Sunday, February 9, 2014

Satisfied // Remember


sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 02/09/2014
video available at
podcast here:
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I’m 43 now, and fighting a losing battle with my body.

I went to play basketball with some friends from the church, and some neighbors a couple of weeks ago. On the way, we were all bemoaning various injuries and aches and pains. Quietly, in my head, I started cataloguing my ailments. My left wrist, for example. I hurt it a year and a half ago that still isn’t up to snuff, and no matter how well it gets, the odds of it ever being as strong as it once was are slim to none. My right wrist and hand I’d hurt when I slipped on the ice and fallen earlier that week. My left knee was sore from the same fall. My right Achilles tendon was tender from a 2 year old rupture that had been acting up while jumping rope the day before. My right hip was sore from compensating for it, and had been for about 9 months. My right ring finger is permanently disfigured from being disjointed playing touch football with some junior high students when I was a youth pastor.

I cracked a joke to the guys in the car from the back seat. “I feel bad for some of you guys. I’m just lucky that I’m not injury prone.” “Ha!” said Ross, who was driving the car and knew better from playing hoops with me since he was in high school. “We’ve got a pool on you. We all bought squares last week on what you’ll hurt next, and when.”



We've all got them.  Various sizes and shapes and conditions.  

They are also one of our greatest sources of dissatisfaction. Maybe they aren’t tall enough, strong enough, flexible enough, shapely enough, thin enough, fast enough, and on and on. They get sick. Injured. Old. Hairy. Bald. Blind. Sore. Wrinkly. Saggy. Smelly. We wish we had someone else’s. We wish ours was more like it used to be. Whatever.


For some of us, maybe many, satisfaction and our bodies is a constant struggle. We do that if I could just __________, then I’d be __________ equation all the time. If I could just lose 10 lbs (20, 30, 100?), then I’d be _________. If my _________ would heal, then life would be so much better. If I looked like _________, then ________. If I could just fix ___________, or have better ___________, then I wouldn’t feel shame.

Which is a bit of a problem all on its own, since research shows that the less satisfied we are with our bodies, the more likely we are to engage in behaviors that only make us less healthy.  But even beyond that, questions remain. What does a satisfied life look like when it comes to our bodies?  How do bodies fit in a satisfied life? How do we relate to them?

Before we look at Ecclesiastes 12 (our text for today), let’s briefly review a few key things we’ve learned from the Teacher in Ecclesiastes.


Every created thing in this world that is subject to time (what Ecclesiastes refers to as “under the sun”) is fleeting, insubstantial, and ultimately will resist even our best attempts to control it. It is, in the words of the Teacher, vapor.


The satisfied person, according to the Teacher, is not defined by the quality of their vapor management. They might be rich. They might be poor. Their lives might be all in order or all out of order. What they have in common is the profound awareness that life, all of it, is a gift from God to be appreciated and enjoyed.

This is why the teacher in Ecclesiastes is here to disrupt us. To shake us from chasing after the wind. To get us to stop. To look around. To feel the wind of God’s breath blowing against our skin right here, right now. To feel the warmth of the sun he made to shine on us. To receive God in the person before us, to receive him in the meal prepared for us, to receive him in the good work prepared in advance for us to do.

Because if he can get us to see how fleeting everything we look to for satisfaction truly is, if he can get us to see how little control it can really offer us, how little control we ultimately have over our world, then there is hope we might start, finally, to look to God for everything, where true satisfaction is found.

Jesus says it this way in Matthew 6v33


But seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well …

God’s kingdom started before time, and will extend beyond time. God’s love, his provision, his power, the life of the ages, it’s eternal. Don’t seek after what you will eat, or what you will drink or what you will wear – the pagans look for satisfaction in these things. The Father knows what you need.

It’s as if Jesus is saying, all of these things, food, drink, clothing, money, our bodies, our very lives, it’s all gift, an expression of the Father’s love, a container of his love, and when you see that, when you become aware of that, you’ll finally know what to do with it.

And so we are learning from Ecclesiastes how to let our lives be an expression of God’s gifts to us, a response to the joy we find in his gifts, instead of a search for satisfaction in anything other than God himself.


And we discussed a bit that the beginning of movement in that direction always starts by shifting our fear from the destructive fear of scarcity and futility (which are like shadows, unreality) to the life-giving fear of God, who loves us and is the foundation of all that is real.

With that all in mind, let’s look at Ecclesiastes 12, which is all about these bodies of ours (even though that may not be obvious, at first glance).


12 Remember your Creator

in the days of your youth,

before the days of trouble come

and the years approach when you will say,

“I find no pleasure in them”—

2before the sun and the light

and the moon and the stars grow dark,

and the clouds return after the rain;


3when the keepers of the house tremble,

and the strong men stoop,

when the grinders cease because they are few,

and those looking through the windows grow dim;

4when the doors to the street are closed

and the sound of grinding fades;

when people rise up at the sound of birds,

but all their songs grow faint;


5when people are afraid of heights

and of dangers in the streets;

when the almond tree blossoms

and the grasshopper drags itself along

and desire no longer is stirred.

Then people go to their eternal home

and mourners go about the streets.


6Remember him—before the silver cord is severed,

and the golden bowl is broken;

before the pitcher is shattered at the spring,

and the wheel broken at the well,

7and the dust returns to the ground it came from,

and the spirit returns to God who gave it.


8“Meaningless [Vapor]! Meaningless [Vapor]!” says the Teacher.

“Everything is meaningless [vapor]!”

The indentations in this section of the Bible are a way of indicating that we are reading poetry here. It’s poetry using another language (Hebrew), and using word images from an ancient culture that might be obscure to us, so it takes a little work to access its meaning. So let’s do that together first, and then we can try to learn what the Teacher is trying to teach us.


“In the days of your youth….before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars grow dark…”

What’s being set up here is the idea that our bodies start out young, but it’s not long before they begin to deteriorate and fail with age. And one of the primary experiences of that, especially in the ancient world, was blindness. Especially without corrective lenses. The moon and stars growing dark suggest failing eyesight. Even for me, in my relative youthfulness, if I go outside on a cloudless night without my contacts or glasses, the sky looks black to me. There might also be the suggestion of our bodies getting colder and having a hard time staying warm, and even the idea that our cognitive capacities can diminish over the years.


“…clouds return after the rain…”

This is what I’m experiencing with respect to aches and pains. It used to be, when I was young, I’d get hurt (that’s the rain bit) and then I’d recover fully, relatively quickly. The rain would come, but then clear skies. Now? Not so much. The clouds return after the rain. I get hurt, and maybe get a little better, but the chance of re-injury is just a matter of time. And the pain is almost never completely gone.


“…the keepers of the house tremble…”

Keepers of the house is a common metaphor for hands. So we’re talking about trembling hands here.

“…strong men stoop…”

Muscles go slack.

“…grinders cease because they are few…”

Losing teeth. [root canal experience…]

“and those looking through the windows grow dim…”

Failing eyesight again, here.

“…when the doors to the street are closed and the sound of grinding fades…”

Picture two doors, and when they are opened, the sounds of the street come into the house. The poet is describing hearing loss.

“…rising at the sound of birds...”

Not sleeping very well any more, woken even by birds whose songs you can only barely hear with your failing ears.


“…afraid of heights and dangers in the streets…”

Hard to get out and about anymore. Your driver’s license gets taken away.


“…when the almond tree blossoms…”

Hair going white.


“…the grasshopper drags itself along and desire is no longer stirred…”

Oh my. Please don’t make me spell this one out.

Maybe do this. Picture a grasshopper, which normally hops, strong and sure, explosively powerful legs…now dragging itself along, limping, limp.

We’re talking specifically about a man here. About his Jiminy Cricket.

There you go. Yup, you got it.

“…people go to their eternal home, and mourners go about…”

In Solomon’s culture, you’d hire professional mourners to grieve you publicly, getting the word out about your death.

Which reminds me…have you driven past Marble Memorial Cemetery on Platt Road, recently? Not long ago, this sign showed up in front of it…


After a minute of reflection, it was obvious that this wasn’t a cemetery sign, but an unfortunate (or brilliant!) placement for a sign from the city to give people a good feeling about Milan on the way out. Shortly afterwards, I saw this sign on Main, near Kroger, placed for people leaving heading west and leaving the city…


Which, it occurs to me, also would have been pretty funny in front of the cemetery….but alas, behind it, is this boarded up, dilapidated house…



Ok, enough of that…back to the text.

“…before the silver cord is severed, and the golden bowl is broken…”


Imagine your soul connected via a sliver cord to your body, a valuable bowl containing oil, representing your life, and that cord being severed, and the bowl falling, shattering, the oil running out.

“…before the pitcher is shattered at the spring…”

A similar idea, but this time life like water that your body, like a pitcher contains.

“…dust returns…spirit returns…”

The last image is more familiar to us, rooted in the creation account in Genesis. Dust (out of which our bodies were formed) returning to the ground, our spirit (or breath – it’s the same word) returning to God who gave it to us in the first place, reaffirming the idea of our lives as a gift from him.

Through all of this, the Teacher is suggesting one thing we need to do. He’s laying out the human condition, the reality of our bodies that are sure to die, and that, at best, have only fleeting health and youth and vigor and full functionality, and saying, here’s what we should do in light of all that.


Remember your creator.

Simple and profound wisdom that changes everything when it comes to our dissatisfied, frustrated relationship with our bodies.

Remember your creator.

All of our dissatisfaction has its roots in forgetting our creator. In forgetting that our bodies are gifts from someone who formed them and gave them to us for a joyful purpose.

When we forget our creator, we look at our bodies and we want them to do something for us.

We want them to make us live forever.

We want them to give us pleasure.

We want them to give us control over our surroundings and our lives and our activities.

We want them to impress others.

Maybe to give us dominance over others.

Or at the very least, to keep us from being dependent on others.

We begin to see our bodies as us, as an expression of us.

We are arrogant about them, or shamed.

We have confidence in them, or fear of their failing or inadequacy.

We want them to give us something to love about ourselves, and instead we loathe them, and ourselves along with them.

They will never ever satisfy us.

They are vapor. Looking for satisfaction in them is like chasing after the wind.

Remember your creator.


God made something (you, your body) out of the vapor that is a container of and expression of his love. He has made, out of this fleeting, time-bound, under the sun stuff, an image-bearer that can contain eternity, the life of the ages, the life of God. A wonder that bears witness to his love to all who encounter it. You, an embodied synthesis of spirit and dust, are a wonder of wonders.

You are, first and foremost, a container of his love to you. You are an expression of his love to you. The creator took dust, matter, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, protons and neutrons, electrons, quarks, and shaped it into you. You are fleeting, insubstantial, under-the-sun vapor that can breathe. And feel. And think. And know. And live. And love with his love. Eternity is in your heart. Because he chose you. Because he loves you. He gave you a body. Through which and in which you can experience the gift of life.

You are the steward of this thing he has made. This body. It’s made by his hands, but it’s in your hands now. Under your dominion and care. Freely given to you in love.

What will you do with it? How will you relate to it?

Remember your creator.

This is the wisdom of the Teacher.

Remember your creator.

Each time you consider your body and you receive it afresh as a gift, a container of and expression of God’s love, you are remembering your creator. You are remembering that you were shaped and formed out of the vapor as a container of and expression of God’s love.

Each time you consider your body, and the question before you is, “how can I let this body serve as a container of and expression of God’s love to the rest of the creation” you are remembering your creator. You are remembering that you were shaped and formed out of the vapor as a container of and expression of God’s love. And that your relationship to your body is therefore one of steward, not creator.

Sing. Shout. Dance. Kneel. Raise your arms. Stretch out your arms. Clap. Play an instrument.

Does fear of scarcity or futility drive your actions?

Then you have forgotten your creator. You have taken the gift and made yourself yours, dependent on yourself.

Or do you do what you do as a response to the joy that comes from receiving the gift?

If so, you are remembering your creator.







Does scarcity or fear of failure drive your actions?

Then you have forgotten your creator. You have taken the gift and made yourself yours, dependent on yourself.

Or do you do what you do as a response to the joy that comes from receiving the gift?

If so, you are remembering your creator.

The primary benefit in remembering your creator, of course, is that your satisfaction is rooted in God, and not in your body. Which means your satisfaction is secure and deep. Because God is above the sun and eternal, unlike your body which is under the sun and fleeting.

There is a secondary benefit, too. Which is that when our satisfaction is in God and not in things under the sun, we relate in much healthier ways to all the fleeting things, including our bodies. We can creatively cooperate with God in increasing their capacity to be containers of and expressions of his love. We can actually enjoy the gift of our bodies, in whatever state they are currently in, without our joy being stolen or corrupted by fear. And we can steward them out of that joy, which is the only effective kind of stewardship.

One final thought before a practical suggestion or two.

This remembering thing goes two ways.

The first way, we just talked about. We remember our creator, and we have a profound awareness that our bodies are gifts from his hands. And they become containers of and expressions of his love again, agents of joy in our lives, moment by moment, as long as they last.

The second way follows from the first, and is perhaps even more exciting.

When we remember our creator, our fleeting lives are connected to eternity, and become bound up with eternity.

And the promise of Jesus and his resurrection is that God will remember us after our old creation bodies have released our spirits.

He will re-member us.

He will give us new creation bodies like Jesus’ resurrection body.

Do you recall the thief on the cross next to Jesus?


Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

Today, Jesus said, you will be with me in paradise.

John Polkinghorne, a physist and angelical priest, says that all matter is, at the most basic level, information. That we are, fundamentally, information about how all of our atoms are arranged, information about how they relate to one another, information about the experiences that caused them to be in those arrangements. And he says that when we die, God holds the information, every last detail of it, all of it that makes us who we are, bodies and spirits, in himself. And at the resurrection, he re-members us. He takes the information that is us, and re-creates us out of the new creation materials of the second creation, no longer fleeting, subject to decay, the heavens and the earth no longer divided between that which is under the sun and that which is above the sun.

[Bible nerd note: God remembers Noah and the animals in Genesis 8 – the flood is a foreshadowing of the new creation / remembering is how new creation begins…]

Do you recall what time it was when Jesus rose from the dead? It was before dawn it says in the scriptures. His resurrection body was a body made before the sun had risen. A body still that breathes and eats and feels and contains the record of his suffering in his scars, but also a body that suffers no longer, that decays no longer, a body that has eternity not just in its heart, but is shot through with the stuff of heaven.

This is what awaits all who, with Jesus, remember our creator, and receive our bodies as gifts from his hand, to be stewarded with joy, surrendered in worship as living sacrifices to God, and offered to the world as containers of and expressions of God’s immense and wondrous love.


Practical Suggestions:

1. Remember your creator in Worship.

Sing. Clap. Do something with your body posture. Kneel. Bow. Raise your hands. Dance if you want. Avoid a posture of firm control. If your work is physical at all, this week, mindfully offer your physical effort as worship. Or your exercise or play or recreation or even sleep.

2. Remember your creator in meals.

Use eating as a chance to be aware of the gift of your body. Give thanks for the meal. Enjoy the flavors and textures and pleasures of eating.

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