Around ten years ago, I’d been pastor for a couple years, and we had a series of months where someone from our congregation died every month. In a couple of those months, two people died in the same month. A total of 8 people passed away in that stretch, and I did all the funerals and interacted with a lot of grieving family members. I wasn’t prepared for it. It rocked me emotionally, and the result was that I couldn’t stop thinking about death. I remember watching the NFL that fall, thinking, “Look at those healthy athletes…they’ll all die.” When I was driving, I was thinking, “I could have an accident anytime…and die.” I started seeing death everywhere, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I didn’t like it. I tried to avoid it.
It didn’t matter, quite frankly, at that point, that I had the hope of eternal life, because death was totally freaking me out. Basically I was embodying what the teacher says here in Ecclesiastes 1:1-11, and I was scared. But along with the Teacher, I came to realize that staring the reality of death in the face is exactly what we need to do. Rather than be scared of it, rather than try to avoid it, we hold the truth of death and the fleetingness of life close, and we add hope. We add hope that says with the Apostle Paul in Philippians 1, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” We can live hopefully in the face of death.
With Paul, we bring a Christian perspective to this passage, something that would have been genuinely new to the Teacher in Ecclesiastes. The Christian view, rooted in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, says that there is a hope of both abundant life in the here and now, and well as eternal life after death. We are a people of hope, who live in hope.
From a Christian perspective, therefore, these verses should remind us of the need for our hearts to be turned towards Kingdom things. Life on earth is fleeting. Time will pass quickly. As I write this in summer 2020, I cannot believe our oldest is married, and he and his wife already celebrated their first anniversary. Our baby girl is about to start high school. In October we will start our 19th year here at Faith Church! Time passes. Life is fleeting.
Because life is fleeting, let’s ask ourselves: what are our lives focused on? What we do with our thoughts, our time, our efforts? Let them be Kingdom focused. There is hope and not despair when we focus our lives on the things of Christ. Don’t let fear, despair and hopelessness hold you back. I think many of us do that. Instead, keep your eyes and your hearts on the things of the Kingdom, not on the things of this earth. That is where the good stuff is. Keep your hearts focused on the things of God. Ask yourself, What does God care about? How can you care about those things more? What do you need to remove that gets in the way? What thoughts about yourself? Your surroundings? Your worth?
As you head into this next week, maybe take some time and think about what will outlast you and what you want your physical time on this earth to be about? Who or what can you invest in that will make a difference for the Kingdom of God? That is where the good stuff is. That is where hope is alive.
I’ve seen a lot of hope this summer, even in the middle of a year in crisis. People serving in the summer lunch club. People sharing vegetables from their gardens. People gathering on Zoom, in parks, or in a variety of ways, to encourage one another during the pandemic. People reaching out to those who are hurting, making meals, sending cards, calling one another on the phone. People advocating for justice and truth on their social media accounts, going to rallies, doing book studies online.
I turn on the TV, and I feel the hope drain out of my life, but when I sit back and think about it, there are so many ways we can latch on to and amplify the hope we have in Jesus. Life is short. That’s the truth. And in the days we’re given, let’s keep our eyes and actions focused on Jesus and the mission of his Kingdom.
Remember Chadwick Boseman, the actor who died at age 43? He is an example of hope. Not only did he make movies like Black Panther and others that focused on hope, but he did it while he was battling cancer, including multiple surgeries and rounds of chemo. But it wasn’t just the movies. Boseman, at the same time, visited St. Jude’s hospital to bring gifts and encourage children battling with cancer.
That is what hope looks like, while embracing the hard truth that life is short. That is how to battle fear and live hopefully. How will you battle fear and live hopefully?