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Sermon for Sunday 19 August 2018

First Reading Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18

1Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel. And they presented themselves before God. 2aAnd Joshua said to all the people,
14“Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” 16Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods, 17for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. 18And the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”


Psalm Psalm 34:12-22

12Who among you loves life and desires long life to enjoy prosperity? 13Keep your tongue from evil speaking and your lips from lying words. 14Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. 15The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry. 16The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to root out the remembrance of them from the earth. 17The righteous cry, and the Lord hears them and delivers them from all their troubles. 18The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and will save those whose spirits are crushed. 19Many are the troubles of the righteous, but the Lord will deliver him out of them all. 20He will keep safe all his bones; not one of them shall be broken. 21Evil shall slay the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be punished. 22The Lord ransoms the life of his servants, and none will be punished who trust in him.


Second Reading Ephesians 5:6-21

6Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7Therefore do not become partners with them; 8for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9(for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” 15Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.


GOSPEL John 6:51-69

51{Jesus said,} “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 52The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum. 60When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” 61But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? 62Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” 66After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”



The lyrics of many songs are filled with it. Advertisements in all forms of media are based on it. TV and movies forward it as the thing to strive for. Parks, resorts, even whole towns are built, all to give you the opportunity to achieve this one thing. The thing I’m talking about this morning is the quest to have fun, for entertainment, fulfillment and pleasure. Now to be clear, good clean, wholesome fun, enjoyment and relaxation, in and of themselves, are not bad things. We all need some downtime. We all need a break, even an escape from the stresses of everyday life. However, there a good many people today who spend their lives in a desperate search for happiness, for pleasure, for fun.
The harsh truth, however, is that many people in our society are simply bored. They mope around, fantasizing about some secret joy that lies out there somewhere just out of their grasp. “I’m looking for adventure, excitement, and beautiful women,” said one young man to his father as he was leaving home. “And don’t you try to stop me!” “Who wants to stop you?” replied his father. “That sounds great, I’m going with you!”
The ironic thing about seeking such pleasure, is how little joy it really brings. In fact, those who seek it hardest, are often among the unhappiest of people. Now I’m certain I could give you an example of some celebrity or very public figure as an illustration, instead, let me give you a Biblical case for your consideration. In the opening verse of the first two chapters of Ecclesiastes we read these two words, Vanity of Vanities, as the ESV renders the opening words. Or translated differently, “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless” (1:1.) One of the great quotes from theologian and teacher Paul Tillich is, “the great fear of our time is meaninglessness.”
Solomon, the son of king David, and the third king to rule over Israel, when asked by God what he wanted most in life replied, wisdom to rule your people (2 Chron. 1:10-11.) God granted him his request, and he became the wisest man of his time. As the author of Ecclesiastes, we also learn that he couldn’t make sense of his life. He wasn’t a happy man even though he sought diligently for happiness. First, he thought the road to satisfaction would be found in intellectual pursuits. And who could argue with that? There’s a certain nobility in seeking knowledge. We often salute people who are the brightest in their field. But that doesn’t mean they’re happy, or that they’re content.
Certainly, Solomon wasn’t. He writes: “I have increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me . . . but I learned that this . . . is [only] a chasing after the wind (1:14.) For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.” Now that’s an interesting statement. “The more knowledge, the more grief” (1:18.) But I’ll save that for another sermon. Apparently, when knowledge and wisdom didn’t bring Solomon the happiness he sought, Solomon followed an entirely different path–sensual pleasure.
He said to himself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. “Laughter,” he says cynically, “is madness (2:1-2.) And what does pleasure accomplish?” He then tried the path of alcohol. “I tried cheering myself with wine . . .” he writes. But this also produced frustration (2:3.) It was Solomon that also notes in Proverbs 1, verse 20: “Wine is a mocker and strong drink a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.” So how can this be? And for those rolling your eyes at these last two passages, no I’m not going to talk about the evils of alcohol this morning. I’ll save that surprise for another day.
My point is, Solomon couldn’t find happiness in alcohol. Now some might be asking, then why do all the young people in the beer commercials look so happy! The answer is simply, they’re paid to look happy. But as king Solomon found out, excessive use of alcohol didn’t bring the happiness he was seeking. So, he turned to more constructive activities. He says: “I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them.” Still Solomon couldn’t find the satisfaction for which his heart hungered (2:4-6.)
From that Solomon turned to the accumulation of wealth: “I bought male and female slaves . . . I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces . . .” (2:7-8.) Still he couldn’t find what he was seeking.
Then he tried sex: “I acquired male and female singers, and a harem as well–the delights of a man’s heart” (2:9-11.) A thousand wives and concubines still left him unfulfilled. One could easily say that Solomon lived life larger than anyone who came before him: “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure.” His pleasure seeking experiments were all eventually summed up in these plaintive words: “Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them: I kept my heart from no pleasure . . . My heart took delight in all my labor . . . Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done . . . and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.” He even reached the point where he wrote later in this same chapter: “So I hated life . . . All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun . . . .” (17-18). The smartest, wisest and wealthiest man of his time, possibly all time, was also the most miserable.
Solomon had everything that life in his time could offer. And he counted it all as folly. Solomon had everything the human heart could desire except one. For now, I’ll let you guess what that was. As I read his litany of despair, I couldn’t help but see so many people today who are chasing happiness in a similar fashion–knowledge, alcohol, sensual pleasure, work, accumulation of wealth, sex. “Who wants to stop you?” said the father of the young man leaving home. “I’m going with you!”
St. Paul saw the same emptiness in many of the people in his time, even among early Christian believers. To this he instructs the Ephesian Christians: “Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:15-17.)
There are the two keys that St. Paul gives to us that lead to lasting happiness. First, be smart with your life. “Be very careful, then, how you live,” Paul writes, “not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” So, what is God’s will? Before I go any further, we must acknowledge what Paul takes for granted here: true joy, true happiness, true satisfaction and true peace all begin with God. We cannot find any of these without looking to God first. Foolishness for Paul was looking for these things in the world. Wisdom is understanding God’s will for our lives.
Again, it was Solomon who wrote, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight (Prov. 9:10.) This brings us back to the original question, so, what is the will of God? Again, we can look to St. Paul to answer this question. In Romans 12:2 we read, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” And the Old Testament prophet Micah wrote, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” God’s will for us is first to look to Him, to obey His commands and to resist conforming to this world.
This world and its pleasures are what Solomon chose to look to find happiness and satisfaction and we see where that got him. He was very clear in Ecclesiastes, it’s like chasing after the wind. “Be very careful, then, how you live,” writes St. Paul, “not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery . . .” He continues by saying, “Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In other words, focus our lives on God, not on the world. This is where true contentment is found.
Name me a more wholesome approach to life than the one Paul pictures for us here? I love watching musicians who love what they are doing. I love watching our children when they sing a song of faith here at church. Paul is describing people who are centering their lives on God and joyfully singing from their hearts. Why? It’s because they know where true joy, happiness, satisfaction and peace comes from and they’re filled with a sense of gratitude for all the blessings of God.
Some of you, at Christmas time, will go to Netflix or a Movie Classic channel and watch the classic heartwarming movie starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, White Christmas. In that delightful motion picture, Bing Crosby introduced another Irving Berlin song besides White Christmas that has touched many people over the years. It goes something like this: “When I am troubled and cannot sleep, I count my blessings instead of sheep, and I fall asleep counting my blessings.” That’s still the best formula I know of for a good night’s sleep.
It may sound trite, but the happiest people I know are people who are filled with gratitude; who understand where true happiness lies. Now this doesn’t necessarily mean these people are materially blessed, or their health is exceptional or that their children are straight A students and captains of the football team. It simply means that they have learned to count the blessings they do have and have learned to say, “Thank you” to God.
In 2008, a young Australian mother of three named Hailey Bartholomew was feeling really down. She had an envious life–including beautiful kids and a loving husband. Yet, she felt disappointed with her life. She finally decided to do something about her condition. She consulted with a nun who counseled her to make time every passing day to look around her and find something that makes her grateful for the gift of life. Hailey started a project she christened “365grateful” in earnest, taking pictures of the things which made her feel grateful every day. It didn’t take long for her outlook on life to be transformed.
For example, before she initiated this practice, she had convinced herself that her husband was not very romantic. But this view changed the day she took photographs of him serving dinner. For the first time since they got married, Hailey noticed that her husband served her the largest piece of pie. It was his gentle way of showing his affection for her. And then there were her kids. The joy and happiness she saw on their faces while they played made her grateful for her job as a mother.
Before that time, she thought of mothering as boring, but now, as she took photos of her children holding out their hands to her as they playfully explored their world, she discovered how much joy and wonder there was in her world. Through the art of gratitude Hailey found herself lifted out of her rut and celebrating life. G. K. Chesterton once wrote: “The test of all happiness is gratitude.” And he’s right.
But let’s return to Solomon who experienced every earthly pleasure, yet something was missing from his life. He was a miserable man. Have you guessed what it was that was missing from his life? He had never learned to say, “Thank you” to God. He had forgotten that God is the provider of true happiness, joy, satisfaction and peace. Even though he had a mountain of what other people would count as blessings, he didn’t have what he really needed most–a grateful heart. He thought he could find pleasure in this world apart from God. What Paul tells us is God is the beginning of true joy, happiness, pleasure and peace. We can learn a lesson from the wisest and possibly the richest man that ever lived. Please don’t make the same mistake as Solomon.
St. Paul writes, “Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In other words, do you want joy, look to God. Want happiness, look to God. Want satisfaction, look to God. Want true peace, look to God. Learn from the wisest man who ever lived; you can’t find what your heart desires until you first look to God.

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