All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing. What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. Ecclesiastes 1:8-10
The Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, attributed to King Solomon (known for his wisdom,) reflects on the limitations of man’s understanding and creativity. He quotes an Eeyore-like philosopher wearily declaring that nothing really matters, that our efforts won’t make a difference, that humanity’s striving for achievement is really “meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” The author goes on to explain that he was once caught in that trap himself: fearful that his reign will end up being quite forgettable, his kingdom’s problems still unsolved; becoming frustrated at the dead ends in his careful reasoning about the meaning of life…and finding that the accumulation of knowledge and wisdom wasn’t making him any happier. Yet eventually he came to a welcome sense of peace, an insight that God just intends us to enjoy the daily journey and the blessings of leaving the Big Questions for God to figure out. Then Solomon could relax, simply do his faithful best without discovering any great new tricks, and smile a lot more.
It would not be much of a stretch to see clinical depression in the thoughts of that earlier Solomon… but maybe he was just putting too much pressure on himself to be The Guy Who Figures It All Out, to live up to his “Wisdom of Solomon” image. In our modern culture, it’s usually not wisdom that gets you into the spotlight, but athletic superiority, beauty or a rock star singing voice… yet fame is fleeting (the proverbial “15 minutes”), and last year’s breakout superstar often finds it hard to sustain his/her freshness and success with that next season, album or movie… leading to some well-publicized crashing and burning for those who have not learned to accept how quickly the world will turn the page and start looking for Next Big Thing.
But are there any new Big Things left? Hmmm… Hollywood studios seem to have embraced Solomon’s assessment: “Sigh…Since there is nothing new under the sun, we might as well do another Spiderman movie, and maybe some rip-offs of American Idol, Survivor and CSI.” As Bob the Writer and Bob the Youth Guy, I acknowledge my own need to believe that I’m producing something original and distinct in my ministry, when really “something new” is pretty tough to come by. Okay, I don’t personally know anybody else who has gotten a church staff to jump on a trampoline in the sanctuary and put it to music for a Talent Show… but I realize this ain’t exactly changing the world. Still, it serves a purpose (I hope) of creating joyful settings for our community to have fellowship, even if that fellowship purpose is as old as the Christian church itself.
Some congregations can easily get persuaded that they have to Do Something to stem the tide, to turn the ship, because people get bored and dissatisfied with same-old, same-old. At Gethsemane we have lots of good outcomes to be celebrated, so our “Next Steps” process has not been one of panic, but a steady and faithful long view of our mission: encouraging all members to keep growing in their relationship with God, paying attention to the needs of the community, continuing traditions for as long as they continue to have meaning and serve a divine purpose, and staying “on message” (as they say in politics.)
And that Gospel message is this: Jesus’ saving grace was the Last Big Thing, the Next Big Thing, and the Biggest Thing Ever. We really can’t improve on what God has already done, but if we do our faithful best to serve him, it will be enough.