12th Sunday after Pentecost; Sermon Series #3
August 23, 2020
“Summer Road Trip for the Meaning of Life; Las Vegas/Pleasure”
God’s grace, mercy and peace be to you all in the name of our Living Lord and Good Shepherd Jesus. Today we continue our “summer road trip” in search of the meaning of life. Today’s journey takes us to Las Vegas by way of Ecclesiastes chapter 2.
My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,
So far we’ve searched, with no luck, for meaning in life in both Seattle and Washington DC. There was no meaning in life in either money or power. That’s okay…this is a virtual road trip after all. For today’s destination, we roll into Las Vegas, NV.
Las Vegas was founded in 1855 by Mormons – how ironic is that? – and it is the largest city in the state. It was at one time one of the fastest-growing cities in the US. Between 1990 and 2000, the Las Vegas population increased by 83%, growing to 1.5 million people. But then a little something called the housing market crash happened in 2008, and Nevada jumped to #1 in home foreclosure rates.
When you consider Vegas’ geographical location, the fact that it exists is amazing. The fact that it’s a thriving metropolis is utterly amazing. How can that be? There’s nothing geographically redeeming within 200 miles of Las Vegas. How can such dramatic growth occur in a region that is nothing but sand? The answer is obvious when you see the billboards as you approach the city. Seattle was money personified and Washington DC was power personified. But Las Vegas is more than a city. Las Vegas is even more than the leading gambling Mecca in the US. Las Vegas is pleasure personified; it is outlandish, over the top, and overdone in every conceivable way. Nothing about it is understated and people LOVE it. It’s not always been that way.
In the early 1950s, Las Vegas was still little more than a novelty stop that offered a little gambling, a few burlesque shows, and some nightclub performers. There were only about 1800 hotel rooms in Las Vegas back in 1953. For decades, Vegas had a reputation for being a raunchy, sleazy place; you went there looking for wine, women, and song…and bottomless buffets. Vegas in the 50s was certainly not a place for family entertainment. But that was then and this is now. Everything about Las Vegas has changed. These days, there are more than 149,000 hotel rooms in Vegas.
Anything you could want under the sun…you can find it in Vegas. Maybe we can find meaning in life in a place like Vegas. Endless pleasure in one city. Anything the heart can dream it can have…for a price, of course.
Las Vegas is a city of instant gratification and what a way to find meaning in life! Our culture is obsessed – we find our pleasure – with instant access to everything such that we have a felt need the newest, the best, the fastest. We are obsessed with obtaining the latest technologies, instant shopping, instant knowledge through emails, texting or Facebook. All are pursued relentlessly and when we don’t get them instantly we are frustrated. Since Vegas is about instant pleasure and gratification, maybe we can find some meaning in life there, right?
The Las Vegas of the 900 BC era could be found at King Solomon’s house. He was Israel’s king from 970-930 BC before the disastrous split of the kingdom into two halves. Solomon, who had massive piles of wealth, decided that he would build himself some stuff: the Temple, cities, and an opulent palace. 1 Kings 7 describes Solomon’s palaces. It took Solomon 13 years to build his palace; only took 7 to build the Temple. He built the Hall of the Thrones and he covered it with cedar from floor to ceiling. He planted vineyards, made gardens and parks, and installed water pools. He had a palace full of slaves, concubines, and singers. What a show!
And regarding all this fun stuff – these items of decedent pleasure – wise Solomon then wrote, “whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure…and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was (meaningless) and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11 ESV). A wise man like Solomon recognized that real meaning in life is not found in limitless pleasure or instant gratification. Pleasure may give momentary satisfaction, but a life designed around pleasure will be empty. What does Solomon say of these desires? “Meaningless; a striving after wind” (2:11).
The mindless pursuit of pleasure as a way to define life draws as away from God and points us toward other altars. St. Paul wrote to Timothy in 1 Timothy 6, “godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world” (6:6-7 ESV). Martin Luther lived by the motto “For what God gives I thank indeed; what He withholds I do not need.” We are called to be thankful – content – with what we have and not so worried about what we don’t instantly have.
Meaning in life is not necessarily found in a place like Las Vegas which personifies our obsession with instant gratification and pleasure. Please do not misunderstand, though. I am not saying it’s “bad” to go to Las Vegas. Hey, Sarasota can be every bit as spiritually deadening as Vegas can. You will not find meaning in life if you define it by a constant striving for material satisfaction. Godliness with contentment…that’s the key!
God is not really all that complex. He reveals Himself to you in creation itself. He reveals Himself to you on a simple cross. He revels Himself to you in the doorway of a now-empty tomb. He still reveals Himself to you in Word, water, bread, and wine – simple things. Find your meaning in life and your contentment in what God desires not only that you have, but that you share with others.
God in Christ has loved you. Live simply and love others. God in Christ has forgiven you of all your sins. Live simply and forgive those who have wronged you. God in Christ gives you all things. Live simply and be a good steward of what you have instead of dreaming for always newer, better, faster, bigger. God in Christ has called you by the Gospel. Live simply and share that grace-filled message with someone else. If you want to chase something, seek godliness with contentment.
So, the meaning of life is not necessarily found in a place like Las Vegas. Next week, we’re headed to Silicon Valley to see if we can find the meaning of life there.
And no…we are not there yet. But we soon will be. We soon will be.