May 1, 2011
Only The Lonely – Part 6
Pastor Philip De Courcy
Ecclesiastes 4: 1-16

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Invite you to take your Bible and turn to Ecclesiastes, chapter four. I want to pick up the theme of Ecclesiastes, chapter four, only the lonely. Throughout this chapter, Solomon picks up the theme of the vanity of lonely, how we can find ourselves estranged in a world teeming with people, and how true that is even in our society. We’re the most connected generation that’s ever lived on Planet Earth and probably the most disconnected relationally.
Solomon says, and we’ll read all of the chapter together, “Then I returned and considered all the oppression that is done under the sun and looked at the tears of the oppressed, but they have no comforter. On the side of their oppressors, there is power, but they have no comforter. Therefore, I praise the dead who were already dead more than the living who are still alive, yet better than both is he who has never existed, who has not seen the evil work that is done under the sun. Again, I saw that for all toil and every skillful work, a man is envied by his neighbor. This also is vanity and grasping for the wind.
“The fool folds his hands and consumes his own flesh, better a handful with quietness than both hands full together with toil and grasping for the wind. Then I returned, and I saw vanity under the sun. There is one alone without companion. He has neither son nor brother, yet there is no end to all his labors, nor is his eye satisfied with riches. But he never asks, ‘For whom do I toil and deprive myself of good?’ This also is vanity and a grave misfortune. Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion, but woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up. Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
“But how can one be warm alone? Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him, and a threefold cord is not quickly broken. Better a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king who will be admonished no more, for he comes out of prison to be king, although he was born poor in his kingdom. I saw all of the living who walk under the sun. They were with the second youth who stands in his place. There was no end of all the people over whom he was made king, yet those who come afterward will not rejoice in him. Surely this also is vanity and grasping for the wind.”
Well, we trust that God will use his word in our lives and in those who hear this beyond the service. Rose Russell was 25 years of age. She was far more successful than most men twice her age. She was a partner in a real estate and investment firm here in Newport Beach, California. She was the owner of a string of properties in the beach area which were certainly coveted properties. She drove fancy cars. She ate in nice restaurants, but at age 25 with all this seeming success, she went into a motel room. She sat down and she wrote a plaintive note and then she took her life. Here’s what her note said. “I’m so tired of clapping with one hand.” Isn’t that sad? Can’t you hear the loneliness? With all her apparent success, her soul was shriveled. She felt impoverished and isolated. Clapping with one hand is indeed a disheartening and ultimately deadly way to live.
The fact is, as Solomon says here in Ecclesiastes 4:9, “Two are better than one.” That’s always been the case. That will always be the case. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m sure you have, life is a team sport. We feed off one another. We excel physically, emotionally, spiritually, intellectually in the company of other people. The person who says they don’t need anybody has a fool for a friend and an idiot for a teacher. God said it is not good that man should be alone. God is building a Lego society, isn’t he? Most of us at some point has played with Lego. Remember those old solitary pieces? But you know what? Although they’re individual, they’re meant to be connected. Although we are individuals in and of ourselves with particular bends and traits and gifts and backgrounds, you and I are meant to be connected with one another.
God is building a Lego society. You and I excel in the company of other people. Loneliness is disastrous and deadly. It’s one of the vanities of life. It’s one of the things that will work against us and we must stand against. So as we come back into Ecclesiastes chapter four, Solomon picks up this whole theme of loneliness. It’s sewn throughout the fabric, the wolf and the wharf of Solomon’s thinking here. He sets before us a number of scenarios. We’re introduced to a number of people who belong to the Lonely Hearts Club. Their loneliness is being caused by different things. Now, if we can rewind back to where we started here some weeks ago and remember we went off on a tangent for a number of weeks in the whole issue of contentment, which I know was worth it, let me just reestablish the material we’ve already covered.
In verses one to three, Solomon brings before us loneliness caused by cruelty. You have the cry of the oppressed, the person that seems to have no one arguing their case. The power seems to be in the hands of the wrong kind of people, the wicked, the heartless, the tyrant. We have loneliness caused by cruelty. Then, we’ve got loneliness caused by covetousness. We’re introduced to someone here who is driven by a desire to outdo his neighbor in terms of the things that he accumulates, the riches he amasses. He’s not satisfied with one handful and quietness. He’s out to grasp more and more and more. You’ve got this whole issue of rivalry. You’ve got the whole rat race scenario here in verses four through six, loneliness caused by cruelty, loneliness caused by covetousness.
If we were to pick up that last thought, we have before us in verses four through six, a person who does not understand this balance of rest and work. That brings us again into verse eight where we’re introduced again to someone who himself is given over to work, the workaholic who labors to enjoy the fruit of his labor. But there’s a problem for this guy. He does it alone. This is loneliness caused by circumstances, loneliness caused by circumstances. Verse seven and eight, “Then I returned and I saw vanity under the sun. There’s one alone without companion. He has neither son nor brother, yet there is no end to all his labors, nor is his eye satisfied with riches, but he never asks, ‘For whom do I toil and deprive myself of good?’ This also is vanity and a grave misfortune.” In these verses, Solomon sets before us another member of the Lonely Hearts Club. But this time, this man’s loneliness has been brought about by force of circumstances. The first scenario is loneliness caused by others, the oppressor on top of the oppressed.
In the second scenario, you have loneliness as a self-inflicted wound, the greedy grubber, the materialist who’s never content, never satisfied. But here, we’ve got a scenario where you have loneliness caused by force of circumstance. Not everybody’s loneliness is their own fault. I think that’s the case with this man here in verse eight. Perhaps he never married. That’s why he’s got no son and certainly doesn’t relate to the fact that he’s got no brother. It doesn’t mean that he didn’t want to marry. Just perhaps, circumstances didn’t allow it, or maybe he threw himself into his career too early and he’s playing catch up. I don’t know. Maybe he’s a widower. Maybe he was widowed early in his life, and therefore he’s without family. Something of that is the picture before us, but we know that this guy is by himself. There is one alone without companion. He has neither son nor brother. This man is quite alone without son or sibling.
In fact, that’s interesting, because the whole issue of inheritance is brought up. Although he doesn’t ask the question, it’s natural to ask the question. Hey, you’re working so hard, but for who? Someday you’re going to die like the fool in Luke 12 and leave it all behind. So why are you throwing yourself into your career? You have nobody to share it with. You go back to your fancy apartment with a view to the beach, but you sit there by yourself. You drive in the car by yourself. You listen to music at home by yourself. You watch movies by yourself. Once in a while, you go out with your friends, but you know what? Most of the time you’re home late, working late, because you brought a bunch of stuff from the office. That’s the kind of picture we have here.
The two relationships that might benefit the most from this man’s toil are absent. There’s no apparent heir in a son, and there’s no brother even in the wider family that will enjoy the fruit of this man’s labor. You know what? In that context, that’s devastating. Remember, this is a Jewish audience. This is the Nation of Israel. It’s a covenant community. It’s all about passing on the land that you’ve inherited, the posterity and blessing of God to the next generation. The Israelite lived to have their name endure across the generations, but there will be no durability to this man’s name. He’s without son. He’s without sibling. The text anticipates it. This man doesn’t want to dwell on that thought. He doesn’t seem to ask himself, “For whom do I toil and deprive myself of all this good?”
He buries himself in his work. He seeks to find a compensating significance and security in his work, but you know what? The text seems to infer that’s just salt in the wound. That’s just injury and top of injury, because this man lives long enough. The text seems to point to the fact, because although he’s got a lot of stuff, he’s got nothing, nothing of lasting value. He’s going to die out when he dies. This man comes to realize that things are no substitute for people, okay? He’s certainly a rich man, although he doesn’t seem to be satisfied with his riches, because riches are no substitute for people. Things can never replace relationships. He also lives long enough to realize that despite all the luxury he enjoys, luxury is no substitute for legacy. He’s got no son and no brother. He’s a lonely figure. Swindoll would describe him as the top dog, or what you have in this verse is the whine of the top dog, but it’s a lonely whine.
Then let’s pause and ponder just that thought. We’re being introduced to another scenario, one of the vanities of life. This guy who’s making a success of his, life but there really is no success without succession, and he’s got no son. He’s got no brother and he’s not really enjoying what he has, because life is a shared experience. Life is a team sport. So let’s just pause. We need to hear this. What we need to remind ourselves of is that riches are no substitute for relationships. Just think about that, because we live in a society that seeks to hoodwink us, to pull the wool over our eyes, to blind us. You know what? We’re constantly bombarded by television adverts and billboards and so on and so forth saying, “You know what? If you want to be happy, if you want to be whole, you want to be completed, you need this. You need that. You need to travel here. You need to wear this. You need to rub on this cream, so on so forth.”
But those adverts don’t talk about friendships, do they? Relationships, do they? Family, do they? No. In fact, we’re destroying our families and we’re forgetting our friends in the pursuit of this stuff. We’re forgetting that riches are no substitute for relationships. Money is a commodity. It’s a means of exchange, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but people are not a commodity. We don’t buy and sell people. We buy and sell stuff. We buy and sell things. That’s why Paul warns us in 1 Timothy 6:10 not to fall in love with money. The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. People have pierced themselves through with sorrow, forgetting that riches is no substitute for relationships. Listen, you can love money and you can love the things that money can buy, but the Beatles got it right. Money can’t buy you love.
The money that you love won’t love you back. Only your wife will do that. Only the smile of your child will do that, the kindness of a friend, the love of a pastor, the community of a Bible study. We need to remind ourselves we may love money and we may live in a society that loves money, but money won’t love us back. Proverbs 15:17 got it right. “Better a dinner of herbs where love is than a fatted calf and hatred therewith.” What’s the point? Better a happy meal with a happy family than a fancy restaurant and everybody’s sitting there wondering what to say because there’s so much tension, so much coldness, so much difference. A happy meal with a happy family, that’s heaven on earth, because there’s love there. There’s relationships there. Anything else? It’s a false illusion. It’s a empty substitute.
We need real people to love us really, not some falsified kind of affection that we have bought because we treat them well or we give them stuff. Don’t love what money can buy, because money can’t buy you love. It might buy you some form of love, and many businessmen try to make up for their absence by bringing these extravagant gifts home or going over the top at Christmas with their kids, thinking that’s going to buy them love. I think that’s the guy, isn’t it here, something like that? Wealth in the things of this world is a poor and sorry substitute for the joy and security that’s found in a spouse’s reassurance, in a child’s love, in a neighbor’s help, and in a friend’s kindness. You can’t put a price on that stuff. Mastercard will buy you a lot of stuff. This stuff, priceless. Listen to the words of Tommy Nelson in his book on Ecclesiastes. I think it’s called Life with God.
“How many mothers and fathers have exchanged their children for $10,000 for $20,000 extra a year? How many young consultants make great money, but don’t have any friends because they travel every week? How many Scrooges have accumulated huge nest eggs, but no friends? Ty Cobb, the great Detroit Tiger whose harsh [inaudible 00:17:13] demeanor continually alienated him from others, looked back on his life and said, ‘If I had to do it over, I’d make more friends.'” Amen to that. Get about the business of making friends, keeping your friends, counting them special. Get about the business of raising your family in a way that there’s deep love between husband and wife, parent and child, brother and sister. It’s this stuff you want to look back on. That’s what counts in the long run, people kind, not things, not stuff. This guy, I think, lives long enough to realize, because it’s inferred, and for who are you toiling? Here you are knocking yourself dead, and when you’re dead, this stuff’s going to go to auction because you have neither son or sibling. You’ve got no legacy.
I think that’s worth thinking about just for a moment. We need to spend our lives impacting other people’s lives. God’s building a Lego society. Join yourself to someone else. Impact them for Christ. Bring them to Christ. Bring them up in Christ, whatever. Realize that it’s not the duration of your life that counts, it’s the donation, the donation of your life. Last week, we looked at 2 Timothy on Easter Sunday. I won’t go there, but let me refresh your memory. Paul’s last letter, AD 67, second imprisonment, he’s in Rome. It’s unlikely he’s going to escape the noose or actually literally the chopping block. Paul will lose his head for Christ, which reminds us, when you trust Jesus Christ, pledge your heart and pledge your head. Paul will lose his head for Christ. So he’s looking back on his ministry and the things that give him satisfaction, the things that bring comfort to this dying man.
One of them is Timothy, his son in the faith. Paul poured himself into young Timothy. He impacted Timothy for Christ, and he’s going to leave him behind. He acknowledges that in the very second verse of that letter. He acknowledges Timothy, my son, in the faith. I’m leaving a legacy. I’ve entrusted the gospel to you. Now, you take care of that gospel, the crown jewels of Christ’s death and resurrection for mankind. But then, Paul gets behind that in chapter one. He acknowledges before he ever got his hands on Timothy, Timothy’s mother and grandmother left her fingerprints all over him. He acknowledges that the faith that’s in Timothy, he saw in them, legacy. Then he says, “Timothy, you need to entrust this gospel to other men who can be counted faithful.” The whole latter is about legacy. Why? Because when you’re staring down the throat of death, that’s what counts, not things, relationships, not luxury, legacy.
Go to the last chapter. Paul says, “Hey, bring me my coat. It’s cold. Winter’s coming. Bring me the parchments. Bring me my Bible. Bring me some theological commentaries and word studies. I’ve got some more studying to do before I come to know things more clearly. But Timothy, most of all, you come before winter.” Okay? Paul’s life’s not about what he’s amassed. It’s about his relationships. He mentions other people at the end of that letter, and then it’s about legacy. I was reading this week about John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church, how God singly used him. You know his story, plucked as a brand from the burning. He escaped a parsonage he grew up in on fire. He went to Georgia in America to be a missionary. On his way home, he said, “I went out to save the Indians, but who’s going to save me?”
He gets saved in Aldersgate in London, hearing someone read from the book of Romans, and God uses him. For the time he’s done, he has traveled 250,000 miles on horseback, preaching the gospel. Not the same horse, mind you. He’s preached 40,000 sermons to crowds as large as 20,000. He preaches three times a day, usually beginning at 5:00 AM. By the time he died, here’s what someone said. “He left behind one well-worn coat, two silver teaspoons, and then listen to this, and the Methodist Church.” Wow, not a bad legacy, huh? A coat, a couple of teaspoons, but the Methodist Church, 79,000 Methodists in England, 40,000 in America. When John Wesley said his last words, “Best of all, God is with us.” Let’s go to the fourth scenario. We’ll finish this when I get back, but here’s the fourth scenario, and we’ll touch on this for a few minutes.
Go down to verse 13. We’ll skip over verses nine through 12. We’ll pick that up when I get back, because we’re identifying four causes of loneliness. When I get back, we’re going to look at two cures for loneliness, human friendship and divine companionship. But here’s a fourth scenario. Look at verse 13. “Better a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king who will be admonished no more, for he comes out of prison to be king. Although he was born poor in his kingdom, I saw all of the living who walk under the sun. They were with the second youth who stands in his place. There was no end of all the people over whom he was made king. Yet, interestingly, maybe put parenthesis, those who come afterward will not rejoice in him. Surely, this also is vanity and a grasping for the wind.”
Solomon said, “here’s another thing that makes life frustrating.” Okay, you’ve got the loneliness of the oppressed. You’ve got the envy of the workaholic. You’ve got the lack of legacy on the part of that lonely office worker. And now you’ve got the loneliness of the king who was popular for a while, but then some upstart comes along and turfs him out on his ear. This is what I call loneliness caused by crowning, loneliness caused by crowning. The fourth and final portrait centers on the elevation and fall of an old king. If you read verse 13, you’ll realize that this old king seems to have got out of touch with the people, okay? He’s not listening anymore, okay? He’s living on reruns. His best years are in the past. He’s lost touch with the people. As we would say maybe today, he’s been living behind the beltway way too long.
He lives in a bubble. He’s surrounded by advisors who simply tell him what he wants to hear. You’re great, oh majesty. You’re wonderful, our Lord. Someone said that flattery is like perfume. It’s worth smelling, but never swallow it. This guy was swallowing it, hook, line and sinker. He was believing his own press clippings, and no one had the guts in his cabinet or within his court to say, “You know what? I think we left the people behind about a year ago. They’re not listening anymore, because you’re not listening anymore.” That’s the picture. So the people, they’re looking to put their trust somewhere else. And you know what? Over in the projects, this young man starts talking, and he weaves his words. He’s a crafty communicator and he catches the imagination of the people. Then the enthusiasm spills out from that district into another district. Before long, you’ve got a rising political star, a new Messiah who comes with a message of peace and prosperity for the people, and they’re hungry.
This guy speaks their language. He comes from their side of the tracks. Before long, the king has got an uprising on his hand because he’s got an upstart in the kingdom. What does it say before long? My goodness, this young man who’s poor, but he’s been listening to the people and he’s given them what they want to hear, now he’s over a kingdom. You can hardly count the people, verse 16. But hold on. We’re not done. The political merry-go-round keeps going around. What goes wrong comes around, but this ends up in verse 16 with what? Then, there’s a generation that comes up behind this young king who don’t like him. He’s not listening anymore perhaps, or his shine and brilliance is faded. You get behind all the rhetoric, he’s just as empty as everybody else, and he gets turfed out on his ear.
The exact meaning of the verses, we can’t be sure about, but I would think listening to how I expounded that, hopefully it makes sense and it’s true to the text. What we’ve got here is the whole thought of waning popularity and the whole idea of loneliness caused by crowning, but the realization that you won’t be a hero for very long. Few people are. In a short space of time, anyone can go from hero to zero. The people rush to Samuel the Prophet back in the Old Testament. Give us a king like the other nations. Samuel says, “We don’t need a king. God’s our king. We’re a covenant people. We’re priests within his kingdom, subjects before his throne,” but they’re not listening. Samuel, get us a king. Someone steps forward. He’s tall. He’s handsome. He’s macho. He meets the profile of an earthly king. He’s a warrior. His name is Saul.
For a while, Saul enjoys prosperity and popularity. But you know what? He makes some missteps. Certainly on the spiritual side, he makes a complete mess of things. Before long, God’s looking for a young man after his own heart, and he pops up on the horizon. It all comes about when the crowd notifies Saul, “Hey, your day is over. You have slain your thousands, but David has tens of thousands. We’re going to have a new king in Israel now.” So we go from Saul to David, and you go from David to Solomon, from Solomon to a whole bunch of kings, the merry-go-round. Go to the New Testament, you go from Jesus to Barabbas. Amazing, isn’t it? Easter week, Jesus enters the city of Jerusalem. The people are there in their droves. Bunting is out. The flags are waving.
The palm trees are put out in Jesus’ path, and he enters the city on a donkey to the sign of the people, Hosanna, Hosanna, son of David. We see the salvation of the Lord, but you know what? The week’s hardly done. Half the people will be in Pilate’s courtyard crying for blood. We will not have this man to reign over us. Hold on a minute. What in the world is going on, hero to zero? Heal him, kneel him. Pilate wants to be done with this. He knows he’s got an innocent man in Jesus before him. His wife elbowed him during the night and said, “Hey, I had a dream. You want to stay well clear of this. This is a grenade with the pin out. Just leave it alone.” So he tries to get himself off the hook. He says to the people, “Once a year, you can pick someone and I’ll give them clemency. They’ll get a presidential pardon. Let’s get them out. What do you think, Jesus or Barabbas?” He thinks it’s a no-brainer, and to is utter shock, what do they cry? Barabbas, Barabbas.
That’s just two examples of what we’re talking about here. Oliver Cromwell, 1650, he’s traveling through Northampton, England, with a friend, John Lambert. He’s impressed by the cheering crowds, that is John Lambert, but not old Cromwell. He’s more politically savvy, and he turns to his young friend who’s getting caught up in the euphoria. He says, quote, “These very people who shout as much as they do this day would shout just the same if we were going to be hanged.” That’s true. Winston Churchill, turfed out 1945. Can you believe that? The British people during the dark days of the Blitz of London and the possible invasion of the British Isles by the Nazis hanging on every word that dripped from Churchill’s lips. We’ll fight them on the beaches. We’ll fight them with broken bottles. We’ll fight them down to our last man. They cried to America, “Give us the tools. Give us more armaments. We’ll finish the job after Dunkirk.”
And we could go on quoting his words that raised the spread of the British people. But as soon as the war was done, Churchill was done. It really hurt him. I’ve read a number of books on Churchill. In fact, the king tries to alleviate his sorrow and offers him a great honor. He’s to be inducted into the Royal Order of the Garter, which is a real honor in the British Kingdom. Initially, Churchill refuses, although he ultimately accepts. But he does say initially, “How can I receive the Royal Order of the Garter from the king when I have received the Royal Order of the Boot from the people?” Former Dallas Cowboy quarterback Don Meredith is famous for the statement about quarterbacks, “Today you’re in the penthouse, tomorrow, the outhouse.” It’s lonely in the outhouse.
It’s a difficult thing to adjust to, isn’t it? When you’re riding high and your numbers were good, all of a sudden, you know what? They’re taking the name off your office door. What do you do with that loneliness caused by crowning and then subsequent fall? Well, get used to it for starters, because that’s life. That’s the way it works in this world. It’s marked by vanity. It’s true of quarterbacks, pastors, politicians, civic leaders, businessmen. Popularity doesn’t last. Today’s winners are tomorrow’s losers. You can’t be the prom queen forever. Become the president of the PTA or the Rotary Club. Get elected to the public office. Become the chairman of your homeowners’ association. You’ll be ahead of the game if more than half the people like you when you’re done. Two quick applications, and we’ll pick this up the other side of Israel.
One, I would remind you and me, don’t pin your identity or your security on people’s acceptance or applause, because it will come and it will go. People will come into your life. People will go out of your life. Their love will fail you. Their loyalty will have a shelf time to it. Ultimately, you can’t bank your hope in men or women, even your spouse or your parents. I’m not saying that cynically. I’m not saying that to excuse infidelity or irresponsibility. We have obligations to one another, and by God’s grace, we need to fulfill them. But being fallen, being finite, being fickle, we won’t do it well sometimes, and others will do it disastrously, so much to the point where Psalm 20:7 says what? “Even though your mother and father forsake you, the Lord will take you up.” Wow, it’s an interesting promise. It’s kind of a sorry scene, isn’t it, a child forsaken by its parents? But God’s going to be that father, that mother to that child. I encourage you to throw yourself upon God day by day. Find your security in his un-altering presence and unfailing love.
I may have told you the story before of a pastor friend of mine, Richard Ranney, who pastored a little Baptist Church in the north coast of Northern Ireland, and he was a traditionalist at heart, somewhat stubborn. When Richard set his mind on doing something, there was no shaking him. So the deacons in the church had advised him, “You know what, pastor? The permitting and Bible study between Christmas and New Year, it’s not going to fly. People are going to be all over the place.” And it was a small church anyway, so any major drop in attendance given the holidays didn’t make it worthwhile, but he wouldn’t listen, and he had his meeting regardless. The deacons find out that there was three people there, the pastor, his wife, and the organist. So the following week, not to tease him, but they did say, “Hey, pastor, there wasn’t many there, we heard, and we told you.”
Richard said, “Well, that’s okay. There was six of us.” He said, “My wife was there. I was there. The organist was there. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit was there.” I don’t know if that’s a testimony to his stubbornness or perhaps a little window into a man who really is beyond the reach of people’s applause and acceptance and lives in the daily presence of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Last thought, I think this is also a reminder of the fleeting power of political power. My goodness, we’re a year out, a year and a half out. Now we’re hearing about presidential politics. It’s crazy, isn’t it? But it’s a good reminder, maybe listening to what Solomon has said here, a king himself talking about the rise and fall of one king, another king, and then the rise of another king. Certain administrations have hardly unpacked their boxes, and yet they’ve been sent packing. One term presidents, political messiahs come, and political messiahs go, because the people are easily swayed. We have a fickle populace. They’re not driven by core convictions. They’re caught up in the moment.
I was listening yesterday. You know what? The president’s presidency will be determined by gas prices. Why? I’m not saying that that’s unimportant. That’s not the issue I vote on. Is it the one you vote on? That’s going to come and go. What’s our core convictions? What do you want America to look like? What’s our past? What’s our present? Are we following our founding fathers’ vision? I don’t know. Probably not, because people are all over the place. They’re not anchored anywhere. It’s the moment. It’s themselves. It’s the need of the hour, and the president that can tap into whatever’s going on in the moment is most likely to get elected. And he won’t last maybe more than a term or two terms, because it’ll be a whole different set of circumstances and a whole different generation or voting block that will determine who’s up and who’s dying.
I’m not being cynical, certainly not telling you and I not to be interested in the political affairs of our country. I’m just reminding us, you know what? That all comes and goes. It’s a merry-go-round. Let’s just maybe get our perspective and lower our expectations and maybe focus on the fact that there is one. Think about this. I thought about it as I was writing this sermon. There’s one who’s never been unceded. That’s our king who, according to Daniel four, whose dominion is forever, who according to Daniel two, raises kings up and put kings down. In fact, Jesus, when he was born, what did Simeon say of him? “He will be the cause of kingdoms rising and kingdoms falling. Ultimately, there will come that moment, even so come, Lord Jesus, when the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms of our God.” There’s a king who’s never been unceded. There’s a throne that is higher. In troublesome days and in difficult days, you and I need to put our focus.
Last story and last thought, on the night of Abraham Lincoln’s death, a crowd of 50,000 people gathered in front of the Exchange Building in New York City. Emotions were running high. There was mayhem. There was anxiety. There was a good chance the crowd might become a mob and violence would erupt, but into the midst of that melee, a man dressed in an officer’s uniform steps out onto the building’s balcony. His voice is clear. His voice is calm. His voice is confident, and he says, quote, “Fellow citizens, clouds and darkness are round about him. His pavilions is dark waters. His thick clouds are the skies. Justice and judgment are the establishment of his throne. Mercy and truth go before his face. Fellow citizens, God reigns, and the government in Washington still lives.”
You know who that was? That was James Garfield, who would soon become president and then himself soon assassinated. We need to hear that on a macro, micro level. God reigns, whatever government is in power, whatever president is in the Oval Office. God reigns. He’s been unceded, and he will remain unceded. Therefore, be still and know that he is God. Let’s pray as we come to the Lord’s table. Lord, we wrestle with this vanity, this daily frustration that, Lord, this world is marked by oppression, and there are millions who are crying out at the end of a rifle for someone to deliver them from the oppressor who seems to have all the power and who’s wrapped up the courts of justice. Lord, we see people trampling on their neighbors trying to climb that ladder of success.
We live in a dog-eat-dog world, a rat race to accumulate more and more while we love each other less and less, where we feel more lonely and lost and empty. Lord, we see so much change. We hear about cabinet shifts. We hear about new appointments. We think about coming elections, and Lord, we get caught up in the merry-go-round of political ups and downs. Lord, we can feel disconnected, disoriented. Help us to remember to find our identity and security in you. Help us to realize that God reigns. Lord, you are seated above, that there’s no panic in heaven. The Trinity never meets in emergency session. Your kingdom is coming. Your will is being done on earth as it is in heaven, and ultimately that will all come to an historical moment when Jesus will return to earth and set up his kingdom in Jerusalem. He will reign wherever the sun does its successive journey’s run. Help us to be focused there. Help us to find our identity in your love. Help us to find our hope in your return. We ask and pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.