclesiastes has become timely again today, when horizons are closing in and the present becomes a hard master, demanding sacrifices and suppressing dreams…we see Qoheleth’s sayings as rays of light, shining through the cracks in a dark, depressing room.”
This book offers us a brilliant gift, if we’re patient enough to recognize it: that gift is joy rooted in wisdom. And that wisdom is rooted in one word, well known by our humble fisherman, a word that has the potential to radically transform our faith and our worldview, especially in this season of Lent: enough.
Go, eat your bread with enjoyment, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has long ago approved what you do. Let your garments always be white; do not let oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life in loving community…whatever your hands find to do, do with all your might.
We have enough. We are enough. God is enough.
When was the last time you gave yourself permission to be enough? Or your spouse, or your closest friend, or your children, or even your enemy?
In a world that constantly pressures us to do more, be more, buy more, achieve more, we find true joy in the wisdom of enough.
Now, perhaps it’s important to address a rather tricky part of the wisdom this book offers us: that phrase, “God has long ago approved what you do.”
This doesn’t mean I get to steal your cup of coffee because God knows it brings me joy and approves of my action. Though its wisdom is rooted in simplicity, nothing in Ecclesiastes, or Qoheleth, is simplistic. The word used for “approved” is used elsewhere in the Old Testament to talk about God approving sacrifices, offerings, sabbath, and other acts of righteousness. And so this approval is rooted in covenant with God and one another, woven through with faithfulness. (I can’t steal your coffee, or treat you as less than human, and claim God approves of it.)
What I can do is know that I am, flaws, finitude and all, completely whole through my Creator. When we know we are enough, and that God is enough, an incredible joy comes from such wisdom. We can cherish what Mary Oliver calls our “one wild and precious life.” It’s joy that enables us to make our fleeting moments count, especially in the face of opposition, indifference and tyranny.
That’s the curious thing about simplicity: claiming that we have enough enables us to do more than we ever thought possible. To be people like Sophie Scholl (whose name means ‘wisdom’), a twenty-one year old college student in Munich in 1942. She, her brother, their friends, and their professor secretly produced and distributed pamphlets called The White Rose, blatantly naming the evil of the Nazi regime.
They were eventually caught, arrested, and at their trial, Sophie, the voice of wisdom, had the courage to speak out.
The judge could not understand how such nice, educated German young adults could be “corrupted” into speaking out on behalf of Jews and against the government. True wisdom is often seen as foolishness to the powerful.
Sophie surprised all who were present by responding, “Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don't dare to express themselves as we did.” Later in the proceedings, she said to the judge: “You know the war is lost. Why don't you have the courage to face it?”
Sophie and the others were sentenced to death. Witnesses there that day wrote of her interaction with her parents, their final goodbye. She was calm and clear-eyed, and when her mother offered her candy, she smiled, delighting in it, and said, “Gladly! After all I haven’t had any lunch.”
It’s incredible to think of a person in such circumstances finding gladness and joy in something as simple as a piece of candy, and bringing comfort to her mother in that moment. But wise Sophie did, because she knew that the work of her hands, her resistance to tyranny, was enough.
If we claim a spirituality of enough, joyfully spending our days with wisdom and not foolishly wasting them, we can do so much good in this world. We can be set free from the tyranny of more, and set others free in the process.
You are enough.
You have enough.
God is enough.
Enjoy this one wild and precious life.