We are making our way around the windows in our sanctuary. This morning we come to this window almost hidden behind the piano with Ecclesiastes 3:1. Again, like the window with John 3:16 directly across from it, it does not have an image. It is also the only window in our sanctuary with a verse from the Old Testament.
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” Most people might think those are the words of a song from the ‘60’s by a group called “The Byrds.” Do you remember them? They sang, “To everything turn, turn, turn/there is a season turn, turn, turn, and a time to every purpose under heaven.” Then they sang some of the rest of the words from Ecclesiastes 3. But those words actually come from the Bible. They come from the book of Ecclesiastes.
The book of Ecclesiastes is a strange book. The opening verse of the book says these are the words of “the Teacher.” That is where the title of the book comes from. The actual word means “the leader of the assembly.” That is what “Ecclesiastes” means in Greek. In Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament, it is “Qoheleth” which can also mean preacher. Ecclesiastes is a book of a teacher speaking words of wisdom to an assembly of people.
Furthermore, chapter one, verse one says the “Teacher” is “son of David, king in Jerusalem.” Well, Solomon fits this bill. He was King David’s son and king in Jerusalem. Some scholars think Ecclesiastes is the words of Solomon and others think it may have been someone else. That’s another discussion.
Nevertheless, Ecclesiastes is a strange book because it is deeply cynical with some pessimism thrown in. For example, the words of the Teacher begin this way, chapter 1, verse 2, “Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”
Does that sound like the faith, hope and love of the Bible to you? Many centuries ago when the Old Testament was being fixed Jewish rabbis debated whether Ecclesiastes should be in the Scriptures at all. Because in Ecclesiastes we read things like this:
“What a heavy burden God has laid on the human race! I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”
“Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath, humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless.”
“As everyone comes, so they depart, and what do they gain, since they toil for the wind? All their days they eat in darkness, with great frustration, affliction and anger.” (Are you feeling uplifted yet?)
“There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: the righteous who get what the wicked deserve, and the wicked who get what the righteous deserve. This too, I say, is meaningless.”
The word “meaningless” is used 38 times in Ecclesiastes. In some Bibles it is translated “Vanity.” In others it reads “futility.” Ecclesiastes is by someone who has seen it all, done it all, had it all, but doesn’t think much of it makes any difference. Death comes to everyone no matter if you are rich or poor, wise or a fool. Life’s pleasures, money, and power is all fleeting. This is not Joel Osteen theology.
But you know what? There is a lot of truth to it all. And while there is a lot of cynicism in Ecclesiastes the Teacher of Ecclesiastes also has a high view of God. Enjoyment and happiness are said to be gifts of God. God is to be revered. God is to be feared. God’s commandments are to be obeyed. God determines who gets what and how much. He determines one’s state in life. The Teacher also says that we can’t know the mind of God. Why some things are the way they are are beyond us. You’re never going to find out.
8:17: “…then I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. People toil to search it out, but no one can discover its meaning. Even if the wise claim they know, they cannot really comprehend it.”
And it’s true, there are many things in life, in our lives, that we can’t figure out. And there are plenty of people who have great wealth, seemingly good jobs, and a wonderful life, and they are miserable. (By they way, this is Nancy’s favorites book of the Bible. Which is strange because I am the cynic. She is all about everything being great.)
It is in a book like this that we hear the words in our window “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal…”
and so on through twenty-eight opposites. There’s a time for this and a time for that.
I think of what those rescue workers in Miami have gone through these past couple of weeks ago. There was a time to search and then a time when they had to give up that search.
The point is there is a time for everything. There is a season for each of these opposites. Ecclesiastes does not say that each of the opposites in the list is equally good, and certainly not equally pleasant. It only says this is the way the world is. There is a time for certain things.
I don’t know about you, but I like to know how everything fits together. I kind of like purpose. I don’t know, call it a weakness. I like to know there is a plan and there is meaning. Ecclesiastes doesn’t deny there is a plan. It’s just that we can’t know it. Life is full of contradictions and sometimes it is way beyond our understanding. So the Teacher says, “don’t waste your time figuring it out. Just enjoy what you can and make the most of it. Would you pass me another cigarette, please?” That’s my translation. That’s not in Ecclesiastes.
Ecclesiastes says, “Yes, life can seem fragmented and not make sense to us. If that is the case it is because God made it that way so that we learn to fear him. When we acknowledge our ignorance and the limits of what we can know, then maybe we will acknowledge we are mere creatures dependent on the Creator.”
Ecclesiastes 3 is a passage about acceptance. We have to accept everything in its time.
I don’t like war but there is a season when it might be necessary. I prefer to laugh instead of weep, but there are times I have had to weep. There is a time to keep and a time to throw away. I prefer to throw away. Nancy prefers to keep. We work it out.
You say there is never a time to hate? Well, I hate what was done to Jewish people in the Holocaust. I hate when injustice is done to black people. I hate cancer.
We try to figure out life and why things are happening as they are, don’t we? I suppose there is a time to change and a time to accept what is given, a time to persevere and a time to give up. It’s life, folks.
In v. 11 Ecclesiastes does say, “God has made everything beautiful in its time.” In its time the cross was beautiful. An instrument of torture and death made beautiful. God can do this.
Pastor Joanna Adams in a sermon on this passage pointed out that Ecclesiastes does say that, “Since there are so many things over which we have no control, it is wise to be happy and to look for joy. In addition to not worrying about what we can’t control and enjoying the gifts God gives…we are to stand in awe before God, from whose mighty acts, nothing can be added or taken away.”
“There is a time.” Time. The time Ecclesiastes is speaking of is not chronological time. Not time kept on a clock as in at 10 AM on Sunday morning we will gather for worship and that bell will be rung. No, this time is off the clock, like when we say, ‘your time will come,” or “when the time is right.”
Paul wrote in Galatians, “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman…” Jesus came into this world at the right time.
Jesus was well aware of what time it was in his life. When he began his ministry he said, “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near.” It was time for God to move in a way he never had before. Not through angels or prophets or intermediaries but through his Son. And the time had come for people to turn away from evil and turn toward the Lord. The reign of God was coming.
Several times in the gospel of John it speaks of Jesus’ “hour” or his “time.” At the wedding in Cana when mom insinuates that he should do something about the wine running out he says that his time has not yet come. Although he ended up changing water into wine which says more about what mom says that his own time, huh? He meant it was not time for revealing to people who he truly was. “Mom, can we just enjoy what’s left of this wedding.” Later, in John’s gospel Jesus’ opponents could not arrest him because it says his hour had not come. Finally, when his time does come, he goes to the cross. Jesus even makes his time a matter of prayer. In John 17 we see him praying and he acknowledges to the Father that his hour (his time) has come and asks that he would glorify the Father.
I want my time to glorify my Father.
The great and entertaining baseball manager Casey Stengel once joked, “There comes a time in every person’s life, and I have had plenty of them.” Sometimes we say we are going through a time. The cross was certainly Jesus’ time. When those times and our ultimate time comes may we glorify the Father as we walk through them.
Time and seasons speak of the sovereignty of God, which is that theological conviction we hold to that God is in control, has a plan, and everything must fit into his plan. That is why the hard things like war, hatred, weeping, which we are told each have their time, cannot ultimately defeat us because God can work his purposes even through those things. Yes, there is a time for tearing down, but don’t fear, God is working his purposes.
Maybe we can settle into Ecclesiastes 3 easier because we know Romans 8 which tells us that neither death nor life nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
My first call as pastor was to four small churches in one of the hardest areas of Philadelphia. One of the last things I did before I left was to help one of those churches die. It’s time had come. Some key leaders were moving away and they came to a decision after years of struggling to sustain that church God was leading them to die. It wasn’t easy but it was time.
We had a beautiful worship service of thanksgiving and sharing memories, and then we took what was left in the church finances and the 11 or 12 of us went out to a great dinner to celebrate.
The Lord led me and Nancy to a new call in a small church in Idaho and it was time to plant and build up. That church grew to the point we had to add on to the building. Everything in its own time.
What time is it right now? In your life? In our nation? In our world?
For some of us it is the time for joy and for some it is the time for mourning.
For some of us it is the time to get moving and for others it is a time to settle down.
It might be the time to give or it might be the time to stop giving.
With all we’ve been through in the past few years I do think it is a time for love, a time for peace, and time to heal.
One thing it is always time for is to accept God’s grace in Jesus Christ. Paul wrote to some early Christians,
“…we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says, ‘In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.’ I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”
It is always time to be reconciled to God. It is always time to receive his grace. It is always time to open ourselves to him.
And that grace holds us through all the seasons of our life. Ecclesiastes would say God is not some protection against the twists and turns of life. No, there is going to come a time for all kinds of things. The human spectrum of life is wide and can bounce back and forth. But if you have God, or rather if he has you – because that is really what grace is all about, times and seasons won’t be the deciding factor. No, the deciding factor will be God.
So when we look at this window, let’s remember his sovereignty, and that in every season his purposes are being worked out. God has been holding us and working through everything in this past year of darkness.
There is a time for everything. There was a time to speak, but now is the time to keep silent so I shall end this sermon. Let’s pray.
Sovereign God, all our times are in your hand. There is nothing you don’t see or know. Nothing can thwart your purposes. Not even what the evil one sends our way. So help us to live before you with a solid reverence. Help us to trust you in every season. For you are the God of eternity, and everything must serve you. We have seen this especially in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.
 1:13-14  3:19  5:16,17  8:14  John J. Collins, Proverbs/Ecclesiastes, Knox Preaching Guide, pp.80-81  https://day1.org/weekly-broadcast/5d9b820ef71918cdf20028d5/should_there_be_a_clock_in_the_sanctuary Preached on January 3, 2010  Mark 1:15  8:37-39  2 Corinthians 6:1,2