For Everything There Is a Season Sermon
Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8
Rev. David J. Clark
I learned about this passage from the popular song by The Birds growing up. To everything turn, turn, turn. When I found out it came from the Bible, I thought O isn’t that nice. But then the more I looked at this Old Testament passage the harder it became to swallow. There is a lot of stuff in there that doesn’t sound very much like the Jesus.
The passage says there is a time for all kinds of stuff in that passage I don’t have time for. A time for war, for hate, a time to tear and break? To quote one viral video, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.” We’d like to believe that. We want to believe it about ourselves. But we see so many people right now who don’t have time for anything else. The signs of it are everywhere and it breaks our hearts and troubles the waters.
Trouble sleeping, eating, staying focused. Finding yourself anxious, afraid, annoyed? You are not alone.
From what I’ve learned the point of this passage was an author looking at all the things we go through in life and saying we have to discern the moment, discern where we are. Everything in Ecclesiastes points toward the end that says life is hard and unpredictable and things you thought were certain, the way of life, the institutions, the structures turn out to be vapor and disappear. And even so, we do what we can. We seek to be faithful. We control what we can, our trust, our hope, our faith, our actions in the midst of it all.
Rapid Succession of Emotions
The question is how do we be faithful in these times when it’s the time for so many things at once? Your perspective my be different from mine. But for me I can run through a checklist of all these emotions in a single hour.
A time to mourn? Check. More than 100,000 people have died from the coronavirus, without any sort of national expression of our collective grief. Everyone’s lives have been disrupted and for millions, catastrophically so.
A time to refrain from embracing? Check. Remember the old days when social distancing seemed the most important thing?
A time to weep? Check. Our city looks like a war zone. Shuttered up windows, broken glass, barricades, destroyed businesses, livelihoods.
A time for anger? Check. Anger over the murder of George Floyd and the way the other cops did nothing. Anger that this keeps happening. Anger at the looters. Anger at the agitators with malevolent purposes. Anger that people fuel the flames of hatred and division in our country.
A time for hate? Check. But not hating people, our brothers, and sisters. Hating what is happening to us. Hating the deterioration of a moral center. Hating that we are so divided as a nation. Hating that the Chinese and Russians are exploiting this and sowing division on the internet. Hating that the faith we cling to and guides, the Word of God is so easily undermined so it can be used as a mere prop.
A time to heal? Check. On so many levels, even the most basic—when more than 40 million people are unemployed and so many millions of those do not have health coverage.
A time to break? There’s been enough of that, no need for more, I’d say.
I feel the compression of this time in my chest, in my gut. Don’t you? Again Ecclesiastes says, no matter the time. Focus on what you can control. Your actions. Your worship. Your prayers. Your faithfulness. Your efforts to make the world a better place.
What Farmers Teach about Seasons
We’re in this sermon series looking at the agricultural metaphors for the spiritual life in the scriptures. We call it, Don’t Just Go Through It, Grow Through It. How do we grow at this moment unlike any of us have ever seen? Farming is hard because one is so dependent on the weather, the seasons. Not every season is a growing season. In the fall and winter, the land needs to be fallow, to heal, to recover. It is preparing for the next season of growth. Maybe that is where you are. You just need to heal, to take in the spiritual nutrients you need.
Farmers can’t control the weather. Sometimes there is a winter that won’t loosen it’s grip and yield to spring until well into planting time when the soil needs to be a certain temperature. Sometimes it rains too much and it’s just to muddy to plant because the machinery will get stuck. Sometimes a hail storm will come along and wipe out the entire crop 2 weeks before harvest. There is always anxiety with farming.
With seasons, you learn to be patient and realize that they pass. Eventually, the earth tilts enough, the sunlight comes, a new season dawns. It is built into the fabric of the solar system. Ruled by the laws of physics. The seasons change inevitably. But in the affairs of human beings, change is not so inevitable, not something we even have to wait for. I believe for this moment of history for us to get through this season of ruin and chaos, what is needed is a tilt of the human heart.
We have to tilt our heads, the posture of curiosity, of trying to understand the perspectives of those who are different from us. I believe we have to lean in. We have to tilt our hearts to a morality that is not so obsessed with the self that it ignores the plight of our brothers and sisters. I believe we have to tilt toward unity.
As hard as it is, we have to tilt toward hearing the voices, the stories of those who have suffered, who feel that the system is tilted against them.
We have to hear the cries of people who live in fear, who feel oppressed, who feel cheated. It’s hard. But what if there were no protests? What if we all just gave up and everyone just shrugged. “Poor George Floyd. O well. Just a couple of bad apples. Look at how far we’ve come, doesn’t happen as often as it used to.”
No we have to hear the cries. The mourning. The calls to go further, to get better.
I agree with Rev. Dr. William Barber II, who said of the pandemic something that is certainly even more obvious now. This moment has brought us face to face with the consequences of the deep divisions in society. The effects of racism and poverty are deep wounds in America.
Barber says we’ve been trying a bandage approach. We do this program or that. More training here and there. But it’s just bandages on a deep wound. The wound scabs over and appears to be healing. But then it gets snagged and torn open and you see that the deep healing hasn’t taken place. It needs surgical repair. Covering over it, refusing to clean it out just means that the infection and rot inside the wound are inflicting more damage. This week the scab has come off and we gape into that wound, horrified at just how deep it is, just how much infection of hate and malice and indifference makes the flesh reek.
If this is going to be a time to heal. It has to be a time to listen. It’s time to engage in hard conversations. It’s time to refrain from reacting and getting defensive. It’s time for new relationships. It’s time for each of us to ask what we can do to make things better.
Last Saturday as things were really beginning to break open, I asked our church member, Naomi Rainey Pierson, LB president of the NAACP, what I could do, and how our church can help. She said, “Pastor I need you to lead. The black community needs to see that white pastors are praying and care about what’s going on and support justice and nonviolence. Can you get something organized?”
So tomorrow, my tomorrow not yours. We are recording on Wednesday afternoon and Lord only knows what will happen between now and when you watch this. I’ll be leading an interfaith gathering of clergy of every religion you can think of to pray for our city, advocate for nonviolence and justice. We will unite in a common cause to lead in our spheres of influence to end racism.
It isn’t just a wide mix of Christian clergy, although it is that. Evangelical, Progressive, white, black, Asian, Hispanic, Protestant, Catholic. We will also have clergy from other faiths, just about everything you can think of. Islam, Judaism, Hindu, Buddhist, Native American, Zoroastrian, Bahai.
Clergy have stepped up saying, “Yes. I am all in.” It’s really been quite moving. Although I’m nervous about pulling it off, I’m sure God’s spirit will be there and will help us.
Clergy and expressions of faith in our city aren’t as connected as we need to be. Maybe this can be a moment to start fixing that. I pray that we can lead by example and start bridging divides. That tomorrow may be a time of healing and hope for our community.
What We Can Do
And I’m asking you to be faithful. Don’t be afraid to read and study to hear the voices of different perspectives.
Remember there is good. More good people than bad. People who want to do right, to live in peace and harmony with their neighbors. People who want a good life. Look at how people came out to help clean up city on Monday. Working side by side.
Maybe it is a time for breaking.
When you plant a seed, you have to break the ground.
Let us break the hardness of our hearts, may they be broken open to let in the light.
Let us break the blinders and illusions and denial and move forward.
Let us break the indifferences and the stereotypes and the systems of racism.
Let us break the chains of partisian division and the feeling that it’s all just bad news.
Let us break the cycles of poverty and violence that tear our nation apart.
For every shattered window, and every shattered dream and every act of moral abomination, let us replace it with an act of compassion, learning and love.
What do we do? We pray, we go back to basics. And do our part. Already the axis is beginning to tilt.