Passage: Ecclesiastes 3: 1-11
3 To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven:
2 A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck what is planted;
3 A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 A time to gain, and a time to lose;
A time to keep, and a time to throw away;
7 A time to tear, and a time to sew;
A time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 A time to love, and a time to hate;
A time of war, and a time of peace.
9 What profit has the worker from that in which he labors? 10 I have seen the God-given task with which the sons of men are to be occupied. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; 13 moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil.
Ever spent time at a corn maze? Looking at it from the outside, the maze looks just like any other corn field, pretty perhaps with the lush green stalks and golden tassels atop. It’s very different, however, when viewed from the middle, on the inside, struggling with myriad turns and blind alleys, trying to find your way through to the opening. All the stalked paths look the same. After a while, you aren’t sure if you are on a new, potentially right path or one you walked before to a dead-end. Both of these outlooks are different than the view from above, perhaps as seen through a helicopter ride or accessed by an aerial image from Google Earth. From this perspective, one could see the entire pattern cut in the field and quickly find the true path out of the maze.
Three different locations lead to three different perspectives. This idea of three different outlooks could be helpful when approaching today’s famous passage from Ecclesiastes. In order to fully appreciate the wisdom of the “Teacher” in this book from the Bible’s wisdom literature, we might do well to spend time with each of these perspectives – an optimistic and common sense perspective looking from the outside, an inside view that is blunt and less hopeful, and a look from up above for an ultimate perspective.
This first devotional in a group of three will look at the text from that outside position. From this vantage point, just taking the text at face value – without getting deeper into its context – everything looks pretty safe. You might even find yourself humming the popular tune from the sixties, Turn! Turn! Turn! (if you’re of the right age). From this perspective the passage offers the basic but sound advice that there are appropriate times for the different experiences of our lives. If we, as Christians, ponder this outside perspective, we acknowledge the wisdom of these different times. We rightly challenge the assumption that if we are spiritual enough, we ought to be happy and laughing all the time, realizing instead if we’ve lost someone – to divorce or dementia or a death – it is the appropriate time to weep.
In this singular moment in history, we’ve found some new occasions to be timely during this pandemic. We realize that there’s a time to love (the ones we long for that we can only enjoy online or by phone, as well as those nearest to us each day); and there is a time to hate (the coronavirus and partisan squabbling). We should recognize that this is the time for us to embrace political cooperation and compromise, such that we are effective in dealing with the necessities of this emergency; and a time where we refrain from embracing, taking seriously the calls for social-distancing and self-isolation. We have found the right time for war, with all world’s nations’ scientific resources united in our fight against this deadly disease; and we have found an unusual occasion for peace, as the virus has driven warring factions in Yemen to declare a ceasefire, and possibly now in Syria, too. What if this disease delayed our animosities long enough that we considered options for sorting out our grievances other than military action?
The Greek language has two separate words for time. The first, “chronos” refers to the measuring of time, in days, hours, minutes, and seconds. The second word, “kairos” denotes the idea of time we are addressing in the passage today, the timeliness of our actions, that certain moments call persons to respond with certain behaviors. As Christians, we might even say kairos is the time God has intended for particular events and actions. In this singular moment of our world’s history, so many of us are reevaluating the priorities and values we’ve used to arrange our lives. I can’t say what is timely for each of you. The words urgency and purpose come to mind for me. That I must be about things that count. While most of us try not to think about it constantly, we wonder (and worry) whether our span of time, and the time of those we love, will be long or short. And I think many of us have determined that this time (however much there is) must mean something. Certainly, this period of global emergency will eventually end. My prayer is that those who continue gathering as our community of faith will remember how much we need each other, and how much the world needs us. “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.” There is a time for every matter which God has purposed under heaven.
Prayer: Gracious Christ, who has known our concerns, our anguish, and our sorrows, even before you have heard it in our prayers, comfort those who are sick or lonely, anxious or grieving. Help us to find time for the purposes you have summoned us to during this season. Help us to go forth from this season with a calling to be about your kingdom. Amen
For those who were longing to hear it, “Turn! Turn! Turn!”. Not the version you’re most familiar with by the Byrds, but my favorite rendering sung by Judy Collins. It’s really worth the listen, and makes the passage above come alive.