“Everything has a season, and a time for every matter under the heavens. 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 tear 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 fling stones and a time to gather stones in. A time to embrace and a time to pull back from embracing. A time to seek and a time to lose. A time to keep and a time to fling away. A time to tear and a time to sew. A time to keep silent and a time to speak. A time to love and a time to hate. A time for war and a time for peace.” – Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
May we know what season it is. May we know what the time asks of us. The reading we heard earlier, this old wisdom from the book of Ecclesiastes from the Hebrew tradition we draw from, this wisdom has worn well with age. These verses have been on the hearts and in the songs and in the prayers of generation after generation of people in all corners of the world, seeking wisdom, seeking strength, seeking guidance, seeking God … in whatever time and condition they find themselves – times of peace, times of war, times of plenty, times of scarcity, times of crisis and fear, times of calm and trust, times of destruction, times of creation, times that are a whole mix and mess of all of it altogether … The wisdom of scripture can help us to get a little bigger view of time and conditions, so we may we know what season we’re in … and know that it shall endure but for a season, and then discern better what the time asks of us. I’m feeling moved to use some of this sacred time we have together this morning, to pray this scripture together. Instead of a whole lot of huffing and puffing and preachifying, I’ll use the heart of this sermon time to invite us to hear these verses in a prayerful way. I’ll speak the scripture and invite you to hear how this scripture may name the season that you are in. Or name a season that we as a church are in, or we as a larger community or people. This is scripture, so when we are open and listen we can receive wisdom from the Spirit about our condition and we can receive guidance from the spirit about what is asked of us, here and now, about how to be well in whatever condition we are in. First, please indulge me a few reflections. These verses can speak on both a literal and a metaphorical level. “A time to be born and a time to die.” That is literally true for each and all of us. We each have a time to be born and a time to die, and that’s true for everyone near and dear to us. When we embrace those times for what they are, there is a deep, deep power that can come upon us. A woman who knows it’s time to give birth, a baby who knows it’s time to be born, whew!, look alive!, there’s a greater power taking over. And when the time comes to die, if we are able to see that time approaching, if we deny, deny, deny, that can lead to all kinds of misery. But if we are able to see the time for what it is and be in the way that the time calls us to be, then the season of death can be sacred beyond words. There are also deep meanings to be found in hearing these words in a more than literal way, “a time to be born and a time to die.” There are times when we must die to parts of ourselves that are killing us, we must die to a false sense of ourselves, in order to survive, to live. Folks who have faced their own vicious habits know this. The Apostle Paul talks about following Jesus in this way. If we are baptized, we join Christ in dying to the false self, the conjuring act of the forces of sin that can enthrall us, if we trust and commit to the holy Way of Jesus, we die to that false self and we join Christ in being reborn, fresh and free in the full light of the Realm of Heaven come on Earth. So, “A time to be born and a time to die”, there’s wisdom in hearing them literally and wisdom in hearing them symbolically. The other reflection I want to make is that: when we don’t admit what season it is, or we don’t respond to what the time asks of us, we can cause unnecessary suffering for ourselves and others. I think the problem often boils down to us being inclined to want only one kind of season, or put another way, we’re inclined to what the time to only ask of us only one kind of thing. If you’re inclined to work, work, work, you can have a hard time admitting that it’s time to rest and receive and be restored. If you’re inclined to just kick back all the time and rest, rest, rest, you can have a hard time admitting that it’s time to get up and roll up your sleeves and work. If you’re incline to give, give, give all the time, you can have a hard time receiving when you need to. For most of us it is hard when it’s time to let go and say goodbye to something you’ve held precious. For folks who are inclined to be quiet, it’s important to know when to need to speak up. For folks who are more inclined to take up all the air in the room, it’s important to know to listen to the quiet ones … and not just as a matter of being nice, but it’s often a matter of survival or soul survival that we heed the way the Spirit speaks through the quiet ones. Folks who are more inclined to be peaceable can have a hard time admitting that it’s time to stand up and fight. Folks who are more inclined to fight can have a hard time realizing that they’re going out and causing all kinds of fights that aren’t called for. In this last case, about peace and war, if we’re formed by the wisdom of Ecclesiastes, we’d know that a wise and strong person or a wise and strong society keeps the peace and uses force only when the time truly calls for it. And only with the measure that’s called for. And then, they are eager to become the healer, to mend the damage that’s been done. Another way to put it is, what Mark Twain said, “If you’re only tool’s a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” My Grampa Mahlberg always used to say, “Use the right tool.” He was a mechanic – it’s good practical wisdom. But my Grampa also was someone who prayed deeply and who prayed in a way that would change him. “Use the right tool” is a good guide for our inner lives and our moral lives. When we hear these words of Ecclesiastes they can help us see What tool do we need to let go of? What tool do we need to pick up? Or if we need any tool at all but open hands. How is God calling us to become an instrument? How do we need to be given the situation in which we find ourselves to be. What season is it? What is the time asking of us?
So I invite us to pray on these words from the ancient scripture. May you hear how God’s spirit of wisdom is speaking to you at this time:
“Everything has a season, and a time for every matter under the heavens. 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 tear 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 fling stones and a time to gather stones in. A time to embrace and a time to pull back from embracing. A time to seek and a time to lose. A time to keep and a time to fling away. A time to tear and a time to sew. A time to keep silent and a time to speak. A time to love and a time to hate. A time for war and a time for peace.” Amen.
(Delivered July 1 2018, at First Congregational Church of Walla Wally, by Rev. Nathaniel Mahlberg)