Ecclesiastes is categorized as a wisdom book.
writer tries to make sense of life based on his/her observations
and practical experiences. The focus is usually on human nature
and the goal is to guide humans into the path of successful
living. Other wisdom
books include: The Wisdom of Ben Sira and the Wisdom of Solomon
(Song of Solomon) - all three wrestle with how to live a happy
life in a world not so oriented toward human happiness.
Ecclesiastes in particular – The narrator, who we only know by
the name “the teacher” or the leader, details for us his
observations of the world – observations of humans and God in
the world – desperately trying to make sense of it. And by the
end honestly scholars cannot determine if he did – or was left
in a meaningless despair – in fact it was this unclear tone in
Ecclesiastes that kept Jewish scholars debating its value in the
Hebrew Bible and it was nearly left out.
why. I love. this book – I too am desperate to understand,
to share that wisdom with others so that we can make this world
a better place.
We know New
Orleans is still recovering. We know gas prices are still
rising. And the EPA has taken a $1.6 billion cut in 2011. What
meaning are we to gain from
the continued hardship of the people in Japan, Haiti,? Why
The world in
which Ecclesiastes was written is a world just learning
to pass wisdom through the written word– just barely awakening
to the value of writing down shared wisdom, shared stories.
There isn’t really even an exact understanding of which language
“the teacher” uses – some are wholly created words or
definitions to fit his situation. It is a world without any of
the conveniences or priorities of our world. A world that does
not know about the other planets. Does not know about plate
tectonics. A world where “what they knew” was handed down
from the elders of a tribe, where the tribe was the only world.
The other tribe is not like us. They are evil. Ungodly. It
was a world where understanding how God worked was a matter of
observing the world. In
that world, science and religion were really one. Observations
of the world meant observations about God.
about this World? – the world where in the last half a
millennium we have made amazing leaps and bounds – striking
observations, fields of
science ranging from biology to astronomy, physics, chemistry,
psychology – all these areas building upon one another. Music,
art, technology, and the
unlimited access to all of this data - And
we are only barely waking to up to the knowledge and wisdom
of what to do with all this information we now have. “What we
know” can hardly keep up with what we are discovering – which
changes what we know. Our observations of the world are not
just put to the test, hypothesized, tested, retested, stamped,
indexed, filed or numbered categorized into truths – and this
truth comes from all over the world.
this world, science and religion are not one.
How do we learn about God? Too often in the world of Christian
laboratories, or as we call it “the local church- How do we
learn about God? Well, you learn that from the Bible.
To so many of
us that is a complete disconnect.
I have been
reading Michael Dowd’s book, Thank God for Evolution:
How the marriage of science and
religion will transform your life and our world. Highly
recommend it – seriously a page turner for me.
Now we’ve all
heard a fundamentalist person say: Don’t tell me I’m related to
Monkeys. Believe me, I’ve been there, I believed what my church
said and when my church said, you were created, not evolved
there I stayed.
Lavanhar, is a UU minister in Oklahoma. His response to “Don’t
tell me I’m related to monkeys: “The fact of the matter is that
now that we have discovered DNA and its code, we know that we
are not only related to monkeys, we are related to zucchini. So
let's get over it."
mission – and it is ambitious – is to bring us all together, all
belief systems, all levels of scientific understanding. He
promises right at the beginning of the book – to the atheists,
to the secular humanists, to Christians, to those who reject and
embrace evolution, and on and on –
that what each holds most dear can be brought into a larger
purpose and deeper meaning.
And shared by
all. And for Christianity his intent is not to just reinvigorate
scripture with scientific data. But to refresh our own ability
to listen for God and the continued revealing of wisdom for our
postmodern and highly interconnected world.
Science and religion cooperate, share, play well together we are
moved to action.
teacher in Ecc . “It’s Meaningless! Meaningless!“ For how long
have we heard others in the church say the same thing about
evolution? That science has butt in on the mysteries of God –
attempted in fact to control God - takes away the mystery – the
power of God – NOT SO!
That is not
my experience at all!
It is because
science has so thoroughly studied, observed, tested “what we
know – or what we believe to be true” – that we see how much
mystery is actually involved – intricate, interconnected,
realities, all nested one inside the other, all creating again
and again – cooperating, competing, motivating one another.
We are at a
critical point in Christianity where many are awakening to the
idea that God did not stop communicating truth to us with the
revelation of these writings. Biblical Scholarship is more
mainstream every year. Right here in this church we cover the
whole spectrum of beliefs about the Bible – inerrant word of God
to “Sister this is a book, don’t make me tell you twice, written
by a bunch of men. Doing their best, God knows. But still.”
And with the newest publications of some of Christianity’s
most popular writers, Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, popular in the
more conservative crowds, publicly applying that scientific
method to our sacred texts – studying and meditating upon the
many and layered contextual elements at play. Using personal
experience to bring new meaning to the texts. And this isn’t
new to this church but it is new to a whole bunch of churches
that think we’re nuts.
all the Christians who are reading his book to recognize how
interconnected science and religion already are. From the small
revelation that we no longer actually understand heaven to be a
place in the stars. But /And also how much we already know
about the stars- I’ll talk more about the stars next week. “The
teacher” could not have known that it is in fact the stars that
we come from, and he did not know that the Earth turns nor why
Religion open doors for one another. Religion gave us a set of
truths, and as we sought more truth we found science. Science
has opened up the universe and we are now able to learn so much
about living things, how the need to survive is great and also
how the need to cooperate is just as great. Where science once
told us that Earth is a machine with its
Scientists are moving away from a
view of the universe as a machine, a mechanistic design and
recognize more and more how the myriad things in the universe
emerge, creatively (random and purposeful).
is NOT meaningless – not even Ecclesiastes – because we can
make new meaning from what we learn, just like Ecclesiastes.
be an act of worship now, children! Parents this is great
news! And Worship can be educational. It goes both ways.
Again – the
Teacher says in v. 4 “Generations come and go but the earth
remains forever” – Again - NOT SO. We know that the earth will
not be here forever. It will be here a long time yes, but
not forever. This is what we understand from science.
things die to give way for new life.
Ah, who taught us that? Religion?And Science. But that is no
reason to just let the Earth die, or even worse to accelerate
all of us to work together to preserve life on Earth. And Our
shared history, as an Earth, as a global community of living
things, is so inescapably wrapped up in the history of all
living things that Dowd says, in quoting so many others, “we are
the Universe itself learning to reflect, respond, talk, hear,
observe itself and move forward.”
sooner we realize that – that we need each other, that we cannot
move forward without each other, the more seamless our efforts
to unite faith traditions, politicians (God help us!), and all
citizens to help our sister earth will be.
that is explained as only competitive and pointless – meaning
‘without purpose’ is just as bad as being handed a Bible and
asked to believe everything you read. “Question nothing. God
is as it says here.”
body of life is cheering us on
– we as a species are the younger
brother of the prodigal – we are waking up, growing up, taking
responsibility – we are the universe becoming conscious of
itself. It’s like reconnecting to God’s grace – we only now
have the eyes to see and ears to hear.
never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing.
Says the Teacher.
We hear the
Earth crying out, demanding action be taken. We feel her pain,
it is our pain.
teaches us that through the communal experience of God’s
activity in the most wounded places of our world, we are
empowered and sent out by the spirit to take action in the
slowly learning that God gives gifts to us in the most unlikely
guises—people we find it hard to like, people with whom we
disagree profoundly, and people we would rather ignore or
marginalize. We are also learning that we can only be a real
community if we’re willing to be faithful to our best and
deepest understanding of the truth.”
-- Presiding Episcopal
Bishop Katherine Schiori
It is Thomas
who asks to see and touch the wounds of Jesus when he appears to
them after his resurrection. For so long we shamed Thomas and
the parts of ourselves that doubt, the part that cannot have
blind faith – I say that is not shameful. We know too much now
to be taken in right away – and apparently so did the Disciples
and biblical writers.
world does not need now is more division, more denial. No more
shame for being a thinking Christian. No more scientists,
physicians, physicists feeling excluded from meaning making,
separated from God. No more hoping that the rapture comes
before we have to deal with the Earth. No more pretending that
the whole Earth, and every single living thing on it is God
itself, God incarnate, and a part of us.
We need to
keep sounding the alarm- to wake up to recognize the
impact we can have on one another globally. Wake up and
understand that we are just one part of the whole – That our
“tribe” is really the whole planet, maybe the universe.
Copernicus may have first revealed, back in the 16th century,
that we are not the center of the universe but as a species we
still behave this way.
We are still waking up as a planet and learning from our
mistakes. We are waking up to the needs of the Earth – she
shakes and quakes and storms for her greater good – it’s
complicated and I’ll do my best to do it justice next week.
But for all
the things the world does not need – air pollution, oil
spills, science and religion apart… what the world does need is
for us to make the necessary changes together for the
We are the
cantors of the universe, called to sing this Earth into the next
millennium. May it be so.