Worship Words-What Time is It?

This is my sermon from August 28, 2016 Sermon at Takoma Park Presbyterian Church

 

As I spent some time living with this text over the last week, it was fascinating to read this passage in different translations. When a passage is so familiar it can be hard to hear the words anew. So I spent time listening to the words, noticing what words changed and what words stayed the same. I reflected on how much words matter. How much our words matter. The words we think matter. It matters what we say outloud and what we choose to leave unsaid. Our words matter.

 

Hear now these words that matter from the book of Ecclesiastes 3: 1-13.

 

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

a time to kill, and a time to heal;

a time to break down, and a time to build up;

a time to weep, and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

a time to seek, and a time to lose;

a time to keep, and a time to throw away;

a time to tear, and a time to sew;

a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

a time to love, and a time to hate;

a time for war, and a time for peace.

What gain have the workers from their toil? I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. God has made everything suitable for its time; moreover, God has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil.

 

These words come to us from the book of Ecclesiastes. This is not a book we spend much time talking about at church. In fact, if not for The Byrds’ 1960’s hit, Turn, Turn, Turn, we might think about this book of the Bible even less than we do now.

 

The first 8 verses of this text are 14 pairs of opposites, which the writer tells us we will do or have done to us in the seasons of our lives. How do we measure the seasons of our lives? The musical Rent offers these suggestions-

“In daylights, in sunsets

In midnights, in cups of coffee

In inches, in miles

In laughter, in strife?

 

In truth that she learns

Or in times that he cried

In bridges he burned

Or the way that she dies?

Measure your life in love”

Ponder how you measure your life as we journey through these 28 things for which there is a proper time.

a time to be born, and a time to die;

The writer begins with something we have no control over, when we are born and something we might or might not have any control over-when we die. Let’s think about death for a minute. Most of us have little control over when we die. Some of us will have control over how we live until we die…both in the years leading up to our death which includes right now as well as the days and minutes leading up to our deaths. I have spent much time lately with those who are dying. The way people react to their own deaths is as different as the people themselves. Some people want to mend all their fences and bring their loved ones close to them. Others don’t. While most of us cannot predict when we will be born or when we will die, we can decide how we live between those two events. I encourage you to read the poem, The Dash by Linda Ellis, and consider how you will spend your dash.

 

 

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

The 2nd verse of a familiar hymn uses these words-

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,

Sun, moon and stars in their courses above

Join with all nature in manifold witness

To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

And from God’s covenant with Noah and all of creation in Genesis 8:22, we hear, “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.’”

This one isn’t so difficult. We understand the need for new growth and death for our foods and for creation.

When we move from reading these words literally to metaphorically, it may challenge us. What are we planting in our lives? What are we plucking out of our lives?

 

a time to kill, and a time to heal;

It has been suggested that killing and healing are our choices in how we might respond when we are wronged.¹ Neither is an easy decision to make when another has sinned against you. At this time in our lives, how are we making time and space for our own healing and supporting the healing of each other?

 

a time to break down, and a time to build up;

Destruction and construction are necessary parts of life. This is true for buildings and for relationships. We must break down the barriers that stop us from being in relationship with each other-these may be prejudices we bring or places and things that aren’t accessible for all. And we must build up or rebuild regularly in small ways-calling, listening, sharing a meal, and in big ways-apologizing, inviting, fixing the problems we’ve created.

 

a time to weep, and a time to laugh;

Sometimes the time for these will overlap. Sometimes you’ll experience both in the same day. Sometimes you’ll feel stuck in a weeping time or you’ll realize your life is extra cheerful. Here the writer assures us that these feelings are real and appropriate. The writer reminds us that crying is a natural response and when the tears come we should not try to hide or repress them. What if we cried just as openly as we laughed?

 

a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

On the mission trip, I taught the mission team my one dance move. The time to dance quickly turned into a time to laugh. Mourning is as individual as our dancing.

In hospice, we use the word grief more than mourning. And I have the opportunity to help people to name their grief and decide how to respond. Whenever life does not happen as we planned or hoped, we may grieve for what will not be. We are all grieving. We do not get over grief. We learn to live in our new normal.

Too often, we are told grief is linear. As if we can move through the correct steps of grief to come out the other end or to the finish line and be grief-free. Grief does not work like that. We circle around and around. We feel better and are sad again. We cry and smile. We scream and wonder why. Grief is unique to each person and circumstance. We need to acknowledge and accept each other’s grief just as we accept each other’s dancing.

 

Now we’ll try two pairing together-

a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

It is said at least back to medieval midrash that both of these are metaphors for sexual relations.² To make this even more clear, the Message wrote these verses in this way, “A right time to make love and another to abstain, A right time to embrace and another to part.” Ecclesiastes tells us, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” These verses remind us that there is a time for every single thing.

 

a time to seek, and a time to lose;

In the many translations and versions of these verses I read, my favorites were “a time to search and a time to give up” from the Complete Jewish Bible and “A right time to search and another to count your losses” from the Message. I know picking two different ways to say it is okay to stop looking when you lose something gives you a good look into my daily life.

What is worth the effort to keep searching for? What do we need to give up on?

 

 

a time to keep, and a time to throw away;

I’m sure Kenny Rogers was thinking of this Scripture verse when he sang The Gambler.

Every gambler knows

That the secret to survivin’

Is knowin’ what to throw away

And knowin’ what to keep

While Kenny’s words may be helpful to you the next time you are playing poker, this verse is more than a call to save up or declutter. It is a call for us to share from our abundance-whatever that may be. It is a call to use our God given gifts to serve all of God’s children. This is a reminder to look with eyes focused on abundance instead of scarcity. Instead of saying, if only we had ______, we could do this. We should be saying, look at all we have, how can we best utilize our resources?

 

a time to tear, and a time to sew;

My mother used to sew. She made the most amazing teddy bears. Some of my favorites were these bears she made from old quilts. She would tear apart the tattered quilts that were lovingly made by previous generations and sew them back together as new teddy bears. Sometimes from tear apart, we can sew together new things.

 

a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

When we are silent, we can listen for the voices that are harder to hear, for the voices that have been silenced for too long, for the still small voice of God. When we speak, let us speak the truth. May we be always striving to find the balance between silence and speaking.

 

a time to love, and a time to hate;

a time for war, and a time for peace.

 

“The culminating v. 8, which raises the human experience of love and hate, war and peace, reverses the order in the final clause, putting peace in the position of a “punch line.” Thus do peace and birth (v. 2a) bracket the entire list. By this simple device, their antitheses, death and war, are demoted to realities that, though profound and universal, have neither the first nor the last word”.³

 

Think of the song from Fiddler on the Roof…Sunrise, sunset, sunrise, sunset. Swiftly fly the year. One season following another, laden with happiness and tears. Through our happiness, tears, and all the seasons of our lives, God is remembering us. Are we remembering God and all whom God loves?

 

Now that we have looked at the Scripture, let’s put ourselves in the text. What time is it for you? Think about your life. Where are you? What time do you want it to be? Where is God calling you to work toward a new time?

 

Where are we as a congregation? What season is it for TPPC? What season would this congregation like to live into?

 

Where is our community, our country, our world? And where could these groups be?

 

Within each of the opposites or absolutes, you may find yourself on both ends of the spectrum and also in the middle. Our lives are full of beginnings and endings. As school begins again, the summer ends. And we know that the seasons will continue and soon it will be summer again. Whenever I think of endings and beginning this quote from Hope Floats comes to mind. “Beginnings are scary, endings are usually sad, but it’s the middle that counts the most. Try to remember that when you find yourself at a new beginning. Just give hope a chance to float up. And it will, too…”

I know that most of life is the ordinary or in between time, and yet today I’m thinking about how both endings and beginnings are an important part of our journey too. The one constant on our journey is our God. No matter where we go, God is with us. God is the good news we find in the seasons of our lives. God gives us life and asks us to live our lives abundantly; giving thanks for all that is good in our lives and working to change all that needs to be changed.

 

 

Let us pray

God of beginnings, endings, and all the times in between, I wonder what you were thinking as you created all that we know. Beginning are scary and exciting because a big blank space of possibility is before us. In moments of beginning, remind us we are your beloved and even if we fail you love us still.

Faithful God, Endings are hard. It hurts to say good-bye to those we love. We grieve endings. Let us grieve, Loving God, for some endings are forever and others were necessary. In moments of ending, remind us we are your beloved and even as our hearts break you love us still.

Eternal God, Much of our lives are the times in between-going to school or work or having nowhere to go, wondering what to eat for our next meal, paying bills, doing homework…In the midst of the ordinary, open our eyes to the extraordinary gift of life. Let us hear laughter and stories. Let us see smiles and tears. Let us smell bread breaking and flowers blooming. Let us taste foods that delight us. Let us feel love from you and all those we love. In the times between, remind us we are your beloved and everyday has the possibility of beginnings, endings, and ordinary times. Amen.

 

¹ Sibley Turner, “Ecclesiastes” in New Interpreter’s Bible volume 5, 305.

²Ibid.

³Turner, 306.

 

 

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