It's Just Not Fair!

Ecclesiastes 3:16-4: 3; Matthew 7: 24-29

In Ecclesiastes the philosopher comes up with yet a different argument for the emptiness of his life.
He has decided that the false and elusive centers of life won't hold.
Work, learning, success, fun, history, family, sex, acquisition… he has tried them all,
and decided it's like trying to catch the wind.
And he's decided that God puts us on this treadmill of living that is going nowhere and has no purpose.

Then, he turns to a different disappointment.
Ecclesiastes 3:16: "Everywhere on earth I saw violence and injustice instead of fairness
and justice.
" ......righteousness, wickedness was there as well." (Ecclesiastes 3: 16)

He is saying that of all the things that keep own repeating themselves, here is the worst
-- the injustice and wickedness and pain of life.

Then in verse 17, he decides that maybe God will sort things out between the wicked
and the righteous… and hold people accountable.
But his fragile faith won't carry that idea very long, so he slips back to despair.
" We're all animals, anyhow," he says in verse 18.

God cuts us some slack to show our real identity.
We're no better than the animals, and our eternal destiny is just as uncertain.
He has no real confidence in a life beyond the grave.

So we live and die like animals.
What's the use of talking about meaning in a world like that?

So in Ecclesiastes 4: 1-3 he comes to this conclusion: " The world is full of oppression…
the pride and power of people can be heartless and devastating.
Better to be dead than alive in such a world -- in fact, better unborn than to come into such a mess.
He says it again in chapter 7: " The day of death is better than the day of birth." (Verse 1)

So we find in this section of Ecclesiastes complete disillusionment.
In his old age, he steps back and looks at the human experience, and in his detachment,
he has become a very cynical observer.

In our worst moments, this can be the sentiment of every Solomon or Job or Jane among us
-- except that our worst moments are probably not times of cool detachment.
It's when we are slapped around by life and stinging with its hurt that we are apt to say,
" Its just not fair."

And because it's not fair, life can feel pretty empty… and hopeless.
So when we read this section of Ecclesiastes week and feel trapped and helpless
in a world of animal instincts.
But look!
Two- legged animals are different.
We make choices.
We do this by calculation and decision which many other creatures do by instinct and nature.
It is our nature to decide.

The writer of Ecclesiastes is right -- wickedness and injustice often replace goodness and fairness.
Oppression is real.
The misuse of power is real.
The tears of victims are legitimate and real.
But a whole lot of that is reality because we human animals choose injustice and wickedness
and selfishness and sin.

Of course, God has given us the freedom, so, indirectly, we may say that it is God's fault.
And many will shake their fist at God.
But mostly, the choosing is ours.

It is as the Jewish writer Elie Wiesel noted after the death camps of World War II,
" Where was God at Auschwitz or Treblinka or Buchenwald?"
The answer to that question is another question, said Wiesel: " Where was man?"

Where was the man or woman who could do justice, love mercy, be honest, show courage,
and act out of love?
Those men and women were there -- choosing injustice, wickedness, selfishness, and sin.

So, God gives us life and freedom.
He doesn't ask us whether we'll accept it or not… just what we'll do with it.

In the light of that, let us see two things that our Scripture passage tell us.

First, we live with limits.

The writer of Ecclesiastes has some truth for us to see.
Life does not let us have absolute and unhindered freedom.
Winds and tides impose limits.
Ignorance imposes limits.
Our sin and that of others imposes limits.
The interconnectedness of our humanity imposes limits when we make bad judgments
and they produce ripple effects.
We must live with all of those limits.

Also, in the give and take of things, we have learned some truth.
We are black, white, red, yellow, brown, and we are male and female.
We have families who have blessed us and some who have flawed us.
We may live in a society that gives us choices and allows us to vote.
Or we may live in totalitarianism, which makes choices for us and without our consent.

So life is not bestowed on us with total freedom.
There are times when we have little choice about what is.
There are times when we have no choice about what is.

So, what shall we do with this truth -- this reality?

Well we can shake our fist against the God who created reality in such a way.
Or we can be cynical and whine about the unfairness of it all.
Or we can do what one of the men that Jesus told us about in Matthew 7.
That is we can shrug our shoulders, throw up our hands, and say, " Whatever will be will be."

So, let us look at that story because there is a second thing that we should know
about life and freedom, and that is that there is a way to live with limits.

Both Matthew and Luke have this parable.
It ends with Jesus' longest teaching section in the Sermon on the Mount and
the Sermon on the Plain.
Jesus is teaching a way of life in relationship with God.
He is teaching of a friendship and partnership with a loving God who will equip us
to live meaningfully in the world in which we live.

All through this section of Matthew, it is reality.
It is about sin, selfishness, personal conflicts, enemies, family, money, sexuality,
and worry about the future.
That is mostly what the Sermon on the Mount is about.
And Jesus teaches that in the life of discipleship we can learn to live in the real world
with sanity and direction and lasting purpose.

How are we to do this?

We are to do this with a personal relationship with God: in receiving, by faith, God's love
and forgiveness, and by having Jesus Christ not only our role model, but also as our constant
friend and supporter.
The Sermon on the Mount is for disciples.
It is not a set of ethical guidelines address " to whom it may concern."

And at the end of it Jesus has this to say, " Here is the way to live in this world
which is a world of limited choices (and, sometimes, no choices), but we can make this choice,
and that is to build our life on faith in God and not on confusion or despair

Jesus was a carpenter.
He knows about buildings.
One builder takes a hard look at reality.
Flash floods are going to hit, high winds will come, so he must build on a rock-solid foundation.
When life leaves him vulnerable and exposed and without choices, he has already made
the choice that will help him survive.

The other builder surely knows about storms and flash floods, but he has decided that the way
to deal with reality is just to let it come.
In a world of limited choices, he gives up the one main choice that he needs
which is something solid to build on.

Notice, Jesus doesn't say that he is an evil man.
Jesus calls him, " foolish."
He's not wicked, he is just careless.
That's not the way to live with the limits that this world imposes on us.

Right now -- today -- you can make the choice.
You can stand with the philosophy found in Ecclesiastes 4 which is life " under the sun."
You can choose that there is nothing higher or deeper than this world and secular reality.
If that's your choice, then you will believe the writer when he tells you twice what to expect:
" no one to comfort them." (4: 1)

Jesus gives a another choice.
It is a solid foundation of personal faith in the Lord Jesus and of daily discipleship.

Many years ago I read a story about a rich man who employed a builder to build a house.
He told the builder, " Make it the finest house that you can build, and spare no expense."
The builder went to work, and when he was finished, he felt pleased with his work
until the rich man said: " The house is yoursbut only if you live in it."

Then, the corners he had cut and the blotches and weaknesses reminded him that
he could have built it better.

You and I are going to live in what we build.
Every house will be tested by the storms and will be exposed to the harsh realities of life.
We are going to live in our house which is built on the foundation that we have chosen.
Someone has said that if you have a why to live for that you can bear with almost any how.

What is your why?
Will it hold when limits are real and answers are scarce.
Jesus gives us a why for living on the solid foundation of God's love.

Sermon adapted.