10th Sunday after Pentecost
August 9, 2020
“Summer Road Trip for the Meaning of Life; Wealth/Seattle”
God’s grace, mercy and peace be to you all in the name of our Living Lord and Good Shepherd Jesus. Today we begin, you and I, on what I am calling a “summer road trip” in search of the meaning of life. The first leg of our journey takes us to Seattle, WA by way of Ecclesiastes chapter 4.
My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,
Today we set off on vacation, but since COVOD-19 is messing up all travel, we’re going a safe way. We’re going on a virtual vacation and we’re going to see if we can find the meaning of life this summer. “What did he just say?” you might ask. Yes…we’re going in search of the meaning of life without ever leaving your pew.
Our first destination is Seattle, Washington. Seattle was founded in 1851 and boasts a population of around 3.5 million people. After you get on the I-90 bridge, the Seattle skyline looms ahead, and beyond that the dramatic views of Elliot Bay and Puget Sound. Seattle was the home of the 1962 World’s Fair and still features Seattle’s defining landmark, the Space Needle.
Every city has its own “vibe” and Seattle is a city of cool. New York may be busy, gritty, and worldly, Orlando is touristy, and New Orleans is funky, but Seattle is just plain cool. Part of it has to do with the scenery, but a lot of it revolves around the lifestyle. Seattle is the home of the coffee culture giant Starbucks, Amazon, and Microsoft. As a result of those three industries, Seattle is also a city of great wealth. There are more than 60,000 households in the Puget Sound area with a net worth of $1 million or higher including the $50 million homes of Microsoft founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen. Jeff Bezos of Amazon lives in Medina and his home is worth $70 million. Seattle smells like money, well, that and mildew from all the rain.
It’s not just Seattle, you know. America is the richest nation on earth. There is not even a close second. So also there was a man with no equal or close second named Solomon. Perhaps you remember him from your Sunday School days. Solomon was King David’s son who ruled Israel from 970-930 BC. As his reign began, God asked Solomon what he most wanted. Boy, that’s a loaded question! But Solomon answered wisely: “Give your servant an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil…” (1 Kings 3:9 ESV). So that’s what God did. Not only did God give Solomon a wise, discerning heart, but He also gave victory over all Solomon’s enemies and honor and long life. And, oh yeah, wealth. Staggering wealth.
Jewish tradition says that Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes much later in his life. It is a book of reflection on life in preparation for death. Maybe that is why he is so pessimistic: “Meaningless! Everything under the sun is meaningless!” Solomon recognized and lamented that life on earth is full of trouble and even when we think we’ve found satisfaction, it doesn’t last. How painfully true.
In modern America, we don’t view money as meaningless…just the opposite! Ever since “Day 1,” we’ve been told that a little money is bad and lots of money is good. So, as Americans and as sinners really, we chase around wealth like rats in a maze always looking for another, bigger hunk of cheese. Money, our possession and pursuit of it, controls SO MANY aspects of our lives! Does then a wealthy place like Seattle hold a special attraction to us – can we find the meaning of life – because of its vast, collective wealth? Well, do the names Howard Hughes, Elvis Presley, and Michael Jackson mean anything to you? All three men had vast fortunes, and all 3 died living like freakish hermits. Bill Gates is absolutely loaded, but as a result he is forced to live sheltered and secluded life (he does give a lot of money away, though). The point is that as sinful people, far too often we let our finances give meaning to our life and our chasing after wealth control us, instead of us controlling our finances as good stewards.
At the time of his reign, no one on earth was richer than Solomon, and even he admitted that money and possessions by themselves aren’t the answer. He wrote “one person who has no other, either son or brother, yet there is no end to all his toil, and his eyes are never satisfied with riches, so that he never asks, “For whom am I toiling and depriving myself of pleasure?” This also is vanity and an unhappy business” (4:8).
Now, please do not misunderstand. Money in and of itself is not bad. So many people misquote 1 Timothy 6 as saying “money is the root of all evil.” NO. Sin is the root of all evil. Instead, Paul wrote to Timothy “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Timothy 6:10 ESV). And Paul also went on to write in that same chapter “But as for you…flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith” (1 Timothy 6:11 ESV).
Too many people, Christians included, see wealth as a wonderful solution to all life’s problems. But those who love wealth like that do so at the expense of loving their Lord and God first and foremost. Jesus is the ultimate stewardship example. He gave all so that you might have life. He gave all that you might have forgiveness of sins, even the sin of coveting wealth. He gave all that you might have hope, even if you don’t have a lot of money. However much you have or don’t have, our Savior blesses whatever we have to be used to advance His kingdom of grace here on earth. It is because of God’s gospel grace you can find meaning in life without defining it in terms of money. Life is not found in our wealth; it is found in our crucified and risen Savior Christ Jesus, who IS the Life.
Martin Luther once said that the first conversion of a Christian takes place in the mind. The second conversion of a Christian takes place in the heart. And he also said that the third conversion of a Christian takes place in your pocketbook. When one hears the Gospel message (mind), it creates saving and sustaining faith in Jesus that changes your words and deeds (heart), which in turn drives your stewardship of your time, talents, and obviously your treasures (pocketbook).
So, the meaning of life is NOT found in wealth or in a place like Seattle, WA. Next stop on the summer road trip…Washington D.C. Oh, this trip is getting more interesting by the minute. Hey you kids, stop that back there! No…we’re not there yet! Don’t make me pull this car over! We just got started. In searching for the meaning of life, we just got started indeed.