"The Broth of Life"#89-47
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on July 24, 2022
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2022 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Ecclesiastes 12:1
The history of making soup may be as old as the history of cooking itself. Soup is among one of the most common and basic of meals. In fact, our English word, "supper," is derived from the Latin word, "suppāre," which means to soak, and it's also where we get the word "soup." Soup and supper—they're practically synonymous. Maybe it's because once people started cooking their food, it didn't take long for them to begin experimenting with adding a variety of ingredients to hot water, letting it all soak and cook for several hours, and seeing how the stock turns out.
And if stock and broth and soup go back to the dawn of cooking, then so also does the use of a strainer or a sieve. You probably have a sieve in your kitchen. They're usually made of metal, either solid metal with holes in the bottom of a bowl, or metal wire mesh shaped into a bowl. A sieve is a kind of filter. Its job is to hold a few things back, but to let most everything else pass through. In the case of broth or soup stock, a sieve separates what is wanted from what is unwanted. A sieve isn't meant to hold the broth, it's meant to strain it.
Over the last five weeks on this program, we've been listening to the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes means gatherer. That's what the author of this 3,000-year-old book calls himself, an Ecclesiastes, a gatherer. He calls himself that because he's gathered life observations together, put them all into a single stock pot, and is brewing up a rich broth of wisdom for us. But to get that rich broth, first he needs a sieve; he needs a strainer. He needs to pour that stock through sieve of life experience and filter out all the foolishness, so that we don't get a mouthful of gristle or choke on a bay leaf.
And according to Ecclesiastes, that is exactly what mortal life is good for. This mortal life is not like a stockpot, a soup bowl, or even a ladle. It's not good for gathering; it's not meant for holding; it's meant for straining. A stockpot and a sieve may have a similar shape, but just because two things have a similar shape does not mean they have a similar function. We could illustrate this with a story.
It came to pass one day that the president of a large company, the pope, the smartest man in the world, and a boy scout, we're all flying together on the same airplane. Suddenly, the pilot shouts, "We've lost power, we're going down. We've got a bailout." And then the pilot dons a parachute and jumps through the open door.
The company president, the pope, the world's smartest man, and the boy scout look at each other. And then the four of them look to the parachute compartment, and to their horror, they see that only three parachutes remain. The president of the company looks gravely at them and says, "I am the head of a very important company, the world needs me. Good luck, gentlemen." And without another word, he straps on a parachute and jumps from the plane. The last three look at each other, then the smartest man in the world steps forward and says, "Look, I am the world's smartest man. No one is as smart as I am; the world needs me just as much as it needs him." And then he grabs a parachute, and out the door he goes.
The pope and the boy scout stand in silence, taking it all in. Finally, the pope says, "You take the last parachute, my son. I am old and at peace with God. You have your whole life ahead of you, go in the love of Christ and in service to your neighbor." And the boy scout says to the pope, "That won't be necessary, sir. There's a parachute for each of us. The smartest man in the world just jumped out of the plane with my backpack."
A parachute and a backpack have a similar shape, but not a similar function. So also for a stockpot and a sieve, and understanding their difference in function may be a matter of life and death. At least, according to the smartest man in the world.
King Solomon, traditionally taken as the author of the book of Ecclesiastes would certainly be in the running for the smartest man in the world. But all the smarts in the world didn't keep him from embracing folly, like a panicked parachutist embraces a backpack. Solomon tells us that he spent many of his early years trying to use this mortal life like a stockpot, to scoop and scrape and gather together as much as he could, to check everything off his bucket list. But turns out his bucket had a hole in the bottom of it, several, actually. Life kept slipping through his fingers like vapor, like liquid through a sieve. But through this, Solomon learned one indisputable fact about this mortal life. If you try to use it like a stockpot or like a parachute, you will be sorely disappointed.
Now, if this mortal life were all there was, we would be in free fall. Without a parachute, we'd be sipping broth from a sieve. But if there were more, if mortal life were just a brief moment of sifting, of straining for something better, if mortal life were just a trying episode and a longer adventure, a step to a much richer broth, then that would be something different. I believe that there is more than just this mortal life. I believe it, not because I'm an overly spiritual person, and not because I've read this book by King Solomon. If all I had was Ecclesiastes, I'd still be guessing about the meaning of this mortal life.
But Solomon's book is only one chapter in a longer story in the Bible story, a story that leads to Jesus. And it's because of Jesus, I believe, that there's something more than this mortal life. Jesus the Messiah, Jesus God's Son, Jesus the greater and wiser descendant of Solomon. I believe because Jesus descended into this mortal life with us. I believe because Jesus was strained on the cross for us. I believe because He passed through death and judgment as through a sieve to save us. And yet He lives again, risen again on the other side to tell us about it.
I trust Jesus when He says that this mortal life isn't all there is. I trust His promise that the hour is coming when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and live. And His promise is for you, too. Trust Him and you will have eternal life starting now, now like a first course and a new perspective on this part of God's plan for us. And then mortal life can just be what it is. You don't need to try to make a backpack into a parachute or a sieve into a stockpot. And then you can face mortal life differently—if it is just a strainer for something greater. And Solomon shows the way.
Listen to his words at the close of the book of Ecclesiastes, words that may have started as a speech Solomon gave during some banquet, imagine yourself there, the soup's already been served and the speaker's words have sifted self-sufficiency from the ears of his hearers. And now the speaker, the gatherer, the most brilliant mind of his time, gathers words for his closing remarks and says,
Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days, you will find it again. Invest in seven, yes, in eight ventures, because you do not know what disaster may fall upon the land. When the clouds are full of water, they will pour down rain upon the earth. Whether a tree falls to the south or to the north in the place where it falls, there it will be. Whoever watches the wind will not plant. Whoever looks at the clouds will not reap. As you do not know the way of the wind or how the body is formed in the mother's womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things. Sow your seed in the morning, and in the evening do not let your hands be idle because you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that or whether both will do equally well. Light is sweet and it is good for the eyes to see the sun. However many years a person may live, let him enjoy them all. And also let him remember the days of darkness, because there will be many of them. All that comes is vapor. Be happy, young man, young lady, while you are young.
Let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see, but know this, for all these things, by all these things, God is bringing you into judgment. So banish anger from your heart; cast off evil from your body because youth and strength are vapor. Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of evil come, when the years approach, when you will say, "I find no pleasure in them." Remember your Creator before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars grow dark, and the clouds return after the rain. Remember Him in the day when the keepers of the house begin to tremble and the strong men stoop and the grinder ceased because they are few, and those looking through the windows grow dim. Remember Him when the doors to the street are shut and the sound of grinding fades, and men rise up at the sound of a bird, but all the bird's songs grow faint. Remember Him when men are afraid of heights and of dangers in the streets, when the almond tree blossoms, and the grasshopper drags himself along, and desire is no longer stirred, because man goes to his perpetual home and mourners go about in the street. Remember your Creator before the silver cord is severed, before the golden bowl is broken, before the pitcher is shattered at the spring or the wheel is broken at the well, and the dust returns to the earth it came from, and the breath returns to God who gave it (Ecclesiastes 11-12).
Solomon shows us that mortal life is like a sieve, it's meant for sifting, it's meant for straining, not for holding. But you and I still misuse this life as though it were not full of holes. We do this in a variety of ways. Sometimes we cling to our youth, other times we play it safe.
When we cling to our youth, when we're afraid of losing life at its prime, trying to hold onto beauty and strength, agility and cleverness with cosmetics and supplements, exercises and workouts, anti-aging creams and $5 cups of paleo-friendly bone broth, Solomon reminds us of what we all already know. Youth and strength are vapor passing us by like water through a sieve. And then, when we're older and wiser, when we try to play it safe, when we're panicking for anything that might look like a parachute, Solomon says, "Cast your bread upon the waters," which probably means send your grain, send your wealth out to sea.
In other words, live boldly, serve boldly, explore, trade, invest in seven, even in eight causes and ventures, because it's ridiculous to think that you can keep your valuables safe by keeping them locked away. You don't know when or how disaster will strike. You don't know where opportunity will arise. Your goods could be just as safe out at sea or given to some noble venture or charitable cause or eight of them. The point is not to be foolish or wasteful with the gifts God has given you. No, be sensible, Solomon says, take care of what's in your power to control, which is very little.
And after that, be bold, play life like you have nothing to lose. Because in Jesus, you have nothing to lose, and trust it all to God because there is no security in this mortal life, but only in true life. Only when Jesus comes again to raise the dead and renew all things, until then, take mortal life for what it is. It's a sieve not a stockpot.
About five years ago, my family was swept up in the bone broth craze that was simmering across our country. You remember it? You might have seen it or heard about it. Food trucks, carts at farmers markets, even whole restaurants devoted to bone broth, a collagen-rich liquid said to reduce inflammation, nourish the immune system, and promote radiant skin and hair.
And even though I had already counted my hair as a loss, I tried my hand at bone broth. And here's what I learned: it's just soup stock by another name. In medieval France, this mysterious frothy liquid was known as "restaurer" the restorative elixir. In 19th century, England, they called it "beef tea." And by 2017, it had been rebranded as "bone broth," steamed in an espresso machine and sold for $5 a pop in a compostable paper cup. But because I'm cheap, we made ours at home. We took our beef bones, our garlic and ginger leeks and bay leaves and cooked it all up in a pressure cooker.
And then, you know what we used to separate the broth from the leftovers, to deliver that delightfully restorative elixir, a sieve, because a sieve is meant for straining. So also this mortal life. You and I both know that there are things in us that need to be strained out: self-sufficiency, self-deception, self-importance, self-pity. The Bible calls it sin. It's in each of us and it's poisoning all of us. And here's where our analogy with broth gets a little cloudy, because the strained ingredients in that delicious bone broth we made, they're not poisonous, not even the bay leaves are poisonous, I've learned.
However, you should still strain them out because they're bitter and they might make you choke. But our sin is much worse than a bay leaf; it's a poison, a toxin that separates us from God and from each other. There is death in this pot. And so it's not just a matter of straining some things out, either the whole thing goes down the drain or something restorative has to go in. There's a strange story about soup from the Old Testament, the book of 2 King 4. King Solomon's long dead; his descendants have become self-sufficient, and many in Israel have broken faith with God.
The prophet Elisha, God spokesman, and his students, are out in the field, Elisha servant decides to make a pot of soup. He goes out into the field, finds some gourds and wild vines, chops them up, cooks them in a pot. But by his ignorance about his ingredients, he poisons the broth, and the hungry men can't eat it. The students say to Elisha, "Oh man of God, there is death in the pot." But Elisha says, "Bring some flour." And they brought it, and he threw it into the pot, mixed it, and said, "Now pour some out for the men that they may eat." And there was no more harm in the broth, according to the Word of the Lord, that single pot of soup fed more than 100 men that day.
The work of God to restore us is beyond comparison. It's something like a strainer, but it's more wondrous, more miraculous than that. Jesus is more than a parachute to save us. He's more than a container to catch us. He's the missing ingredient. He's the single addition that makes all the difference. He's the miracle who went into death for us. In this life, we are more than just strained. By faith, by Baptism into Jesus, we are pressed through the cross with Him and mixed in with God's miracle to restore everything.
Would you pray with me? Dear Father, God, You have given us this treasure in earthen vessels, in pots of clay, to show that this surpassing power belongs not to us, but to You, even as we are strained in this mortal life, let us carry within us the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may be manifest in us also. Because He lives and He reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Reflections for July 24, 2022
Title: The Broth of Life
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour. For FREE online resources, archived audio, our mobile app and more, go to lutheranhour.org. And now looking ahead to what's coming up in the next few weeks here on The Lutheran Hour, we hope you'll join us as we revisit messages from past Speakers in what we call, "Archives August." And here to talk with us about that, once again, here is Dr. Mike Zeigler.
Mike Zeigler: Thank you, Mark. August is something that I look forward to each year, listening to these sermons from prior generations. I like to notice how the message has changed in some ways, but more importantly, has remained the same and consistent through the years.
Mark Eischer: This year, we're going to be featuring messages from a single Speaker, Dr. Oswald Hoffmann, and these messages all originated in a specific time, early spring of 1967. So from February through April of 1967, four messages from Dr. Hoffmann that we felt these topics speak to things that we're still talking about today. So there's a certain timeless quality to them. One message deals with the subject of racial tensions. Oh, we still have that, don't we?
Mike Zeigler: Yeah.
Mark Eischer: One subject deals with how everything is getting so expensive. That sounds pretty accurate. The other messages deal with the fear of death and also the need for a vision. And maybe you could also substitute the word "hope" or "faith." "Without vision, the people perish." So those are the four messages that we are bringing back from Dr. Oswald Hoffmann.
Mike Zeigler: It sounds like nothing new under the sun has Ecclesiastes says.
Mark Eischer: Now, Dr. Hoffmann, when he's writing and preaching these messages back in 1967, he's not thinking about, "Oh, I wonder how these will sound to the people 55 years in the future."
Mike Zeigler: For sure. He's writing for his time and his place. And even though there is some consistency, certainly the Good News of Jesus doesn't change, times change and the culture changes. One of the things that I think is certainly different about our time from his time is the place of the church in the eyes of the culture. He was still speaking at a time when the church and institutions in general were regarded with some respect and authority, but that's not the case so much anymore.
Mark Eischer: And even at that time in 1967, that was beginning to be eroded ...
Mike Zeigler: For sure.
Mark Eischer: ... on purpose. Institutions were being undermined, and we've seen the result or the fruit of that now 55 years later as these institutions no longer hold the position in society or culture that they once did.
Mike Zeigler: And a problem that may be paired with that is this sense of meaninglessness of life. What's the purpose? What's the point of it all? I think that was there for sure in Dr. Hoffmann's time, but even more so in our time. People have become unmoored from some foundation, from a sense of purpose in this life.
Mark Eischer: And again, that's why that message of Ecclesiastes is so fitting that it also speaks to that sense of despair, that sense of meaninglessness.
Mike Zeigler: As we've heard in these conversations that I've had with Dr. Saleska over the last four weeks, Ecclesiastes serves to cut us down, to show us the problem, to diagnose our situation. In theological terms, we call it the second use of the Law. It accuses us, it reveals our need and opens the way to hear the Good News of Jesus, maybe in a fresh way.
Mark Eischer: And it's important, as you've said, to put Ecclesiastes in the biblical context that points us always to Jesus.
Mike Zeigler: Correct. Ecclesiastes is not going to give us all the answers. It will point us in that direction as he will end the book, the whole purpose of man is to fear God and keep His commands. That's partly true, but we need Jesus to give us the whole truth. Again, this is why coming alongside a listener who might be skeptical of the church's authority or stance on things, coming alongside them and reading the book of Ecclesiastes together, I think we can come to a common ground and agree that life outside of the promises of God is meaningless. And there really is no hope which provides a way to speak the Gospel more clearly into that despair.
Mark Eischer: All right. So we invite you to be with us here in the next two weeks as we begin Archives August. We'll go back in time with Dr. Oswald Hoffmann, hearing about his take on racial tensions, on inflation, the fear of death, and the problem of meaninglessness, the lack of vision. That's Archives August coming up in two weeks.
Mark Eischer: And if you've joined us partway through this series on Ecclesiastes, we invite you to go back to lutheranhour.org where you'll find archived audio of previous broadcasts. This particular series started on June 19 and proceeds through next Sunday, July 31. That's lutheranhour.org. Go back and get the entire series on Ecclesiastes with Dr. Ziegler.
Mike Zeigler: And as you listen to those messages, I hope and pray that the Good News of Jesus fills you with hope and meaning and purpose, not just for the future, not just for the life to come, but right now.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Our Father, Who from Heaven Above" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)