Sermon: There is a Time and a Season

There is a Time and a Season
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
RUMC 1 January 2017

There is the story of a farmer in a Midwestern state who had a strong dislike for Christians and churches. As he plowed his field on Sunday mornings, he would shake his fist at the church folk driving by on their way to worship.  October came and went and the farmer had his best crop ever.  When the harvest was complete, he placed an advertisement in the local newspaper which belittled and made fun of the Christians for their faith in God.  This was the message in the newspaper, “Faith in God must not mean much if someone like me can prosper.”  The response from the Christians in the community was quiet and polite.  In the same newspaper was this comment: “God doesn’t always settle His accounts in October.”

My scripture text is a favorite for many. It is Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 and on this New Year’s Day, I thought it would be appropriate to ponder its wisdom as it relates to our lives.
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; 8a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.
This is the Word of God.  Thanks be to God.

I would like to look at half of the scripture verses and ponder its meaning as it pertains to our lives in 2017.

Verse 2a: A time to be born and a time to die.
The first things mentioned, the events of birth and death, are the two boundaries of life. The birth of a child is usually a joyous occasion, whereas death, in most cases, is unwelcome.  Additionally, the perplexing questions of life and death are difficult to answer, such as the following: Why is it that a certain couple cannot have children?  Why do good people die in the prime of life?  Why did a tornado or a flood claim so many lives?  Why do innocent people die in wars?

I don’t think there are any answers that will satisfy, because the ways or acts of God are beyond comprehension. This may be hard for some, but the best we can do is accept that the Lord knows what is best and His will be done.

In a January 1979 interview with Barbara Walters, actor John Wayne said that he found it difficult to watch his old movies: He said “It is kind of irritating to see that I was a good looking 40 year old and suddenly I look over and see this 71 year old man.  I am not squawking.  I just want to be around for a long time.”

Along these lines, earlier this week, I went into Burger King and got a hot coffee. When I looked at the sales receipt, I discovered that the clerk gave me a senior discount.  That kind of threw me.  All week long, I kept looking in the mirror to see how I look like a senior.

It is inevitable that, though most will grow old, death is an appointment we all must keep. However, for Christian believers, we need not fear.  In eternity, we will be with Jesus and God.  For those who have not made a Christian profession of faith, I would encourage them to make peace with their maker.

Verse 2b: A time to plant and a time to uproot.
One talent that I do not have is the ability to grow things. I know how to use a chain saw and cut trees and trim bushes, but that talent of knowing how and when to bring something alive out of the ground is not my gift.  I admire and appreciate those who have such a gift.  I like to go into a garden shop where and look at the wide variety of plants, trees, and shrubs.  One favorite spot of mine is Elizabeth Park in Hartford to see the all the roses.

If we look at nature, we can get a general idea of how life works. Like Ecclesiastes tells us, there is a time to plant and a time to harvest.  If we get the seasons out of sync or in reverse order, there could be trouble.  The normal time to plant is in the spring and then we can enjoy the full bloom of pants and trees in the summer.  In the fall we can see the beautiful foliage or the bounty of the farmer’s harvest.  We can extend this principle to our own lives.  If we live our lives and skip steps in the normal progression of life, there can be problems.  Just as nature demonstrates, there is a proper season or way we should do things.

Verse 3: A time to kill and a time to heal.
Youth is the time of growth. Muscles and abilities increase and coordination only gets better.  As grandparents of 2 year old Anthony, we can see the amazing process of growth; it is a pleasure to watch.  In time I expect that our grandson will surpass us in height, strength and athletic ability.

As we get older, our bodies will begin to break down. The letters and numbers on the computer screens or cell phone will get smaller and smaller.  The steps on the stairs will get higher and higher and we will find that people will speak in lower and lower tones.

Even as it is normal to age, we should do everything in our part to seek healing and improve the quality of life whenever we can. But there will come a time when each of us will need to let go and be ready to go into eternity.  The Christian believer who walks daily with the Lord, knows that when it is our time to leave this life, we will receive our eternal reward.

Verse 4: A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance.
A pastor who once visited a discouraged church member was asked, “Where was God when my child died?” The wise pastor gently answered; “God was in the same place when his own son died on the cross.”

John Locke, the English philosopher once said: “If you dig far enough into the earth, you can come to water. If you bore deep enough into life, you come to tears.”  In this imperfect world, we will experience sorrow; it is during those difficult times we will need the support of others and the comfort of God’s presence.  Through the healing of time, we will once again be able to laugh and be content.

Verse 5: A time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing.
A young couple from New England had just become engaged when the Civil War broke out. The young woman’s fiancé was called into the army, so their wedding had to be postponed.  The young soldier had managed to get through most of the war without injury, but at the Battle of the Wilderness, he was severely wounded.  His bride-to-be, not knowing of his physical condition, read and reread the soldier’s letters, counting the days when he would return.  Suddenly the letters stopped.  Finally she received one, but it was written in an unfamiliar handwriting.  It read:  “There has been another terrible battle.  It is very difficult for me to tell you this, but I have lost both arms.  I cannot write myself, so a friend is writing this letter for me.  While you are as dear to me as ever, I feel I should release you from the obligation of our engagement.”  That letter was never answered.  Instead, the young woman took the next train and went directly to the military hospital where she found her loved one.   The moment she saw him, she threw her arms around his neck, kissed him, and said, “I will never give you up.  These hands of mine will help you.  I will take care of you.”  That is truly an inspirational story.

Unfortunately there are sad situations on the opposite spectrum. When I was in Physical Therapy training in San Antonio, Texas, several of our instructors told us about the times that certain spouses would go into the Burn Center, take one look at their loved one, take off their wedding ring, leave it on the night stand and walk out.  After that emotional traumatic event, some of the patients gave up the will to live and died.

Let me be positive about the spirit of Ecclesiastes, there will be times when it is appropriate to embrace others and show them our support. Mrs. Phyllis King believes this with all her heart and she makes certain that everyone who walks through the door of this church feels welcome.  And then there will be times, depending on the circumstance or situation that we may need to keep our distance; that calls for discernment as well.

Verse 6: A time to keep and a time to throw away.
Spring seems like the time to clean up and throw away. In the military, we would often move every three years, and with a weight limit of about 10, 000 pounds, we had to stay on the light side of our possessions.  In my time in Connecticut, I have noticed Tag Sales are quite popular especially in the spring and early summer.  When we had our Savers fundraiser in May and June, we would drive all over Ellington and Vernon visiting tag sales.  People would give us the items that they could not sell at their Tag Sale.  We stored the items in our basement and garage at the Parsonage.  The Saver’s campaign was quite successful; we made close to $1000.  It is true what they say, “one person’s junk is another’s treasure.”

Let me extend this to another realm. We need nurture friendships, good relationships and wonderful memories; and throw out any resentments, anger, long standing hurts.

Verse 7: A time to love and a time to hate;
When Abraham Lincoln worked on the Mississippi River as a barge operator, he saw black men, women and children sold at the slave auction in New Orleans. With that first-hand experience, he saw the injustice of that terrible institution and felt hatred rise in his heart.  From that hatred, Lincoln resolved that if he ever got a chance, he would do away with slavery.  Lincoln’s hatred of slavery was entirely appropriate.  As President of the United States, he was able to end it.  A good rule of thumb, hate what is evil and love what is good

This morning I covered half of the verses from Ecclesiastes; they are a good reminder of what we could face in 2017. In our life’s journey, we will face many new situations, and we will experience both joys and sorrows.

Sometimes John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist church, would close his sermons with this thought. As I do the same, consider these words for your life in 2017. “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”