Monday, December 10, 2012

Sermon for 21 October 2012, Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 24B)

The Rev. Paul J Cain
Ecclesiastes 5:10–20
We Give Thee But Thine Own
Proper [24] B, 21 October 2012
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

We give Thee but Thine own,
    Whate’er the gift may be;
All that we have is Thine alone,
    A trust, O Lord, from Thee

May we Thy bounties thus
    As stewards true receive
And gladly, as Thou blessest us,
    To Thee our firstfruits give!

Oh, hearts are bruised and dead,
    And homes are bare and cold,
And lambs for whom the Shepherd bled
    Are straying from the fold.

To comfort and to bless,
    To find a balm for woe,
To tend the lone and fatherless
    Is angels’ work below.

The captive to release,
    To God the lost to bring,
To teach the way of life and peace,
    It is a Christ-like thing.

And we believe Thy Word,
    Though dim our faith may be:
Whate’er for Thine we do, O Lord,
    We do it unto Thee.

The Old Testament Reading appointed for today by our lectionary gives an alternative view of worldly wealth and honor. King Solomon shares his wisdom with us this morning: 10He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. 11When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes? 12Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep.
I repeat verse ten: 10He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. Smoke. Chasing after wind. Meaningless. Vanity. Just because the American Declaration of Independence speaks about the “pursuit of happiness” doesn’t mean that we will catch happiness. (More on this famous American quote later.)
Riches bring anxiety. Life Application Bible: “We always want more than we have. Solomon observed that those who love money and seek it obsessively never find the happiness it promises. Wealth also attracts freeloaders and thieves, causes [worry] and fear, and ultimately ends in loss, because it will be left behind. No matter how much you earn, if you try to create happiness by accumulating wealth, you will never have enough. Money in itself is not wrong, but loving money leads to all sorts of sin. Whatever financial situation you are in, don’t depend on money to make you happy. Instead, use what you have for the Lord.” And so we sing, “We give Thee but Thine own.”
All this would be no surprise to William W. How, called “The Poor Man’s Bishop,” who wrote this hymn in 1858. It was originally published under the heading of Proverbs 19:17: “He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord.”
Concerning this hymn text, George Matheson wrote: “[It] sounds the real humanitarian note to the fatherless and widows. Hymnology is feeble and ineffective when it ignores the humanitarian side of religion.”
The purpose of our wealth in this world—whatever amount—is to use it to serve. We use what we have to feed, clothe, and visit those in need, and to share the good news about Jesus: the Gospel.
Our practice should fit the Biblical theology. Several times a week, people come to our church for help. It may be for a night’s lodging, a hot meal, gas to get down the road, groceries, or help to pay rent. We help them as a congregation through our social assistance fund. This fund of love helps with food, gas, lodging, an occasional bus ticket, and often leads to a good opportunity to share the Gospel. Please consider a donation, for winter will soon be upon us.
The fourth and fifth stanzas of the hymn sing our theology: “To comfort and to bless, To find a balm for woe, To tend the lone and fatherless Is angels’ work below. The captive to release, To God the lost to bring, To teach the way of life and peace, It is a Christ-like thing.

What happens when God’s good gifts are used for other purposes? Solomon continues: 13There is a grievous evil that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owner to his hurt, 14and those riches were lost in a bad venture. And he is father of a son, but he has nothing in his hand. 15As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand. 16This also is a grievous evil: just as he came, so shall he go, and what gain is there to him who toils for the wind? 17Moreover, all his days he eats in darkness in much vexation and sickness and anger.
Two bumper sticker sayings are appropriate to mention here. One says, “He who dies with the most toys—wins.” What does he win? The Bible text says “you can’t take it with you.” Hence, the second bumper sticker: “He who dies with the most toys still dies.”

Concordia Self-Study Bible: “The ability to enjoy God’s blessings is a bonus—a gift of God, not a right or guarantee.” That is what our founding fathers really meant by the “pursuit of happiness,” the hobby or habit of happiness under God. Solomon again: 18Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. 19Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God. 20For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.
LAB: “God wants us to view what we have (whether it is much or little) with the right perspective—our possessions are a gift from God. Although they are not the source of joy, they are a reason to rejoice, because every good thing comes from God. We should focus more on the Giver than on the gift. We can be content with what we have when we realize that with God we have everything we need” and the ability to provide for those who lack what they need. Injustice in a fallen world is nothing new. King Solomon knew there was nothing truly new under the sun.

LAB: “Solomon shows that having the right attitude about God can help us deal with present injustices. Prosperity is not always good, nor adversity always bad. But God is always good….Many people work hard to improve their physical [or financial] condition. Yet people don’t spend nearly as much time or effort on their spiritual health. How shortsighted it is to work hard to extend this life and [not regularly receive the good gifts of Jesus—forgiveness, life, and salvation?]”
In closing, let’s listen to Solomon in the next nine verses. Ecclesiastes 6:1-9 (ESV) There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy on mankind:  2a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them, but a stranger enjoys them. This is vanity; it is a grievous evil.  3If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with life's good things, and he also has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he.  4For it comes in vanity and goes in darkness, and in darkness its name is covered.  5Moreover, it has not seen the sun or known anything, yet it finds rest rather than he.  6Even though he should live a thousand years twice over, yet enjoy no good—do not all go to the one place? [Death.]
7All the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied.  8For what advantage has the wise man over the fool? And what does the poor man have who knows how to conduct himself before the living?  9Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the appetite: this also is vanity and a striving after wind.
Therefore, let us always pray: “We give Thee, O Lord, but Thine Own.” Amen.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.