3For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 2a time to be born, and a time to die;a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 3a time to kill, and a time to heal;a time to break down, and a time to build up; 4a time to weep, and a time to laugh;a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 5a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 6a time to seek, and a time to lose;a time to keep, and a time to throw away; 7a time to tear, and a time to sew;a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 8a time to love, and a time to hate;a time for war, and a time for peace.
For these many weeks we have lived with this remarkable little book. I am amazed at the capacity of those mentors of mine, who, through their writings – those voices I gravitate toward – they seem to get said what they want to say, and, what I most need to hear, in about 100 – 150 pages. An economy of words – people like Parker Palmer and Henri Nouwen. And yes, while Frederick Buechner often goes beyond that mark, anything he writes is worth reading. These authors, and others like them, with concise language, makes the language of my own heart stir. Their words fill in the blanks of my own life experiences – those things I’m trying to make sense of, but have yet to find words – they help me to do that.
Today, this book concludes with the parallels to the scripture that was read. I can’t think of or hear Ecclesiastes 3 without a couple of pop culture images coming into my mind. That great song from the 60’s written by Pete Seeger and recorded by The Byrds, “To everything turn, turn, turn – there is a season turn, turn turn.”
Or, if you were in the movie house in the late 1980’s and saw a 27 year old Kevin Bacon, acting like he’s sixteen, standing before the city council of a Midwestern community reading that text to justify why the senior class of their high school should have a dance – then you know about Footloose.
Given the musical talent of our congregation, we may have needed to add both songs to our order or worship today!
Whenever you hear this text, before we lay it over Palmer’s words, let us consider this – in hearing these words of the extremes of life’s experience – we tend to think that somehow the scripture is giving us license to hate, to kill, to wage war. The Bible says its there and that there is a time for it. And it sits counterbalanced to its opposite. So, we think that we can be good for a time but then there will be a time when we won’t have to be so good and the decision to be anything other than that is biblically sanctioned because “there is a time” for it.
If you’ve ever lived with that notion, I hope that today we can dispel that. Because if the Wisdom Literature of the Hebrew Bible, and this reading in particular, allows us to know the truth of the human experience. Within the totality of our living, there will be times when any and all of these elements are present. And the truth is, even as we act them out, the best of us and the worst of us, it is understood that we are never apart from God’s presence, and neither has God relinquished any sovereignty over all that God has made and is creating.
Just a couple a sentences to hit the “reset” button so that you’ll know where we are in this series of sermons.
· The overarching question is this – is the life you are living the one your life wants to live – which is to say are you living in a way that befits how you were created? The way God made you? Have you embrace the gift, the birthright, the vocation that God has made for you and you alone as mantle to accept, to pick up and live out.
· Vocation, as we recall from Frederick Buechner’s words is that place where your deepest joys intersect with the world’s greatest needs. And that’s a sermon itself, folks, that we should always come back to. Because wherever that intersection is, which, strangely enough, takes the shape as any intersection does, that of a cross, pinpoints where you are called to be, to minister, to serve. It’s not a question of whether or not you are called to be clergy, although I do believe God does call some people to do that, otherwise what have I been doing for 20 years – Vocation and call are not the exclusive property of those of us who sit on this side of the chancel rail and adorn ourselves with flowing garments. You have a call to embrace, a vocation to claim, and to use the language of brother Charles Wesley, “A Charge to Keep.”
· Finding it though, is a hard thing – because to find that call requires that you plumb the depths of your our own heart and life, into those places you dare not go, at least not willingly or gladly, but once there you discover that God resides there, too, to make you face the truth of who you really are – and what your capacities to serve, to live, to be are.
· Sometimes that means, then, that we have to go “all the way down” to discover the One who was always there not to get us out of our moment of peril, but through it.
And so, today, we talk about the seasons. Palmer, in such beautifully descriptive fashion talks about the seasons, framed in no small part, by his own life experiences of living in the upper Midwest, where the seasons of the year reach extremes, particularly the winters.
Within our own spiritual journeys, we can resonate with that. He starts with Autumn – that place of duality, where outward expressions of life are glorious, as in the colors of the trees, yet it is that color that tells us the truth of what else is going on – there is something in us given way. There is something in us that is falling. There is something in us that is letting go – even getting ready to die.
As harsh as that may sound, Palmer tells us that we should not shirk from the autumns of life because the very seeding that will come, one spring day, breaking forth in new life, is a result of what has happened in autumn. How beautiful, yet, how profound. Some of you will travel great distances, no too long from now, to go to places where the colors are stunning and vivid. So, too, how is it for us in the expression of our living – what we show on the outside does not hide what is falling, letting go, even dying on the inside – and we are not fearful. For if we believe it to be true that with every door that closes, another opens, you have to believe that within your own heart, wherever you are and whatever you’re going through – whatever in you is dying, there is life in you yet to emerge.
Palmer then moves into winter. And winter, where he’s from, is at least harsh. He even comments about of friend of his who says he’s pretty sure that winter in the upper Midwest is Divine retribution because somebody up there must have done something really wrong. It is rough – cold, snow, wind. Hard to endure.
But we know a little something of the winters of our lives, too don’t we? And the same characteristics of a harsh winter up north hold true to the winters of our living. We know what this is. We’ve all been through them.
But then Palmer some counsel used by those who physically live in such climates. How do they make it through the rough winters?
Palmer speaks of winter’s greatest gift – “winter speaks its greatest gift with the sky is clear, the sun is brilliant, the trees are bare and the first snow has not yet come. It is the gift of utter clarity.”
The winter seasons of our lives, in parallel to that – there is no pretense in the winter, all has fallen, there is no cover – so, too, when you have been laid bare by spiritual winters do you discover, without pretense, the ground into which you have been planted.
The ground of being.
The soil of the Spirit.
Is it nurturing us, and how deeply rooted are we?
For the life that remains, in the winters of our being, is found not at the surface, but the rootedness that lies deeply within.
Palmer says that in the upper Midwest, where he’s from, the counsel given to any newcomer into that climate is that winter will drive you crazy, until you “learn to get out into it.” There’s a whole market of “winter-wear” encouraging people to get out in the midst of winter and live, otherwise, you go “stir-crazy” from saying inside.
What great counsel – whatever the winters are, in your spirit, don’t hold up, but get out there and walk through it.
From there, we move into spring. That season of new birth, new life – emerging from the muck and mire of winter’s thawed mess shoots out new beginnings of every conceivable kind.
When we lay that thought over the Ecclesiastes reading, we start to get where Palmer’s going – he says:
Spring teaches me to look more carefully for the green stems of possibility. For the intuitive hunch that may turn into larger insight. For the glance or touch that may thaw a frozen relationship. For the stranger’s act of kindness that makes the world seem hospitable again.
No wonder we feel so alive in spring.
No wonder we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord in spring.
No wonder the sense of the Spirit blossoms afresh in the springs of our being.
From there the seasons bring us back around to summer. And summer, where Palmer’s from, is glorious. He calls it a time of abundance. It’s a place where the fruit of the gardener’s labor is shared. It is understood that the good work done is meant to be shared with all. It is the place where community thrives.
Now, how all that fits with you, through this series, is really up to you. I don’t know what season you are in. I don’t know where you are relative to discovering God’s call for you – your vocation, but this I do know, you have one. No one is exempt. It is your be claimed. It is your birthright.
Congregations have seasons, too. I’ve thought about that this week. And I thought about 30something years ago when Frank McRae preached, “The Queen is Dead.” Those of you who are hear who heard it for the first time; I don’t know how you took it. Was it a relief? Was it powerful? Was it offensive? Preachers have a way of doing all of that at the same time, and Frank was pretty good at that. Perhaps that was a winter moment for Saint John’s, for the truth laid bare must be spoken. But the seeds of new life were planted by learning to give ourselves away differently, but embracing the life of the Servant.
We are in the spring of that winter. There is new life all around us. Not to be boastful, but to be thankful. Because death does not mean that life does not yet come. In a congregation, in your spiritual walk, in our life together – for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.
I hope that you are finding your call. I as put this series to a close, the conversations continue, for we have much to do to be about the good work of God’s kingdom.