The Death of Vanity / Ecclesiastes 1:2 & 12–14; 2:18–26 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday July 31st 2022 / Season of Pentecost / Mount Olive Lutheran Church
Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday July 31st 2022: Season of Pentecost / Ecclesiastes 1:2 & 12–14; 2:18–26 "The Death of Vanity"
Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.
I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labours under the sun, because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. 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.
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? For to the one who pleases Him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner He has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.
Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. King Solomon, king David’s son says in our Old Testament Reading today, “I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool?” and in the book of Proverbs he writes, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” So perhaps the prayer of verse 12 from Psalm 90 (the only Psalm in the book of Psalms from Moses) is a good place to start as we contemplate God’s word for us today … ‘dearest LORD we pray, “teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom,” Amen.’ Dear ones, pray this remembering what Jesus says about the nature of the heart as it is without the fear of the LORD, the nature of the heart as it is without instruction from the LORD, Jesus says, “from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” So the Christian stands before God remembering also what Saint John writes, “for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and He knows everything.”
Preaching is a dangerous business, and the preacher must trust in the LORD above all things; trust in the truthfulness and faithfulness of the Word of God; trust most certainly that the Holy Spirit will do His work in the hearts of the hearers over and above the meager work of the preacher toiling in the LORD’s vineyard, because Scripture likewise says,
“Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse,
and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury.
Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you;
reprove a wise man, and he will love you.
Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser;
teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,
and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.”
And so the preacher treads with care for the souls of all who hear because Scripture also warns us saying, “Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.”
So are you wise or are you a fool? Do you love the readings from God’s Word today or do you hate them; do they make you bristle; do you make excuses when you’re confronted by them? If you hate them, if they make you bristle, if they bring forth a flood of excuses pray that the LORD gives you enough time in this life to grow in wisdom and come to love them.
A lot of what you’re hearing in the readings today are words of wisdom about letting go: about unclenching your fist from the wind and trusting in the LORD. Now because Solomon talks about death and various sorts of inheritances these readings from Ecclesiastes and from the Gospel of Saint Luke might seem to be advice to the old and the elderly about death and inheritances but remember Jesus’ warning to “guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions,” is followed up by a parable of “a rich man” not a rich old man, simply “a rich man,” who had “produced plentifully” so that could be any man of any age, and broadly applied to all people — as would be the original intent — it can also apply to the “rich woman,” and even more broadly it could be applied to anyone with a miserly heart of avarice because while it’s less common to find a poor man or woman can be just as stingy with what money and possessions they might have as any rich man or woman. So whether you are rich or poor take time to consider what God has given you in your daily bread and whether, in your toil, you have become wise or foolish with regards to what you, by worldly standards, have produced thus far in your life. So the question is: do you say with Solomon, “I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool?” Solomon was wise enough, by the grace of God, to see that this was vanity, do we?
Likewise whether you are rich or poor take time to consider that your time may be shorter than you think, for just as you may think that you have ample goods laid up for many years; and that you can simply relax, eat, drink, be merry you may think this about how much life you have left to live yet it may not be the case: In fact the very moment that God says to you, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?,’ might be right around the corner. O vanity of vanities! “So” Jesus teaches us, “is the [fool] who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” Knowing that your time in this life could be over in an instant take heed in wisdom remembering what Jesus elsewhere says in the Gospel of Saint Mark when He asks, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?” The fool gains the world and forfeits his soul and you and I have nothing to give in exchange for our soul … so what are we to do? How are we to live?
Learn from Solomon’s failure and consider his wise repentance, do not give your heart up to despair over all the toil of your labours under the sun, because sometimes a person must leave everything they have acquired to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. Consider your salvation. You have not laboured in such a way as to earn your salvation. In fact as Scripture says “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Jesus is the one who toiled through temptation to sin, toiled under the constant scrutiny of the Chief Priests and the Scribes and the Elders of the people, Jesus is the one who laboured through the streets of Jerusalem carrying His cross under the lash of the Romans, Jesus is the one who received the wages of your sin in His crucifixion and death so that you would inherit eternal life and receive forgiveness. Jesus doesn’t despair that all He acquired in His labour will be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. No, He embraced contentment, suffered all even death on a cross so that you, by grace, should receive in faith what you could not by your own efforts produce by the sweat of your brow or by long hours of study, or by contemplation, or mediation.
There is no vanity in Jesus’ sacrifice: He hangs there beaten, stripped of clothes naked and to all the world defeated in total humiliation, as Isaiah prophesied of Christ upon the cross, in the moment of His death Jesus “had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.” Of course in the resurrection Jesus has transfigured for us His crucifixion and death; where on that first Good Friday there was nothing but mournfulness and pity from the wise and scorn and mockery from the fool we now as Christians can look upon a crucifix or a painting of Jesus hanging upon the cross or some other faithful Christian artwork, we can read the Words of Scripture and hear them read and preached to us, we can sing them in hymns and as we do the vision of Jesus nailed there dead, crowned with thorns, beaten and bloodied, becomes one where we see His humility and love for us. The horror of the brutal scene is now a thing of comfort to the Christian because as Isaiah says, Jesus “was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed.” At the cross of His crucifixion Jesus defeats our vanity just as He defeated the vanity of the whole World. All the sorrows and vexations of life are poured out there at the cross on Him so we can “receive the unfading crown of glory.” A crown we will receive not in vanity but in peace and humility as ones purified in Christ Jesus.
If you don’t have this, if you don’t have Christ Jesus and the promise of Eternal Salvation as your Confession of Faith, if you don’t have the promise of a blessed end and Life Everlasting in Him, if you do not have the promise of the Resurrection of the dead than all you have is the here and the now in this life. And if all you have is the here and the now you will busy yourself with tearing down your barns to build larger ones, you will busy yourself with storing up all your goods and counting up everything to the last penny. You might even successfully convince yourself to think you have ample goods laid up for many years; and your goal in life will be to relax, to eat, to drink, and to be merry. You will work extra long hours to gain what you believe is earthly security and if you are a Christian you will be tempted to put work before the study of God’s Word, you will be tempted to put earthly things before heavenly things. You will be tempted to put sports and leisure before hearing God’s Word preached and you will put brunch and BBQ’s before receiving the bread of heaven which is Christ Jesus Himself present for you in Holy Communion.
The fool puts Worldly things ahead of the gifts of God. What good will an NHL worthy slap-shot be if you have forfeited your soul to attain it? What good will a billion dollars be — whether you attained it by winning a lottery or by labouring long hard hours — if in having such wealth you have forfeited your soul to acquire it? What good will years of quality family time be if in the end most of them windup in hell because they foolishly threw away the eternal gifts God gave them in favour of earthly gifts that they believed that they had gotten for themselves by their personal efforts. True contentment comes in knowing the source of all that you have and having a grateful heart toward the giver, and then in the fear of the LORD seeking to know and trust the one who gave you these good gifts. As Saint James writes, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” All else is vanity of vanities. ‘But pastor,’ you say, ‘you’re preaching to the choir!’ Am I? If not you than who is it that needs to hear these words? No one? Everyone is just fine? ‘Everything is great’ … believing this also is vanity.
Solomon says, “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also,” Solomon says, “I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from Him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?” When you are not apart from the LORD, when you are His and you trust that you are His then you can enjoy the toil of this life, the work you do now, the work you have done in the past, and just as God gave you what you have, even while you were a fool, and patiently instructed your heart through life that you might be wise in the end, you can trust that whatever God put in your stewardship He, upon your death, will graciously put into the hands of others. If you have this understanding than you can enjoy the days that the LORD has given you and you can be ready at any age to die, you can fear the grave as little as your bed, for in death you will sleep in Christ. And this brings us to what Saint Paul says in our Epistle Reading today. And we will conclude on this note. Paul says, “if then you have been raised with Christ, [which you have been] seek [therefore] 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. [And] when Christ who is your life appears [on The Last Day], then you also will appear with Him in glory.”
Trying to attain spiritual enlightenment apart from Christ; failing to trust as a Christian that you are hidden away in Him even now and in the hour of your death; focusing only on the physical needs of the day to the exclusion of God and His word is nothing but a striving after wind and vanity. You need not be vain; Christ Jesus has defeated your vanity, it is dead. Do not be conformed to the vanities of this World, be conformed to the person and work of Christ Jesus, and keep your trust in Him. And so we pray, ‘Dearest LORD “teach us [all] to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom,” remove all foolishness from our hearts.’ Amen.
Let us pray:
Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.
 Proverbs 1:7
 Psalm 90:12
 Mark 7:21–23
 1 John 3:20
 Proverbs 9:7–10
 Proverbs 26:12
 2 Peter 3:9
 Luke 12:19–21
 Mark 8:36–37
 Romans 6:23
 Philippians 2:8
 Isaiah 53:2–3
 Isaiah 53:5
 1 Peter 5:4
 Luke 12:18–19
 James 1:16–17
 All Praise to Thee, My God, This Night, Lutheran Service Book, Concordia Publishing House 2006, verse 3 #883
 1 Thessalonians 4:14
 Colossians 3:1–11
Photo Credit: detail of Stańczyk during a ball at the court of Queen Bona in the face of the loss of Smolensk from wikimedia commons