August 19, 2018
Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost
1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14
In the name of God, the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. AMEN.
Many people today spend their lives in a desperate search for happiness, for pleasure, for fun. Many people in our society, I think, are simply bored. They are doing nothing meaningful to them. They mope around fantasizing about some secret joy that lies out there somewhere. We all fantasize about something especially when we see an ad on TV or a movie or even talk with someone who seems to be living the good life. Most of us have had thoughts about being a sports star or a movie star or traveling the world or living in some amazing home in a place that is just unbelievable. Why do you think so many people gamble? It is their hope of hitting it big, retiring and following their dream.
The ironic thing about seeking pleasure, however, is how little joy it really brings. In fact, those who seek it hardest are often among the unhappiest of people.
If you want an example of this, turn to the first two chapters of Ecclesiastes. In these chapters Solomon, a man celebrated for his wisdom, tells of his search to find happiness. The first words we encounter when we open his book are these “Meaningless! Meaningless! Utter Meaningless! Everything is Meaningless.” Another translation is, “Vanity of vanities, Vanity of Vanities, all is vanity.”
Solomon was the wisest man of his time and yet he could not make sense of his life. He was not a happy man even though he tried to find happiness in many different ways.
First, he thought the road to happiness would be found in intellectual pursuits. I am a lifelong learner, and this is an area that certainly makes me happy. I love to learn new things. We salute people who are the brightest in their field, but that does not mean they are happy or content. Solomon certainly was not. In his own words, “I have increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me…but I learned that this…is only a chasing after the wind. For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.
When knowledge and wisdom did not bring him any happiness, Solomon followed an entirely different path – sensual pleasure. But that also proved to be meaningless.
Then he tried the path of alcohol. In his words, “I tried cheering myself with wine…But this also produced frustration, as he notes Proverbs: “Wine is a mocker and beer a bawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.”
Then he turned to more constructive activities. He says: “I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them.” Still, Solomon did not find the satisfaction for which his heart hungered.
From that Solomon turned to the accumulation of wealth: He says: “I owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces…” Still he did not find what he was seeking.
Solomon lived life larger than anyone who came before him. He said, “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure.” Eventually his pleasure-seeking experiments were summed up in these words, “Whatever my eyes desired, I did not keep from them: I kept my heart from no pleasure…My heart took delight in all my labor…Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done…and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.” He even wrote later in this chapter, “ So I hated life…All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun…”
What a sad, miserable man. Solomon had everything that life in his time could offer – all of his heart’s desires but one. Can you guess what it is?
St. Paul saw the same emptiness in many of the people in his life time, even among early Christian believers. He wrote these words, “Be very careful, then , how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father, for everything.”
These are the two keys that Paul gives to us that lead to lasting happiness.
First of all, be smart with your life. We heard, “Be careful then how you live.” Make good choices. Our highways, homes and communities would be safer for all if we could get a handle on alcohol, opioids and cell phone texting.
John Morely traveled from England to Canada to give the commencement address to the graduating class of a university. He began his speech by saying, “I have traveled 4,000 miles to tell you that there is a difference between right and wrong.”
Of course there is. And every sensible person knows it’s true. If it is, in any way, hurtful to you or someone else, it is wrong. If it keeps you from fulfilling your potential as a follower of Jesus Christ, keep your distance. If it causes you to feel ashamed as you look in the mirror, stay away. Don’t do anything you will regret later. We are the sum total of all of our decisions. Each time you are faced with one, take one moment, just one moment to think and ask for God’s guidance.
I love thinking about Paul’s word to us, “Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and song from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the lord. Always giving thanks to God the father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
I love the Christmas movie classic starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, White Christmas. The song by Irwin Berlin, besides White Christmas, that has touched many people over the years. Here are a few of the words, “When I am troubled and cannot sleep, I count my blessings instead of sheep, and I fall asleep counting my blessings.”
Adopt an attitude of gratitude. The happiest people I know are filled with gratitude. It doesn’t mean they are materially blessed, or their health is exceptional or that their children are straight “A” students or captains of the football team. It simply means that they have learned to count their blessings and have learned to say, “Thank you.” Many years ago, I was on a mission trip to the Appalachian Mountains. I was in charge of a group of 8 students and our job for the week was to build a soffit about 12 feet off the ground around a mobile home so that rodents and other things would not have an easy entrance. Another group was going to work on making them a bathroom. They did not have inside plumbing!
During the day when we took breaks we had the chance to play with their 3 children and visit with the mom. The children did not have anything to play with but they made dolls and trucks out of the things around the house or yard. They lived high on the mountain tucked away form any other neighbors in the trees. The children played in the dirt and made roads. They were grateful for what they did have. They smiled from ear to ear when we arrived. They were the happiest kids I had seen. Things we acquire don’t make us happy. That trip was transformational for me. The goal of the mother was a very simple one. She wanted to have a Christmas card list of people to whom she could send Christmas cards. So we presented her with an address book and we all put our names and addresses. At Christmas the next year, true to her word, we all received a card thanking us for the work we did for them.
What was missing from Solomon that he had it all but was still unhappy? He had never learned to say, “Thank you.” Even though he had a mountain of what other people would count as blessings, he didn’t have what he really needed most – a grateful heart. This week let’s adopt an attitude of gratitude and count our blessings. AMEN.