Summary: Through the ebb and flow of life God is with us.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-17 “Proper Timing”
Ecclesiastes 3, especially verses 1-8, is one of the best known passages of scripture. This probably due, in part, to the popularity of the 1965 release of the song, “Turn, Turn, Turn,” by the Byrds. Most of us can probably recite bits and pieces of the song. Yet despite the popularity of the song and the familiarity of the words, I wonder if we have taken the time to reflect on their message.
THERE IS A SEASON
In verse 1 the writer proclaims, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” What a beautiful analogy that the ebbs and flows of life are like seasons. It is common to refer to our lifespans in seasonal terms. Childhood and the teen years are the spring time of life, early and middle adulthood is the summer of life while age sixty-five and beyond is the fall of life—your muscles fall, your skin sags, your hair, hearing and eyes drop, and you literally tend to fall more. We won’t even talk about the winter of life! This writer breaks life down into different seasons; different parts of life. There is a time to plant and reap, rip and sow, mourn and dance.
Rarely do we view our lives and the situations that we are in as seasonal. Our urban, technology filled lives may have played a part in this. I think it sometimes disconnects us from the reality of life. Two years ago when we were on the mission trip to the Navajo Evangelical Lutheran Mission, we had a cultural night. This was a time when we ate a Navajo meal and learned a little about the Navajo culture. In preparation for the meal, our hosts slaughtered the lamb we were going to eat. It was a shocking experience to the members of our group. The meat wrapped in plastic that we purchase at the supermarket is separated from the ranches and slaughter houses.
I’m not a farmer, but when I was growing up my family did have a garden. One year I decided to save the seasons from my Halloween pumpkin and plant them the next spring. I had to wait a long Minnesota winter to do that. Once I planted the seeds in May I checked on them every day. I took a little over a week for green sprouts to appear. The plants grew slowly. The first blossoms I picked as a bouquet for my mother. She kindly told me that was counterproductive to growing pumpkins. I had to wait until October before the pumpkins were ready to pick. I learned a lot about seasons that year.
I learned that I’m not in control. Though I could water my plants with the hose, I couldn’t produce the rain or the sunshine. I had to take whatever came my way. I couldn’t speed up the season, nor could I slow it down. I could only live in the day of the season.
As a disciple of Jesus Christ, I can also see that throughout the seasons God is present. God is not present in the summer and absent in the winter. Nor is God absent in mourning and present in dancing, or absent in killing and present in healing. The writer sees God as present—and active—in all of life.
LIVE THE SEASON
The writer makes no judgment on the seasons in life. He doesn’t say that hating is bad and loving is good, or that giving away is better than gathering. Each season or situation that we are in is to be lived and experienced.
We forget this and instead of living in the season and enjoying it we complain. Here is Surprise it’s too hot. In the Midwest it is too wet, while California is too dry. Minnesota winters get too cold and Florida is too hot and humid. We wish that the summer heat would quickly go away and be replaced by fall. We make ourselves and everyone around us miserable.
Instead of complaining we can look for that which to be thankful. Thank the Lord for aid conditioning and pools during the Arizona summer. If you are in Minnesota or Wisconsin you learn to play in the snow, enjoy a fire in the fireplace and a cup of hot cocoa, and you relish the times when you are snowed in and life stands still for a few days.
Some people run from mourning and force themselves to dance. While mourning is not meant to be a way of life, it is a part of life and it is important for us to journey through our season of mourning. Perhaps it is necessary and important for us to experience the emotion of hate towards the injustice, hunger and poverty in the world, before we can love those who are disenfranchised, downtrodden, hungry and poor.