Sermon by Deanna Watson, Feb. 18, 2018 at Boone Memorial Presbyterian Church

Ecclesiastes 3:1-17 [Copyright © Deanna Watson]

Our reading from Ecclesiastes is recognizable to many. In fact, to some the words are simply lyrics to a song. To everything (turn, turn, turn) there is a season (turn, turn, turn).... a time for every purpose under Heaven:

We hear these words at funerals and recognize that there is a certain cadence to life...a turning away during a time of turning toward......a time to plant and a time to pluck what is planted....a time to weep and a time to laugh....a time to mourn and a time to dance.....they are words of comfort but also words that put the the kibosh on our desires for life to be only about being born, and of building up, and laughing, and dancing and embracing....only a time of loving and only a time of peace.

But we don’t get the good only..... not on this side of Heaven.

The book of Ecclesiastes is a piece of wisdom literature - a popular form of writing in Old Testament times. It is thought to be authored by King Solomon as he nears the end of his life, scanning back over the past with regret and a sense of the futility of his lifetime of striving.

In Chapter One he questions: “What profit has a man from all his labor in which he toils under the sun? One generation passes away, and another generation comes...the sun rises and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it arose...all the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not full....That which has been is what will be...and there is nothing new under the sun.

In verse 16 of the first chapter he says, “I communed with my heart, saying “Look, I have attained greatness and more wisdom than all who were before me in Jerusalem. ....And I set my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly. He concludes that all his striving, all his knowledge and wisdom has been like grasping at the wind. “For in much wisdom is much grief, and he who increases knowledge, increases sorrow.

As he remembers all of his accomplishments and attainments, all the pleasures, all the gold...he reaches the sad conclusion that he is to meet the same fate as the fool who wasted his life, or who toiled with little to show for his efforts. He writes, “So I said to my heart, as it happens to the fool, it also happens to me. And why was I then more wise? Then I said in my heart, this also is vanity. For there is no more remembrance of the wise than of the fool forever, since all that is now will be forgotten in the days to come. And how does a wise man die? As a fool!

For what has man for all his labor, and for the striving of his heart? For all his days are filled with sorrow....even in the night his heart takes no rest. This also is vanity.

Taken in this context, the view of our lives is:  why bother? If the end is the same for those who work and achieve and put forth their best efforts, as is the end for the lazy fool......if all our effort is wasted in trying to lasso the wind....It is better for us to eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die. The end.

And yet, these words apply only to what happens under the sun....this side of Heaven.....they apply only if this earthly existence is all there is. If there was no God. If there is no God. If there was and is no promise of Heaven.... 

Certainly we have all had times to wonder at the temporariness of this life. The work of one generation wiped out by the next, the value not seen.... was it all for naught? Are we just carrying stones from one end of the field to the other, and will those who follow in our footsteps, simply reverse the course? For what?

While I agree that there is little even the most accomplished of us has done that is remembered beyond a generation, but perhaps that’s not why we should exert or not exert an effort.

We have to ask ourselves, why Mother Nature provides us with a glorious sunset knowing that within a few moments, it will be gone? Why should an author write a book, knowing the book, even a best seller will most likely, along with the author be forgotten within a matter of a few years. Why should artists paint, architects design, engineers calculate, musicians play or sing?

Maybe because accomplishing something knowing it will be erased, forgotten or undone, doesn’t make the effort a waste of time. We do worthwhile things in the knowledge that everything with the exception of temporary.

We do worthwhile things in the knowledge that life is not made up of years, or months or even days.....It is made of moments, of distinct periods of joy, of connection, of helping one another while we remain down here under the sun.

The courage to seek to bring our passions to embrace our talents..the courage to risk a broken heart by uncovering it so that it might touch and be touched by another. Each season of our life brings a time for every purpose under Heaven...and there we find our challenge and our purpose as Christians. As much as we think life should conform to our wishes, it rarely does. Eventually, life takes its toll on all of us and each of us...or as Ernest Hemingway wrote in A Farewell to Arms:  “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”

We are here in this time, and in this place to help one another. In good times our joys are multiplied and in bad times our sorrows are divided when we face them together with those we love and who love us. Our striving isn’t for fame or fortune, but in turning ever more, in every season, into people with the heart of Jesus.

Our seasons may be in the form of Spring and Summer, Fall and Winter. There are seasons of hate and discord, and there are seasons of love and unity. There are seasons of black and white and there are seasons of shades of gray. And, after recent days and weeks, we are reminded there are seasons of killing and the spewing of the language of hate, leading to cowardice acts and acts that are born of hopelessness.

In yesterday’s Idaho Statesman, a teacher by the name of Lauren Macey, who teaches English at Syringa Middle School here in Caldwell, wrote a guest opinion about the school shooting in Florida that took the lives of 17 students and teachers, loved ones ripped from life without warning.....taken in cold blood by a 19 year old with a semiautomatic tool of terror, hell bent on sharing the bitter hate that encapsulated his heart.

In her writing, Lauren Macey challenges us to do more than argue on social media about whether “thoughts and prayers” are better or worse than policy and change. She said, “we post our opinion, and think its enough. We feel better because we spoke out and put the onus on someone else to fix our horrible situation.” But maybe, just maybe, she says, “the problem is us. And maybe..the change starts with us....with you and me. It starts with us actually CARING about each other. It starts with us NOTICING when people are left out, and actually INCLUDING them. It starts with us SMILING at a stranger, in LOOKING and ACKNOWLEDGING the people around us. It starts with us learning about Mental Health rather than shaming it....It starts with ASKING how people are doing and actually LISTENING. It starts with us RESPECTING and EMBRACING differences. It starts with LOVING our neighbors. It starts with INVITING people in.” She capitalized the letters in every verb...because these are the things we can do:  ”caring, noticing, including, smiling, looking, acknowledging, asking. Listening, respecting, embracing, loving and inviting.

She goes on to write, “It’s not my intention to start a big debate. Is there a correlation between guns and shootings? Duh. Are there people who use guns responsibly? Duh. Are there people who will kill in other ways if they can’t get ahold of a gun? Duh. Will getting rid of military style weapons diminish the number of people who can be shot at one time? Duh.

What if we stand together to channel the anger, the outrage, the grief, the questions and every other emotion into creating a better day for the people we encounter--into caring a little bit deeper?”

And I would add, what if we lived the seasons of our lives with the heart of Jesus beating in our breast? We would seek justice, we would love mercy, and we would walk humbly and the pain of this world would be our actions, our words and our motives would point every heart we touch toward the promise of Heaven. We can live alone in the anguish of our seasons of misery and heartbreak, or we can endeavor to walk each other word and deed.

My cousins are here today from their home in Payette. Their home that our great grandparents built over 100 years ago. The home Lois and Russell bought to bring back into the family, and the home they have so lovingly restored. The home with the claw foot tub that is not to be moved...the home with doors and handles put in place by the loving hands of our forefathers...the home with the wraparound porch once framed at the base by lattice work, that held in its dark, mysterious enclosure the giggles and carefree play of her father, and my mother, cousins and brothers and sisters, in their childhood days 85 years ago, and whose laughter we still hear when we stand at the corner of the house, on the very spot where our great grandparents, dressed in their finest Sunday clothes, stood in September of 1928 for a picture with their cake celebrating their Golden wedding anniversary one year before Great Grandma died.

We are all just walking each other home. That’s what makes life more than folly, that is what cancels the futility of all our striving here.

Over twenty years ago, I recorded an airport scene in my journal. It was back in the day when travelers and their loved ones could be together in the boarding area.

We were in Idaho Falls for a night flight back to Boise. An elderly couple was departing. A younger couple - who I surmised to be their son and daughter in law, were with them to say goodbye. The Father was frail, holding his cane in his lap as he was pushed by his son in an airport wheelchair. When it came time to board the flight, airport personnel brought a transfer chair to be used in loading the elderly man onto the airplane. The man’s wife stood close by his side as the son and airport personnel coaxed the old man’s body from one chair to the other and strapped him in. The son hugged his Dad, then his mom, and his wife followed suit. Up until then, their attitudes had been outwardly nonchalant, due perhaps to their awareness of their private moment being played out in public. But what gave them away, was the length and intensity of their embracing. It was almost as if they were at the edge of earth, saying goodbye and farewell to loved ones about to embark on their final journey - destination Heaven.

The son and the daughter in law stood at the window long after the elderly couple disappeared into the airplane. They took a few steps away and then turned and re-approached the window, cupping their eyes with their faces nearly touching the glass. every few seconds the daughter in law waved vigorously. Finally, they backed away and walked down the hallway to exit the airport, but they only got as far as the next window where they stood, straining for one more glimpse.

The younger couple was probably in their mid fifties, making them in their mid seventies by now....but what I viewed in those moments of parting, made it seem clear that they were feeling that same emotion of separation anxiety that young children feel when they get lost in a department store...when they turn around and realize they have lost their parent...this was the emotion conveyed, but much deeper. One year to the day that I wrote that airport observation, my Mom died. And I came to know that depth.

To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven. One generation passes away. And another generation comes; The sun also rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it arose. That which has been is what will be. That which is done, is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.

We paint a picture, we write a story with the lives we lead and to the lives we touch. This place is prelude. This place is a hotel, a temporary lodging place....where we love and comfort one another through the turning of the seasons of our lives. We keep each other from losing hope when it is the time to weep and to grieve, we encourage one another between the time of planting and the time of plucking up what has been planted, and when the end of our time in this place under the sun and under Heaven is over, we come together, and join hands to gently walk each other home.