Shuck and Jive

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Sunday Sermon: Eat, Drink, and Be Merry

We are celebrating our 225th anniversary by doing a number of things. One is plugging through the Bible in a year. You can follow along on my Bible and Jive blog. I have been using worship to emphasize a biblical text. We following the order of the TaNaKh and are into the Writings. This Sunday's focus was Ecclesiastes. We opened worship with The Byrds. Here is today's sermon:

Eat, Drink and Be Merry
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church

Elizabethton, Tennessee
Trinity Sunday
May 18th, 2008

Ecclesiastes 3:1-15

What’s it all about, Alfie?

The author of Ecclesiastes asked a similar question:

What do people gain from all the toil
at which they toil under the sun?
4A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains for ever.
5The sun rises and the sun goes down,
and hurries to the place where it rises.
6The wind blows to the south,
and goes round to the north;
round and round goes the wind,
and on its circuits the wind returns.

What’s it all about, Alfie?

Have you ever wondered?

Of course you have.

Some people don’t think it is good for you to get too philosophical. Perhaps they are right. I used to get philosophical before every final exam in college. Come, enter my brain. We will relive that college angst:

Oh what’s the difference?
I get an A, I get an F.
The sun rises and the sun goes down.

You need a job.
What’s the point?
It’s all vanity.
Chasing after the wind.
What do I gain from all the toil
At which I toil under the sun?

I’ll die. You’ll die, too.
Even the professor who created this stupid exam
Will be a corpse one day.
His flesh will slowly rot and turn to dust.
That’s actually a pleasant thought.
Yeah, but so will mine.
No one will remember I ever existed.
After all, how many 14th century English peasants can you recall?

How many Neanderthals do you remember?
We aren’t even sure of the existence of a species
Let alone an individual.

Supposedly Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes.
I doubt it. We can’t even trust that!
If it wasn’t Solomon then it was someone
(we don’t remember) who wrote this:

The people of long ago are not remembered,
nor will there be any remembrance
of people yet to come
by those who come after them.

Ha! Joke’s on you buddy.
You aren’t even remembered,
And you wrote the book!

So who cares about this final exam?

It is dangerous to get too philosophical, we’re told.
Even if Mr. Solomon Anonymous was right,
Still we tell ourselves:

Never mind that Solomon. It is not your business.
Do your duty.

Maybe Solomon Anonymous is wrong.
Maybe there really is a Father up above
Looking down with love.
Counting all your sins, one by one
Judging, judging, judging,

You’ll get yours in the afterlife,
If not before…
You lazy student.

Who invented that theology, anyway?
The theology of a divine being who is always checking you out?
I bet it was a professor
Who likes to give exams.

What’s a better philosophy?
Reincarnation some say.
We go around and around.
I guess that offers variety.
Build up good karma.
I suppose that’s motivation enough.
Hope for a better turn next time.
But that just delays it, doesn’t it?
It is still the same thing again and again.

Solomon Anonymous thinks so:

What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done;
there is nothing new under the sun.
10Is there a thing of which it is said,
‘See, this is new’?
It has already been,
in the ages before us.

What’s it all about, Alfie?

Reincarnation, heaven and hell, going toward the Light
Who knows?
They say they know.
They are very certain about their books.
Maybe one of them is right. Who knows?
I just think they are avoiding the question.

Solomon Anonymous didn’t avoid it:

For the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals; for all is vanity. 20All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again. 21Who knows whether the human spirit goes upwards and the spirit of animals goes downwards to the earth?

The only difference is that animals don’t have to take
This stupid exam that is supposed to mean something.
No one will remember that I ever took it,
Or that the professor ever gave it,
Or what it was even about.

Supposedly if we study and pass our little exams
We will be happier.
We will know about life and be able
to contribute to the good of the world,
So they say.

Solomon Anonymous had an answer for that too:

I said to myself, ‘I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me; and my mind has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.’ 17And I applied my mind to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a chasing after wind. 18For in much wisdom is much vexation, and those who increase knowledge increase sorrow.

My sorrow increased when I registered for this class.
And what good of the world?
Good people suffer and mean people skip right through.
There is no justice; it is just luck.
Disasters, hatreds, pain—it happens to any, good or bad,
There is so much hurt. So much injury and pain.
So much anger. So meaningless and worthless.

And if we don’t hurt each other then Nature unleashes her fury.
And those who suffer…
Are they worse than you or I?
Did they deserve it?
Will you say the same if it happens to you?
Or do you think you are immune?
Solomon knew about that, too:

Again I saw all the oppressions that are practiced under the sun. Look, the tears of the oppressed—with no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power—with no one to comfort them. 2And I thought the dead, who have already died, more fortunate than the living, who are still alive; 3but better than both is the one who has not yet been, and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.

I really shouldn’t read Ecclesiastes before taking an exam.
I should just buck up and do it and be cool with it.
I should be philosophical tomorrow and do what I have to do today.
If all is vanity, all is vapor, then, why take it so seriously?
Maybe we should be lighthearted about it all.
Maybe that is the point Solomon Anonymous has been making:

Go, eat your bread with enjoyment, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has long ago approved what you do. Let your garments always be white; do not let oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the partner whom you love, all the days of your vain life that are given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun.

This is our portion in life.
This is what is.
What other choice is there?
We play the game.
We experience it.
We participate. Enjoy what we can.
Eat drink and find enjoyment in all the toil…

Maybe that’s what its all about.
Enough. I think I will just listen to the radio for a while:

(Play "Alfie")

Oh yeah, love. There is that.
Perhaps even exam-giving professors need love.
That’s enough.
Love is enough.


  1. This was such a sweet sermon that I was sorry Monkey had to denounce you! :-)

  2. I have not been here in awhile but I find that I still totally love your words.

    As for the Monkey, he speaks so impulsively, especially around us Jesus-y types, even the irreverent among us like you and hopefully like me.

    As for Snad- hope you had a great great great birthday.