First Mennonite Church
January 1, 2017
More Than Four Seasons
“Time is precious;” “time is money,” many say so. Sometimes it feels like if we are enslaved to the hands of the clock. Although much has been gained in terms of production, one of the disadvantages is that we have subdivided our lives into seconds, minutes, hours, days and schedules of all types. Even the natural body time cycle of rest, sleep, eat has been disrupted. Many children go to school drained and tired due to sleep deprivation. There are couples who barely see each other because one works night shifts and the other day shifts. Because of tight schedules and expectation for punctuality there are clocks in all devices and home rooms. But having a full schedule is not the only problem. When we encounter traffic jams, we begin to worry, will I be late to the doctor’s appointment? Will the boss believe me when I tell her the reason I am late? Will the kids get to school on time? Consequently, we get stressed out. Tempers flare up when someone cuts another on the road or the store checkout line. Time not only marks the hour of the day, it seems it rules our lives.
When I was a child I do not remember our family having a clock at home. The only way we got our time was through the radio. Dad played the radio when he woke up. At six, by which time I was waking up, was “Build the Nation,” on Radio Belize. It was mostly marching band music and Dad liked it. I listened too, from my bed. (I still like “Under The Double Eagle” by Josef Franz Wagner.) Dad would come and say, “Get up and work!” That was the clue we needed to get up to do our chores, which included feeding the pigs and chickens and fetching water from the well, before we had breakfast and headed to school. Today, my daughters set up their alarm clock. The night before, they select the music they want to be awakened by of the alarm clock in the morning the following day. Things have changed! And time has fastened its grips tighter in more than one way than when I was a child—at least that is my personal perception now that I am older.
The passage for today is from Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Qohelet. Qohelet can be translated as “assembler,” the one who gathers or leads the assembly—the ecclesia—church. It can also be translated “preacher.” But the NRSV in chapters seven, verse 27 and 12, verse eight translates Qohelet as “the Teacher.”
The Teacher has a particular way of looking at life. Thus he begins with, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” The Teacher’s view of time is also very different than the way we see time today. It is no wonder why the book of Ecclesiastes has been seen as presenting a cynic portrait of life. Ecclesiastes seems to portray human life in a predetermined vicious cycle. No one can come and tell you, “Hey, here is a new thing!” “Nothing is new under the sun. Why should we worry and work so hard? Why if in the end animals and humans die alike and their memory vanishes from the face of the earth?” wrote the Teacher. These are enough reasons why many are not fans of the book of Ecclesiastes! But today, before we throw the Teacher’s words away, let us see if he was indeed the cynic he is said to be. Let us take a moment and reflect and see if his assessment on time has something we can learn from. Let us give him the merit of the doubt and listen to his words with open ears and heart.
The words of the Teacher in the KJV begins with: There is a season and time for everything. . . . The Teacher gives a catalogue of 28 seasons in life. He arranges them in contrast to one another: A time to be born and time to die. A time to love and time to hate. A time for war, and a time for peace. The Teacher tells us there is a time for everything. And each of those 14 pairs of contrasting activities or events is true to the human experience. The Teacher does not give the list in order of importance, neither does he tell us when the appropriate is time for each. He does not to despair this is the reality of human life. In fact, the Teacher simply affirms that this is how life moves along time. Life is such a mystery that while some are rejoicing at the birth of their babies, others are mourning the passing of their loved ones. While some are already planting on this side of the sphere, harvest is at its cusp in the southern hemisphere. While we joyfully sang peace on earth with our families, others are hiding from the waging wars around them. Therefore, we can say with all certainty the Teacher had a cosmic view of human life and activities. He was definitely not a man with a parochial view of life as we often have. With this in mind we need to understand the Teacher is not providing us with a calendar of events we need to follow or get involved sometime during our lifetime. Besides the fact that there being a time to be born and time to die, of which we do not have control over, all the rest are optional events or activities. These things have happened, are happening and will continue to happen. We can choose to get involved in some while others will just happen. We can participate in some, but we need to acknowledge that there is more that happens over which we have no control. The Teacher wants to remind his students that time marches strictly at God’s command. We do not have control over time. In that regard, we should be comforted that there is an order for why things happen in life. There is a logic in how the universe unfolds. It is a logic that God established in the universe the day he created it. We should be comforted to know that nothing was left at random. Nothing happens by chance. For there is a time and season for everything under the sun. What would we do if we knew there is no death? Would we have that sense of urgency in what we do in life if we knew we will never die one day? Death would be better gift than to live in eternal boredom. The Teacher’s realistic view of human activities and events as time marches on moved him to say,
“I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil” (v. 12, 13)
In that regard the Teacher is not cynical about his view on human life. He is more a realist than we might want to admit.
Today is the first day of a new year. There are various things I am already anticipating will take place this New Year in our family’s life. There are things I have already planned for 2017. There are things that are likely to happen that have not dawned on me they will ever. And I am sure this is also true for you. You have your own plans for this year. It is just natural for us to make plans, commitments, and to set goals for ourselves and families. But let us do so by acknowledging that every minute, day, and month that God would give us in 2017 will be a gift. Let us not worry about tomorrow. Let us not be trapped by regret for yesterday. Let us rejoice for now. It is God’s gift to you to eat, drink and rejoice. Let us also remember the words of Proverbs 16, verse three, “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.” Let us offer to God the work of our hands and trust in him the outcome will affirm our desired objective for them.
There is a season and time for everything, says the Teacher in the Old Testament. So the question we need to ask ourselves is: time for what is it now? Knowing what time it is makes the difference between those who are foolish and those who are wise. The Teacher and Master in the New Testament rebuked the Pharisees for their failure to know the sings and times. “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ 3 And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times [Jesus said] (Matthew 16:2-3). What time is it now? It is important to know God’s timing in our lives. Maybe that was the reason why the apostle Paul said,
15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. (Ephesians 5:15-17).
And again he said to the Corinthians, “We urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. 2 For he says,
“At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.”
See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!
As we engage in the routine at the beginning of each New Year, or as we look forward to engage in something completely new to us this year, let us take to heart that each day is a gift from God. Let us remember that the God who promises to dress the lilies and provide food for the birds of the air will also pay close attention to our daily needs. But above all, let us remember that between the time to be born and a time to die is an urgent “now.” And that now is an acceptable time. That now is the day of salvation! Let us not take the risk of postponing the importance of “now.” Now is the day of salvation. Now is the acceptable time. Let us begin the New Year by accepting God’s salvation. Amen!