Each week during worship at our church, after the readings from the Old Testament, New Testament, and Gospel, the reader says, “This is the Word of the Lord.” The congregation responds, “Thanks be to God.”
Normally, the readings are either familiar passages many of us have heard for years or nice and helpful teachings that guide, encourage, or inspire us. Thus, uttering our thanks to God is easy and comfortable.
Last Sunday’s reading, from Ecclesiastes chapters 1 and 2, was different. The most familiar passage from Ecclesiastes is found in chapter 3: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”
Just prior to this passage, however, we hear challenging words from Qoheleth, the book’s author who often is named “Teacher” or “Preacher” in English.
My wife, Lisa, read chapters 1 and 2, and after reading, she held up the Bible and said, “Like it or not, this is the Word of the Lord.” The congregation said, in rather hushed tones, “Thanks be to God.”
In Ecclesiastes 1 and 2, Qoheleth reflects on his life and says, “All is vanity and chasing after the wind. I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me; for all is vanity and a chasing after wind.”
In The Message, Eugene Peterson translates these words in this manner: “I’ve seen it all and it’s nothing but smoke – smoke, and spitting in the wind. I hate life. As far as I can see, what happens on earth is bad business. It’s smoke – and spitting in the wind.”
You don’t usually hear these words from the pulpit!
The Bible is a wonderful book because it contains many lessons for faithful living, stories of faithful people, and prayers of praise and lament. When we read the Scripture in its entirety, we receive both words of comfort and words of challenge. We hear words of joy, and we hear cries of despair. And, the good news is this: God is in the midst of all of them.
The first two chapters of Ecclesiastes are, for me, more challenging than comforting – yet it is important to read them, to reflect on them, to be challenged by them. They are indeed, “The Word of the Lord.”
Thanks be to God.