Sermons, Uncategorized

Rock That Says My Name

my_tombstoneI like to listen to music from a variety of genres, favoring songs that have thoughtful lyrics reflecting a true picture of the human condition with all of its joy and sorrows, challenges and triumphs, its scars and freckles, beauty marks and warts.

Some songs grow on you over time; others connect with you immediately. My current favorite, “Rock That Says My Name,” falls into the latter category. The first time I heard it, I loved it. The more I hear it, the more its message resonates with me. “Rock That Says My Name” was released January 18, 2019 by The Steel Woods, a relatively new band whose music balances heavy blues-rock with Southern poetry, adding a bit of plainspoken outlaw country to the mix. (If you wish to listen to it, you will find a link to the official YouTube version of the song here. Click on “more” to read the lyrics.)

“Rock That Says My Name” is a story told from the point of view of a man who works at a cemetery. A jack-of-all-trades, he keeps the grounds, digs the graves, carves and polishes the gravestones, serves as pall bearer, helps with the burial, and when called upon, is willing to put on a suit and tie so he can join in the mourning. Though it’s not exactly the most glamorous job, it is necessary work, and the man finds great satisfaction and contentment in his job that he’s been doing for fifty years.

What gives this man such satisfaction? I would suggest two things: faith and vocation. This comes out especially in the chorus:

Well I ain’t afraid to die ‘cause I know where I’ll go.
There I’ll live forever on the streets made of gold.
‘Til then I’ll keep on working, you won’t hear me complain
And every day I’ll tip my hat to the rock that says my name.

The man knows his ultimate destination—in heaven to be with the Lord for eternity. This frees him to serve his neighbor as he carries out his calling in life. It enables him to do his work in a way that respects and affirms the dignity of human life even as he daily walks amid death and all its accessories.

As he faithfully follows his vocation, the man recognizes that the day will soon come when it will be his own grave that is dug, his own gravestone that is carved. He and his wife have picked out their own plots right by the cemetery gate, where the sun shines every day. He’s carved his name on the stone. All that’s left is for someone else to add the date of his death next to the date of birth, throw the dirt on top of him, sow some grass seeds and let it grow.

In the meanwhile, the man carries on with his vocation, working each day without complaint. And just so he remembers all this, he says “every day I’ll tip my hat to the rock that says my name.”

I’m reminded of Psalm 90, which I often use when I conduct funerals. After talking about the eternal nature of God and the mortal nature of God’s fallen human creatures, Moses prays:

Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom… Satisfy us in the morning with Your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as You have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil… Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!” (v. 12-17, emphasis added).

Moses’ closing prayer contains two main elements. The first is a plea for understanding and wisdom. As we daily observe death all around us, we are warned to make the most of this time of grace that God has given us, since death is inevitable. We are warned against being like the rich fool who accumulated treasure on earth but forgot about the needs of his soul (Luke 12:13-21). Since we have only one life and that one life is short, we should use it to gain the wisdom that comes from God. That wisdom is the message of the Gospel, through which we gain forgiveness of sins and salvation.

The second part of Moses’ prayer is a plea for mercy. We do not deserve to have our lives prolonged, but we pray that God will give us the time and the wisdom to serve Him faithfully on this earth. Such labor brings joy to all the days of our lives, even to life under the burdens of sin. Only the labor that we do for the Gospel can produce fruits that will endure into eternity. We pray that God will establish and bless our labors for the Gospel so that they will bear fruit for us, for our children, and for others, now and forever.

“Rock That Says My Name” ends with the voice of a Southern preacher reading a fitting portion of Matthew, chapter 6, verses 19-20:

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth,
Where moth and rust doth corrupt
And where thieves break through and steal,
But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven,
Where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt
And where thieves do not break through nor steal.
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

As beloved children of God, heirs of His kingdom, we have something that lasts long beyond anything that this fleeting world has to offer. We realize how few are the days that we actually have in this present world, and how our only real security and refuge is found in God, through His Son Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. We are also reminded that just as the treasures of this earth are only temporary, so are our sorrows and troubles. They will all be forgotten when we come to the eternal joy and glory of being in God’s eternal presence. This proper perspective frees us to live in service our neighbor, living out our vocations joyously without fear or regret, no matter to where or to what God may call us.

By God’s grace, may He make you and I learn to number our days that we may gain hearts of wisdom. May He make us glad for as many days as He has afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil. May the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us! May God grant this to us all.

Sermons, Uncategorized

The Unremembered Days of a Satisfied Life

Farm Sale
Photo credit Suzanne Jaton

Click here to listen to this sermon.

“He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity… [But] everyone to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God. For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart” (Ecclesiastes 5:10, 19-20).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

The day of my Dad’s farm auction, his landlady also sold the land he had been renting from her family for over 35 years. When my Dad asked her if she was happy with price the land brought, she said it had brought more money than she would have ever hoped for. She only had one regret about selling the farm that had been in her family for three generations: “I just wish you could’ve gotten some of the benefit,” she told my Dad. “That’s okay,” he replied. “I’m very satisfied with the life we’ve had here. I’ve been able to do what I love for a long time. And it was a good place to raise three great kids. I wouldn’t trade any of that.”

I had often noticed how content my Dad is, but never more than that day. He taught me that a satisfied life comes from having your priorities straight, in remembering what is truly important, and being thankful for what you do have. He finds joy and satisfaction in the simple things of life: his work, his family.

So, where do you find joy? Where do you find satisfaction?

Is satisfaction found in earthly treasures that are seen? In money or wealth? J.D. Rockefeller was once asked, “How much money does it take to satisfy a person? The billionaire snapped back, “Always a little more!” Ecclesiastes says, “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money” (v 10). Those who love money never have enough.

How about in our search for peace? There are exceptions to this (and we can all think of a few people), but most of us do not want a life of conflict. We would rather have a life that is peaceful and serene. We want to be at peace with ourselves and others. Can you find satisfaction in a life free of conflict?

Our culture holds up material success as the key to peace—if you have enough of the things of this world, you will insulate yourself from external and internal conflict. But a materialistic culture proves itself wrong.

Money does not buy peace with others—in fact, it often increases conflict. Ecclesiastes tells us, “When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes?” (v. 11). The more one acquires, the more hangers-on there are to consume the goods. An elderly woman once won the lottery and went from a modest income to being a millionaire. She commented on how many long-lost relatives she had rediscovered since winning the money. So many, in fact, that she moved and shut off her phone service just to have some peace from others.

Nor can money buy internal peace. A man might become so wealthy that he has more riches than he could ever use; all he can do is “feast his eyes on them” or sit in the vault and count them all day like Scrooge McDuck. For all his wealth, such a man isn’t much better off than a poor man who also feasts his eyes on riches he can’t use.

Still another person might have enough money to be a man of leisure, but for one reason or another is never able to enjoy his leisure. When earthly possessions are the most important part of a person’s life, they can quickly take over one’s mind and bring restlessness and worry and sleepless nights. Ecclesiastes warns us, “The full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep” (v 12b). In contrast, is the godly laborer whose sleep is sweet. Although spoiled by the fall into sin, work is still a blessing. Productive work is one of the most satisfying activities of life.

All the riches of this world cannot buy external or internal peace. “Vanity, a grievous evil,” says Ecclesiastes. Not only can striving for riches bring no real satisfaction, once a person has them they bring all kinds of new concerns. In his greed, a man might hoard his wealth. He becomes so obsessed with it that he becomes a slave to it. And despite his strictest vigilance, there is no guarantee that he won’t lose it through some calamity anyway.

Is satisfaction found in our search for eternity?

We have all seen buildings and monuments that bear the name of the wealthy person who gave the money to erect the building. The thing about these structures is that they do not last forever. They will crumble and fall and, on the Last Day, be destroyed with all the earth. So much for making a lasting name for oneself. So much for money buying anything eternal! “Vanity,” says Ecclesiastes.

What about leaving a legacy of wealth for a person’s descendants. Ecclesiastes reminds us that he has seen where “riches were lost in a bad venture. And he is father of a son, but has nothing in his hand” (v 14). Look at Europe. On the continent, there are descendants of once wealthy nobility who today possess grand titles but whose family fortunes have been lost for generations. All this is “vanity,” says Ecclesiastes.

Nor, as the expression has it, can “you take it with you when you go.” Even if a man should become rich and manage to maintain his wealth for a lifetime, there eventually comes a time when he must leave it behind. It is said that when Alexander the Great lay on his deathbed, he commanded that contrary to the usual custom his hands not be wrapped. He wanted everyone to see his empty hands as he was carried to his grave. And so in death, the great conqueror and king of nations was on equal terms with the poorest beggar.

When Job lost all his wealth, he said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (1:21). Ecclesiastes puts it, “As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand” (v. 15). Notice that in the Ecclesiastes passage, Solomon does not add Job’s words of trust in the Lord. The man living under the sun without God has no such comfort. All the riches of this world cannot buy eternity. “Vanity,” says Ecclesiastes.

So what is at the root of all this “vanity” of earthly possessions? Remember the words of our text, “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income, this also is vanity” (v 10). There is that key word, “love”—that is not “love” as mere affection or emotion, but as devotion that reflects God’s love for us in the fear, love, and trust we are to bear to Him.

One of the most misquoted verses of Scripture is 1 Timothy 6:10, which is wrongly cited as “money is the root of all evil.” In fact, Paul wrote that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” And so it is. Whatever one trusts in and loves so much that it is the most important thing in his or her life has become that person’s god. Remember the catechism on the First Commandment. “You shall have no other gods.” What does this mean? “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” This is the heart of the problem in a search for satisfaction in life. How you answer the question: “Who or what is your god?” makes all the difference in whether life even has meaning or if you will ever be satisfied.

Well, if satisfaction is not found in treasures that are seen, can it be found in treasures that are not seen?

In the final verses of our text, Solomon paints a much happier scene than in the previous verses. He shows us a household where godliness and contentment reign in place of greed and discontent. He portrays a child of God, a believer. Although labor remains “toil” for this person, he is able to find satisfaction in it. God enable him to enjoy his possessions and enjoy his toil. This worker accepts his lot in life—his particular talents, opportunities, challenges, and possessions. His work is not a frenzied attempt to pile up riches. He works because it is the lot God has given him in life. In the words of St. Paul, we are to do “all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). We try to make the best possible use of our lives as ways of saying thanks to God for the gift of life and for His many others blessings.

True peace is, in fact, meaningful. No, it is not found in the love of money or the quest for possessions. But earthly possessions are not in and of themselves evil. Ecclesiastes say, “Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God” (v 19).

All that we have is a gift from God. To know this is to understand that all good things are gifts to be enjoyed. After all, we confess, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth,” and in so confessing we acknowledge God’s creation is good. It was created to give us satisfaction, to provide all that we need to support this body and life.

Finally, the godly man “will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart” (Ecclesiastes 5:20). He isn’t filled with worry but with gladness. A cheerful heart is a gift of God. It allows life’s most difficult experiences to pale in comparison with the inexpressible love the Lord has first demonstrated to us by grace alone

Jesus says: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?… But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:25, 33).

Where does one find gladness of heart and the kingdom of God and His righteousness? They come only from listening to God’s Word. The Bible alone tells us of God’s love in Christ the Savior—promised in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). And St. Paul reminds us, “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).

“Let us [therefore] run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs of Christ” (Romans 8:16). To have Christ is to possess the highest wisdom and most priceless treasure. Without Him nothing satisfies. All is vanity. With Him, your life will be truly satisfying regardless of your circumstances for you have the treasures that last through eternity—grace, forgiveness, salvation and eternal life. Indeed, for Jesus’ sake you are forgiven for all your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.