Text: Ecclesiastes 3:1-13
Like many people, we have an evening routine in our home. We usually eat dinner around 6 or 6:30. By 7:30 we have cleaned the kitchen, walked the dog and are ready to sit down to either a TV program we have recorded or to our books that we are reading. Almost without fail, around 8 or 8:30 Karla will ask, “What time is it?” And I will respond, “It’s not time yet.” The real question Karla is asking is, “Is it too early to go to bed?” Most nights, we are so tired that by 8:30 we are ready for bed. But we have promised ourselves that as adults we should at least make it until 9. And so, we carry on, sometimes half awake and half asleep, until that appointed time that we have deemed acceptable for two grown adults to go to bed.
While it probably didn’t happen this way, I like to imagine that maybe Ecclesiastes 3 came from someone asking the preacher/poet this same question, “What time is it?” “Is it too early for bed?” And the preacher, who no doubt had bigger questions on his mind, gave a clear response: we live in a world of changes and the events of time and conditions of human life are vastly different from one another and we are continually passing and repassing between them, as the turn of the seasons day in and day out. Or in the poet’s words, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…”
Today our lives are oriented around time. Time to wake up and time to go to sleep. Time to work or go to school and time to rest. Dinner time, tea time, and tee time—as in tee. In his book Time Wars, Jeremy Rifkin writes that the idea of our lives and the events in them being controlled by blocks of allocated time is, in terms of centuries at least, a relatively new idea. The idea comes from the Benedictine monks, “whose passion for organizing and filling every minute of the day, grew out of St. Benedict’s conviction that ‘idleness is the enemy of the soul.'” It wasn’t until the 15th century that clocks begin to rival churches in the town squares of Europe. And it wasn’t until the 17th century that those clocks had minute hands.
Maybe that is why the writer of Ecclesiastes started with, “For everything there is a season…” Marking time by seasons is a bit different than marking time by hours and minutes and seconds. Farmers and gardeners know this truth better than most of us who live in the city and mark our time by the timepieces we wear on our wrist. As we begin this New Year, it may be in our best interest and wisdom to think about time in terms of seasons, as did the writer of Ecclesiastes, rather than hours and minutes.
Time as hours and minutes tend to take us on a rollercoaster ride. One hour we can be up and the very next minute we can be down. Hours and minutes have a way of causing us to react in the moment rather than respond to a given season in life that is passing through us. Viewing time as seasons helps us see the larger picture. Seasons give us the opportunity to settle in a bit and reflect on what is happening around us and how we want to respond to those events. In an odd kind of way, if we look at our time—our lives—in terms of seasons we can see better the road ahead. But not just that, seasons also allow us to stay in the present moment because we know that another season is coming.
I can remember when my children were small, going through the terrible two’s and such, that there were times when I thought this is how life is always going to be forever. I would count the minutes to bedtime hoping against hope that tonight might just be the night of uninterrupted sleep. Then they started school and again the pressures of time seemed to keep us in chaos. Then came the time of adolescent years, and it was so easy to get caught up in thinking that life would never be any different than it was then. In those days, it was extremely difficult to think about time as seasons—there was only the next hour – and sometimes minute – to get through. It was hard then, and still sometimes today, it is hard to think about time as seasons because hours and minutes can impair our vision.
But the writer of Ecclesiastes has me thinking about time in a new way—time as seasons; and what better moment has recent history offered a more profound opportunity to think about time as more than hours and minutes just waiting to pass until something better happens. I imagine, much like today, the preacher of Ecclesiastes was speaking to a people in a time of great change and chaos and disorientation. Indeed, we are living in a time of change and chaos and disorientation and how we respond to the hours and minutes of today has the potential to shape the seasons to come.
And so, on this first day of the New Year, and considering what time it is in our history, I want to leave you with some ideas of how we might begin thinking of our time in a different way, as seasons. And how we might think of our hours and minutes as shaping the seasons before us.
I asked Mark to sing Bridge Over Troubled Waters this morning because I believe it is a time for us to build bridges—bridges that span across the troubled waters of race and class and gender and ethnicity and religion. It is time to reach across the differences that divide us as human beings and work toward creating space that nurtures the common good for all people. Our children and their children need desperately for us to be bridge builders—bridges that will carry them across these troubled waters into a new season of hope.
It is also a time for us to nurture within our own souls a sense of peace. When the storms rage around us, it is all the more important for us to create within our own hearts and souls a sense of well-being. Well-being defined by our integrity, authenticity and compassion for ourselves and others. This will require a strong sense of identity as a people called and committed to loving acts of justice and mercy. We must know our center—the core of who we are as people created in the image of God reaching out to those who are different from us but also created in the image of God. This is not easy, but it is time for us to expend as much energy as we can to build relationships with those who we see as “other.” Only then will hours and minutes of time carry us into a season of peace.
It is time for us, as people of faith, to stand firm in our convictions that love is stronger than hate, that compassion is more life-giving than judgment, and mercy and forgiveness always win out over retribution and getting even. How do we do this? It is time for us to put aside putting people in categories, speaking of “them verses us,” and being aware that when we point the finger at someone else, there are four fingers pointing back at us. Our held convictions lived out in hours and minutes must be grounded in a season of humility.
It is time for us to stand as firm as we have ever stood for those who are oppressed and marginalized by the powers and principalities in our society. Building bridges and seeing all people as created in the image of God does not mean that we don’t speak the truth to power or that we lessen our voice in the face of prejudice and racism and xenophobia. Justice love demands that we call out any action that treats some as less than others. The hours and minutes we spend marching and protesting and standing with those whose voice is silenced in our communities will be the acts that lead us to a season of justice for all.
And last, and most importantly, it is time for us to be a people of hope. Roger Crook says it best when he wrote in Our Heritage and Our Hope: A History of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church these words:
“Pullen Memorial Baptist Church…will not be a people bound by the past but a people who draw strength from the past. They will not be a people who despair of the future but a people whose heritage offers hope.” And then he quotes I John 3:2: “Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be.”
And so, we ask on this New Year’s Day, “What time is it?” And I say: It is time to shape a season in which we build bridges across the chasms that divide us as a people; while nurturing within our hearts and souls a sense of peace and well-being that is grounded in integrity, authenticity and compassion. It is a time to shape a season when we see one another—those like us and those different from us—as individuals created in the image of God and in so doing, we allow our work to be guided by the words of our founding fathers: “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”; and that we live by the words of faith: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” There is a time to despair and a time to hope. Now is the time to hope! Now, more than ever, it is time to hope—to draw on the central affirmation of our faith that God is with us in all of life—2016 and 2017.
Let us, the people of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, be the people who do not despair of the future but the people whose heritage offers hope for the seasons to come. 2017 is not a time to go to bed early. It is a time to stay awake and be the people of God.