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October 22: The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun.

So if a person lives many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vapor.

Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.

 Remove vexation from your heart, and put away pain from your body, for youth and the dawn of life are vapor. –Ecclesiastes 11:7-10

In chapter 10 of Ecclesiastes, Solomon tells us to be wise and then in first 6 verses of chapter 11, he tells us to be generous. These are definite answers as to how we are to live life under the sun where God’s ways are mostly unknowable, the future is unpredictable, and much of this life is vapor. Be wise and be generous. Now, in the second part of chapter 11, Solomon tells us to be joyful. Looking ahead to chapter 12, he summons us to be godly. But the subject of the verses copied above is be joyful.

All the way through the book, as Solomon reaches partial conclusions, he repeats the refrain that wisdom means joy. As he approaches the final conclusion of the book, he reiterates this truth with greater emphasis. Affirming life in all its fullness, he calls on light as a metaphor: “Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun.” He’s just said that wisdom is generous and that God is in control of the outcome, so it follows that we can be cheerful, enjoying sweet light. It is all in God’s hands; God is in control of His world, thus, “if a person lives many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vapor.” If you’re worried about every little thing: relax, go enjoy some chips and salsa. The Lord is in control; why try to control vapor?

I appreciate the realistic approach Solomon takes. After saying “that the days of darkness will be many” and “all that comes is vapor,” he adds, “Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth.” Your future life, the number of your days, the success of your labors, are all outside your control and knowledge. So be joyful. It is not a choice between despair and delusion. We don’t have to pretend that days of darkness don’t exist. Face the facts or they will overwhelm you. 

Another point in Solomon’s realistic approach is “let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes.” But then comes the caution, “But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.” Contrary to plenty of American Puritans, the Bible has an overarching point that, while some things are prohibited, everything else is left wide open for you to enjoy. Fear God and enjoy life. Wisdom is keeping both of these hand-in-hand with the other.

Finally, “Remove vexation from your heart,” is a wise instruction given by Jesus Himself. It is a fool’s response to the vaporousness of life. Jesus says, “do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Come hear it preached and enacted in the supper with Jesus this Sunday.

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