Damariscotta Baptist Church
Tuesday, October 23, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

05/21/17 Sermon - The SoveREIGNty of God

“The SoveREIGNty of God”

Ecclesiastes 3:9-22

As we continue with our reading through Ecclesiastes today’s reading finds Solomon asking the same question he had asked before, “What does the worker gain from his toil?” However, this time, he has found an answer. Solomon has seen the burden God has laid on humans. Yet in his reflection of the poetic list Solomon had written just before this, which we looked at last week, Solomon thought of the good and the bad, as he had described life and understood that God, “had made everything beautiful in its time.”

At what age do we forget this message? At what “time” in our life do we stop enjoying everything beautiful in its time? When you think about it, children seem to live this out on a daily basis. As children grow up they live in the moment, exploring, enjoying all that is around them. Us adults often watch with joy and a bit of jealousy. Just yesterday, we had our family list of chores on the board that needed to be completed.

After Lucille’s memorial service I walked across the street to find Lydia and Emily in the backyard raking the leaves and picking up branches in the section of the yard they had been assigned. Later on, Val and I were talking about how impressed we were that they had decided on their own, to go out back, together, and do their chore, but for the entire hour they were outside, they were singing songs, piling leaves, laughing, chatting with the neighbors and making things beautiful in their time. What if we could all do that with the chores of life? It may seem rather Mary Poppins’ish, with the spoon full of sugar helping the medicine go down, but when it comes right down to it, we have a choice.  I think Solomon is reminding us that we can choose the manner in which we experience the events in our life. It’s just that for some reason as we get older we think that it is un-adult to experience everything as beautiful.

Solomon also tells us that humans have a longing for the eternal and that longing was placed in us by God. Because we are made in the image of God, we can say that eternity is in our hearts.

This concept was recognized by Don Richardson, a well-known missionary and author who used the phrase, “eternity in their hearts” to describe the familiar redemptive analogies that are found in most all aboriginal cultures. Richardson encouraged missionaries to use the traditions, customs or ways of thinking that reflect our basic Biblical truth to help in explaining the gospel.

Today we don’t have to go to foreign countries to find people who have customs or ways of thinking that have just a bit of Biblical truth but are far from the redemptive story. We need to recognize the “eternity in their hearts” and like Richardson, connect with others using the bit of redemptive truth that exists and lead the conversation and thoughts to God’s plan for salvation. Remembering that it is our responsibility to share the gospel and the Holy Spirit’s responsibility to change people’s hearts.

Solomon recognized that although eternity may be placed in our hearts, God has not revealed very much about His eternal work to humanity.

Basically we may comprehend that eternity exists but to comprehend exactly what it is, is beyond our capabilities. From Solomon’s point of view, and being the wisest human on earth, that must have been ultimately frustrating. Until, Solomon comes to the conclusion that in light of God’s making “everything beautiful” and in His gift of “eternity in our hearts,” that it is the “wise” who receive the good things of this life as a gift from God.

It is at this point where Solomon, ever so briefly, escapes from his “under the sun” thinking and recognizing that whatever God does, it is forever. Not only that, but that God is eternally complete, one cannot add something or take away something from God. Solomon has also concluded that the reason God allows eternity to be in our hearts, but keeps all the details from us, is so humans will be in awe of God, so we will hold Him in divine reverence. In essence, Solomon is giving us an understanding of the sovereignty of God. I had a difficult time placing the word sovereign into my understanding. I remember being in seminary and realizing there was a major disconnect between the vocabulary of the theological professors and me.

Each discipline has its own language and since I did not attend a Christian undergraduate school I did not have the same background as many of the younger students around me. I would sit in class and write down vocabulary words on the edges of my paper that professors would say in their lectures. Only to take time, when I got home to look them up. They were words like  sovereign, existential, hermeneutics, and exegesis.  And I would create ways for me to remember their meaning. For the word sovereignty I realized the words, “reign” and “over” were part of the word. So my “cliff note” definition was “God reigns over everything.” He is sovereign.

Solomon figures this out, and goes a step further by stating that because God reigns over all, He is able to judge the heart and deeds of humans, and because of this act of being able to call our actions into account, he is able to give “everything” meaning. The good and the bad.

Being the wise man Solomon was, he looked around his world and viewing it apart from eternity, he recognized great evil and injustice. He looked for fair judgement and found wickedness, he looked for justice and again, found wickedness.

The same is true for today. For those who do not have a concept of eternity and this life is all there is then what does one do when many of the wicked and evil people “win” and many of the good and righteous people “lose.” For me, this makes we wonder how the concept of Karma works in this life. Solomon goes on to say that he knew, or perhaps hoped, that God would judge both the righteous and the wicked to see if their deeds actually fit the proper purpose and work in which they were intended.

Solomon goes on to compare humans with animals. He states that both are subject to death. Both animal bodies and human bodies decompose. They both have breath, as as far as Solomon could understand humans had no advantage over animals. Which shouldn’t surprise us, because Solomon’s relationship with God had become merely cognitive. He had chosen to walk in the ways of the world and not in the ways of God. As he kept walking away from God, the older and older he got, the further and further away he got from the relationship part of God. The understanding of the afterlife for Solomon had grown cloudy and uncertain.

But those who walk closely with God, like his father David, and others, both in the Bible and especially for those of us with the New Testament, we recognize what Paul wrote to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:10 that Jesus “brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”

It doesn’t take Solomon long to disregard his confidence in eternity because by the end of this passage he is back to his “under the sun” thinking. He concludes with the premise that “nothing is better” than for humans to accomplish what they can in this world and to try, the best they know how - to not let what will happen to them after they die happen. Solomon’s answer to the question, “What will happen after humans die?” was “nothing”. Because for Solomon, death ended it all, and therefore ultimately his life had no more significance or meaning than the life of an animal.

There you have it. For Solomon, God is in control of this world, but death is inevitable for all. If Solomon, the wisest man on earth could not control mortality, than who can? For it is written,

Genesis 3:19

19 By the sweat of your brow

   you will eat your food

until you return to the ground,

   since from it you were taken;

for dust you are

   and to dust you will return.”

This could become rather depressing, don’t you think? If we are all destined to die, and we have very limited control, than what should we do with this reality?

Do we fight God for something we clearly do not have full comprehension over?

Or do we accept God’s sovereignty and choose to fear God?

What about those who have no relationship with God? They ultimately end up trying to be god by thinking they are in control, and reach out to find anything that will provide them peace and security, only to discover they are unable. Often they find this reality too late.

This passage in Ecclesiastes doesn’t indicate that to accept one’s own limitations and the unpredictability of life means life is a terrifying ordeal. On the contrary, I hear Solomon encouraging us to recognize the sovereignty of God. This means we have a choice. We can dwell on the details and the troubles in our lives, or we can choose to focus on the creator of the universe.

We can dwell on the fact that we have chores to do, like racking the back yard, which in and of itself is not fun, or we can make the chore enjoyable by enjoying the company of our friend. Both choices are real, but only one is redemptive.

We are responsible for the choices we make. William Glasser, a famous psychologist developed his own type of counseling based on the idea that humans are responsible for their own choices. He called it Choice Therapy. Glasser’s theory states that in essence the only choice we have control over is our own. We cannot control others choices and when we attempt to do so, we end up frustrated and destroy the relationships we are trying to control.

Solomon doesn’t tell us to do whatever pleases us, instead he tells us to accept the things we can and cannot control. He makes it clear that both pain and pleasure are a part of life.

When we choose to look at only the good and or only the pain we are trying to escape the reality of life. We are trying to control aspects of life that are not within our control. We are not acknowledging that God works through all things and still works out good. This is where the sovereignty of God fits in. When we can let go of  having to be in control, we can allow the God who reigns over everything to have control. The emptiness in our soul becomes filled, with the assurance that God has filled it.

Here’s the choice:

We can rest in the knowledge that God’s ways are superior to our ways, or we can rely on our finite ability. The choice seems simple, so why does there always seem to be a tension between the two?

According to Solomon, the truth of the matter is, despite our limited ability to grasp what God is doing and why things happen when they do, we need to accept the responsibility for our lack of control and choose to do what is good, in our time.

Remembering God is sovereign allows us to follow God:

  • With humility

  • With fear

  • And obey His commands

When we follow God in these ways, we experience the freedom to trust in God’s goodness, which will allow us to experience joy in all the toil in our life. Life is tough. We live in a fallen world, full of struggles. Yet, God promises us that through it all, He is with us and more importantly He is sovereign, Reigning over all.

I close today with Micah 6:8

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.

   And what does the Lord require of you?

To act justly and to love mercy

   and to walk humbly with your God.

Let’s pray.