Now this searching for satisfaction was really brought home to me two nights ago. I was listening to the ten o’clock news on the radio and they did a most unusual interview. It was an interview with two people who had won gold medals for athletics and they were asked about how they felt. And they said, “Well it was wonderful training, demanding and so on, going in for all this, but when we had actually won the gold medal we had got to the top of the mountain and there was nothing left. We felt disenchanted. We felt cheesed off”. Now that is exactly the theme of that first reading that we had tonight out of Ecclesiastes chapter 2 verses 1 to 11. It would be quite good to have a look at that because we are going to have a look at some of the things that this guy tried, and he still said “Dead loss. Everything is meaningless. A chasing after the wind”. There are a lot of people these days I think who, like the wise king who wrote this book, are looking for meaning, they are looking for purpose in a puzzling world. And we are going to read of this man who set out to find answers to life and he tells us what he found when he looked for answers in all the wrong places. They didn’t satisfy.
First of all he tried academic work. He tried intellectual pursuits. Listen to chapter 1 verse 13:
“I devoted myself to study and to explore all wisdom...”
And the he concludes in chapter 1 verse 18
“…with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge the more grief”.
He gave his life to books, to study, and there are still people who do that. But it didn’t satisfy him and it hasn’t satisfied most of the intellectuals since him. It drove Nitche mad. It drove Tolstoy into the arms of endless prostitutes and terrible guilt trips afterwards. As Einstein recognised, the more you know, the more you recognise that you don’t know. And like the brilliant author Somerset Maugham, if you make your God academic success you may feel as he did – ‘I have been a failure, I’ve had a wretched life, and I’ve made a mess of everything’.
So the teacher who wrote this book tried something else. He tried pleasure. Chapter 2 verse 1:
“Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.”
As we all know if you have ever looked at the Reader’s Digest, laughter is the best medicine. But that well runs dry as well. One bright person said,
“Diving to the bottom of pleasure, we bring up more gravel than we bring up pearls.”
And Peter Sellers, one of the greatest humorists ever, said “I haven’t a clue who Peter Sellers really is. To myself I am a complete stranger.” His wife said that his mind was in endless turmoil about what his purpose was on this planet and whether it was all worthwhile. It is a funny thing. If you make pleasure your goal, it satisfies you less and less. It’s rather like chasing your own shadow. You never catch up with it. It eludes you.
So he tried something else, he tried drink. ‘I tried cheering myself with wine.’ Not Newcastle brown but the wine he had in his day. And so I suppose he started off by being the life and soul of the party. But he soon became addicted to alcohol, this drug which kills more people a year than what we normally call drugs does. Drink lies behind a lot of the violence, a lot of the crimes, a lot of the broken homes, a lot of the despair that marks contemporary Britain. Do you remember how Aldous Huxley in his book Brave New World, described a society where they regularly take a drug called soma to counter their inner feeling of meaninglessness. I think it’s rather like that with the booze. It’s to counter that inner feeling of meaninglessness. And it doesn’t work.
So he tried something else. He tried big projects. Look at Chapter 2 verse 4,
“I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards… and gardens and parks”
And all sorts of stuff like that. He looked for satisfaction, and I guess a sort of immortality by his business successes, by his parks and gardens and all the stuff that he did. But you know, those things don’t satisfy when the crunch of life comes. You get very little comfort from your business success when your daughter is killed like that 16 year old girl was killed in Newcastle this week. Earnest Hemmingway undertook great flamboyant enterprises. He went into bull fights in Spain. He fought in the Spanish civil war. He wrote books which everybody read. And yet he was totally unfulfilled. He said, “I live in a vacuum as lonely as a radio when the batteries are dead.” Great projects didn’t cut it for him. Or think of Winston Churchill who, I guess, undertook as great a project as anyone in the last hundred years has done, and succeeded in it, World war II. And yet as he reflected on the world that he had done so much to save, he said at the end of his life “There is no hope.” Great projects don’t bring that lasting satisfaction.
So, this guy, he never seems to learn, he tries management, and in chapter 2 verse 7,
“I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house.”
– And got them working. Well, there is some excitement in management, and a lot of people make that their goal. They want to climb to the top of the managerial tree. There is a sense of power in it which is very exciting. But in the end it also disappoints. You see, if you don’t get to the top, you tend to grow a chip on your shoulder. And if you do get to the top, you often become arrogant and still unsatisfied. Jack Higgins was and still is I think an author, a novelist of great fame and wealth. You may have seen books like ‘The Eagle has Landed’ and other more up to date books of Jack Higgins. But he made this very significant comment. He said, “So what! Is a phrase that has figured rather large in my life. I am glad I didn’t know at the age of 18 that when you get to the top of the pile, you are left with emptiness.”
So this man tries making money. Verse 8,
“I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces.”
That is a mega-goal in a lot of people’s lives. What do you want to do when you leave University? I want to make a whole heap of money. But you know it doesn’t work. You cannot satisfy your life, you cannot satisfy your inner being, your heart with things. Paul Getty was the world’s richest man. But do you know how he ended his days? Living in a vast house, protected by dogs, sniffer dogs, where he lived alone in the midst of all his wealth. He was desperately lonely. But he was in bondage to his astrologer who told him that he would die if he took another wife. I think he’d had five already, but he was still keen for another one and the astrologer said “No!”. Game, set and match if you do! – so he didn’t. But it was still game, set and match! One millionaire said to me, “Michael” he said, “I’ll tell you this. Making a million brings zero satisfaction.” Of course the trouble is that you leave it all behind. There was a man who was going to a funeral of a very wealthy character who had just died. He went to this funeral and he took a taxi to get there. And he said to the taxi driver, “Do you know how much this man left?” And the taxi driver just looked at him and said, “Everything!” That happens doesn’t it? It’s no good - making money is not going to be a goal that will give you deep satisfaction at the end of the day.
So he tried one thing more. He tried music. In verse 8,
“I acquired men and women singers,”.
Music is one of the beautiful things in life. But even music won’t give that lasting satisfaction. You only have to look at the whole number of leading musicians who commit suicide. Beethoven very nearly did that. Elvis Presley had a very interesting interview six weeks before he died, by the same young woman who had interviewed him as his career took off. And she said to him, “Elvis, when I interviewed you before, you said you wanted three things. You wanted to be rich, you wanted to be famous and you wanted to be happy. You sure are rich, you’re certainly famous, but are you happy Elvis?” And he said, “No, I’m not happy. I’m miserable as hell.” And six weeks later he was dead, almost certainly by his own hand. Or think of Michael Jackson, the singer. Strange character to be sure, but a very famous singer. And he had just come back from a world tour and he was asked how he had enjoyed it, selling millions of his own records. He said, “I believe that I am the loneliest person in the world.” Music is not going to cut it if you search for satisfaction that way! It will give limited satisfaction for a time, but it won’t at the end of the day.
And so this guy tries one thing more. He says in verse 8
“I acquired a harem…”,
or “many concubines” as the older translation puts it, “man’s delight.” There he puts his finger on multiple sex as the thing that people really reckon will give them the kicks that they are looking for. I think you should ask Marilyn Monroe, who certainly had multiple sex, if that satisfied. No it didn’t, and she committed suicide. Or think of somebody like Bridget Bardot who was once the sex symbol of France. And she is now old and she lives in the south of France and she lives alone. Daily I am told she visits a cemetery at the bottom of her garden that has some seventy cat’s bodies in it, the bodies of her pet cats, and she talks to them. And she was interviewed about it and she said, “I choose to live in retreat seeing hardly anyone. I practice thinking about almost nothing and just listening to the sound of the waves. To me, being blond meant being a sex symbol of carefree young France. But the blond hair blinded people to the real person underneath.” And as a neighbour put it to the same journalist, “She is very lonely. She’s obsessed with ugliness and death.” See, sex without love and commitment may look immensely seductive, but it is actually disastrous. Listen to Sharon Stone, the star of Basic Instinct and various other things. That famous picture in Basic Instinct produced this comment from her, “Sex becomes your master. I hate my life! I hate it!” Or John Lydon of the Sex Pistols, “Some go for cheap sex, instant gratification, but it makes me more miserable than ever.”
Now those are some of the ways, eight ways actually, in which we try to ease that inner emptiness and meaninglessness and lack of purpose in life. But it doesn’t work out too well does it? As verse 11 of this remarkable chapter says, - so up to date the book of Ecclesiastes could have been written for the 21st century, - as it ends up “…everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;…”. Maybe the singer Joanna Connor got it right. “As a race”, she said, “we feel empty.” And that’s because our spirituality has been wiped out. As a result we try to fill the gap with alcohol, sex, drugs and money. One playboy of long ago, who later became a leading Christian, said this as he looked back on the arrogance and the sexual licence of his early life, “Oh God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” Spot on isn’t it? Really accurate.
So there we are, that’s the problem then. This searching for satisfaction and not finding it. That’s the problem, even for the rich and famous. Nothing fills that empty space inside us. Let’s turn now from a rich man that came in our first reading to a poor woman that came in our second reading, in the fourth chapter of the gospel according to John. And like the man in Ecclesiastes, we will notice her emptiness as well as she went off in all the wrong directions. But we will see something different. Whereas the writer of Ecclesiastes didn’t really get an answer, this woman did find the way out of her search for satisfaction. And as it puts it in that delightful invitation that you will have had, which I certainly had nothing to do with, on the box when it’s opened it says, “Satisfaction guaranteed.” She found that certainly. We don’t know what the woman’s name was, but she was a poor, broken woman with a miserable past. She lived in Samaria, and Samaria was a reasonable wealthy place, very well-to-do, wealthy but dull. Religious people were boring, arguing over whether Jerusalem or Samaria was the best place to worship. And this woman was fed up. She wanted to get some kicks. She was after happiness and life and fulfillment. But she found it didn’t happen. Her search for happiness didn’t work out. She was utterly frustrated. She found the men she slept with in search of happiness were a bunch of self-centred so-and-sos. She saw that there was a disastrous twist in human nature – hers and everyone else’s as well. You see, evil lies not in our circumstances. It lies in ourselves though we are very reluctant to admit it. But Jesus, the greatest psychiatrist of all time, amongst other things said this, “From inside, out of the heart of man come evil thoughts, acts of fornication, theft, murder, pride, slander, folly..” and various other things he mentioned. These things, he said, come from inside us and they defile us. They spoil our joy and they make us dirty. So her search for happiness didn’t really work out. And her hunger for freedom didn’t seem to click either. It turned to bondage. Very often when you search for freedom by kicking over the traces, you get that freedom but you get captured by something else. Free from conventional morality this woman went after sex. And she got enslaved by it, and people do.
One of the most famous playboys of our day is Hugh Hefner, the man who produced the Playboy Palace in the Big Apple and writes/photographs Playboy. And this is what he said, very interesting and in an interview just recently, “I have been looking for love in all the wrong places.” Playboy is not about love at all, it’s about lust, that magazine and here is the guy behind it. And he says, I’ve been looking in all the wrong places. Hefner’s cries for freedom have gone sour on him like this woman’s did. And there are many things that spoil our freedom. It might be materialism. It might be a wrong ambition. It might be pornography which is grabbing people in a big way these days. These things are for freedom, but they get a grip on us that we cannot break. Modern men and women claim to be free, but everywhere they are in chains. So her search for happiness did not work out neither did her hunger for freedom. And another thing, her longing for life, a real great life. That got frustrated too. She had turned her back on the way to a fulfilled life and she had selfishly followed every lust that crossed her mind. And now, lonely and despised, she was reduced to collecting water when nobody else was around. Everybody else collected it in the morning or the evening. She went in the middle of the day because they took the Mickey out of her. She was lonely. She was miserable. The outlook for this woman was very dark indeed.
And then! And then! Jesus met her. It was by far the most important meeting she had ever had. She knew nothing about this strange Jewish man sitting there on the well. On his own! But she quickly found that she had never met anyone in her life like him. She was entranced as he asked her for a favour, “Would you be kind enough to give me a drink?” She was amazed when he treated her, with all the muck in her life, with respect. She was intrigued when he moved from talking about the well of literal water that was at their feet to the spring of cool, fresh, bubbling spiritual water that could bubble up in her parched life. She must have listened spellbound as he offered her four things:
First he offered her undreamed of fulfillment, in verse 13,
“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks this water I give him will never thirst. The water I give him will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
This woman was empty and parched and fed up, and he intrigued her. He said, ‘Wouldn’t it be fantastic if there was a spring of bubbling water in your life? It would be a fulfillment of your longings. It would be a total new deal. I can make it happen if you really want it, and Satisfaction Guaranteed.’ Of course he was speaking in pictorial language and she took it literally. But even taken literally, the fact that she wouldn’t have to come back and keep lugging the water home. The fact of a spring of clear bright water – I have drunk water out of that well, it’s very cold, it’s very pure. Very, very attractive – undreamed of fulfillment. And in that interview just now we heard a little of the fulfillment that Jesus Christ has made in life. Do you know I have seen this in all manner of lives and in every continent I have had the joy of seeing people turn to Christ. And always there has been something of a new joy, a new peace, a new sense of direction, a new companionship, anew sense of being cleaned up and they wouldn’t trade it for anything. I have seen it in politicians, I have seen it in athletes, I have seen it in prostitutes, I have seen it in students, I have seen it in all sorts. It’s always the case. The satanic propaganda is ‘You come to Jesus Christ and its going to make your life miserable. Don’t touch if with a barge pole.’ No! That’s rubbish. You come to Jesus Christ and he offers you like he offered this woman, undreamed of fulfillment. You’ll never, never want to go back.
Here is the second thing he offered, and that is a gentle unmasking. Jesus looks at her and says, “Go, call your husband and come back.” “I have no husband.” she replies. ‘How right you are! You have had five of those in a row, and the guy you are with now isn’t your husband at all. How true you are!’ A wonderful interchange between those two, but you see what Jesus is doing. He’s not saying ‘You’re in the sin bin.’ He’s saying “Go, call your husband.”, and that immediately started her asking what her life looked like. And then Jesus of course saw right through her. He does see right through all of us. He sees through you and me, and the dirt in our lives has to be dealt with. Even with a little kid, if he falls over and gets a nasty cut on his knee, it’s no good trying to just put a sticking plaster over it. You have got to get the dirt out first if there is going to be any healing. And it’s so with Jesus Christ. he has got to get the dirt our of us first and so he says to this woman, “Go call your husband.” to make her look at the dirt in her life and admit it and let him clean it up. And that’s a very tough call for a lot of us because we think that we are the cat’s whiskers. We really think that we are just it, and he says ‘I’m terribly sorry but your not. I love you like crazy but you are a mess, and you need to get this stuff sorted, and I can sort it.’ A gentle, unmasking of what we are really like.
Here’s the third thing he offers this woman, a ready welcome. Even in the unmasking he says, “Go call your husband and come back.” The bible is full of that word come. ‘Come!’ says God to Noah, ‘Come into the arc and get safe.’ ‘Come!’ says God in the book of Isaiah, ‘Come all you who are hungry and I will give you satisfaction.’ “Come too, says Jesus, “all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” The last book in the bible, almost the last words in the bible, are ‘The Spirit of God says “Come!”’ That is his attitude. I have blown it so much, and I guess you have too. I have spat in his eye, and I guess you have too. I am amazed that he should say to me “Come!”. But that is the attitude of the Jesus I have come to love. ‘Come back’, he says, ‘I love you. You are precious to me.’ --- Heh! How could he say a thing like that? How can the pure one, who cannot look at the yuk in our lives, how could he say “Come!” ?. There is a verse in the Old Testament that you may actually know. Some of you may have sung it. It runs like this:
“We all, like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity…”, (that means the bad stuff) “…of us all.”, Isaiah 53:6.
Somebody explained that verse to me when I was in my teens and I saw it for the first time. I saw what the cross… the cross has figured quite largely in our singing and our prayers tonight… but I saw what the cross meant. This is how the person explained it. He said, “Let that hand represent you and me. And let that dark thing resting on my hand represent the barrier that the bad stuff in me puts between me and God. I cannot enjoy the light or his purity, I cannot enjoy the warmth of his love because of this whacking great barrier in between.” So listen to the verse, “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way…” And there is that barrier resting upon us. We are not as bad as we could be. No, but we have turned every one to his own way. Isn’t that true? OK, what did the prophet see was going to be the answer to that impossible situation? This was it. The Lord, that is God in heaven, laid on him the bad stuff of us all. I don’t suppose Isaiah, for it was Isaiah speaking, I don’t suppose he could have put a name to that him, but we can. It was the great Lord Himself who we call Jesus, who carried that barrier of sin on himself. That’s why he cried “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He did it so that you and I could enjoy the light of his presence and the love of his heart. He took the responsibility for himself. And the person who was helping me said, “Now Michael, where are your sins? The bad stuff? Where is it?” There are only two places where it can be. It’s either still on you, or you have said “Yes” to where God the Father put it, on Jesus Christ. And that day, actually, I did say “Yes” with a very big thank you to think that he should have bothered and gone through such agony to bear my sins. Peter was there looking at it all and he was actually thinking of that Isaiah passage. There are several allusions to it in what he says. And this is what he ways in his letter,”Christ has once and for all suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, to bring us to God.” I wonder if you have let him bring you to God yet. There needs to be an action on your part.
And that just leads me to the last thing I want to say. An undreamed of fulfillment he brings. A gentle unmasking of the mess within. A ready welcome. And he can do it with his arms outstretched because they were outstretched on that awesome cross for you. And I would guess that if you had been the only person who had blown it in this world, he would have come there for you because he loves you that much. But the last thing in this passage is a clear challenge. It is not actually in the bit that is written. It is a few verses further down. The woman said, “I know that the Messiah is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” - all this difficult stuff. Then Jesus declared, “I am” - ‘the one who is speaking to you.’ Now we might miss the point of that, but she wouldn’t. And nobody in those days would have missed it, because I am was the great name of God Himself. And Jesus was saying, ‘it’s not just the Messiah, the great deliverer you are looking for, it’s actually the one who brings God in front of you. And that is me.’ “I who speak to you am he”. And he has been speaking to you tonight just as he spoke to that woman long ago. You have tried so many ways to fill that hole in your heart and you will never succeed. But Jesus Christ says to you something like this: ‘I can do it. I can fill that empty hole. I actually designed it to come and fill it myself. And you pour all sorts of rubbish into that hole, the booze and the drugs and everything else, but it’s not going to satisfy, it doesn’t fit. I am the only one who can give you that lasting satisfaction. Satisfaction guaranteed. But nothing else will do. Will you let me give you this bubbling living water inside you and stay for ever?’ In another part of this gospel of John Jesus explains very clearly what he means by this living water. He says it’s “my unseen spirit.” ‘Physically I am going to leave this earth, but the real me is able to come into your very life. That is what a Christian is. He has got Christ in him, Christ’s Spirit in him. ‘That is the living water I can offer you.’
All other questions are secondary to this. Will you come back to Jesus and ask him for this new life? This spring of bubbling water that will never, never fail and will lead to eternal life. I think people get confused at this point. They fail to see how simple it is. They think they have perhaps got to earn it. And Jesus says ‘No’. Even if you could live a perfect life from this moment on you could never earn it. Look at all the stuff in the past. People think that they have perhaps got to wear hair shirts or go to church three times a day or something like that to earn it. He says ‘Sorry! The Pharisees did that – much better that you, and they never made it.’ You will never make it that way. You have to ask. You have to come to him and say three key words. I have got a little grandson here I have been with this weekend, and he is trying to learn to speak. But I know his parents will teach him three words pretty soon. One is “Sorry!” and already the needs to say that. One is “Thank you!”, and one is “Please!”. And this is exactly how we start this companionship with Jesus, this friendship with him. This satisfaction which we begin to experience in our lives. It is the beginning of a journey and it’s got to start somewhere, and it starts with a prayer: Sorry! Thank you! Please! I am sorry Lord for having kept you out for so long. I am sorry for the bad stuff in my life. Thank you, thank you so much for coming to find me and for going to the cross for me. Thank you. Please come and put this fountain of your Holy Spirit, this bubbling, clear water in my life and give me the satisfaction you planned for me to have from all eternity, but I have not got it yet. Please come and put your Holy Spirit inside me.
Now some of you are not ready to come and pray a prayer like that. Some of you have already done so. But there will be people here tonight, and you know that the Lord has spoken to you. I don’t know who he has spoken to, but you will know. And if he has said, ‘Yes, you have got that hole in your heart. You are looking for satisfaction. You have never got it sorted yet.’, take the opportunity of this evening to say ‘Sorry’ and ‘Thank you’ and ‘Please’. Let’s have a minute of quiet to reflect how we are going to respond to Jesus Christ.
If you really want to start this very exciting journey with Jesus Christ, which brings a lasting satisfaction into life, then you might like to pray something like this:
Lord I am sorry that I have kept you at arm’s length. I am sorry for the dirt that has defiled my life. I am ready for a change. Thank you so much for dying on the cross to clean up my mess. Thank you that you are alive to be my companion and my friend. Please come right now and put your unseen self, your Holy Spirit into my heart so that I can be, not just in name but in reality, a Christian, and I promise you that I shall not be ashamed to be known as one of your friends. Amen.
Just one promise from the Lord as I sit down. It is this. He says, “Whoever comes to me, I will never, never cast out.” Isn’t that lovely? “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” So if you have prayed that prayer, and you are already wondering, ‘Well what can one prayer do about it?’, he says “Whoever comes to me I will never, never cast out.”