Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
July 31, 2016
“Eat, Drink, and Be Merry” (Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-26; Luke 12:13-21; Colossians 3:1-11)
We all want to live the good life, don’t we? I mean, we want to have the best life now that we can have. Financial security, good health, no worries about our future, a nice place to live, happy family life, good friends and neighbors–who doesn’t want all that? Your best life now. Ah, wouldn’t that be sweet! A steak on the grill, a margarita in your hand, relaxing on the patio in the shade. Take life easy, eat, drink, and be merry!
And is there anything wrong with that? I mean, after all, our reading from Ecclesiastes today says as much, that this is about as good as it gets. The writer says: “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil.” Well, there you have it: “Eat, Drink, and Be Merry,” in so many words.
In fact, not only Ecclesiastes, but all our readings today deal with this idea in one way or another. What is the good life? Can we have our best life now? Is there wisdom to guide us as we live our lives in this world–our lives “under the sun,” as Ecclesiastes puts it? There is. So let’s get to it. Wisdom: Let us attend.
Let’s see what Ecclesiastes says about this first. The writer is most likely King Solomon, probably later in his life. He’s seen it all. He’s done it all. He’s had it all, all the wealth and prosperity and good times you can imagine. And now he’s reflecting back on all that. And he sounds a little jaded, a little cynical, to say the least.
“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” Meaning, it all is a bunch of nothing, emptiness in the end. He’s been busy with many things during his career, he’s accomplished a lot, but in the end he says it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. “I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.”
Have you ever tried to strive after the wind? Were you able to catch it in your hand and take hold of it? No. The wind just keeps on blowing and slips right on out through your fingers. That’s what it’s like when you try to hold on to your wealth and possessions. They’ll just slip on out through your fingers.
Why? Because in the end, death will come a-calling. Death will intervene and put an end to all your striving after wealth and trying to hold on to it. You can’t take it with you, as the saying goes. The pharaohs tried to do that, take their wealth and their glory with them, being buried in big pyramids with all their stuff, but to no avail. They were just striving after wind.
“So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun,” Ecclesiastes laments. “What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? 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.”
Well, I hate to be Donnie Downer, but there it is. Even if you get to have your best life now, it’s all going to come crashing down in the end, and then where are you?
It’s a good question. And it’s one that the rich fool in today’s parable did not consider. He was having his best life now, and where did that get him? This rich man was doing very well, by the world’s standards. His only concern was that he needed more room to store all his stuff. “Build bigger barns, that’s what I’ll do!” “And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”
Relax, eat, drink, and be merry. Imagine you’re this guy: You’re set for life. Your 401k has become an 801k. You’ve got premium healthcare. You’ve got crops and cash out the wazoo. No troubles. No problems. No worries. Sweet! Put that steak on the grill and mix me up a margarita! I’m chillin’! Chillaxin’ like there’s no tomorrow!
Whoops! That’s the problem. For this guy, there is no tomorrow. “Fool! This night your soul is required of you.” In other words, tonight you will be departing this life, and you will have to give an accounting for your soul. Death has come a-calling, God has come a-calling, and now where will you be? In the case of this rich fool, not in a good place. He had laid up treasure for himself, but he was not rich in God’s sight, and in the end that is disastrous.
You see, it’s not wealth in itself that is bad. It’s not wrong, per se, to enjoy life in the here and now. It’s when that all gets out of perspective, when we lose sight of our life in relation to God–that is the problem. Your life does not consist in the abundance of your stuff. If your best life is what you have now, you’re in a pretty sorry state, no matter how rich and happy you may be. You need a better life than that.
Where do we find this better life? Where? In Christ. In Christ alone. Colossians tells us: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
Christ is your life, your true life, the only life that lasts. If you don’t have Christ, you’re dead already. You’re sunk, you’re lost, you have no hope and no future. Your sins will drag you down to the grave, and then where will you be? What good will all your stuff do you? Your soul will be required of you, and do not have the right stuff required to pass the test. A life apart from God, a life apart from Christ, will not last. You will come up empty. “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” All your stuff, all your supposed good life, will not do you for eternity.
But with Christ, in Christ, everything’s coming up roses, no matter how poor or how wealthy you may be now. “Your life is hidden with Christ in God.” It may not look like much of a life, by the world’s standards. Your true riches are hidden from the world’s eyes. But they are very real, and beyond surpassing, in Christ.
How so? Because Christ, the Son of God, came down from the glories of heaven, and became poor for your sake. He emptied himself of outward glory, laid aside earthly wealth, and walked the way of the cross for you. He came to purchase your salvation, which he bought with his holy precious blood as the price. When Jesus did that, he gave you the biggest treasure you could have, namely, the forgiveness of sins. Now the grave has no more power over you. Now you have what it takes to pass the test on that night when your soul is required of you. You have the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and your Savior.
And your life has been joined to Christ in baptism. You have been raised with Christ, even as he has been raised from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. You have a new life now, and your best life is still to come–on that day when Christ comes again and you will be free of sin and toil and all striving after the wind. “When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
This changes our perspective on things, doesn’t it? It frees us up. We have a joy that cannot be taken from us, no matter our circumstances. We know where our true life is found, and it ain’t in our stuff.
But when we have things in the proper perspective, then we can go ahead and enjoy the blessings of this life. And that’s what Ecclesiastes ultimately is telling us: “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, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?” It’s the “apart from God” living of life that is the problem. That’s what the rich fool was doing, living life apart from God. But with God, through faith in Christ–now we can receive and enjoy the blessings of this life as coming from the hand of God. And therein is the wisdom for this day.
So, eat, drink, and be merry? Yes, by all means! Including, and especially, in the means of grace. Come, eat and drink here at this altar. Eat Christ’s very body, given for you. Come, drink his holy blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Eat, drink, and be merry! Rejoice in the life Christ here gives you, free of charge. For Christ is the good life. Christ is your best life, both now and forever.