This is Your Time! A Sermon about Ecclesiastes 3:1-12
We think about the year behind us on New Year’s Day and what lies ahead. January derives from the mythological god Janus who had one face pointing to the past and the other to the future.
In our tradition, we turn to Ecclesiastes, which talks about a time for every matter under heaven. It acknowledges the varying emotions and seasons we travel through on life’s journey.
Chronos and Kairos
The Bible conveys two Greek words for time that carry vastly different flavors. One is Chronos, which means what we think of with time—linear, moving forward, and it’s the root of the word chronology. First, this, then that, a sequence.
The other biblical word, kairos, gets at something different. It’s about things come together at an opportune moment, when things happen at just the right time. Think of occasions in your life when everything just clicked together. If this person hadn’t been right here, or if the car careened off the barrier the other way…stuff like that. Kairos.
In the Christmas story, the Bible talks of Jesus coming at the kairos moment, the fullness of time. Jesus came when there was relative peace and a transporation system that enabled his message to flood their known world with his message. Anything earlier could have blunted the impact of his message.
The Right Time
I had a grad school friend from Nigeria named Sunday Onahau. His home village had a different concept of time and caused him many problems when he first came to the US. For example, he would show up for class but was empty. No students, no professor. He’d pace the room, waiting, but no one showed up. He’d see fellow students later in the day, and they asked why they hadn’t shown up for class.
One day, he realized different concepts of time were causing his problems. In Nigeria, he said, we do not think about the clock but try to do everything at the right time.
He said the right time for study in Nigeria is after one breaks the evening’s fast. If it is raining in the morning, you stay in your hut until the rain stops, and then go to the village center and eat your breakfast, and then you start the day’s activities, such as going to study.
When he came to the US, if it was raining, he would stay in his room until it stopped, then grab some breakfast and show up for class. Sometimes he didn’t show up for a 9 am class until 1 pm.
He said they start church, not at the precise minute of 9:30, but when everyone is gathered and in the right spirit for listening to God—that is at the right time. We do not eat because the clock says 6 pm, but because when we are hungry, it is the right time to eat.
Learning to tell Kairos Time
What a fantastic concept—the right time. We live in an age when all our devices are precisely synched. We are orderly, and trains run on time. Linear chronos makes the world function as well as it does.
But we could do well to expand our concept of time to that of other cultures and even biblical cultures. Sometimes when we are so caught up in the schedule and getting things done, we can miss out on the significance of special moments, its holiness.
One of our elementary school students told me that she has difficulty telling what time it is on non-digital clocks. It’s a right of passage learning how to read a clock. One of the best things you can do at the start of the new year is to become better at telling kairos time. Notice the moments, God’s involvement, the goodness around you, and the opportune time to make a positive difference in someone’s life.
The Right Word at the Right Moment
The right word can make all the difference in the world at the right time. We can hear the same advice and scripture passages repeatedly, but we don’t receive it until we reach the right situation and are ready to receive it. If we are fortunate, we will pay attention before it’s too late.
I read about how Martin Luther King Jr. preached the I have a dream theme dozens of times before his famous speech on the mall in Washington. But it never went viral. He hadn’t even planned on using that segment when he woke up and went to the mall. But Mahalia Jackson whispered to him, “Tell them about the dream.” She sensed it would be the right word at the right time. And he spoke it, and it has become the vision of humanity that still inspires us.
It was the right word at the right time. Kairos. Maybe there is a right word of encouragement you can give someone. They couldn’t hear before, but now they can—a word of support, love, or gratitude.
I wonder, what God whispers in our ears today? Maybe it’s a nudge to start living into the fullness intended for you.
Discerning the Season of Your Life
The writer of Ecclesiastes was trying to put things in perspective from his advanced years. There is a time for every matter under heaven. He was trying to say do not get too distracted by the bad stuff. Hard times come and go, and it’s all under God’s love.
Amid life’s sweeping changes, he wonders about what is worth doing and worth having. Toward the end of the book, he concludes that it’s best not to get too freaked out when life throws us a curveball, and this, too, shall pass. What helps, he says, to get through it is remembering to worship and try to keep the commandments.
Worship helps you to recognize something outside of yourself. Live in gratitude for life and try to be a good person. In that, we find our meaning through life’s changes.
He doesn’t say that when you don’t like the season you are in, to force a change. Sometimes there is a season for grief and sadness. Psychologists tell us that unresolved grief and trying to cover it or find devices to numb our way through it usually backfires and causes more harm later.
We go through some of these fallow seasons, feel the feelings that come with it, learn what we can, improve how we can, and trust that we don’t have to endure it alone.
I think this is important for people of faith to remember because there is a tendency to think if we have enough faith, we will always be happy. Even if we aren’t feeling it, paste a smile and fake it. I had a college friend whom someone described as “terminally perky.” She came across as inauthentic because no matter how bad her situation, she slapped some religious cliché on it to avoid feeling it. “God won’t give me more than I can handle.”
Our faith encourages us, but not at the expense of being honest. The Psalms are filled with people being real about their sadness, frustration, anger and the whole spectrum of emotions. But there is a sense that God helps us through these things, not around them. If you need to be blue, okay. If you need a season of rest, okay. Just be real.
But there are times when we get stuck and need to ask for help. I watched videos this week of people stuck in snow and mud. Spinning their wheels faster only digs them deeper. Sometimes the best thing you can do is realize it’s time for help.
Our lesson from Ecclesiastes tells us to try to maintain the perspective that hard times come and hard times go, but it won’t always be bad. God has a preferred future for each of us. If it’s rain now, later it will be sun. The world’s round, keep trying, putting your best foot forward. You’ll get there. It’s the promise of God that can keep us going. Amen.