Science is finding out new things about time. Humans have been interested in time for as long as we’ve been writing. The writer of Ecclesiastes reflected on time just as our modern scientists are doing today. What the writer, these scientists, and we gathered here at Trinity know about time is that it doesn’t stop.
And, I don’t know about you, but I’m angry about this.
I’m angry that time stretches out for an eternity and it will not stop for me, and I’m assuming you are too. We only get a fraction of eternity. Time keeps on marching on and we’re all too aware that it will one day leave us behind. Time takes away our childhood, our pets, and eventually us. And there are no two ways around it. We human beings are in time; we're defined by its limits. But from the midst of time we have a sense for eternity. We have inklings of something more. All we get are glimpses of this place. Every now and then we see that there is something more beyond just us, our watches, calendars, Blackberries, and history books. We’re frustrated by our mortality and Lent and Ecclesiastes don’t help that feeling. We hate being reminded of how short our lives are.
We humans run around stressed out about time. There should be more time! We have things to do, things to accomplish, goals to reach, more money to get because we have more things to buy. We are a funny bunch. For everything there is a season, so says the wise writer of Ecclesiastes, but we wish that weren’t true. For some of us who are happy, we’re guilty about that and think we should be sad. For those of us who are suffering, we think we should be happy, so we don’t offend those jerks who are content. If we’re poor, we want to be rich… if we’re rich, we could always be richer. It’s all overwhelming! So much to do! And death is always just around the corner; it could sneak up on us at anytime. And there should be someone to protect us from death, but this person, this, GOD, isn’t doing their job.
We sometimes get an image of God as some sort of divine air traffic controller, choreographing all our takeoffs and landings, responsible for everything that happens to us. But when we find ourselves in the wreckage of one of life’s crashes… we often wonder if the giant air traffic controller in the sky is napping, negligent, or just plain mean.
But God is not protected behind glass, high in a tower above us, manipulating the world on a divine computer. We are not separated, God is here with us. I think I can only describe this through means of camp legend of a boy’s rite of passage into manhood.
The father takes the son into the forest, blindfolds him and leaves him alone. He is required to sit on a stump the whole night and not remove the blindfold until the rays of the morning sun shine through it. He cannot cry out for help to anyone. Once he survives the night, he is a MAN.
He cannot tell the other boys of this experience, because each lad must come into manhood on his own. The boy is naturally terrified. He can hear all kinds of noises. Wild beasts must surely be all around him. Maybe even some human might do him harm. The wind blew the grass and earth, and shook his stump, but he sat stoically, never removing the blindfold. It would be the only way he could become a man!
Finally, after a horrific night the sun appeared and he removed his blindfold. It was then that he discovered his father sitting on the stump next to him. He had been at watch the entire night, protecting his son from harm. We, too, are never alone. Even when we don't know it, God is watching over us, sitting on the stump beside us. Just because you can't see God, doesn't mean God is not there. When trouble comes, all we have to do is reach out to God.
We walk by faith, not by sight. Our faith is hard and it is questioned all the time. Some would like to tell you that once you become Christian, the road will become smooth. But it isn’t. Our lives are like a bumpy road. We sometimes find ourselves in a pothole that’s in a bigger pothole! Our faith then, tells us where we’re at. It tells us whether we should be trying to get out of a pothole or watch out for that curve up ahead. Our faith tells us to take note of where we are. Our faith tells us to notice what season we’re in.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. Whatever season you’re in, God is with you. If you’re in the winter of your discontent, if you’re sick, in a troubled relationship, in mourning at the death of a relationship, God is just as much with you as if you were in summer. Ecclesiastes’ answer to all of our limited, short, crazy, chaos-filled lives is to be content and enjoy ourselves as long as we live. Ecc 3:13 says we should enjoy God’s gift, we should eat and drink and take pleasure in our toil. This can be hard sometimes because Chaos keeps coming into our lives. And even time itself is relative.
Einstein taught us that for each person, time passes at different rates, we perceive time differently. If I had a watch on, and Pastor Nancy had a watch on and she happened to be going at the speed of light, her watch would have a very different time on it than mine would. That’s an extreme example, but I bet if we took a poll of the congregation, not even four of us would be in the same season, the same time of our lives. Some are grieving over the loss of a job, some are fearful about their future, some are anxious, awaiting news of a diagnosis, and some are excited to bring new life into the world. We are all in different seasons, different times, and Lent asks us to take account of what season we’re in, with no layers over our answer, just a stark and honest look at ourselves amid the chaos. And there is always chaos.
Scripture states that God created the world out of chaos and it keeps breaking back into creation and causes havoc with our order. God took a great chance with this beautiful creation that surrounds us. Our parents took a great chance at having us because they knew chaos is dangerous. Chaos destroys the created. But the creative order itself is creative. Creation keeps changing just like the seasons keep rolling along, each one similar, but not quite the same. Everything changes, the world is sand. But blessed is the person who realizes this and creates anyway. To reframe a parable, blessed is the one who builds on sand knowing what will happen, than the one who builds on rock thinking it will last forever.
This is the nature of being creative amidst the chaos of the world. God didn’t design the chaos any more than we did. The chaos is what it is. The miracle is that good and beautiful things can happen even in the midst of it. All of our art and music IS designed to bring truth and beauty and yet it can bring wrenching tears. The children we decide to bring into the world to share in life’s joy will also share in life’s sorrow. The friendships we create will bring great joy, but only at the risk of causing real pain from time to time. Seasons change. And for everything, there is a season, a time for every matter under heaven.
That’s the secret of Lent and Ecclesiastes. It’s the secret that our pets know, that I learned from the book Marley & Me. A dog or a cat does not care if you're rich or poor, educated or illiterate, clever or dull. Give them your heart and they will give you theirs.
The secret is that in the "less" there is "more." The less we obscure what is truly important with bitterness, animosity and cynicism, with striving for the next goal, for checking off the next box on your life’s plan. Lent and Ecclesiastes ask us to be more aware of the promise of possibility and new life. They remind us that every single day of our lives, we are asked to walk in the way of love over hate, courage over fear, and hope over hopelessness. Do not dwell in the past; do not dream of the future, concentrate your mind on the present moment, no matter what season you’re in. Give God your heart, and you’ll find God has loved you always.
Scott Hoeze’s sermon "Setting Eternity" found at http://www.calvincrc.org/sermons/topics/ecclesiastes/eccles3.html
Paraphrase of “Parable” by Joe Pintauro from the books Kites at Empty Airports.
Theology for Preaching: Authority, Truth and Knowledge of God in a Postmodern Ethos by Ronald J. Allen, Barbara Blaisdell, and Scott Johnston pages 80-85.
Paraphrase from Marley and Me by John Grogan
Reverend Bill Federici, from an email about Ash Wednesday and Lent
BENEDICTION! (dvd extra)
And here’s another secret. It’s a math secret. Our fraction of time that we spend here on earth is a little itty bitty piece of infinity. If you take “forever” and divide it in half, it’s still forever. Divide that half by 3/4, it's still forever!This is good news as we believe in being part of forever! Time is infinite and we get but a fraction of it in our earthly form, and then our season changes and we go onto something else. Jesus assures us that we should fear not! For in his Father’s house there are many rooms! So take note and own where you are at, what season you’re in, and live fully into that season. Take joy that you get all of time, all of forever, and you get to enjoy it in many forms, in many seasons of life and thereafter. What a joy that we all may be in different seasons, but we get to share this time together.
Go forth and be reminders of this message of eternity in the name of our Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer. AMEN.