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Questions to Ponder: Is Anything New?

January 4, 2009

Questions to Ponder:  Is Anything New?

Ecclesiastes 1:2-14

 

            I want to begin today a new series entitled Questions to Ponder.  Throughout the Bible, we find a number of questions that are posed for us.  Some are quite startling, while others are quite comforting.  Some bring us to our senses.  We come to a question this morning that is somewhat harsh, but good for the beginning of a new year. 

I invite your attention to the book of Ecclesiastes, Chapter 1, beginning at Verse 2.  Please listen now to this reading of Scripture.

 

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher.  “Utterly meaningless!  Everything is meaningless.” 

What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun?  Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever.  The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises.  The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course.  All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full.  To the place the streams come from, there they return again.  All things are wearisome, more than one can say.  The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing.  What has been will be again; what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.  Is there anything of which one can say, “Look!  This is something new”?  It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.  There is no remembrance of men of old, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow. 

I, the Teacher, was king over Israel and Jerusalem.  I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven. What a heavy burden God has laid on men!  I have seen all the things that are done under the sun:  all of them are meaningless, a chasing after wind. 

 

Dare I even say, “This is the Word of God for the people of God”?  This passage may prompt you to ask some legitimate questions:  Does God really want us to hear this message about meaninglessness at the beginning of a new year?  Does God want us to hear this long soliloquy on futility? Are we supposed to hear this message about the difficulty and harshness of life on this first Sunday of 2009?  

I chose this text in Ecclesiastes intentionally because it reflects the attitude of many people in our particular day and time.  People are often preoccupied with the sense of anxiety, with a sense of urgency.  Just as things seem to be collapsing around us, this passage, attributed to Solomon, identifies the vanity or meaninglessness of life in his time.  The King James Version uses the word vanity, while the New International Version uses the word meaninglessness.  The repeated use of the word several times emphasizes a sense of hopelessness here.  It is vanity to the second power, meaninglessness to the second power.  It is as if the futility of life has been multiplied.  The thinking here – what goes around comes around – is circular.  There is nothing new under the sun.  We have here one example of the way the Bible sometimes presents life to us. 

I would submit to you that at times we cannot hear the Word of God because of the inner noise, the static, within each of us.  It is very difficult to hear the Word God has for us if we are so preoccupied with that static.  Until that noise falls silent, until the noise of our own voices diminishes, we will never be able to hear what God has for us.

Have you heard the noise recently?  Retail sales are terrible.  The stock market is a roller coaster.  Detroit and Wall Street are a mess.  Life is filled with so much uncertainty, so much anxiety.  A new president and his new administration will come into office in a matter of days with a promise of change.  As one old-timer said to me just this week, “I have had about all the change I can stand.”  Maybe you feel that way, too.  I certainly would encourage you to pray for our new president.  He will have his hands full with many difficult tasks:  war in Iraq, war in Afghanistan, conflicts in the Sudan, Thailand, and in other places that are out-of-sight, out-of-mind.  As if that were not enough, now, we have an outbreak of violence in the land of Israel between the Israelis and Hamas.  In addition to all of that conflict, the new administration must contend with the looming specter of a global economy that has gone bad. 

Perhaps you had collards, turnip greens, and black-eyed peas for lunch last Thursday.  That is the traditional meal in the South on New Year’s Day.  The greens and the peas are supposed to be good luck food, soul food, that bring us prosperity.  If you ate that kind of lunch and then sat down to watch a little football, you probably experienced a sense of futility, especially if you are a South Carolina fan or even a Clemson fan.

I said in the early service that Carolina and Clemson got clobbered on New Year’s Day.  I thought a woman yielding a very mean-looking umbrella was going to clobber me after the service.  She said, “Don’t say that Clemson got clobbered.  We did lose, but we did not get clobbered.”  OK.  You get my point. 

You may have a sense of futility, a sense of meaninglessness, maybe even a sense of chasing after the wind as we face the coming year. 

Against this backdrop of gloom and doom, against a landscape that is dark, barren, and bleak, we, who are the Christian church, have an opportunity.  We have within ourselves a light, a light of hope.  We have a story to tell to the nations.

On New Year’s morning, between midnight and dawn, I had a very vivid dream.  Mind you it was a dream.  I have hesitated to tell anyone about this dream, including Clare, though I did tell her.  She encouraged me, “You need to tell the congregation.”  I did not want to do that, but I have learned to listen to her.  She very often knows best.  No, she always knows best. 

I had actually planted a few pansies recently in my backyard to bring a little color to this bleak landscape, and I was dreaming about that.  In my dream, after I had finished planting the pansies, something very unusual happened.  Jesus entered my backyard.  I did not see him come into the yard, and I do not know if he came out of the sky or through the fence.  His facial features were unclear to me, but his form was unmistakable.  Jesus’ presence gave me an overwhelming feeling of peace. 

As I savored this moment, I realized that I was the only person in the backyard who could see Jesus.  Other people were standing around in our backyard, but I did not know any of them.  I saw just a sea of faces, a mix of faces that were red and yellow, black and white.  People from all nations were there, but none of them saw what I saw, Jesus standing in my garden. 

I spoke and said, “Lord, they cannot see you.”

He agreed, “No.”

“I want people to see you.  I want Clare to see you.  I want my children and my grandchildren to see you.  I want my family to see you.  I want the church to see you.  I want people in the community, the nation, and the world to see you.” 

Jesus responded, by asking a question, as he has so often done to me, “Kirk, how do you think they can see me?”

My answer was, “You ought to be able to figure that out.”  He is the Lord.  I supposed he could figure out that problem.

He said, “I have.  Kirk, you have to show them.  They will not see me unless you show them.”

My reply?  “That is too much!  That is too much!” 

Then he was gone. 

I was left with a feeling of impossibility.  How in the world could I show them?  Am I supposed to be sweet?  Am I never supposed to get angry, never feel discouraged, never become frustrated, never be hurt?  Am I supposed to be some sort of superhuman person?  Helping other people see Jesus is a daunting task.  It is absolutely scary!  It is not just my task.  It is your task, too.  We all have a responsibility to help other people see Jesus.  We all have a responsibility to fulfill the Great Commission. 
Can we really go into all the world and make disciples of every nation?  Jesus has incredible optimism to think we can do that.

Where do I begin to fulfill this commission from Jesus?  For starters, I invite you to this table, to this meal.  We will not have collards, turnip greens, or black-eyed peas.  Nothing here relates to luck.  Everything here pertains to trust.  We have no promise here of prosperity, only the promise that Jesus will be with us.  The Scriptures tell us that when we take these elements, we are supposed to discern the body of Christ.  For today, that means that as we take these elements, we are supposed to be aware that Christ Jesus is here in this room.  He is here with us in his house.

This meal consists of a small wafer and a little cup of grape juice.  What is important here is not counting calories or carbohydrates.  What is important here is knowing that these elements represent the presence of Christ, his body and his blood.  As we come to this table, it is our responsibility to sense the presence of Jesus.  If we do that, we will know that we have been with Jesus.  If we have been in his presence, it is possible that we will be able to help others see him. 

For me, and I hope for you, the Lord’s Supper is a time of renewal.  These events and circumstances are not new; but when we come to this table with an act of dedication, an act of consecration, Christ Jesus makes in us a new heart.  He empowers us to share our new life with other people.  The new year is not so much a time of resolution when we say, “Let me tell you what I am going to do this year.”  Those resolutions fail.  Instead, the new year is a time of consecration when we say, “Let me present myself to Christ.  Let me see what he will do through me this year.”  The question for every single one of us is, How will you allow Christ Jesus to use your life this year?  That question is not just for a preacher who has a dream about his backyard.  It is for everyone.

We come to the Lord’s table as believers.  The supper is not just for Baptists, not just for Morningside.  We invite any person who believes that Christ Jesus is Lord to take this supper.  As we do so, let it be for us a time of rededication, a time of consecration. 

The Lord Jesus, on the night when he was betrayed, took bread.  He blessed it and broke it.  He said, “This is my body, broken for you.”  Let us have a prayer of blessing for the bread.

Dear Lord, as we take up this bread, the symbol of your body, broken for us, help us to be mindful of the sacrifice made and the precious gift of life given to all of us.  Help us renew ourselves in You.  Help us renew our faith and commitment to You.  Be with us as we take this bread.  Keep us mindful of what it truly means.  Guide us in all that we do.  We ask these things in your name.  Amen.

 

Take my life, and let it be, Consecrated, Lord to Thee;

Take my hands and let them move At the impulse of Thy love.

Take my feet, and let them be Swift and beautiful for Thee;

Take my life and let it be, Consecrated, Lord to Thee.

 

Jesus said, “This bread is my body, broken for you.”  Eat this as often as you eat it, in remembrance of him.  Eat ye all of it.

We will have a prayer of blessing now for the cup.

Our Father, we have so much to be thankful for, grateful for this cup and what it represents, the greatest gift of all.  Help us to always remember that this cup represents the blood that spilled from your only son, Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we may have salvation and everlasting life.  These things we ask in your name.  Amen.

 

Take my life and let it be, Consecrated, Lord, to Thee.

Take my moments and my days,  Let them flow in ceaseless praise.

Take my heart and make it Thine.  It shall be no longer mine.

Take my life and let it be, Consecrated, Lord, to Thee.

 

            Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.”  Drink it as often as you drink it in remembrance of him.  Drink ye all of it.  Amen.

            Just four days into a new year, the truth rings true that we never know what the future holds.  We do know, however, who holds the future.  The future is in the hands of God.  When we commit our lives to Him, we understand that we are under His providential care.  He has promised, “I will never leave you, and I will never forsake you.”  The world may be in despair, but we enter this new year with the confidence that whatever happens, whatever the circumstances, we will not be alone.  Our God will be with us, just as He has promised.  It is our responsibility to show that promise to a world that desperately needs to hear that good news.   

 

Kirk H. Neely

© January 2009

 

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