Last week I attended the funeral of a man that I never met. I was there to support a friend who had lost his father to a long battle with a terrible disease. It was a touching service, filled with emotional tributes from old Navy buddies, extended family and grieving sons. And even though I had not known the man in life, I left understanding very well the impact he had made on those around him.
Every funeral I’ve ever attended has shared something in common: there was no U-Haul truck outside taking the person’s stuff with them. Most of our lives we view success through the lens of wealth, status and the accumulation of things. And yet when we reach the end, we all understand that is not where success is measured.
Our readings this week all focus on the idea of earthly success versus true prosperity. How can we keep our eyes on what is truly important in life? How can we make sure our lives are successful? Let’s consider these questions throughout our time together this week.
Then someone called from the crowd, “Teacher, please tell my brother to divide our father’s estate with me.”
Jesus replied, “Friend, who made me a judge over you to decide such things as that?” Then he said, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.”
Then he told them a story: “A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’ Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. And I’ll sit back and say to myself, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!”’
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’
“Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.”
Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23
“Everything is meaningless,” says the Teacher, “completely meaningless!”
I, the Teacher, was king of Israel, and I lived in Jerusalem. I devoted myself to search for understanding and to explore by wisdom everything being done under heaven. I soon discovered that God has dealt a tragic existence to the human race. I observed everything going on under the sun, and really, it is all meaningless—like chasing the wind.
I came to hate all my hard work here on earth, for I must leave to others everything I have earned. And who can tell whether my successors will be wise or foolish? Yet they will control everything I have gained by my skill and hard work under the sun. How meaningless! So I gave up in despair, questioning the value of all my hard work in this world.
Some people work wisely with knowledge and skill, then must leave the fruit of their efforts to someone who hasn’t worked for it. This, too, is meaningless, a great tragedy. So what do people get in this life for all their hard work and anxiety? Their days of labor are filled with pain and grief; even at night their minds cannot rest. It is all meaningless.
Listen to this, all you people!
Pay attention, everyone in the world!
High and low,
rich and poor—listen!
For my words are wise,
and my thoughts are filled with insight.
I listen carefully to many proverbs
and solve riddles with inspiration from a harp.
Why should I fear when trouble comes,
when enemies surround me?
They trust in their wealth
and boast of great riches.
Yet they cannot redeem themselves from death[a]
by paying a ransom to God.
Redemption does not come so easily,
for no one can ever pay enough
to live forever
and never see the grave.
Those who are wise must finally die,
just like the foolish and senseless,
leaving all their wealth behind.
The grave is their eternal home,
where they will stay forever.
They may name their estates after themselves,
but their fame will not last.
They will die, just like animals.
Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.
So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. Because of these sins, the anger of God is coming. You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world. But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.
I thank you for your love and grace.
You call me your child in my successes and in my failures.
But, Father, I often get distracted and confused;
I forget what true success looks like.
Remind me that the way I love others today
will have an eternal impact
in the midst of a finite world.