Emmanuel Lutheran Church
Menominee - Michigan
Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
July 31, 2016
Grace and Peace to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
What’s the point? Why am I here today? I mean, what’s the meaning with all of this (VBS), or, even all of this (sanctuary), for that matter? What’s the point with the singing and praying and preaching if none of it is going to change anything anyway? Why do we do any of this if it’s going to have no bearing in our world?
Really, what I’m asking is no different than what was written in Ecclesiastes by the Teacher, or the Preacher, or Quoheleth, or however you want to name or title the author of this short book? “Vanity of vanities,” he writes. “All is vanity.”
All is vanity, it is like chasing after the wind; you’ll never catch it. We seek and we learn and we toil and we labor. At night we go to bed, and in the morning we get up and we do it all over again. Again and again and again and again. And for what purpose? Just so we can get up to do it again? Just so we can go to bed with aching backs and heavy burdens and then to wake up and do it over and over, every day? What’s the point?
What’s the point? There’s a saying that goes, “the more you know, the more you find out that you don’t know.” Scientists relate well to this idea in that every scientific finding or discovery opens up 100 more questions that nobody had thought to ask before. And if anybody in all history can relate to, “the more you know, the more you find out that you don’t know,” that would be King Solomon, said in the Bible to have been given more wisdom than anyone before or since.
None in history have ever been wiser, scripture tells us. And he greets us, calling himself the teacher here, by asking us, “What’s the point?” It gives you pause and it makes you really think, deep down, who, or what, am I really following? And, maybe just as importantly, where is it ultimately leading me?
In 1937, a researcher at Harvard University began a study (originally named The Harvard Study of Adult Development) on what factors contribute to human well- being and happiness. The research team selected 268 male Harvard students who seemed healthy and well-adjusted to be part of what is called a longitudinal study.
A longitudinal study means that the researchers would study the lives of these men not just at one point in time, but rather over a period of time. The study concluded in 2009 at the death of the final one of these 268 students, the period of time in what is now called the Grant study having been 72 years.
With 72 years of perspective, the Grant study gave a comprehensive viewpoint on what affected the level of health and happiness of men over a lifetime. The Grant study tracked an array of factors, including standard measurable items like physical exercise, cholesterol levels, marital status, the use of alcohol, smoking, education levels, and weight, but also included more subjective psychological factors such as how a person employed defense mechanisms to deal with the challenges of life.
Needless to say, over the course of 72 years, several different men directed the research of this project, but for the final 42 years, the director was psychiatrist George Vaillant. In 2009, at the conclusion of the study, someone asked Dr.
Vaillant what he had learned about human health and happiness from his years of poring over the data on these 268 men. After all these years and all this data, you’d expect nothing less than a well-documented drawn out answer from a Harvard social scientist. But such was not the case. After 72 years of thorough observation and study, Vaillant concluded: “The only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.”
The only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people. How breathtakingly simple. It means that the accumulated and inherited “things” of our lives and of our world, they don’t matter. The big bank accounts, the big titles, the advanced degrees, the status connected to our name, what car we drive, the address of our home, and the amount of hours we put in at work.
These things undoubtedly make us feel good when others are impressed and maybe they make us feel safer when the world around us gets a little chaotic. They may momentarily give us a warm feeling deep down inside when we take stock of all that we have accumulated and what is yet before us.
But if it is on these things that we place our hopes and our future, we are chasing the wind, for they don’t mean anything if we are not striving toward building and developing relationships in the process. Our church is a perfect example of this, which is what makes this time here, what makes all of this so worthwhile and so wonderful. We have a beautiful sanctuary and an absolutely phenomenal backdrop for our Bible School, but if we’re not here to connect with God and with one another, what’s the point of any of it? If it doesn’t bring us together, there is no point to it whatsoever. If it doesn’t bring us together, all is vanity.
For three days this past week we gathered as a Bible School community made up of people from all ages and walks of life. But no matter who we were or where we came from, when we gathered here we all sang the same songs, did the same motions, did the same crafts, ate the same snacks and did it with joy and awe of this unique setting. Little girls giggled. Little boys wrestled. And they did it all under the banner of growing closer to God.
And today, we’re no different. We gather here coming from different financial, health, social status and age ranges. We sing together. We pray together. We are humbled by the Word together. We will commune together, no one person getting special preference during this meal because while the world may see us as different, God sees us as one and the same; and that is as saved, humbled sinners, desiring repentance and receiving forgiveness, and sharing a meal that is meant to tie us to Jesus and to one another. In this communion meal, the word “communion” meaning “together,” we experience the ultimate consummation of our relationships for which we were created, for that is what we were created for. We were created to love and to be loved, by God, and by one another.
So, what’s the point? The point is that when we leave here today, life may continue to be very difficult for some of us and much easier for others. Some of us will experience trials during the coming week, while others will experience God’s blessings. But, as the church, we experience it all together. When one suffers, we pray together; when one experience blessings, we celebrate together. Thanks be to God for bringing us together as His church, for the relationships, the love, the communion, and the salvation that we experience here. Amen.