June 10, 2018 – “Dear God…Does Life Have a Purpose?” by Rev. Cody Sandahl

Rev. Cody Sandahl
Rev. Cody Sandahl
June 10, 2018 - "Dear God...Does Life Have a Purpose?" by Rev. Cody Sandahl

Lay Reader = Matthew 6:25-34

25“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.


We are starting a new sermon series looking at seven of the most common questions people have about the Christian faith. And maybe some of these questions seem too basic if you’ve been hanging around churches for a long time, but let me share why I think this is important. A little societal context for you courtesy of the benevolent overlords over at Google.

I looked at the online searches over the last year worldwide. The most-searched phrases that contain the word “God” in them. Throw out some ideas. What do you think is on that list of most-searched phrases that contain the word “God?” <PAUSE> Well actually they are all variations on the phrase “God of War.” Which is the name of a very popular video game series.

The Beatles’ John Lennon might have taken some flak for saying “we’re more popular than Jesus,” but fifty years later a random video game can prove it’s more famous than God. Times have changed.

So I don’t think we can just assume everyone knows the basics. In fact, we should assume the opposite – that what people think they know about our faith and about our God is mostly based on clichés and caricatures.

You can see at the top of the image on your bulletin all of the questions we’ll be looking at for the next seven weeks. But I do want to give a little asterisk here. I am not the “Moses with the 10 Commandments” guy. I don’t have all the answers. I don’t want you to just listen to me and assume I’m right. I want to equip you to look at the Bible for yourself, to wrestle with your faith yourself, to talk with God yourself, and I’ll give you some ideas and pointers along the way.

So this series isn’t about you listening to Cody’s answers. This series is about helping you to find your answers in conversation with the Living God through prayer and the Bible. Paul writes in his letter to the church in Philippi – “continue to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” That’s what we’re going to try to do together for the next seven weeks. If you or someone you know is wrestling with one of those questions, the schedule is on the back of the bulletin so you can make sure to come or bring that friend on the right Sunday.

This week we are asking God, “Does life have a purpose?” And there’s actually an entire book of the Bible dedicated to the search for that answer: Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes is in the Old Testament – the first 2/3 of the Bible – and it takes place during the height of the kingdom of Israel. It is written by King Solomon, known as the wisest and richest and most powerful king Israel had ever known. Other kings and queens came from thousands of miles away to consult Solomon on their own domestic issues.

And near the end of his life, he pens his ruminations on life’s purpose – everything he has tried, every way he could think of to find purpose, reflections on power and wealth and influence and faith. It’s good stuff. A bit long-winded, but good stuff. We’re near the beginning of the book, where he calls himself “the Teacher.” In other words, he’s writing all of this down so future generations can learn from his experience, his knowledge, his wisdom, his reflections. So let us learn from the Teacher about the purpose of life.

Ecclesiastes 1:12-2:11

12I, the Teacher, when king over Israel in Jerusalem, 13applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with. 14I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind. 15What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted. 16I said to myself, “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me; and my mind has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.” 17And I applied my mind to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a chasing after wind.18For in much wisdom is much vexation, and those who increase knowledge increase sorrow.

2:1I said to myself, “Come now, I will make a test of pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But again, this also was vanity. 2I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” 3I searched with my mind how to cheer my body with wine—my mind still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, until I might see what was good for mortals to do under heaven during the few days of their life. 4I made great works; I built houses and planted vineyards for myself; 5I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. 6I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees. 7I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house; I also had great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. 8I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and of the provinces; I got singers, both men and women, and delights of the flesh, and many concubines. 9So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem; also my wisdom remained with me. 10Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them; I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. 11Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and again, all was vanity and a chasing after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.


Well wasn’t that just uplifting? Who knew Solomon was such a Debbie Downer, right? The phrase he uses over and over again is “all is vanity, and a chasing after the wind.” What does that mean?

When I think of vanity, two stories come to mind. When I was growing up, my parents ran a business where they leased offices to businesses and my parents employed the receptionists and typists and had the copiers and all of that – this was before the computer and cell phone revolution really took hold, so there actually were jobs in receptionists and typists and a need for big copiers instead of desk printers.

And they decided to take their best receptionist to the national convention in Washington DC. She was very beautiful, “glamorous” was the word my mom used. And one night to reward her my parents gave her $200 to go have fun on the town – and that’s $200 in the ‘80s. And the next morning she showed up to breakfast with the results of the previous night written on her face – literally. She had shaved her eyebrows and gotten tattooed eyebrows instead. But they were a little too dark so they didn’t match her hair. And they were a little too arched so she looked surprised all the time. And they were slightly crooked. But other than that it turned out great.

Side note – getting a tattoo on your face on a business trip using your employer’s money is probably not the wisest move. But luckily she was still their best receptionist, but now everyone wondered why she was looking at them funny.

If you want to know what vanity means and what it gets you, that story’s all you need. Chasing perfect beauty no matter the cost and winding up worse off. That’s vanity.

And it doesn’t have to be about beauty. I know someone who spent the first several decades of his life saying that if he could only get $6 million saved up, he would have everything he needed forever. And after a whole life of pinching every penny and taking every possible avenue to make money, I think he actually got there – I know he got close at least. And when he got there did he do a happy dance and rest easy? Of course not! Now he needed $10 million! Chasing a perfect bank account no matter the personal cost and finding yourself unhappy when you reach the goal. That’s vanity.

Solomon has us all beat. He says he applied his mind to knowledge and wisdom, he sought to impose justice, he sought out levity and partying, he tried drink, he tried sex, he built buildings – including the Temple of God – he accumulated wealth, he sought out respect of the rich and the powerful, he even tried gardening! And what does he discover? “Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and again, all was vanity and a chasing after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.”

I went on my own Solomon journey in college. I made money as a computer programmer. I made good grades. I took interesting classes – I still remember a lot from my class with a local weather man, and in rhetoric of satire I got to write reports on Mel Brooks movies and South Park episodes. I spent a whole summer breaking down video of Dirk Nowitzky’s basketball shooting form and became a decent shooter myself. I created impressive projects – one of which landed me my eventual job at National Instruments. I wrote articles and learned to do two-dimensional animation and created a cartoon for a humor website. I even had a minor bit of fame – someone in the choir saw me out in the congregation and recognized my face from that humor website even though we had never met. I took up fencing for a while – as in swords, not post holes. I got my scuba license. And like Solomon, it felt like I was chasing the wind. No matter how much I did, no matter how much I learned, no matter how much acclaim I garnered, I was never filled. There was always a void within me.

Ernest Hemingway wrote, “Life is just a dirty trick, a short journey from nothingness to nothingness.” Hemingway and Solomon would’ve been fast friends. But that’s how it felt as fulfillment slipped through my fingers as if I were chasing the wind.


But that’s all that I DID. What is missing from that list and Solomon’s list? How many friends appeared on that list? Well to address that, let’s look at our wedding invitation list. There were people from my high school days. People from my working young adult days. People from my seminary days. People from my growing up days. No one I wanted to invite from my college days.

For all that I accomplished, I didn’t have that many meaningful relationships. That was one of the biggest source of the void in my life. Solomon came to the same conclusion. Later on in a very famous part of Ecclesiastes he wrote, “Two are better than one…pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up…if two lie down together, they will keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone…a cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

For all the things that Solomon discovered aren’t fulfilling, deep and meaningful relationships are worth something. Not just Facebook friends or Instagram followers or “hi how ya’ doin’” neighbors over the fence. Deep relationships. People who can pick you up when you’re down. People who can stand back to back with you when you’re threatened. Those are worth something. Deep relationships are part of life’s purpose.

It doesn’t have a to be a large number. An introvert might only need one or two deep relationships. Someone else might feel empty without five or six or more. But think about your own spirit, your own heart. When you think about your relationships – do you feel relationally filled? If not, then no matter how much you accomplish you’re going to still feel a void inside.


But that’s only half of life’s purpose. I was listening to an interview on NPR with a woman who had explored the impact of faith in some kind of afterlife versus faith in the non-existence of an afterlife. She looked at how different people reacted to life over a period of time and reflected on that in the book. And at the end of the interview she was asked, “Well, I’ve gotta ask. What do you believe? Do you believe in God, or an afterlife?”

And her answer was absolutely fascinating. She said something like, “Well, I wish I could convince myself to believe in an afterlife – to believe in God. I’m almost there but I just can’t quite convince myself. But my friends and family who do believe, they go through life with a sense of hope I don’t have. They think they have a purpose and destination. If they’re wrong, they still benefited in their lives.”

In our first text today, Jesus said, “strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” In other words, when we seek God’s purposes in our life, we find our own life filled with purpose. It’s one of those strange things – seeking to fulfill yourself like I did and like Solomon did leaves you empty. But seeking to fulfill God’s purpose leaves you filled. It’s kind of like in your dating years where desperately searching for someone to date chases away the dates, but the second you decide you’re not looking that’s when you get a date. As a side note, that doesn’t work as a date-finding strategy. Somehow the universe knows if you’re faking your non-interest in dating. Just a public service announcement on that one.

What’s interesting about faith is that it doesn’t always change your circumstances. Notice that the woman interviewed by NPR didn’t say that her believing friends had less bad stuff happen. She said they just handled it differently.

With our VBS kids this week we showed them these life preservers or floaties. They’ll keep you above water, but they don’t pull you out of the water. That’s what faith is like – it keeps your head above water when you would otherwise sink.

To illustrate, let’s imagine that you were going to crush me underneath three times my body weight, shake and rattle me around for twenty minutes, and then drop me from a very high place and my stomach would be queasy for the whole time falling. I would probably decline that offer.

But if you told me that all of things would happen because I was riding a rocket to the Space Station, well I’m ready to go right now. Hopefully the Deacons can help my family out with meals for a few days while I’m gone.

Solomon writes near the end of Ecclesiastes, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone.” Our faith, and how we seek God’s purposes in our lives – that’s the second part of life’s purpose.

When we seek God’s purpose, it’s like me riding a rocket. I can endure a lot if I know I’m going to space. When I’m seeking God’s purpose, I can endure a lot more than if I’m just seeking my own.

How’s your faith life? How are you striving for the kingdom of God, not just your own little fiefdom? If you feel a void in your heart or you feel empty, take a look at your faith life. Maybe check out an online emailed devotional. Or join one of our Bible studies. Or go serve at the Community Dinner or the Pastor’s Breakfast or as an usher or greeter or bring food for hospitality. How’s your faith life?


When I was in high school I acted in and helped with quite a few plays. And the last play I did I was the main actor. Even if you’ve never been in a play, you’ll be able to answer this: how many people does it take to setup and perform a play? Depends, right? But is it usually greater than one? Of course – it takes friends to pull off something as grand as a play.

And sometimes our role isn’t being the main actor. Actually the last play I did I was the main actor and even won an award for my acting. But you know what I’m still most proud of from that play? I was supposed to be a songwriter in the play, and in rehearsal we had always skipped over the part where we were supposed to perform my hit song. But then a week or so before the first performance, the director realized we didn’t actually have a song. Whoops.

So that night I took a piano chord progression I had been working on, and my mom helped me turn that into a song that fit with the play. And even though it was performed by someone else in the play, that’s my proudest contribution to the effort, not my acting. Sometimes the most important thing we do is a little more behind the scenes.

Seeking God’s purposes in your life might not mean you’re the headliner. In fact, I’ll drop the might. You and I AREN’T the headliner in God’s purposes – Jesus is. But you may not even be on stage. You might be part of the behind-the-scenes crew. But the play can’t happen without you.

We are part of the still-unfolding story of God redeeming all of Creation. That’s a pretty grand purpose. When we play our part in that faith story, and when we play our part alongside people we have deep relationships with – that’s life’s purpose right there.

Be a part of something grand. It means you can’t be the main actor in your play. You may not even be on stage! But being a part of Jesus’ story alongside others will keep your head above water when you feel like you should sink. Being a part of Jesus’ story alongside others will keep you grounded when the earth is shaking. Being a part of Jesus’ story alongside others will fill that hole you feel in your heart. Nothing else will. Take it from Solomon. Nothing else will. Amen.