“All is vanity,” the writer of Ecclesiastes tells us. “All is vanity:” it’s insubstantial, it’s emptiness, it’s nothing. But life can’t be that bad, can it? Granted, the last however many months have not overwhelmed us with greatest news from humanity. There have been plenty of bleak moments, to be sure, to make us wonder about the state of this world. But there are still some good parts to this life, right? Yesterday there was a wedding here at St. John’s. In a few weeks we’ll have a baptism. Families are spending time together in nature. Children are playing together. We have food to eat. We have our sisters and brothers in Christ here and beyond. God loves us! Surely, all this life cannot be as bad as we often make of it.
And yet these words of Ecclesiastes remain: “it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with. 14I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind.” It’s not the most uplifting Scripture passage to say the least, but what the Bible does so incredibly well is to bring our true feelings, our most raw emotions, to a level of acceptance we didn’t think was allowed. The Scripture has a way of making us feel as if it is actually okay to feel this way, as if God is still going to love us even on the nights when we can’t fall asleep, and we seriously debate with ourselves if we made any difference whatsoever in this life, or we’re so frustrated with others that we more than agree with Ecclesiastes that, “all is vanity, [and nothing more than] a chasing after wind.”
Let’s be honest, we most certainly have those moments. We are human after all. Those feelings are going to emerge from time to time. We can only experience the world from our own perspective, our own wonders and uncertainties, our own fears and worries. And yet God values that part of us. It’s placed in the Bible alongside God bringing Israelite slaves to freedom and prophets speaking powerful words of hope and God’s victory over sin and death. Because the entirety of Scripture is not about laws and telling us how much we’ve messed up that God has to come down and fix everything to the point of dying on the cross. It’s a story that includes immense struggle and despair and outright depression for so many children of God throughout the ages, feelings we can still relate to, even to the point of firmly believing “all is vanity.”
Nevertheless, the Bible also includes plenty of stories of God showing up to the scenes of struggle and despair and outright depression, especially for an entirety of humanity that needed a Savior, not simply for a heavenly reward, but to reshape our outlook on this life, on this world, to give us a reason for why we toil under the sun, to clarify our reason for living at all. God came to life through Jesus Christ for all of that, to meet humanity in our worries and fears, in our moments of believing that “all is vanity, [and nothing more than] a chasing after wind.”
After all, it’s not so much about what we chase after and never quite grab hold of completely: whether that be money, house, beauty, car, retirement savings, or even simply satisfaction or happiness. It’s not what we chase after; it’s what God has chased after: when God chased down death, our own mortality, and with it our own fears, worries, uncertainties, struggles, and sinfulness. God chased all that down when Jesus went up the Calvary hill with that cross on His back, and the weight of eternity on His shoulders. But that couldn’t stop our Savior from invading the darkness of death, and chasing down all the evil of the world along with it. Actually, before Jesus Christ came along, death was vanity: it was when human beings lost all substance and meaning, it was emptiness, it was absolute nothingness. Then came that cross. Then came that tomb: absolute nothingness. But God chased down death, and an empty tomb ended up revealing the Greatest News of all time.
At that moment the passage we hear from Ecclesiastes was proven wrong. Not all is vanity, because this is the God Who is with us. This is the God Whose love and mercy will chase us down every day and night, even when we wonder if “all is [really] vanity, [and nothing more than] a chasing after wind.” No matter how dark our night, no matter how frustrated we become with ourselves and with others, God will surround us with a divine love that will carry us throughout this life and beyond, because God chased down death for us. God chased it all down for all that we are, including with all our doubts and fears. God cherishes the entirety of who we are; and so thanks be to God the story of Ecclesiastes is made known, to make us realize it’s more than okay to feel that way. But also thanks be to God that the human story continues with a Savior, with our Savior, who chased down all the world’s struggles, sin, and even death itself, and came out with hope, with new life, and with life everlasting. Thanks be to God indeed! Amen.
St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rev. Nan Dehnke, Pastor
Office: Mon - Thu: 9 a.m. - Noon