Life is Fifteen Minutes of Vanity

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This is the first in a sermon series on the Book of Ecclesiastes.

Download this sermon (PDF)

Ecclesiastes 1:1-11 (text); Romans 8:18-25
April 28, 2013

“Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life … When we are unhurried and wise, we perceive that only great and worthy things have any permanent and absolute existence … Things do not change, we change.” Henry David Thoreau, 19th century American philosopher wrote this while he lived by a lake called Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. During these two years, he pondered upon the meaning of life and simple living close to nature.

Photo by Hazel Fernando

Photo by Hazel Fernando (click to enlarge)

Like Thoreau, we gather here this weekend in this place called “Nature Discovery Camp” to admire and enjoy the beauty of nature. But unlike Thoreau, we are not here in search of the meaning of life. We don’t have to live close to nature to know that the meaning or purpose of life is “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”

While Thoreau was a 19th century philosopher who pondered the meaning of life, Andy Warhol was no philosopher, but merely a pop artist. Nevertheless, in 1968, he waxed philosophical in saying, “In the future everybody will be world-famous for fifteen minutes.” From this saying came the idiom, “15 minutes of fame.”

Warhol’s only venture from pop art to philosophy echoes what the writer of Ecclesiastes taught 2,500-3,000 years ago. The Preacher, as the writer of the book is often called, begins his book exclaiming, “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” The Hebrew word translated “vanity” is also translated as “meaningless” or “useless.” The Hebrew literally means “vapor, breeze, wind,” so it can refer to something very fleeting or disappearing very quickly. It could also point to the fleeting pleasures of life. Or it can be an expression of frustration, anger, or sorrow. Or maybe, life itself is “vanity” because it is hard to understand even with all wisdom; to try to understand it is useless, “a striving after wind” (Eccl 1:14-15). Thus, the meaning of this word is similar to what James says about our lives, “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (Jas 4:14).

In this book is a catalog of meaningless things “under the sun”: wisdom, pursuit of pleasure, work, and life and death itself. In the first eleven verses, he speaks about life, from fallen man’s point of view, as meaningless. Man’s work is futile, with nothing to gain (verse 3). Life’s cycles never change (verse 4). Creation itself, the universe and the earth, remain the same (verses 5-7). And there is nothing new “under the sun” (verses 9-10).

Finally, old things will not be remembered. Even new things today will be old tomorrow, and will be forgotten (verse 11). This present generation is the best example of this. In the last several years, every time Apple came out with a new iPhone, people would start to camp in long lines to buy the new version, even overnight. Now, some industry analysts say that Apple is on the decline. Some are even saying that Apple might be the next Atari or Compaq—irrelevant and meaningless. Who remembers these two companies? Who remembers the Sony Walkman or those big, round, CD players?

Andy Warhol was right: everyone and everything will be famous for “15 minutes.” The Preacher of Ecclesiastes is even more right: life is meaningless and nothing is new under the sun. But does the Preacher really conclude that life on this earth is vain and meaningless?

Today, we will meditate on the theme, “Life is Fifteen Minutes of Vanity,” under three headings: (1) From a Human Point of View; (2) From God’s Sovereign Decree; and (3) Life is All Vanity, Really?

Read the rest of the sermon here.

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