A MESSAGE OF HOPE
FRANCIS ASBURY UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
BATON ROUGE, LA
Reverend David Melville, Pastor
August 6, 2017
From most anyone’s perspective, the first chapter of the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes is downright depressing. I don’t know when to suggest is a good time to read it … not necessarily first thing in the morning, or before you close your eyes at night. It’s not something to help you in bad times, and it will sure be a conversation stopper at a social gathering. Listen to this uplifting passage, which, for some reason, is included in the Bible:
[ECCLESIASTES, CHAPTER 1]
“The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem: ‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.’
What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course.
All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again.
All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, or the ear its fill of hearing. What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which one can say, ‘Look! This is something new?’ It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. There is no remembrance of men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow.
I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven. What a heavy burden God has laid on men! I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
What is twisted cannot be straightened, what is lacking cannot be counted.
I thought to myself, ‘Look, I have grown and increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.’ Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind.
For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.”
In these hot, mostly sun-burnt “dog days” of August, I particularly noticed this week Chapter 1, verse 9: “There is nothing new under the sun.” Now that’s a great message for Deanna Luneau and her fellow graduates of the Class of 2017. [Not!] I hope they don’t buy into that. I hope even the most senior members among you … the Ruedells and Bufords and Barbaras and Als and Myrts, etc., don’t buy into that, even though you’ve seen many sunrises and many sunsets, and you have to admit that Chapter 1, verse 9 … “There is nothing new under the sun”… is partially true. History does tend to repeat itself. But maybe that’s humans’ fault, not God’s. Maybe that’s something that doesn’t have to be.
This morning I suggest that there is something new under every sun if we look for it. And we need to look for it, or we’re just wasting daylight. Regardless of your age or circumstances, there just might be something new for you and for your family every day this coming week. But it may require being more open to, and more observant and more appreciative of the new.
The Hebrews of the Old Testament lived pretty depressing lives, especially compared to ours. But through Moses, God gave them new freedom – figuratively and literally. God gave them love, and gave them an instruction manual on how to live. He protected them from their enemies.
God gave the Hebrews leaders, prophets, and then He gave them a particular observance — The Passover – that provided the chosen people a way out of depression and thinking, “nothing’s going to ever change around here; there’s nothing new under the sun. Been there, done that.” That’s what I should have titled today’s message: “Been There; Done That!”
The psalmists and the prophets talked about singing a new song, but not everyone heard that new song. We know that wine was very important in Mediterranean culture from the beginning of time. So when prophets such as Joel [Joel 3:18] and Amos [Amos 9:13] talked about a new wine, some tasted it. But I bet most didn’t, because they were listening to the writer of Ecclesiastes instead of the new voice … the new wine.
And my goodness, we know that Jesus brought with Him a new covenant, new treasures, new teaching, a new instruction manual, new life, new birth. And if the people didn’t understand any of those new blessings, Jesus said something He knew they would understand. He told them He represented new wineskins, because everyone could understand and relate to the reality that you can’t pour new wine into old wineskins.
Finally, Jesus left his new, expanded group of followers, which now included gentiles, a new form of remembrance. The Passover Meal was designed to remember God’s deliverance of His people out of bondage, and now the sacrament, ordinance, ritual – whatever you choose to call it – of Holy Communion would remember Jesus’ sacrifice of body and blood. So I’m sorry, Ecclesiastes, whoever you were, and whatever your issues were, our Jehovah God has always been giving us something new under the sun. Our God has always been offering something to believe in, hope for, and prepare for. We’re not stuck in a time warp; we’re always moving forward toward a new earth and a new Jerusalem.
I’m glad that my visiting grandchildren, Ava and Leo, as baptized children of God, are not stuck in or limited to my world. And let me tell you, they are in a different world! I was reminded within a few hours of their arrival. On Thursday night it was announced to Leo that on Friday his sister and cousins were going to Area 51, a great indoor facility of gymnastics, trampoline, jumping, bouncing, etc. You get the picture. Leo did not have a similar business in his home town.
Early Friday morning I was of course working on today’s message when Leo walks in, holding his smart phone. He had Googled Area 51, and not trusting us completely, I guess, had now decided it was going to be a great adventure. He knew the hours of operation, the distance from our house, the cost of admission, and all that this fun place had to offer. All from a few touches on his phone. I was impressed.
The Lord has told every generation, first through the prophet Isaiah: Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! [Isaiah 43:18-19] Ava and Leo, and all of you, there is something new under the sun for your generation. Bust, Ecclesiastes!
We are also told by St. Paul in scripture, No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him. [1 Corinthians 2:9] Sounds to me like God still has a few surprises up His sleeve. That means there will be some new things under the sun along the way. Snap, Ecclesiastes!
So as we prepare for the sacrament of Holy Communion, I invite you to approach the Lord’s Table a little differently than you may have approached it hundreds of times. Look for new peace, new feelings, and a new closeness to God. Feel a new forgiveness you have never accepted for yourself or reciprocated to another. Perhaps for the first time in a while, truly thank God for His Son. If you’ve never put the word Hosanna in the same sentence as Holy Communion, do so today, and see what new wonders and signs God has in store for you today.
Let me close by giving an example of seeing a new thing. I discovered it this week while reading the New Testament account of the “Feeding of the Five Thousand.” This great story is one of the few recorded and repeated fairly consistently in all four gospels.
Julia is going to read St. Matthew’s remembrance: [Matthew 14: 13-21]
“When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.’
Jesus replied, ‘They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.’
‘We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,’ they answered.
‘Bring them here to me,’ he said. And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.”
Maybe you’ve noticed the symbolism of communion clearly each time you have read this story. But I admit that it jumped out at me this week: Verse 19 reports that Jesus, taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, He gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people.
What new words will jump out at you as you read God’s word this week? What new opportunities for faithfulness will you recognize for yourself this week? What new love or expression of kindness will you express this week? This past week I was the beneficiary of one of those “random acts of kindness” you’ve probably heard about, and hopefully, even benefitted from. I was in the drive-through getting coffee, made it to the window to pay, when the attendant said, “Sir (now that was the first random act of kindness … calling me ‘Sir’), the driver in front of you paid for your coffee.” I was rattled. What should I do? Should I speed up and try to catch the person and thank him or her? Should I pay for the car in line behind me? I decided not to be that random or that kind that day.
What person will you thank this week? This week the reality of how new gratitude may sound to someone’s ears because we don’t say “thank you” enough anymore. I had to take one of our dogs to the vet for something relatively minor, and while there decided to do what I had had the best intentions of doing for weeks, but had failed: I sincerely thanked the doctor for saving our other dog’s life in July. We thought our schnauzer, Raider, was down for the count, but this particular doctor patiently examined, tested and doctored on Raider until he was as good as new. I particularly recall this doctor’s love, care and compassion for this pet he had just met. After I expressed my (and Raider’s) deep appreciation, you would have thought I had just told him he had passed his final veterinary school exam. With a big, broad smile, he said, “Why you made my Friday!” I sensed getting thanked was a new thing.
And most importantly, what new meaning will you find in the sacrament of Holy Communion today? I promise you, if you will look for something new at the Table, it will be there. There is always something new in the sacrament of Holy Communion. There is always something new under God’s sun.
SACRAMENT OF HOLY COMMUNION