Eighth Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 13, c] August 4, 2019
ECCLESIASTES 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-26
2 Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
12 I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 14 I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.
18 I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, 19 and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. 20 So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, 21 because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. 22 What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? 23 For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity. 24 There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, 25 for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? 26 For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.
IN THE NAME OF JESUS.
Love your neighbor as yourself—that’s the holy Law.
Two Commandments, says Jesus.
Commandment One: Love the Lord your God with your all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
Commandment Two: Love your neighbor as yourself.
The whole Ten Commandments down to just two—Do these two, says Jesus, and you will live. [Luke 10:27]
That’s eternal life. Not just another day, another week on the calendar, another candle on the birthday cake. But you live. You stand before God in eternity—a resurrected body which is yours, for you are baptized into the resurrection of Christ Jesus.
Love God, Love your neighbor as yourself—life. So, God gives us the way to love neighbor. Real ways. Wake up in the morning and go about the business of loving neighbor ways. Not a sappy cliché of how what the world needs now is love, love, love, but actual love rooted in facts and deeds and actions.
God gives you that.
How to love neighbor? Jesus shows how.
He gives respect to the Roman officer as one whose vocation is to serve neighbor for safety and peace.
Jesus honors even the tax-collector: Collect taxes, just don’t do it corruptly or oppressively.
Even the chief priest and even the Roman governor, Pilate, Jesus shows them honor. They are in offices to serve neighbor, whether they do it or not.
How to love neighbor? Serve in our vocations, in these callings God gives us in our lives.
The husband loves in giving the gifts of husband—concrete, daily actions to serve wife and family. The waking up to go to the job, the fixing the broken door in the house, the helping with the child’s homework, all these everyday deeds—our Lord gives the husband the ways to love neighbor.
The wife loves by giving the gifts of wife—real-world daily actions to serve husband and family.
The employer loves neighbor by daily things of the workplace. The securing of new business, the hiring of a janitor, the paying of salaries and reimbursements to company expenses—these are boring sounding things, perhaps, but this is our Lord giving ways to serve neighbor.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
The student, can he or she do the boring Algebra homework? But this homework is in service to neighbor. Isn’t that learning of Algebra, after all, done toward what might later be a job building houses, or a college degree to be a police officer, or a nurse?
God gives us the ways to serve neighbor. It’s our vocations. We all have vocations. Not one, but several.
We are sons or daughters, that’s vocation. Some men are husbands, some women, wives—vocations. Those not given to be a husband or wife, the single, honored vocations for them, too. Vocations as friends and helpers, as confidants and counselors, maybe, to someone who is hurting. Always—we all have—a vocation to pray for family and neighbor.
God gives us the ways of loving our neighbor.
These daily duties, these everyday tasks, they are honored, they are received in thankfulness and joy from God, for what is better than to be given by God the concrete, real-world ways of serving our families and neighbors?
But it goes wrong. The honor is cheated, the joy stolen.
Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
13 And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 14 I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.
What went wrong? Honorable service to neighbor? Joyful acts of love?
Will the man hired to put on a roof pound each nail with a joy of knowing that by installing these shingles he is doing the work God honors him with, so that by his hands and his hammer he is serving neighbor, a neighbor who God loves and whose family God wants protected? Or does each nail go in with a complaint about the unfairness of the wages, and the vanity of a life spent building houses, but at the end of the day, we all die anyway, so what better word for description than vanity?
What went wrong?
We know what goes wrong. It’s our sin.
We do this work not from pure hearts, but from sinful flesh.
So we do this work not to serve neighbor but to build up ourselves, to build up our wealth, the build up our own names, and, when we then survey the work we’ve done, all we can say is, vanity. Emptiness. Nothing more than mist in the morning burned away by the hot sun of the day.
What goes wrong?
It’s our sinful flesh seeing our jobs, our duties, our vocations, not as callings of God giving us ways to be his servants to our neighbor, but as nothing more than the way we have to go through life, day after day, problem after problem, task after task.
Even marriage is emptied of its joy—the husband and wife seeing it as one big ongoing task to be dealt with.
Even son or daughter obey parents not as gifts from the Lord to take care of them and teach them, but as an ongoing oppressive task which must be obeyed.
Vanity of vanities.
That’s what Jesus took upon himself.
His calling from his Father, his vocation? To be the new Adam. To stand on this Earth as the Man who takes upon himself our sin, our neglect of our neighbor, our cheapening of our vocations
The Old Adam, the Adam of the sin the Garden, he heard the sentence for his sin—only by the sweat of his brow would he eat.
The new Adam, the Son of Man, Jesus, he took that. To bear the sin, the atone for the guilt, to justify the sinner, that’s his vocation, his calling from his Father.
By his blood, these lives of ours, they are redeemed.
Now the man putting on the shingles? It’s hard work, but he’s doing it with a life redeemed by Christ Jesus. Every nail his hands hammer in, that is God using him to serve neighbor.
In El Paso, in the midst of death, of evil, the police officers running in to rescue, to arrest the one doing evil, we honor the police officers, their hands are being used by God. That’s vocation. The EMTs, we honor them too, for God honors them by calling them to serve their neighbor in bringing rescue and care.
Jesus has redeemed these lives of ours. He has raised us up to life with him.
Our hands, our time, our conversation, all of it redeemed by Jesus.
His blood did that. His blood brings that now, as he gives it for us to drink for the forgiveness of our sins.
Are our hands not still sinful? Do our days not still get worked out in our lives of sin?
Yes. Until we are with our Lord in the resurrection, all that we do, we still do it in our sinful flesh.
But these bodies of sin, these lives of vanity, it’s all taken up by our Lord who has redeemed it all with his own blood.
We now do our work from bodies, from lives justified by Jesus and living in his gift of repentance.
Lives redeemed by the blood of Jesus, consciences cleansed by the word of forgiveness, this is no vanity.
This is now joy. It is honor. We belong to him. He forgives us and makes us his own. Ecclesiastes 9:7:
Go, eat your bread with joy, And drink your wine with a merry heart; For God has already accepted your works.
IN THE NAME OF JESUS.