We are looking at Ecclesiastes for the exhortations while we do the "I AM" sermon series. In this book we have the author, who's basic goal is to use the main character in the book, the Teacher, to deconstruct all the ways that we find meaning and purpose in life apart from God. The Teacher, or as I have been referring to him as the the Critic, says 38 times that everything is hevel, hevel, utterly hevel. That's the Hebrew word in the Bible and it is a metaphor to describe how life is fleeting and temporary. It refers to something like smoke or vapor. Just when you are trying to grab onto something good, tragedy hits. Bad things can happen to good people.
In Ecclesiastes the author wants us to understand that this world is fleeting and temporary. And he wants us to know and trust that there is a God who is above the sun. So, we can confidently say, there is nothing new under the sun, and at the same time say, there is a God above the sun.
Today we are going to hear from the Critic in regards to career and wealth. The Critic puts himself out there as an example explaining all the accomplishments he has done.
But if you look to accomplishments for your meaning in life you will soon realize that either A) you won't be able to accomplish what you are going after or B) you will accomplish what you set out to do and you will have a sense of emptiness once you accomplish it.
What Tom Brady Said
I have a couple examples from two Super Bowl Quarterbacks. First, Tom Brady. He's not only won 5 Super Bowls, but he's been Super Bowl MVP 4 times. After winning his 3rd super bowl by age of 30, he went on 60 minutes and said this "Why do I have three super bowl rings and still think there is something greater out there for me. I mean, maybe a lot of people would say, hey man, this is what it is, I reached my goal, my dream, for me I'm like "God there's got to be more than this"." The reporter then asks "what's the answer?" Tom says honestly "I wish I knew. Wish I knew."
I am pretty safe to say that none of us in this room are chasing for a super bowl win and it's safe to say none of us will win a super bowl. But, most likely we are all chasing some career goal. Some of us are deeply entrenched, fists tightened, determined we will win. The critic, and also Tom Brady, are pointers for us, warning us saying, there is something more than career success. There is something above the sun.
Ecclesiastes 5:11 says "Then I considered all that my hands had done [that is my work, my labors, my career] and all the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity [hevel] and a striving after the wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun."
“Just Throw It Away”
So the Critic is trying to help us see that work will prove itself to be empty if we put our hope and our meaning and purpose in life into our career. One day we will have to retire. One day it will be over. Everything we worked for and everything we poured ourselves into will most likely get passed on to the next person. When someone leaves a company, the HR person and their manager goes into their office and basically tosses out all their work. "Do you want this?" "Nah, just throw it away."
Remember, as we talk about this, we are focusing on one aspect of work, which is that it is temporary and fleeting. Work is very important. We spent 4 Saturday's this spring talking about the meaning and importance of work. So the answer is not saying work is meaningless. It's hevel. Career success is fleeting. Parenting success is fleeting. One moment the child behaves and the next they throw a tantrum. We need to turn to God who is above the sun, and accept hevel, so that we can enjoy the moments when the child is having a good day. And not lose hope on the long days that have lots of battles.
Aaron Rodgers, Too
Let's look at one more example. This one is from Aaron Rodgers. After he won the Super Bowl he said something that I think resonates with all of us. He said "I am going to enjoy this for a while, and then it is back to work." There are several deeper truths that Aaron Rodgers is hitting on, whether he realized it or not.
First, work accomplishments are fleeting. It's hevel. Like in sales, as soon as you win a job, you need to get back to work and go sell the next one.
And there is some truth in Aaron Rodgers quote that helps us figure out where do we go from here. And that is, we need to accept hevel. We need to understand that life is fleeting and temporary, its an enigma. By trusting in God who is above the sun, we can latch onto something solid, namely Jesus Christ and eternal life through faith in him, and by doing so we can be freed up to enjoy the little victories for what they are.
If we receive wealth and career accolades know that this is not a given, but rather it is a gift from God. Accepting hevel, allows us to receive gifts from God with a heart of gratitude. Ecclesiastes 5:19 says "Everyone to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil – this is the gift of God."
So, what do we do? Turn our hearts to Jesus. Jesus is after our hearts.
Matthew 16:26 "For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?"
There is something greater than our jobs. Jesus came to provide abundant life. To receive lasting meaning and lasting joy, we need to turn to the one who is not fleeting and not temporary. Jesus provides abundant life. And when we latch onto him we are now freed up to enjoy the little things in life by praising God and being thankful for the gift that he has provided. We can enjoy the super bowl win for what its worth and then go back to work. How is it not depressing to never arrive at a career success, that you always want more? It's not depressing because our hope was never ultimately in the super bowl. Our hope was not ultimately in the promotion, the raise, the bonus. Our hope is in the one who does not change, and because of this we can gladly enjoy the ups and downs of life. When work is not going well, and we feel crushed, and in despair, we can turn to the one who never flees. The truth is, we need to put our hope and identity into the one who died for us and as a follower of Jesus, our standing before God is NOT our career accomplishments. It is Jesus' accomplishment. When we start to think that our identity and our status and our standing in this world depends on our success, we are setting ourselves up for great disappointment. There is nothing new under the sun in and of itself that will provide the deepest meaning and purpose that we are after.
I want to exhort us this morning to care deeply about our work and vocation and parenting by letting go of our identity in it. I want us to fall in love with Jesus who cares about you more deeply than your boss, your customer, your co-worker, your spouse, your child. Jesus cares about you better than anyone. I want us to then be freed up to work really hard at our job and go after it, with all your might, because you are loved. Work often feels like hevel. But Jesus is not. We need to turn to him with our stress, and anxiety, and pre-occupation. Our work in the end is not that impressive, but Jesus is. Our work matters because Jesus is real.