Summary: We live in a world that is out of our control, yet knowing that there is a bigger picture.
It was a Sunday evening early last summer. The evening service in Little Shelford Parish Church had finished. I had packed up everything, tidied up and was rejoicing in a very good day. A teenage girl had been baptised in the morning and we had all just had an excellent time in the youth group. It was a great Sunday. And then the phone rings. It is my mother. She is calling to tell me that my Gran died earlier that day. All of a sudden a time of rejoicing, became a time of mourning. A time of laughter became a time of tears and grief.
Well, we’re looking today at Ecclesiastes 3:1-11.
Ecclesiastes is a book which is all about life. But it is no rose-tinted view. Rather, it is a raw, honest look at life in a fallen world. It blows away any illusions we might have and forces us to face reality.
Today, we learn two truths about life in this fallen world:
The first is this:
We are not in control
3:1 "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.
there is a time to be born, and a time to die,
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted."
The poem in these verses is beautiful isn’t it. It’s beautiful because it captures life. It’s not saying that this is how life should be, but it is telling us how it is. It is simply an observation of life. It is descriptive. Not prescriptive:
So there is
"a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down and a time to build up."
The haunting rhythm of the poem reflects life, with it’s ebb and it’s flow. It mirrors how life moves from one thing to its polar opposite, sometimes in a matter of moments; at the shrill ring of the phone, at the meeting of a friend, at the opening of a door.
"A time to weep and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn and a time to dance."
The poem captures the rhythm and regularity of life, but yet at the same time there is a certain inevitability and a disorder.
"a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing"
And these verses leave us not knowing whether these things they describe are good or bad. The events simply happen. And that’s life, isn’t it? That’s why this poem is so powerful. We don’t know whether half the things that happen to us are good or bad, positive or negative. Even out of the bad things, good sometimes comes. The events of life can’t be categorised simply. But we do know that these things happen.
"a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;"
We might long for life to be full of joy and laughter. But it’s not. We don’t have to live long to realise that life is a mixture.
"a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;"
So, we find this poem to be both comforting and discomforting. It is comforting because of its honesty. It proclaims life as it really is. And when, for whatever reason, we are at our most honest, it is comforting to read the raw honesty of someone else who sees life for what it is.
Yet its honesty is also why it is discomforting, because it reminds us that we are not in control. The ebb and flow of life from one thing to the opposite is not in our hands. I can’t tell what will happen tomorrow, or even tonight. As the stream of life gurgles onwards, all I know is what the poet knows :
There is a
a time to do this, and a time to do that
"a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace,"
And so of course the question arises: If we are not in control, what gain is there from the work of living?
What is the point in doing anything? If we build, there will be a time to destroy. If we give life, there will come a time where it is taken from us. What profit is there in life?
"For everything there is a season,
and a time for every matter under heaven."
We are not in control.
But God is. So, therefore, in verse 10 and 11, the preacher of Ecclesiastes observes that the God-given task of humanity is to be busy living according to the times that God brings us.