Ecclesiastes affirms what many of us have experienced in our own lives: that living under the sun is often hard. Qohelit, the author, vapour to describe human experience. Like vapour that is real, yet hard to get your hands on; it comes and goes and doesn’t last long, life is insubstantial, short-lived, and foul. Yet, in these times of dislocation and struggle, we trust God, sometimes with extraordinarily little evidence, to make a way forward.
To access today’s worship video please click the following link: https://youtu.be/B6KNQ2sAO_4
About the bulletin cover
The bulletin cover for this worship series on Ecclesiastes shows rays of light shining through cracks in a dark, depressing room. Is this an appropriate image in a season of pandemic when businesses vanish, jobs disappear, and we are being asked to sacrifice plans, lifestyle, and dreams in order to flatten the curve, even though we do not know when/if it will all end and life can return to normal? What is our life like under the sun? In important ways, the book of Ecclesiastes faces the “dark side” of faith, issues that are often troublesome for those who seek to affirm the goodness, power, and love of God. Indeed, the author—in Hebrew Qohelet (pronounced ko-HELL-it), often translated as the Teacher or the Preacher—has much to say about the nature and activity of God. Qohelet essentially affirms an orthodox biblical portrait of God yet does not hesitate in ascribing to God some of the pain and uncertainties of life.
About the Ecclesiastes Sermon Series
This is part one of a three-part sermon series on Ecclesiastes, entitled, “Life under the Sun.” Ecclesiastes is not a book that entices you with pleasant words. Many consider Ecclesiastes a very depressing and hopeless book. Over the centuries some Jews and Christians have even wondered why it is even in the Bible. I can understand why! Most English translations of Ecclesiastes open with the words “Vanity of vanity! All is vanity!” or “Futility upon futility! All is futile!” Is it any wonder that most English readers put the book down without reading any further? Life is difficult enough as it is! Who needs someone from 2500 years ago telling me that all my effort at living well and wisely is vain and futile!
Indeed. To varying degrees, all people face the issues addressed by Ecclesiastes: lack of satisfaction or sense of purpose, financial catastrophe, personal tragedy, societal injustice, fear, frustration, chance, uncertainty, physical suffering, old age, and death. The book speaks to these issues.
One of the main words in the book is the Hebrew word, hebel. In the book of Job, Job says, “my life is a breath/hebel (Job 7:7). Psalm 39:5 says, “Surely everyone stands as a mere breath/hebel.” Hebel appears 70 times in the Bible, 38 of them here in Ecclesiastes. The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) and the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible translate hebel as vanity while the New International Version (NIV) favours meaninglessness. In his paraphrase The Message, Eugene Peterson chooses the somewhat colloquial smoke. In my research, I found hebel can also be translated as vapour, mist, or breath—something which is real, yet is hard to get your hands on; it comes and goes and doesn’t last long. Did you know that hebel is translated as “Abel”, the son of Adam and Eve in Genesis 4? What might this say about the longevity of human life?
In keeping with the evocative image of vapour and mist, we will use a vaporizer as our worship visual. Early on in our time of worship, we will turn it on so that we can all see the mist appear and disappear, see it come and go.
Ecclesiastes is a challenging and confusing book. Yet, says Douglas B. Miller, “many people, both believers and unbelievers, have recognized its basic theme—that life brings the unexpected, the tragic, and the confusing—and they have found in the author a trustworthy companion for walking through such experiences. The author shows himself to be one who can recognize life’s problems, is not afraid to name them for what they are and has insight to help us make the most of our existence on this earth.” (Douglas B. Miller, Ecclesiastes, Believers Church Bible Commentary, Herald Press, 2010).