(Ecclesiastes 3: 1-13)
Because I don’t really know that much about my ancestors, and I’m not talking about the ones that came here early on in the life of our nation, I’m talking about my even more recent relatives. So, I’m writing a series of short stories about events I’ve experienced in my life. Now I loved my grandparents and was fortunate enough to have a great relationship with each one of them. But now that I’m older, I wish I had asked more about their lives and what it was like for them growing up during whatever was going on during the different periods of their lives, like World War Two, the Great Depression, coming to America, and raising their families. I’m hoping that one day my grandchildren and great grandchildren will stumble upon the collection and read them. I’m not sure what their response will be, but at least they’ll know a little bit more about their DNA, which may answer some questions for them. You know, another piece of the puzzle. If nothing else, it’s been very cathartic as I look back and try to put the experiences into words. It’s sparked a lot of memories, some good and some not so good. Many times, I’ve muttered to myself: If I only knew then what I know now, things would have been different, I would have handled it better. What I’ve come to realize is that there are certain seasons in our lives, a certain order of the universe that we have no control over. We just have to go with the flow and make the best out of where we find ourselves at any given time in our lives, doing the best we can with what we have in service to God the Father.
And that’s what Solomon, the author of Ecclesiastes, is talking about in our scripture reading for this morning. Solomon, like me, was looking back upon his life and was probably trying to process why and how certain things happened that shaped the course of his life, and how his actions or inactions impacted others. We talk about the wisdom of Solomon, but I think he’d be the first to say that much of his wisdom was obtained through experiences, good and bad, living and learning. He believes that there must be an appropriate time for anything and everything under the heavens, but he understands that mortals, even him the mighty king, are not privy to this information. He says: There’s a season for everything and a time for every matter under the heavens: a time for giving birth and a time for dying, a time for planting and a time for uprooting what was planted, a time for killing and a time for healing, a time for tearing down and a time for building up, a time for crying and a time for laughing, a time for mourning and a time for dancing, a time for throwing stones and a time for gathering stones, a time for embracing and a time for avoiding embraces, a time for searching and a time for losing, a time for keeping and a time for throwing away, a time for tearing and a time for repairing, a time for keeping silent and a time for speaking, a time for loving and a time for hating, a time for war and a time for peace. The trick is knowing when and, if not when, how to react. In Hebrew thought, during the life and times of King Solomon, wisdom was a way of life, an attitude to the world, a pattern of behavior grounded in one’s faith in God’s word and character. God, as the creator of the world and humanity, is also the creator of wisdom.
The poem speaks of a certain order of the universe that people, no matter how they try, have no control over. Solomon is telling us that whatever a person may experience, the opposite activity will also be part of his or her life and the time for these activities is not determined by people no matter how much we think we are in control. The control of time belongs in the hands of God and a wise person will learn to recognize and accept it. A life of holiness is evident in submitting ourselves under the authority of God and embracing every situation that comes our way, trusting in God’s goodness. Solomon’s point is that God has a plan for all people, for his creation, and thus he provides cycles of life, each with its work for us to do. And, although we may face many problems that seem to contradict God’s plan, these should not be barriers to believing in him, but rather opportunities to discover that, without God, life’s problems have no lasting solutions. Timing is important and the key lies in understanding that all the experiences listed in these verses, and more, are appropriate at certain times. It’s all in how we respond. The secret to peace with God is to discover, accept, and appreciate His perfect timing. The danger is to doubt or resent God’s timing. This can lead to despair, rebellion, or moving ahead without his advice.
One of the verses that may trouble you is the one that says there is a time for loving and a time for hating, there’s a time for it. Like many verses in the Bible, this one is prone to being misinterpreted by some as an excuse for their hatred, as in, the Bible says it is okay to hate. I know, if we follow the teachings of Jesus then we know to hate the other is not Christlike and an affront to God. So, when is the time right for hating? Well, my Study Bible suggests correctly that we shouldn’t hate evil people, as tempting and righteous as that might seem, but we should hate the evil they do. That actually makes sense. And we should also hate it when people are mistreated, when children are starving, and when God is being dishonored. It’s all around us, whether it’s in the Ukraine, on our southern border, or in the shadows of our very churches. This should be our call to action, our season for doing something about it, a time to take the matters into our own hands in Jesus’ name. To be the somebodies who do something in Jesus’ name.
But, as we’ve come to learn, it is not an easy task, it’s hard work, work we think somebody else should be doing. And Solomon answers that question when he asks: What do workers gain from all their hard work? I have observed the task that God has given human beings. God has made everything fitting in its time, but has also placed eternity in their hearts, without enabling them to discover what God has done from beginning to end. I believe that Solomon is talking about faith and the promise of a home in eternity with God if we just believe and do his work and his will. What God has done, is currently doing, and will do in the future is a mystery to us but it’s that faith he has placed in our hearts that gives us the ability, the desire, and the drive to go on, to move forward, and prevail. Now, one of the knocks we get for being Christians, followers of the Way of Jesus Christ, is that it’s no fun. All the good stuff, all the things that are fun are frowned upon. We should live for today and not worry about the consequences. Solomon gets that and makes the observation: I know that there’s nothing better for them but to enjoy themselves and do what’s good while they live. Moreover, this is the gift of God: that all people should eat, drink, and enjoy the results of their hard work. He’s right, we should enjoy the fruits of our labors but that satisfaction can’t be found in a bigger house, a nicer car, vacation homes, and fancy clothes because after a time we become bored with what we have and feel the need for something more, something new and improved when we become dissatisfied.
Our ability to find satisfaction in our work depends to a large extent upon our attitude. We will become dissatisfied if we lose the sense of purpose God intended for us in our work. We can enjoy our work, no matter what it is, if we first remember that God has given us work to do, and second, realize that the fruits of our labor is a gift from him. We must see our work as a way to serve God and appreciate the satisfaction we get when the work is completed and well done. When we have the proper view of God, we discover that real pleasure is found in enjoying whatever we have as gifts from God, not in what we accumulate.
This is what makes the ups and downs described by Solomon so challenging for a people that want everything to go right as we do what we can to advance his kingdom. God has built in us a restless yearning for the kind of perfect world that can only be found in his perfect rule, and when we experience these lows, we feel frustrated like no matter what we do, we can’t get ahead. It’s two steps backwards for every step forward. Solomon, the author of Ecclesiastes, calls us to embrace the life that God has given us and to live in obedience and gratitude to him. That’s why there’s a season for everything and a time for every matter under heaven.
Let us pray.
Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father. There is no shadow of turning with thee, thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not, as thou hast been, thou forever wilt be. Yes, gracious and loving Father, how grateful we are for your faithfulness to us your children. We praise you for being there for us not only during the good times but also in those dark times of our lives, especially during those times of great doubt and anxiety when we feel as if you have forgotten about us. We thank you that morning by morning new mercies we see and that all we have needed thy hand hath provided. Great is thy faithfulness. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.