A Sermon on Ecclesiastes 3.1-17
So it's a pretty common understanding that the Bible is not necessarily a book, but it's a collection of books. In fact, it's almost like a shelf of books all combined between two covers. It's a book full of books of different genres.
There's drama and humor.
There's romance and war.
There;s narrative and poetry.
There's dreams and there's instruction.
Much like walking into a Barnes & Noble, you can open up your Bible and read any genre you like. Personally, I've never been a huge fan of science fiction and fantasy, so books like Daniel and Revelation are a little bit more difficult for me to wrap my head around. However, give me a book on psychology or human behavior, and I'm excited. I think this is why I really enjoy the wisdom literature. There's no monsters. There isn't a rise or fall of an empire. Wisdom literature is made up of stories where the characters are us. People. Every day people.
Ellen Davis, popular author in theology and professor at Duke Divinity School explained it this way; "Wisdom literature is about days when water doesn't flow from rocks and angels don't come to dinner." Which is to say; most days. These are messages that aren't fed by divine revelation. This is Solomon's reflection on a very human experience: Life.
If you can remember back two weeks ago, we talked about what it takes to live the good life. We read Proverbs, where Solomon outlined all the rules you need to live by in order to be a good person, in order to have the good life. Here, in Ecclesiastes, it's Solomon again. However, where he wrote Proverbs as a young man, Ecclesiastes, is written when he is much older. He's lived through these seasons, and he;s lived through them doing his best to follow his own advice. And this leads us to our first reading, Ecclesiastes 1.
"Meaningless! Meaningless! says the Teacher.
Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless!"
I have the urge to answer back; "Calm down. I'm sure it's not that bad. Let's talk this through." See, what's happened here is Solomon has lived his life by his own rules, his own prescription for "The Good Life," and he's not exactly pleased as to where it's gotten him. He's at a point where he can't help but ask; "What is the point of all of this? I worked really hard, but when I die, it's all going to be left to someone else, and how can I be sure that person will try as hard as I did?"
If you've ever moved out of a house after living there for a while, I think you can understand where Solomon is coming from. Who's to say that the person who moves in after you will care for the house as mush as you did? What id the first thing they do is uproot the entire vegetable garden you worked for years to install? Will they rip out the built in bookcases you carefully constructed? Will they love it like you did? You can't know. What you can know, however, is that there comes a time when you have to leave that place. Because the seasons of life are taking you somewhere new.
The seasons that are outlined in the preaching text today are that of the culture when the words were written. Some of the agricultural ones, we get. Such as: "a time to plant and a time to pluck up what was planted." They still make sense. But I wonder how much clearer it would be if the passage read like this:
A time for everything...
A time to be born, and a time to die.
A time to settle down, and a time to seek adventure.
A time to mend relationships, and a time to mourn their ending.
A time to give criticism, and a time to give praise.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to be by yourself, and a time to be surrounded by others.
A time to seek a promotion, and a time to leave your job.
A time to seek higher ground, and a time to plant roots.
A time to hold things close, and a time to purge.
A time to spend and a time to save.
A time to teach, and a time to learn...
It could go on and on.
These are the things that make up our lives.
These are the vert human things that Solomon today might have written about.
How many of you, before this morning, has heard this phrase; "For everything there is a season." or some variation of it? Perhaps you heard the song Turn, Turn, Turn by The Birds. I can't tell you how many greeting cards I've seen it on. It's one of those messages that always seems to be pointing to another time. It seems to tell us that the grass will be greener in a week, a month, a year, ten years...
But here's what I'm thinking; This passage in Ecclesiastes, this is a list, a list of moments. Moments that make up this life that is a gift from God. Towards the middle of the reading we actually read; "it is God's gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil." Is it just me, or does this sound a lot like; "Eat, drink, and by merry?" That phrase actually comes from 1 Corinthians, and it ends with "For tomorrow we die." Of course, this is not quite the same. Instead, here in Ecclesiastes it's more of a: Eat, drink. and be merry because life is a gift.
It's easy to see a list like this and only focus on the things that might go wrong, or the eventualities you don't want to face.
Agoraphobia is a type of anxiety disorder in which you fear and often avoid placed or situations that might cause you to panic and make you feel trapped or helpless. The fears can be so overwhelming that you may feel unable to leave your home. Of course this is an extreme example, but many people live their lives in a similar way. We've all had times in our lives where we were so focused on what could go wrong, that we didn't stop and enjoy the things that were going right. Seeking constant perfection left Solomon bitter and angry, and questioning the point of even living at all. We can learn from him though.
We can learn that each season may bring their own challenges and triumphs, but you have to be living in them to find out. Each of these seasons is a gift, we're called to find joy in them, and to keep God at the center of them. So whether you're laughing, or crying, or praising, or mourning. Remember that Life, a gift from God, is for living.