Ecclesiastes 3:1-13 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
3 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
2 a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up 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 throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 a time to seek, 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 for war, and a time for peace.
9 What gain have the workers from their toil? 10 I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. 11 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. 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.
We begin a new year. What will 2017 bring? We know that on January 20th it will be a time for a transition from one President of the United States to another. There are many of us who are deeply concerned about what this transition will mean for the nation and the world. We are asking what time it is for us? What will be expected of us? How will we respond to the words and actions of a new President who has said things that are deeply troubling. The preacher declares that there is a time for everything. Regarding God’s timing, the preacher declares: “he has made everything suitable for its time” (vs. 11).
I enter 2017 with a sense of concern but also one of hope. I am, by nature, something of an optimist. I try to see things being half-full rather than half-empty. I’m also a realist, so I recognize that the glass isn’t full to the brim. I recognize that there are challenges ahead. I have both a sense of the past and the future set within me, but I don’t know the future. I can only set a course, with the Spirit of God as my guide.
There is a time for everything under the sun. The poetry above covers many things, laying out both sides of the equation. There is, for instance, a time to be born and a time to die. Looking back on 2016, it seems as if there was more death than birth. We watched as famous people died, one after another. Musicians like Leonard Cohen, whose music blessed many—Hallelujah. And then as the year closed Princess Leia, aka Carrie Fisher died, and then a day later her mother, Debbie Reynolds died. For my generation, Princess Leia is an iconic figure. Her mother an iconic figure for my mother’s generation. Many of us lost loved ones. My brother-in-law, Randy, died of cancer at the age of 62. May they rest in peace. 2016 seemed filled with death, but there will be those famous and not so famous who will pass from this world in the coming year. At the same time, children will be born. And we will celebrate.
Verse 7 offers us an important word for 2017. There will be a time to be silent and a time to speak. We need to be cognizant of when each of these is required of us. If we, in our desire, to pursue our agendas speak to often, the ears of the people around us will grow numb. So, let us be discerning about when to speak and when not to speak. But ultimately, there will be need to speak, and speak boldly. Recently, two Muslims, a Jew, and a Christian (me) gathered in a local coffee shop. We discussed the affairs of the world. One of the topics was a proposed “Muslim Registry.” Both the Jew and the Christian agreed, that if such a registry was to be established, we would register ourselves as Muslims. After all, to be a Muslim is to submit to God, and both the Jew and the Christian are devout enough to submit to God!
There is a time for everything, including war and peace. As I’ve noted in earlier posts, as people of faith, our battles are spiritual ones. I once again point our attention to Richard Beck’s book Reviving Old Scratch, (Fortress Press). In Beck’s cruciform vision of spiritual warfare, he offers this intriguing definition: “That’s spiritual warfare—being true to love in a world that hath neither joy, nor love, nor light, nor peace, nor hope for pain” [p. 93]. This is my aim for the year, to pursue a cruciform vision of God’s love for a world that often grows cold and mean.
The year ahead is filled with uncertainty. I expect that much will be demanded of us who love God and neighbor. These are not two separate loves. They are one love, for to love God is to love one’s neighbor. There will be times of sadness, but also times of joy. Let us not forget this, for it is easy to fall into despair when things seem to go awry.
The reading from Ecclesiastes, that the lectionary sets for New Years, and New Years falls on a Sunday this year, invites us to remember 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 3:12-13]. With this in mind, I wish everyone a Happy New Year. Let us enjoy God's gift of life, and eat and drink and enjoy together in our toil.