When Everything Feels Pointless

A sermon idea based on Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23.

Ecclesiastes 1:2,12-14; 2:18-23 NRSV

[2] Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.

[12] I, the Teacher, when king over Israel in Jerusalem, [13] applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with. [14] I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind.

[18] I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after me [19]—and who knows whether they will be wise or foolish? Yet they will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. [20] So I turned and gave my heart up to despair concerning all the toil of my labors under the sun, [21] because sometimes one who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. [22] What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? [23] For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.


The relevant topic I would be addressing, based on this text…

The meaning of life isn’t found in any earthly pursuit, but rather in heavenly, healthy relationships with God and the universe around us.


Information about the text that matters to the message…


It’s easy to identify with the sentiment expressed by the aged Preacher, Solomon. We can easily look around at the world and become discouraged by what seems to be a lack of purpose. Everything is broken, and everything is repetitive.

It’s vital to understand that the author of Ecclesiastes, self-identified by the title Qohelet (the Preacher, or the assembler of wisdom), wasn’t trying to solve the mystery of life’s great meaning. Rather, he was presenting a collection of observations about life that might be passed down from an older generation to a younger one.

It’s also important to know that Ecclesiastes is not a book about theology. It’s a book about ideology. It’s a book about how to be human in a world where it seems so pointless to be human. Things don’t seem to get better. We aren’t saving the planet. We aren’t ending wars. We aren’t fixing hunger, poverty, or inequality.

The wisdom the Preacher passes on is, essentially, don’t think that your pursuit of meaning in life will ever be fulfilled apart from God’s divine perspective. It’s a book about what a person is capable of figuring out about life without a well-formed theology. And it’s bleak.

Because of this bleakness, the accumulation of work, wealth, and wisdom – the three commodities the Preacher had spent a lifetime pursuing – will never lead us to life’s ultimate meaning because something significant is still missing. And what is missing is joy.

In multiple passages in Ecclesiastes, the author reminds us that in light of what seems to be the meaninglessness of life apart from, enjoy yourself! Eat! Drink! Be merry!

And the ultimate source of real joy, real peace, and real lasting happiness, will always be the eternal perspective and insight into the purpose of all things offered by its Creator, God. As the author states in the final observation of the book,

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 NRSV

[13] The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone. [14] For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.


The big call-to-action in the message…

Stop rushing to survive. In our hustle-and-grind culture, where workaholism is celebrated as a moral virtue, people are burning out because they’ve come face-to-face with the emptiness of it all. But when you stop, look up, and see God’s hand at work in the world, you can then join him in the joy-producing renewal of all that is broken.

Gogh, Vincent van, 1853-1890. First Steps, after Millet, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

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