“What Time is This?”
Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
January 1, 2017
“Hear now the words from the 3rd Chapter of Ecclesiastes, verses 1-8.”
1 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
2 a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3 a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
7 a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.
“This has been a time for listening; now it is a time to reflect and understand.”
Just yesterday, we were celebrating the birth of Christ. Our scripture this morning tells us it was the right time, as there is a time for this and a time for that. Today, today is the beginning of a brand-new year; it is a new time. But what time is it? Is it time to do something dramatic? Is it time to put all the decorations away? Is it time to take stock of all that has occurred over the last twelve months. Or is it time to just sit back and relax and see what happens next?
This chapter and verse of Ecclesiastes is frequently used at the end of times. I have used it well over a hundred times during memorial services for loved ones. I, and vast numbers of other pastors do so simply because it acknowledges how there is a time for everything! Birth, death, joy and sadness. Every human emotion, everything we can come up with to do or not do, there is a time for each and every thing in creation! It needs to be said over, and over again, because it oft times does not feel like the right time for many things that occur in life.
When we get up in the morning, it doesn’t always feel like the right time to start the day. Maybe, just a few more winks or a few more minutes in bed. But, no! When it is time to get up… it is time to get up! When the dishes need washing after a meal – it usually means it is time to wash them. When we were young we thought the chores only need to be done when mom or dad told us to do them. But as we get older we learn that chores need to be done in their own time, when they need to be done. We leaned, how play-time comes after we get the work done not before. Sure, there are exceptions to every rule… there is even a time for that!
It has been believed that King Solomon wrote the book of Ecclesiastes. Makes sense, as he was, considered to be a very wise man and this writing certainly contains a line of reasoning that has proven to be wise, thus they are wisdom sayings. It would be wise however, to consider there are a number of possibilities as to whom the author truly is. But let us leave that to scholars to debate. What is important for us in modern times is to glean what wisdom is truly contained in this writing. Confirming the identity of the author will not help us figure out if it is time for such and such to be done, nor will it elevate our discomfort if that next event occurs when we do not want it to occur! If somethings time has come, it shall be the right time!
It’s time to start thinking about tomorrow and figure out what we can do with tomorrow, right? Or, maybe it is time to reflect on yesterday and debate how we might have done things better… right? These are both things that are worthy of being considered, yet, we must do so carefully, so that we do not get lost in the past or the future. For now, is the time to work on things in today! We need to do this with a willingness to take stock and make an inventory of things which have occurred in the past. Surely, there is a lot to be learned there. And, of course we need to plan for tomorrow, we need to consider what might be and what could be, in line with what we would like it to be. Planning, writing budgets and so forth are very important. We simply need to be sure we keep out emotions and our energy in the tasks at hand today. If we don’t, we will be very disappointed when tomorrow comes and we look back at this day realizing, we could have done better today.
So, let’s take some time right now to determine what time this is.
January 1st 2016. Brand new day, brand new year. As these next days, open-up to us, we will begin to realize, a few things. First, and foremost is this: we shall realize it feels a lot like yesterday and the day before. However, there are things which are marked by our calendars – helping us to realize there are some things which have changed. First, is the date we see on the calendar. Being civilized we have come to rely on a common calendar and time system by which we are able, to coordinate things with others and so forth. But you knew that, right? Here, in our church organization, we will see plans come together for our annual meeting… whereby we can review the past, in terms of how we used our time, talent and treasures. We shall take stock in how we might move forward into the future and so forth. These are reasonable things to consider, and all very practical.
But, these are just small pieces of realizing what time it is right now.
It is widely believed that Ecclesiastes was written for the people to hear, people like you and me. So, or in hopes that we would come to understand how the cycles of life come and go, like the ocean tide. There will be good times and bad times, sad times and joy filled times. As adults and many of us parents, we have come to learn… it is not wise to teach our children that everything is happy, happy, happy all the time. No, we have learned to teach them there are times for play and there are times for work. Everything in life is not the same. We have tried our best to teach them about God. The birth of a child, a ministry of a man named Jesus, and his teachings and his sacrifice and what it means. Yes, this scripture was written so we would begin to prepare ourselves for the changing cycles of life and learn to live fully into each moment. We have come to understand that there is a time for every manner of thing under heaven. We pray our children have been listening.
As we look to the most recent past, it is easy to see there is so much that has taken place, yet we did not plan it this way. I know I didn’t and I am sure most of you would agree as well. We plan a picnic out in the back yard and then it rains. Or we plan a turkey dinner and then find that the oven is broken. We plan a moment in a worship service to go just so… then life causes us to do it another way. Our lesson today is helping us to accept life, on life’s terms. It is more than a cliché. It is the heart beat of human life… beating in the midst, of a universe that has a course all its own. When we set expectations without taking into consideration that Mother Nature and human nature may, and often will, change the ebb and flow of our best laid plans.
Just after Thanksgiving, at the end of November, we entered, into a season called: Advent. We did our best to acknowledge the life and the journey of a mother and child… way back in a time-period when folks didn’t have cameras, tape recording devices and only religious leaders, the elite few… knew how to read and write. The written accounts of their journey, were not recorded until… at least decades’ after. The baby Jesus grew up speaking Aramaic and the first accounts were written in Hebrew, then translated into Greek and then Latin. It was a long, long time before the Biblical stories were written in English… so that folks like us could read about Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus. It happened that way. And probably not exactly the way we, as modern day Christians, envision it. But it still happened as it was meant to be, in its time-period. Now, we are grappling with the account, in our time. How we perceive it is based on our biases and our realities right now. That’s the way it is.
In the midst of our journey, these past weeks, into the season we call Christmas, a lot of other things were going on. Things, way outside our influence and control. Some made us want to tear things apart and start over… but we could not. Other things happened that have made us angry, bitter and some even afraid. At other times, sadness has over taken our lives, totally changing our perspective of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Yet, we entered, into the story of Jesus’ birth driven by a belief that somehow, the birth of one child has made a real impact on the lives of those who came before us. Giving them hope for their futures and their families; giving them the expectation of undeserved peace and joy as they came to believe in the teachings of the man Jesus. And somehow, through their faith in a God whom was believed to have come and lived amongst its people, they knew love. They passed on to us their faith and belief in the light of God in the world.
What time is this we ask? This is our time. It is our time to fully live into our faith, as we enter, into yet another new year. A year which shall be filled with the answers to questions we have not even yet formed in our minds, nor knowingly felt in our hearts. We are being challenged, we are being called even, to put our trust in our God, whom has been misquoted, misunderstood and misused throughout history! The problems we face are not necessarily new. New to us as individuals perhaps, but not to human kind. Will we make the right choices and follow the right pathways? It is a question that has yet to be answered. What we do know is this: many who have come before us have faced countless and varied circumstances and situations. We are not exempt from the perils of human life. Yet, we have all of that which has been left to us, passed on to us. It would be unwise not to consider the wealth of teachings and experiences of others, gems which have been offered to us. We must, therefore, accept this time, as our time, and do the very best we can with it!
The time has come and is now upon us. We must decide how we shall proceed. Let us not abandon the teachings of Christmas! Let us continue to embrace hope and with our optimistic hearts share this with others through: our actions, our deeds and our very words. This is how we shall embrace the newness of this day, this new year! Happy New Year everyone!