Sermon preached by The Reverend Dr Sam Cappleman
Ordinary 18 Year C 2010
What’s at the Centre of our Lives?
A few years ago in 1997, with several updates and revisions since then, there was a book published called ‘The Bible Code’ which proposed that within the Hebrew text of the Old Testament it was possible to identify codes which gave insight into future events. It’s a bit like doing those word searches on those grids of letters we see in puzzle magazines!
Whilst many of us will find that hard to believe, there are indeed patterns in some of the Hebrew Scriptures. In the past we’ve looked at the pattern of chiastic (in the shape of the cross) psalms whose poetic structure helps us to focus on the central message the psalmist want to get across.
And believe it or not there’s a pattern in the Book of Ecclesiastes (or Qoheleth) which means teacher or teaching.
We’re all familiar with the phrase, ‘vanity’, or ‘chasing after the wind’ from this book; and in the notes n Partnership News I’ve given some alternate translations. ‘Transient’ may be another good way to translate the word, ‘vanity’.
But the refrain which includes these words shows that the book can be split into two distinct sections, Ch 1 v 1 – 6 v 9 and Ch 6 v 10 – 12 v 14, each part containing 111 verses, 222 in total.
37 is one of the factors of 111. Just as with Roman numerals it’s possible for Hebrew characters to have a value. Hebel is a Hebrew word with the numerical value of 37.
(In fact, the body of each section, is 93 verses, the total of 186 being prefaced and finished by an 18 word introduction and conclusion and the numbers 18, 93, 111, 186, 222 are all related to the number 37.)
Hebel means vanity, and the word appears 37 times in the Book of Ecclesiastes! A vanity of vanities! That’s some code! But what does it mean? Qoholeth’s focus is on drawing attention to the transitory nature of material things and life in general and the importance of accepting and enjoying each day for what it brings as a God given gift. Live life to the full, but don’t get caught up in being a workaholic, striving for the unattainable or purely in the pursuit of luxury, riches and wealth because ultimately we all will die. Makes sense doesn’t it.
And that’s exactly the point that Jesus is making in the Gospel reading. Guard against greed and the pursuit of wealth and possessions for their own sake.
Greed was one of the arguments against false teachers who were often seen as being greedy and self centred.
And it’s interesting to see how many times (unusually) that the rich man uses the word ‘I’ and ‘my’. Totally self centred thinking eliminates God and anyone else from his thinking.
But it’s more than that, because Jesus then says, with the writer of Ecclesiastes, that ultimately we will all dies and we can’t take whatever wealth and possessions we have amassed with us.
This is the key to the passage, for the hearers and for all of us, because what started out as a debate and challenge about a particular point of Jewish law (should the elder son inherit twice what the younger son inherited) finishes up with a much more basic challenge. What is life all about?
And that’s a challenge for each one of us. It’s a challenge not about what we possess but what possesses us. What, or who is at the very centre of our lives. Is it ourselves and our own self interest or is it God and the interests of others.
Living as a Christian is not complex. We don’t have to solve a complex code. It isn’t a question of how much of the Jewish law we understand. It isn’t even a question of how much theology (or Christology) we understand
Ultimately it’s simply a question of who (or what) is at the centre of our lives.