Is Life Hevel?

In the last Sunday of 2018, I was given the opportunity to preach at LakeRidge, which is where I work. I felt the inspiration to tackle a big topic in under 30 minutes. That topic was the meaning of life in the book of Ecclesiastes, focusing on chapter 1. You’re thinking to yourself that is crazy, and someone who is truly a novice should not be tackling such a large complex topic. You speak the truth, but I like tackling and communicating difficult things. Overall, when I listen back to my sermon; I don’t give myself a passing grade, but I still have much to learn about communicating.

I thought it best to make my sermon more dialogical, less monological. Now, a sermon is by nature a monologue. Most of my training is to get up and present my ideas, sources, etc. Thus, you can imagine that doing something like that is truly difficult, which is why I don’t think I did bad, but I didn’t do well either (if I was grading myself). Another way to think about it, I didn’t hit it out of the park, but I do think I had a good double. Also, I am my biggest critic.

As I prepared to preach this sermon and this book, I was confronted by the book’s construction and how the author(s) went about making the point. The main point of Ecclesiastes is to deconstruct all the way we find meaning and purpose apart from God. The author does this by launching a thought experiment for the reader to engage in and reflect alongside the author. So, I felt that my normal academic and rigorous way of constructing my arguments, etc. was useless because I would be forcing the text to do something in which it was not designed to do. The book is constructed as a monologue, yet also a dialogue. It is as if we are flies on the wall to this person’s conversation.

As I have been stating above, the book of Ecclesiastes is a thought experiment done in a conversation over life’s meaning. Qohelet, the one who is speaking for much of Ecclesiastes, states that life is hevel. Thus, this word hevel is what takes center stage throughout the book to find something that isn’t hevel. The book can be seen as defining the word. Throughout the book, hevel is then pictured in two distinct ways: 1) temporary and fleeting, like smoke, and 2) engima or paradox, like knowing whether someone will love you or hate you.

My brother, Joel, and his wife, Cre, offered a helpful note for me to remember to not get too heady, but to deliver content that could be manageable for a large audience. I have been known to go over the heads of everyone, and I’m trying to correct that. (Note: this is not meant to sound pretentious as it is to remember that epistemically we are all at different places, so we must communicate in a way that brings much of an audience along in the reasoning and verbalization. In other words, I’m still learning how to bring people along in a journey.)

A Sermon on Micah 6:1-8 —Am I Loving You Well?

Click the play button to hear the sermon.

This past Sunday I was given the opportunity to preach at one of the churches in my dad’s association. I happily accepted the invitation, believing that I could finish the deck I’ve been working on for the past week by the middle of the week so that I could get in some good studying and preparation for the engagement. I was sorely mistaken because I didn’t finish the deck until Saturday with the help of my long-time best friend, Elijah. He came down from NW PA to spend time with me. I sought to study at night, but I underestimated the exhaustion from the labor, so I fell asleep in the middle of my reflecting and writing notes. Anyway, I felt a lot of pressure on myself Saturday while I wrote my thoughts down; I didn’t have enough time to reflect back on them so as to edit and refine them the way I’d like. So, I felt the inadequacy of thoughts and wording. Nevertheless, there came a moment when I had to deliver this talk.

In my critical voice, I believed I’m handing nothing fully developed and poetic to these strangers, but I had a humbling moment after preaching. An older woman named Iris stepped right up to me hugged me and stated that this was the word she and the congregation needed to hear. In fact, she mentioned that she wanted me to continue preaching and teaching. Usually, these comments don’t really pass through my guarded nature towards compliments, but it was different with this woman. For some reason, it meant something to me because of how inadequate I found everything I said to what was ruminating in my mind and heart for this passage. Nevertheless, God used it.

I landed on Micah 6:1-8 for multiple reasons, but it came from a reflection on a song by Luke Sital-Singh, “Loving You Well.” From that song, my kept wandering to this passage. Micah 6:8 was my grandmother Whiting’s favorite passage of Scripture. What’s funny in that last sentence was the atheism in my grandmother that believed all of it is bull. Yet, she found this verse to be the most powerful in all of Scripture. She was right; this passage is powerful. Micah 6:1-8 is an imaginative, poetic lawsuit that Micah paints for us. In this section of Scripture, God pleads with a problematic people (Israel) for possible faithfulness (to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God) to establish the point of a special covenant. Yet, as the readers of this passage, I believe the text confronts us with a question that many of us neglect to ask: Do I love you well? Now, I switched the inquiry in the sermon to am I loving you well. Either way, I think the point remains the same.

The question takes courage to answer daily because when we reflect on it and connect it to God and neighbor, we find that our imaginations change and the way Christians speak and act start to change, hopefully falling in line with God’s vision, character, and promises. The question makes us uncomfortable because it asks us about the quality of our love for the other. To do justly and to love mercy are practical actions, not mere frameworks for practical action. Justice and mercy take action and reflection. Additionally, to walk humbly with God is difficult because we have to abdicate promoting ourselves turning our attention to God and believing that God’s promises and desires for the world are not in vain and worthwhile pursuing. As G.K. Chesterton stated, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” Our neighbors need a quality love, not a quantity of love because we all have limited bandwidth. God asks us for a quality love, not quantity because God knows that we are but dust. As we move from loving God and neighbor with this question (Do I love you well?), Christians are confronted with the task of loving foreigner, marginalized, poor, abused, widow, innocent, LGBTQA, trans-gender, and oppressed too. Will you and I love these people well because they too are our neighbor made in God’s Image?

 

There are many things that I could have and wish I would have said, yet I cannot go back to do any of that. Instead, I choose to learn from this experience and hone this craft of communicating effectively. I invite you to listen to this, maybe it can encourage you as it did at least one person. Perhaps, you’ll critique me and offer me advice. I welcome that, but I think you should email me or private message me. More than anyone, I know the mistakes and gaps in my speaking, yet if God used Balaam’s ass, then maybe God could use an ass like me, haha. 😉

 

Cheers!