21st Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 24) LSB #’s 783, 785
Text – Ecclesiastes 5:13, 16
There is a grievous evil that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owner to his hurt… This also is a grievous evil: just as he came, so shall he go, & what gain is there to him who toils for the wind?
TOILING FOR THE WIND
The video you’re about to see was taken while I was on sabbatical. We visited Judy, my sister who lives on the north side of Chicago. While there we went to the Chicago Botanical Gardens & that day it was hosting its annual kite show. To be honest, I didn’t expect much more than a bunch of children running around flying kites.
Instead, we saw numerous impressive demonstrations. In this video, it took about 20 seconds for me to zoom in & get the feel for following the kites. After that the video improves.
Now, a kite is a fairly simple object, yet the interplay of the music, the wind & the kites was fascinating to experience. The human flyers choreographing it all are the key. They have to work together so they don’t tangle their lines, or crash their kites into each other. They have to listen to the music & turn the kites in synchrony with it.
It’s a lot like human dancing, except for an added variable. Most of all, the kite flyers have to “feel” the wind, & read it, so they know how to adapt the routine they’ve planned to any variations. You see, there are always variations. No matter how much they plan & practice their routine, the wind never blows in exactly the same way twice.
St. John’s Gospel, chapter 3, describes that phenomenon: “The wind blows where it wishes, & you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.” (verse 8a ESV). Human dancers have to listen to the music & turn together. Kite flyers have to listen to the music, turn together, & make adjustments on the fly, together, according to changes in the wind. Now, listen to all of verse 8 from John’s Gospel to hear the point Jesus was illustrating: “The wind blows where it wishes, & you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
You & I do not know where the Spirit comes from or where it goes. The problem that creates for God’s children is this, we have to learn to make adjustments on the fly. I grew up as a university of Michigan fan, because that’s where my father graduated from. Now, I’m a Michigan State fan. I graduated from high school planning on studying to become an engineer.
Less than a year later I joined the Navy & signed up for the nuclear power program. I planned on working at a civilian power plant when my six year enlistment was up. When I got out of the Navy, I moved back home & planned on working in my electrical contracting business until I retired. One thing I never planned on was becoming a pastor.
Those are big picture changes, & though I had to make adjustments on the fly, none of them were fast moving. The ebb & flow of life also requires us to make changes to the details of our plans & those tend to be much more rapid decisions.
With 10 seconds left in the game, the university of Michigan punter fumbles the snap. Should he try to get the punt off, or should he attempt to fall on the ball & cover it up? That required a rapid adjustment on the fly. Coach Harbaugh certainly did not choreograph the play in that manner.
Life as a child of God also requires us to make rapid decisions, choices that can affect our spiritual life, & the life of those around us. Someone says a word that makes you angry. On a dime your heart & attitude change instantly. How do you respond? Do you fight fire with fire? Do you turn the other cheek?
Or, do you make a huge & embarrassing blunder. Then someone calls you on it. Now, you’re faced with the instantaneous decision of owning up to it, or denying it. On the surface that’s all you see. Spiritually speaking, however, you will be making a choice to continue on the path with Jesus, or to turn away from Him. Do you own up, or deny? Follow the truth & suffer embarrassment, or do you follow a lie, in the false hope of saving face?
Everyone who is born of the spirit hears its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. The future is known only to God. Yet, every day we’re challenged by our sinful & by our saintly nature. Do we toil for the wind, or do we put ourselves last because we trust that Jesus will eventually make us first?
Toiling for the wind is something that Solomon strongly discourages. Chasing the wind is a waste of time. We can’t collect it. We can use it, like windmills do, but not gather it up & store it. Manna was the same in the wilderness. They could use it but not store it up. Kite flyers can use the wind, but they can’t keep it locked away for another day.
In Ecclesiastes, Solomon equates the wind with money. “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income…” King Solomon had experimented with everything this life has to offer. In the end, he found himself to be the richest empty-hearted man in the world.
Many a person who has made his or her first million will simply shrug their shoulders & blindly press on in pursuit of the second. When material goods are the goal in life they never satisfy. As Solomon said, under the Holy Spirit’s direction, fulfillment comes from the work itself, not from the pay.
If pay becomes the measure of your worth, it creates an open-ended situation where enough is never enough. The work becomes joyless because it ended up secondary to the pay. “There is a grievous evil that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owner to his hurt… As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, & shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand.” Solomon’s point is a simple one, we come into this life with nothing & we leave the same way. We leave the world with the same amount stuff that we entered the world. Financially speaking, both the rich & poor break even.
Solomon continues, “This also is a grievous evil: just as he came, so shall he go, & what gain is there to him who toils for the wind? Moreover, all his days he eats in darkness in much vexation & sickness & anger.”
That’s what toiling for the wind is good for. That’s all it can lead to, because toiling for wealth is like trying to store up the wind. It always leads us away from God, & the end of that road is nothing but vexation & sickness & anger. It’s like the chipmunk that was in our back yard a couple of weeks ago.
I was outside walking the cat, who was stalking his way towards the neighbor’s pine tree. Since the little critter was on the back side of the tree, I couldn’t see him until we got closer. As I approached around the right side of the tree, I saw the rodent busily stuffing his cheeks with birdseed. Being only a foot from the tree he must have figured he could outrun me up the tree.
He just gave me a cursory glance over his shoulder & kept on eating. Unknown to him, however, our cat was stalking him around the left side of the tree. Distracted by my seemingly unthreatening appearance Mr. Chipmunk didn’t see the feline predator until it was too late. Too late to get away that is. Don’t feel bad, we make our cat practice catch & release.
Mr. Chipmunk lived to see another day. You & I should learn from his obsession with gaining wealth, because Satan does not practice catch & release. He uses wealth as the bait, but it is our obsession with it which destroys. Every time God calls us on it we’re faced with the instantaneous decision of owning up to it, or denying it. Do we get back on the path with Jesus, or do we just give Him a cursory glance over our shoulder, continue to ignore Him & keep on stuffing our cheeks with birdseed?
You & I do not know where the Spirit comes from or where It goes. The problem that presents for God’s children is this, we have to learn to make adjustments on the fly. In order to have life, we need to listen to the music, which is the Word of God. We need to work together, making adjustments on the fly, as we ‘read the wind’ of God’s Holy Spirit & follow His lead.
How are we doing, here at St. Matthew, in reading the wind? What are we doing to adjust to the vast changes in our culture & our community? Or, are we just toiling for treasures here on earth, where moth & rust destroy, & where thieves break in & steal? Shouldn’t we, instead, be toiling for treasures in heaven, which are eternal?
“And Jesus looked around & said to His disciples, ‘How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’” Wealth, & even regular blessings, do not make us happy unless we realize, & acknowledge every day, that they come from God. Look at how many have no relationship with Jesus & are unhappy even though they are wealthy.
“And [the disciples] were exceedingly astonished, & said to Him, ‘Then who can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them & said, ‘With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.’” (Mark 10:26-27 ESV)
In spite of the fact that all the presidential candidates are wealthier than any of us, several of them are making a big deal in this campaign about the evils of money. It’s true, money is often used for evil, but nowhere in the Bible does it ever call money evil. It does say:
“…the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith & pierced themselves with many sorrows.” (1 Timothy 6:10 NLT) That is the point that God’s Word, & not the presidential candidates, is addressing. Toiling for the wind is how Solomon described it, because the love of money can never gather enough of it. And the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for it always leads us on a path away from the Savior of our sins. If you remember from last week, that’s what unbelief looks like
Due to the love of money, it easily becomes an idol, & they are not to be toyed with. As a countermeasure, one strategy is to give things away. Sell that expensive home or car & get out from under payments that are stressing life & family. Stop pursuing whatever the next thing is that comes along through the smart phone or the Gameboy which promises to entertain you.
Slow down. Ponder what it is to be a creature whose needs are met by a loving Father. Look our culture in the eye, & tell it, “no.” Long for what God is doing in Jesus, for you & for the world. Seek 1st God’s reign in your life, & all these things will be added unto you. Thus we pray to our heavenly Father, “…give us this day our daily bread…”
There’s no need to be toiling for the wind. It’s a never-ending cycle where we lose sight of the goal for which our heavenly Father created us. We get lost in our own choreography, so Jesus has promised to send the Holy Spirit to choreograph our lives for us. He knows the will of our heavenly Father, reads it perfectly, & guides & directs the days of our lives according to it.
This OT reading teaches about the utter folly of making 2nd things 1st. We are physical beings & need a certain amount of possessions. This text is not a call to asceticism or to denial of the physical. Rather, it is a call to faith & to the acknowledgement that, ultimately, every good thing I have in life is what God has given to me.
This faith is rooted in the Messiah who taught that our heavenly Father provides for the lilies of the field & the sparrows who neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns. That same heavenly Father has washed away all of our failures, all of our sins, because Jesus’ holiness is now ours. Having already received eternal life what else is there to toil for? For that reason, in the joy & freedom of God’s everlasting love, we listen to the music of God’s Word. As His Church here on earth we synchronize the efforts of our ministry with each other, & we “read the wind” of the Holy Spirit as He guides & directs us in the choreography of our lives. Amen.
Take my life & let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee; take my moments & my days, let them flow in ceaseless praise. Take my voice & let me sing always, only for my King; take my lips & let them be filled with messages from Thee. Take my silver & my gold, not a mite would I withhold; take my intellect & use every power as Thou shalt choose. Take my will & make it Thine, it shall be no longer mine; take my heart, it is Thine own, it shall be Thy royal throne. Amen.
 Ecclesiastes 5:10
 Ecclesiastes 5:13, 15
 Ecclesiastes 5:16-17
 Mark 10:23
Pastor Dean R. Poellet