, 55 tweets, 7 min read Read on Twitter
Well, I was going to give a very different sermon tomorrow, but it looks like I have to toss it and preach something else.

Text is from Ecclesiastes: bible.oremus.org/?ql=431860600
It opens: "Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity!" More literally, "Totally breath/vapor/wind, says the Preacher or Gatherer of the worship service. Everything is breath/vapor/wind!"
Nothing lasts very long, Ecclesiastes says - it all just floats away on the wind, and quicker than just eventually.
Rashi, the great Jewish scholar and commenter on Hebrew scripture, says "vanity" is mentioned seven times in this passage, counting "vanities" as plurals. That's one for every day of the creation. Ecclesiastes thinks *everything* is just breath in the wind.
Bava Batra makes a different comparison: the vanities, he says, correspond to the seven times mourners stand and sit in a funeral service.
Days come and go, says Ecclesiastes (that's the Teacher's name), filled with the same old, same old. He searches for meaning through pleasure, labor, wealth, the accumulation of wisdom - and yet there is still nothing new under the sun.
(Ecclesiastes had the most delightful and bracing cynicism about him. He's even than the guy who wrote Lamentations.)
Nothing suits for Ecclesiastes, nothing works. "I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after [feeding on] the wind."
If Ecclesiastes were a high schooler, we'd have him screened for depression.
"I hate all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after me." Some day you die, and somebody takes your place.
Worse yet, they might be smart, or they might be idiots. You can't know, and you can't control it. Anybody who has built up their own business knows this feeling.
Sooner or later, somebody else gets the fruits of your labor, and God alone knows how wisely they'll use it.
Just to take things one step further - because that's the kind of guy Ecclesiastes is - he realizes that the wise and the foolish die alike: "What happens to the fool will happen to me also; why then have I been so very wise?"
Delightful and bracing cynicism, I'm telling you!
I was put in mind of that dark turn of the teacher's mind as word spread this afternoon of yet another mass shooting, possibly by another young man or men radicalized on the internet.
Truly, and unfortunately, there is nothing new under the sun. Not in America, where we have to undergo the same problem time and time and time again.
Whatever wisdom or foolishness those people possessed, whatever wealth or poverty, no matter how hard they worked or played, they're dead now.
And for what? So that some fool with a defective soul could impress the sniggering sociopaths on some internet comment board? For lulz, as the shitheads say?
The mourners stand, the mourners sit. Twenty-two times seven, by the initial counts, including four sets of seven for the children.

There is nothing new under the sun.
This is vanity and a great evil, to quote Ecclesiastes. These shooters aim for notoriety. They literally murder to make a reputation for themselves. But their names will fade from memory soon enough, eclipsed by the next atrocity.
I'll bet you can't tell me the name of the most prolific mass murderer in US history off the top of your head, and it's not even two years past.
"What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at nigh their minds do not rest."

Not when they're worried they can't go to Walmart without being murdered, they don't.
I want us to sit with the discomfort caused by this bleak vision for just a moment. Not to point fingers or express shock and anger.
Just to ponder for a moment that there is something deeply broken in human nature that allows this kind of thing to happen repeatedly.
Or, what is worse, the small-scale carnage of murder and suicide that dwarfs the rate of mass killing in our society and all others.
We - we all - put up with it, which seems like the greatest form of foolishness I can imagine at the moment.
I am not one to dwell on the complete depravity of humanity, but I think we have to acknowledge that there's something wrong with us that we perpetrate and passively accept violence.
Okay, great, Dan. People suck. It's all useless. Got anything else you'd like to say on the matter? Sermons are supposed to give hope, aren't they?
Well, they are. So I'd like to offer three ways to take hope from what otherwise seems like a hopeless situation.
The first comes from one of the commentaries I looked at for this sermon, quoting none other than former president Jimmy Carter:
"Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we've discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning."
I would argue that includes owning intangible things like the highest body count, or consuming things like the lives of others.

You can perpetrate the greatest mass murder in history, but you can't give your life meaning.
Carter says, "We've learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose."
(I won't say this to the congregation tomorrow because some of them will almost certainly be collectors, but think about the massive armories some people pile up.)
So there's one way to find hope: turn away from a life of owning and possessing. Find ways to give confidence and purpose to your life and the lives of the empty men who carry out these shootings.
Second is the answer Ecclesiastes himself arrives at, which may initially be shocking: "There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil."
...So eat, drink, and be merry while people are dying?

Well, yes. For Ecclesiastes, just going about daily life and finding satisfaction in it may be the best anyone can do.
And there is something to be said for the idea of not allowing the bastards to wear you down. Find joy even in darkness, and evil will never have complete control.
(I wish to God Twitter understood this sometimes. Buncha freaking chicken littles around here.)
But last and most important, hear the full quote: "There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil. *This also, I saw, is from the hand of God; for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?*"
To paraphrase that great sage Hiram King "Hank" Williams, you can struggle and strive all you like, but you'll never ever get out of this world alive.
You can't build your way out of death and ultimate meaninglessness, you can't achieve your way out of it. You can't own enough or do enough to avoid the fact that seasons come and seasons go, and your life is just a little puff of vapor that disappears.
You certainly can't shoot your way to immortality.
What you can do is accept your life as a gift from God. (Or simply a gift, for my non-believer friends.)
Enjoy a simple pleasure? It's because God gave it to you.

Have a job that you like and keeps you afloat? It's from God.

Got an extra grand and you're not caught between police and thieves? God.

Know a thing or two? God gave you that too.
So does that mean that if you don't have those things, God has somehow cursed you?

By no means!
Because the basic gifts of God - along with our lives and the creation in which to live - are the confidence and purpose with which we live.
It is God, and God alone, that fills our souls and creates meaning for our lives.

It is in God, and specifically in Jesus, as Christians claim, that our lives find permanence and a direction home.
Because we have the God that we do, the meaning and the direction of those lives is rooted in love. Our God is a god of love, who reaches out in compassion and steadfast love, and has created us to do the same.
When we stop mindlessly chasing ownership and consumption and start giving with an open hand, we find meaning.

When we empty our lives for others, we find fullness in our own.
When we stop living for ourselves and start living for others, we find the confidence and purpose we need to live, to really live.
Apologists for Christianity often point to Jesus' miracles or the resurrection as the ultimate evidence for the rightness of our religion.
But to my mind, miracles and the resurrection aren't proof. They're evidence for the deeper and stranger truth that our God is love and built the world for love, including us.
Everything else is just vanity. Amen.
@threadreaderapp Compile this, if you would.
Missing some Tweet in this thread?
You can try to force a refresh.

Like this thread? Get email updates or save it to PDF!

Subscribe to Daniel Schultz
Profile picture

Get real-time email alerts when new unrolls are available from this author!

This content may be removed anytime!

Twitter may remove this content at anytime, convert it as a PDF, save and print for later use!

Try unrolling a thread yourself!

how to unroll video

1) Follow Thread Reader App on Twitter so you can easily mention us!

2) Go to a Twitter thread (series of Tweets by the same owner) and mention us with a keyword "unroll" @threadreaderapp unroll

You can practice here first or read more on our help page!

Follow Us on Twitter!

Did Thread Reader help you today?

Support us! We are indie developers!


This site is made by just three indie developers on a laptop doing marketing, support and development! Read more about the story.

Become a Premium Member ($3.00/month or $30.00/year) and get exclusive features!

Become Premium

Too expensive? Make a small donation by buying us coffee ($5) or help with server cost ($10)

Donate via Paypal Become our Patreon

Thank you for your support!