Given my training and my experience, when our pastor of twenty-one years departed for Missouri and retirement, it was not a great shock to me that the congregation asked me to both serve as interim pastor as well as to chair the committee tasked with finding someone to become our permanent pastor.
Six months have passed now.
On Sunday I completed—finally—a sermon series I’ve been doing since August on the book of Ecclesiastes (interrupted by three Christmas sermons and one for the New Year). When I began this process, I had expected that we would have found a new pastor by now. This has not happened. In fact, we seem little closer to success in that search than when we first began—except that I have discovered to my surprise that I don’t dislike preaching on a weekly basis as much as I imagined I would. In fact, I’m rather enjoying it.
And people seem to be enjoying listening to me each week. That’s a good thing, I suppose. In a recent sermon on Ecclesiastes, I pointed out that the traditional author of the book of Ecclesiastes was thought to be Solomon. Certainly its author positions himself as both a rich and powerful man, while the biblical book of 1 Kings describes Solomon as rich, powerful, and with great knowledge and wisdom. He had it all.
Wouldn’t it be great to be Solomon?
But the thing is, I realized in just about every way we are living better than Solomon ever could. We live longer, healthier lives, and have greater access to health care than Solomon would ever imagine. We have beautiful high definition TVs, comfortable furniture, beds, showers and toilets, running hot and cold water, controlled, constant inside temperatures, access to food he could only imagine, much of which would be considered the highest luxury even a century ago. I can eat fresh fruit and vegetables all year round, at reasonable prices. Solomon couldn’t. I can travel across country, or anywhere in the world, in less than a day. Solomon couldn’t.
There is just so much we take for granted: floors that aren’t made of dirt; glass windows, universal education. Automobiles. Trains. Airplanes. Radio. Books that are cheap or free and available to everyone.
In fact, we have instant access to all the world’s accumulated knowledge. If I wonder who the actor is on the TV show I’m watching, or whether he was also in that other movie—I can just google him or go to IMDB.com. If I wonder what the capital of Chile is, I can use Google, or I can just ask Siri.
I’ve got this cylinder in my home, about a foot tall and about as big around as a water glass. It’s called an Echo and I got it from Amazon.com. I can ask it questions about anything and get a rational answer; it will do math problems; it will convert quarts to liters or cups to pints or gallons. I can ask it to play any music I want, tell me the news, ask the time or weather, get it to tell me jokes, play a game with me, or just have it read to me any book I have on my Kindle.
It’s my slave. Solomon had slaves to make his food, play music for him, entertain him. We have microwaves, Pandora, and Netflix. We have more at our fingertips, and faster, and better, than he could even imagine.
We are Solomon: we are more prosperous, more powerful, and have more knowledge than he did. Ever. Even the poorest among us. For instance, a few weeks ago I met a homeless person in the parking lot at my local Walmart. He had a cellphone. It was free for him. That cellphone gives him access to all the world information in a heartbeat, the ability to communicate with anyone on the planet instantly: by text, voice or even video. We went into Walmart where I bought him some clothing and some items of toiletry so he’d look good for his first day of work the next day. Am I rich? Compared to Solomon, yeah.
Each of us is a Solomon, more than a Solomon. Prosperity is easy. Our poorest, the homeless, they aren’t exactly starving. This homeless man had a 42-inch waste (I know, because I bought him pants). He didn’t ask me for food. He asked me for toothpaste, deodorant, soap—so he wouldn’t smell bad at his new job. New boxers, a shirt, a pair of pants. He already had clothing on his back and shoes on his feet, but he wanted some that didn’t smell like he was sleeping in a field.
We have prosperity. We have health. We have wealth beyond Solomon’s dreams.
That isn’t enough. We ask and our neighbors ask: is this all there is? Solomon shows us that being a king, being Solomon—it isn’t enough.
Jim Elliot, the missionary who lost his life as a martyr, wrote: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
Solomon was wealthy and powerful, just like us, and just like us, just like our neighbors, too often he was in despair. We have it all and feel as if we have nothing. But is this all there is? Our truncated lives, these seventy, eighty, ninety years? What lasts? What can we do that will survive?
The Talmud says, “save a life—you’ve saved a world.” People were created in the image of God. So put your efforts into them.