Real Life Lessons from a Wise Teacher

THE KIRK OF KILDAIRE PRESBYTERIAN
CHURCH

CARY, NC

www.kirkofkildaire.org

A sermon preached by
Joseph Welker, Jr.

Real Life Lessons From a Wise
Teacher

Ecclesiastes 2:12-26; 12:9-14

August 26, 2007

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk
of Kildaire, Presbyterian family. While effort is made to give credit for work
done by other, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not
given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered.
Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the
emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from
proper grammar and punctuation.

Some of you may think that my choice of Ecclesiastes is an odd choice for a
scripture on Christian Education, Kick-off Sunday. But in my defense, the title
of the book when translated simply means "teacher." This is a book from a
teacher who is also a student of life and faith.

Still, I think a few of the staff are worried because one of the prominent
themes in the book is summarized in the phrase- "Vanity of Vanities, all is
vanity" – and another theme seems to be something like, work all you want, get
rich if you wish, study all you want-but in the end, we all die. While I was
studying for this sermon they heard saying, you can work all you want to, but
you know, in the end, we all die. (I was not fun to be around) Reading
Ecclesiastes can be sort of depressing.

Still, I find it an interesting book and I find it especially interesting
that it is placed right next to another book of wisdom in the Biblical
canon-Proverbs. It almost sounds like a biblical rebuttal. In Proverbs you have
all of these wisdom sayings that sound like something Ben Franklin would
teach:
The wise will inherit honor, but stubborn fools, disgrace.
(Chapter 3)
A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent
makes rich.

The wise of heart will heed commandments, but a babbling
fool will come to ruin.
(10:8)
The teaching of the wise is a fountain
of life, so that one may avoid the snares of death.

Sounds like
something we would like all of our children to learn.

But then comes the teacher from Ecclesiastes – saying in effect
"Sure
wisdom is better than foolishness but the same fate awaits both"

(Ready
to teach that to your kids?)

"You can work hard all of your life and guess what, you’ll never really
live to enjoy the fruits of your labor-someone else will and you don’t know if
they will be wise or stupid."

(All your efforts could be a waste of time)

The whole book is filled with sayings like these.

The apparent debate between Proverbs and Ecclesiastes sort of reminds me of
the sayings and rebuttal that I have heard floated around the corporate world
with those motivational posters and proverbs. You’ve seen the posters, haven’t
you? Meant to inspire you.

The one on Challenge says- "Through effort and determination comes
success"
Or Ambition- "Create the life you dream of with every choice you
make"
Or Perseverance- "Before the rainbow you will have to endure a little
rain."

They sound like wisdom sayings to me. There is truth in them.

But so do the De-motivational posters that mock them. Stephanie led me to
these.
On Despondency- "I started out with nothing and still have most of
it left"

Frustration- "The harder you try,the more you
fail"

Success- "enjoy your moment in the spotlight. It won’t last
long"

Adversity- "that which does not kill me postpones the
inevitable"

And maybe my favorite-
Wishes- "When you wish upon a
falling star, your dreams can come true. Unless it is really a meterorite
hurtling to the Earth which will destroy all life. Then you’re pretty much hosed
no matter what you wish for. Unless it is death by meteor"

I think our teacher would like those de-motivational posters and sayings
because his teachings sound a lot like them.

Heard one way, they can sound sort of depressing. You are ready to recommend
a therapist for our teacher. (Talk about your burned out cynic.) Heard another
way, they sound like humor to me-a sort of John Stewart and Daily show take on
life. But with a serious message or lesson underneath them.

This teacher, I think is trying to teach me some lessons that I perhaps don’t
want to hear, but need to hear-That we do all die in the end… that life is
transient and many of our pursuits in life – are doomed to die or fade away as
well. We can waste a lot of time and energy on things that don’t last. So, you
might as well treasure the life you have-while you have it… you might as well
find meaning and enjoyment in the moment. You don’t know if you will have
another one.

I have learned this lesson from people I have cared for who have dealt with
terminal illness or a health crisis. When you get the word you have cancer or
some other serious illness… all the sudden the meaning of life becomes
clarified. You learn quickly that none of us will live forever. So you might as
well enjoy the moment.

A person I am reading these days, asked a question that got me thinking.

He said, "If someone were to ask you what was the greatest moment of your
life, what would you say? What is the first thing that comes to mind?"

And then he got me thinking about the many moments that were great-the moment
I took my first step, the moment I learned to talk (though some may argue that
point)… the moment I learned to read and a new world opened up… there is the
moment when I got my first job… or when I went on my first date… my first kiss…
meeting Sharon and marrying Sharon… having children…so many moments to choose
from.

But then my teacher said to me-there is one other possibility. "The greatest
moment of your life is now. Not because it’s pleasant or happy or easy, but
because this moment is the only moment you’ve got. Every past moment is
irretrievably gone. It’s never coming back. If you live there, you lose your
life. And the future is always out there somewhere. You can spend an eternity
waiting for tomorrow, or worrying about tomorrow. If you live there, you
likewise will lose your life. This moment is God’s irreplaceable gift to you."
[1]

I think our teacher would agree- when he indicates that the best thing we can
do is to enjoy eating, drinking and working. Today is God’s gift to us, so
enjoy. Don’t wish your life away.

Celebrate the moment as God’s gift to you says the teacher. And see this
moment as one that matters because this moment is where God is. See that God is
with you and that your life will find meaning because it is grounded in God. For
at the end of the day, what remains in our lives but a few things… Wisdom means
investing yourself and your life in those things that really do last. Invest
your self in God and the ways of God.

That is what I hear our teacher saying as he brings his textbook on life to a
close. He warns that you can study books (on wisdom) all you want-and learn all
the sayings you want-but the bottom line comes down to this-and if you want to
learn something important-learn this:

"The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his
commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone. For God will bring every
deed into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil."

In other words, respect and obey God. Invest yourself. As someone said, if
you want to be rich… be rich towards God. That is what life is all about. Ground
your life in something that matters and something that lasts.

I heard the story of a meeting at which a speaker stood in front of a large
group of people with a roll of stickers in his hand. Behind him on the platform
were tables filled with props that represented the stuff of our lives- A
Matchbox car, a dollhouse, a tiny desk that stood for our jobs. The speaker
roamed the stage and placed a red sticker on each item. He explained to the
crowd that they may not be able to see it from where they were sitting, but each
sticker contained the same word: Temporary. He said, "Everything that I’m
putting a sticker on is temporary. It will not last. It will fade away. We
invest our emotions in them because when we acquire it, it gives us a little
thrill. And we think the thrill will last. But it does not. It fades. And
eventually, so will what we acquire. "If you are living for what you see up
here, then you are living for what is temporary. Temporary satisfaction,
temporary fulfillment, temporary meaning. It will come to an end-but you never
will. It will leave you with a terrible emptiness."

The speaker then proceeded to plaster red stickers on everything sitting on
the stage. He walked before the now silent room, pronouncing with his hands the
ultimate fate of the greatest goods this world has to offer. It’s the word that
never appears in ads on TV or the tempations that play out in our soul. It’s the
word that the teacher could have used to describe the foolish things we so often
invest our lives in: Temporary. Temporary. Temporary. Temporary.

"There is only one thing in this room that is not temporary," he went on.
"There is only one item that you will be allowed to take with you from this life
into the next." He had a little girl join him on stage, and he put a blue
sticker on the collar of her dress. "When you get to the end of your life and
take your last breath, what do you want your life to have been about? What will
make it rich in the eyes of God?"
People.

Wise people build their lives around what is eternal and squeeze in what is
temporary. Not the other way around. So let’s try an exercise in understanding
what is at stake. Think for a few moments about two categories: "forever" and
"temporary" What in your life is going to last forever, and what is going to
fade away? Now take it a step further. In your imagination (or it might be
helpful for you to do this in real life), take a pad of self adhesive notes and
write "Temporary" on each one. Walk around and distribute them everywhere you
need to be reminded. Put one on your car. Put one on the front porch of your
house. Put TEMPORARY stickers on each piece of furniture. Put one on the front
of your checkbook. Stick them on all the clothes in your closet. Put them on
your iPod and on the TV and the treadmill and the barbeque.

Then take another set of self adhesive notes and write "ETERNAL". Put them on
your family. Put them on your friends. Put one on your coworkers. Put one on the
person you most dislike in the world. Don’t forget to put one on your forehead
as well.

For all the stuff in our lives is temporary. The day is coming when all our
401(k)s and our bank statements won’t matter at all. The titles on our resumes
will no longer impress anyone. GPAs and SAT scores and college acceptances will
be long forgotten. The score of every game you ever played or of the team you
love will be long forgotten and won’t matter one bit. No one will know what
clothes hung in our closets or what cars sat in our garages. One day, when
people gather at a service to say goodbye to us-that stuff won’t matter. You
know what will?

Love. All we have left is love. A love given to us first by a God who loves
us more than we ever imagine. A love God has for us that will last forever. Love
lasts. That which is done out of love for God will last. You can’t take
everything with you… but love, you can take love with you. [2]

The goal of life, is to be rich toward God. To invest your life in growing in
your love for God and love for others. And how do we grow in our love for God?
The teacher says, "Respect God and obey God’s commandments-God’s wise
instructions about life"

On this Kick off Sunday for Christian education-I hope and I pray… that if
our kids, our youth and the rest of us learn nothing else-we will learn this:
How to be rich in those things that really do last: our love for God and our
love for others. A person who lives in that way will be truly wise. Amen.

 

[1]
P 61-62 God is Closer than You Think by John Ortberg
[2]
Story adapted from "Winning One Game that Really Counts" by John Ortberg P
30ff

 


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