Seasons: Journeying through the Year

Ecclesiastes 3:1-18

A season for everything

3 There’s a season for everything
    and a time for every matter under the heavens:
2     a time for giving birth and a time for dying,
    a time for planting and a time for uprooting what was planted,
3     a time for killing and a time for healing,
    a time for tearing down and a time for building up,
4     a time for crying and a time for laughing,
    a time for mourning and a time for dancing,
5     a time for throwing stones and a time for gathering stones,
    a time for embracing and a time for avoiding embraces,
6     a time for searching and a time for losing,
    a time for keeping and a time for throwing away,
7     a time for tearing and a time for repairing,
    a time for keeping silent and a time for speaking,
8     a time for loving and a time for hating,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

Hard work

9 What do workers gain from all their hard work? 10 I have observed the task that God has given human beings. 11 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.

12 I know that there’s nothing better for them but to enjoy themselves and do what’s good while they live. 13 Moreover, this is the gift of God: that all people should eat, drink, and enjoy the results of their hard work. 14 I know that whatever God does will last forever; it’s impossible to add to it or take away from it. God has done this so that people are reverent before him. 15 Whatever happens has already happened, and whatever will happen has already happened before. And God looks after what is driven away.

Enjoy what you do now

16 I saw something else under the sun: in the place of justice, there was wickedness; and in the place of what was right, there was wickedness again! 17 I thought to myself, God will judge both righteous and wicked people, because there’s a time for every matter and every deed. 18 I also thought, Where human beings are concerned, God tests them to show them that they are but animals.

 

Thoughts on the passage:

When we laid our plan for our sermon series on finding God’s blessings, I could not have imagined how fitting the last two weeks would end up being. Last week we were meant to be talking about finding God in the everyday moments of life and in the midst of creation. After eight inches of snow fell, it became apparent that we would not be having church. Rather than everyone travelling to a sanctuary to experience God, our congregation was freed to live into the sermon and look for God in the everyday moments of a snow day. This week, we are talking about experiencing the blessings of God in the changing of the seasons, another topic that seems extremely fitting as we wait expectantly for a spring that seems like it might have arrived … or maybe not.

The late winter, or really cold spring, has given me a chance to reflect on how ingrained in each of us the ebb and flow of seasons really are. During one of the recent April snow falls, I remember thinking how odd it felt. It was probably six or seven in the evening, snow was falling and it was still light out. In my head, snow and darkness go together, after all snow usually comes during the darkest time of the year and the light today is the same as it is in August, not a time we associate with snow. The light levels of April with the snow of winter left my body not sure what season we were really in.

For me, this is not totally surprising. When I was looking at colleges I remember getting a mailing from Emory University in Atlanta, GA. My mother told me I should look at it since it was a school with a United Methodist connection and had a large endowment thanks to its connection to Coke. While I remember glancing at the materials, I could not imagine attending a school where it would be warm in December. How can you get ready for Christmas when it is hot out? For me, the seasons have a powerful connection to the weather and to what is happening around me.

I know I am not alone in this. Most of us have things we associate with different times of the year. When we hear the rustle of leaves we start thinking about apple cider or pumpkin pie. Summer might bring with it thoughts of baseball games, barbeques, or mowing the lawn. Every season has its place in our minds. Each in its own way is a reminder of God in different ways.

Our passage from Ecclesiastes is another reminder of the need for different seasons and different times. Like the yin and yang of Eastern philosophy, the Ecclesiastes serves to remind us that everything has a place. Our happiness can be balanced by our sorrow. Even life must give way to death, though our faith reminds us that death also gives way once more to life.

Sometimes seeing the need for balance is hard. Marianne loves warm weather and sees little value for snow and the cold. I suspect that she is not alone in those feelings. Still, we know that the warmth and the cold is a part of the natural cycle of our world and the dormant times of winter help to provide for the new life in the spring. The cold of winter keeps our planet from getting too hot so that it does not support life. The passage that I always grapple with here is the one about a time for war and a time for peace. Personally, I wish the writer had not put that in. As a firm believer in love, peace, and nonviolence, I struggle to understand how there could ever be a time for war. Still, I look back on terrible atrocities like the Holocaust and wonder if the peace and security that was obtained at the end of World War II would have been possible if it was not for the war. We do not have to like the balance to recognize the need for the balance.

We are all likely very familiar with the first eight verses of our text to today. Not only because it is often used during funerals, but it also inspired the song “Turn, Turn, Turn” by Pete Seeger. On the other hand, the next ten verses are less known and perhaps not as easy to understand. In fact, they almost take on a dark tone as it ponders why our work seems to amount in nothing and why we are tested in our lives. Even its answer, is less than satisfying, saying that we are tested so we know that we are but animals.

What do we do with this part of the text? How does it fit to the wisdom offered in the first part? I think it helps us to understand better the human condition. We have the power to know the ebb and flow of the seasons but also the desire to struggle against them because unlike God, we do not know “the beginning and the end.” The first eight verses remind us of the harmony of the world, the next ten verses speak to why we have trouble accepting them.

How do we struggle against the world? We build cities in the middle of flood plains and spend millions of dollars building levies to keep our buildings safe. We also build cities in deserts and spend millions of dollars piping in water to quench our thirst, water our yards, and even fill our swimming pools. We know the natural order of the world and yet so much of our energy is spent trying to turn the night into day with lights. We do this because, unlike God, we cannot see the begin picture and so we struggle.

I don’t think we just struggle at a macro level, I think we often struggle at a personal level. I know for myself that I often am not good at listening to the rhythms of the seasons or even the rhythms of my own body. Rather than listening to the natural way that God has ordered things, I am often trying to force things to go my way. I do this because I think I know better, or I think I need to do it.

Ultimately, we have to learn to trust more in God. There is a method to the universe that was there in creation, God started with chaos and out of it created order. Sometimes that order can be confusing. It can seem like the good and the bad, the guilty and the innocent are all treated the same, but at its heart there is God, who orders all things and draws all things back to the divine. When we look at the seasons and the flow of the world we get a chance to experience the reminder and the blessing that God is present and that God is in charge. Hopeful that can comfort us when it snows in April, or it seems like the world around us is spinning into chaos and darkness. Thanks be to God.

Questions to Ponder:

What is your favorite season and why?

When is a time that you have struggled against the natural flow of things?

What can we learn from watching the natural cycle of nature?

Prayer:

God of all creation, we give you thanks for the ways that all of the earth is a testament to your glorious presence. Help us to be aware of how you are with us each and every day. Open our eyes, ears, and noses to the sights, sounds, and smells or new life that surround us in the season of spring. Help us to see your blessings in the everyday experiences of our lives. Amen