Everything Has Its Time
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
The God-Given Task
What gain have the workers from their toil? I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-13 (NRSV)
Christmas has come, and we have all received the most amazing gift: the gift of the baby in the manger. But as we said on Christmas Eve, the story is not over; the story is just beginning! Because through the birth of that baby so long ago, we’ve all been given the gift of grace, the gift of peace, and the gift of unconditional love. But we are also given the gift of free will, which can be a gift and a challenge all at the same time.
For me, the reality of free will comes into focus as a parent. As my children have grown and learned and experienced life, they’ve been forced to make choices and decisions. Now, as their mother, I could have always made the choices for them, trying to make sure that they never got hurt or sick or in trouble. But with no decisions of their own, they would never have had the chance to experience the independence, to make mistakes, and to learn and to grow. Folks, we all make mistakes sometimes. Sometimes we choose the wrong path and we find ourselves in a difficult situation. But I believe that some of our greatest insights and growth come because of the missteps that we make.
Now, I often have conversations with people who struggle with the idea that God would allow bad things to happen in the world. “Why does God allow sickness, pain, poverty, and injustice?” they ask. And, “Why doesn’t God keep us all safe and happy?” Well, personally and pastorally, I want you to know that I don’t believe that God causes bad things to happen. But I also believe that God does not stand in the way of evil. God does not cause war or natural disaster or illness. Those things all come from outside sources, whether from human decision, human error, acts of nature, or unexplained evil. And there are lots of things that happen in this world that we simply can’t explain.
I remember the first time that I really wrestled with this idea of pain and suffering in the world, and where God was in the midst of it. It was about fourteen years ago, and my oldest daughter was struggling with a physical disability caused by an unknown autoimmune disease. As many of you know, she was unable to walk. We were in and out of hospitals and traveled all over trying to find a doctor who could help. As her mother, I wanted to have someone or something to blame, but I didn’t. But if I’m going to be really honest with you, there was not one moment during that whole ordeal that I ever questioned whether God was causing Abbey’s pain and struggle. On the contrary, I knew in my heart that no matter what was happening, no matter how many doctors we saw, or how many dead ends and closed doors we faced, no matter how frustrated we were, or how many medical professionals sat us down and told us that they had no idea what to do next, I always knew that we were being lovingly held in the hands of God.
Sure, I wanted answers to my questions, and absolutely I just wanted Abbey to be well again. But the important lesson that I learned is that it wasn’t the answers that would save me. It wasn’t the reasoning and making sense that would get me through the toughest times. Instead, it was the presence of God.
What I learned through Abbey’s medical ordeal, when I had absolutely no control over anything that was happening, is that my faith is stronger than I ever imagined and that my relationship with God carries me through each and every day, in good times and bad, in struggles and celebrations. Because through my faith, I know that God is always there and will never, ever let me go.
Friends, tonight is New Year’s Eve, and many of us – if we don’t fall asleep too early – will watch as the clock counts down to midnight, and then we’ll find ourselves at the beginning of a brand new year. Our scripture reading today tells us that there is a time for all things under heaven, “a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”
But, my friends, the decisions is ours. How will we spend our time? In this new year we have 365 days to figure out where we are going and what we are doing. How will we spend our days? Will we spend them worrying about not having enough? Or will we focus the time that we have on positive things, and enjoying each moment? Will we spend them judging others and even ourselves, or will we look for the good all around and within us? It all goes back to that free will, my friends. The choices are ours!
Now granted, we don’t all live in a vacuum, so we will face situations that we can’t control. And just as our scripture told us, we’ll face times this year that cause us to weep, and times that make us laugh. We’ll face times to mourn, and times to dance. Not every day will be easy, I can guarantee you that. We’ll have our moments on the mountaintops and our walks through the darkest valleys, but it will be up to us to decide how we’ll react to them.
I know that, for me, the way I react to the situations I face all has to do with my faith and how well I have taken care of myself. Am I exhausted and feeling worn out? Am I feeling lost and alone and angry at the world? Or am I filled with hope and peace and joy because I experience the presence of God in my everyday life and know that I am loved just the way that I am. Friends, we all have choices to make as to how we’ll spend our time in the coming year. But I wonder, how much time in the coming year will we focus on our faith? How much time will we take to talk with God? How much time will we spend helping others and loving our neighbor? How much time will we spend feeding the hungry, or feeding our hearts and our souls? How much time will we spend worshipping and praising God? How much time? The choice is ours, my friends!
The new year is just beginning. A clean slate. A fresh start. So, what will you choose? How will you spend your time? Friends, don’t forget that time passes quickly, and our schedules tend to get easily over-filled. So, do some soul searching and make time for the things that really matter to you. Take good care of yourself and your faith, and don’t worry so much about what is coming next that you don’t enjoy the moment you’re in.
As the end of today’s scripture reading said: “ I know that there is nothing better for you than to be happy and enjoy yourself as long as you live; moreover, it is God’s gift that you should eat and drink and take pleasure in all your toil.” So, friends, this year may not all be easy. We may face toil and trouble, but the good news is that we never face it alone, because God is always here with us, holding us in the palm of His hand, not changing and fixing things for us, but loving us unconditionally each step of the way.
In the coming year, let’s look for the possibilities all around us, and let’s work on taking deep breaths and being in the moment, with our families, with our faith, with our community, and with the things that are most important to us.
So, Brothers and Sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, don’t let time slip away. Be present to it. Make good choices with it. And celebrate each and every moment that you have been given.
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God. Amen!