Sunday, December 28, 2008

Our Call in Every Season

Ecclesiastes 3: 1-14

What were you doing a year ago? What were you thinking, hoping? Did you know that Hillary Clinton would not recover from coming in third in the Iowa caucuses, even though she would come very, very close? Did you think that Barack Obama's victory there was the first of many? Did you know that Mike Huckabee would end up not winning the nomination, even though he did win Iowa?

Did you know that the New England Patriots would actually remain undefeated in the regular season and playoffs, only to lose the Super Bowl?

Did you ever think that the winner of the World Series wouldn't be the Yankees, the Red Sox? Did you EVER think that the two teams that played in the World Series would be the Phillies and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays?

Did you know that Center Moreland would, in late spring, become the final spiritual home of a girl named Aimee, whose mother moved her back from Arizona so that she could pass away among family and friends?

Did you know that there would be friends we would have at the beginning of 2008 that we would lose during the course of the year? That there would be people we know who would be very sick and not die, and there would be others who we would be surprised to lose?

No, and I didn't either.

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.

Ecclesiastes is one of the oldest books of the Bible. It is generally less read than other books because from a Christian perspective, from a Christo-centric worldview, it's hard to know what to do with it. There is no clear claim of providence, no pre-figuring of Christ as the culmination of divine intervention in human history. Oh, to be sure, God is present in Ecclesiastes, but not Jesus. So Christians in general do not look at it the same way we look at, say, Isaiah, or even the apocalyptic passages in Daniel or Ezekiel.
But I could suggest to you that Ecclesiastes is of great value to all who respect God, Christians included. Though the author (who might be King Solomon, but is also thought to be an author assuming Solomon's persona) writes in a resigned style, almost as if he is speaking during a great dinner with friends, he is what one commentator calls an "Idol buster", smashing in the course of the book the idols of "money, sex, power, position, human wisdom, even our attempts to become righteous." All that is left at the end, according to the author, who names himself Quoheleth, comes in the twelfth chapter, when he writes that we are to "fear God, and keep his commandments, for that is the whole duty of everyone."

Everything else is vanity. All that we expect from the world, all that we hope, all that we believe. All is smoke.

I recently finished reading David McCullough's biography of John Adams, and while our second President was ambitious to serve and to be of note as a young man, by the time he had served as a member of Congress and been abroad as an ambassador, he was quite happy to stay home for the rest of his life in Quincy, Massachusetts, farming and reading, being a husband to Abigail, and practicing law. His talents kept him being called back into public service, and he was glad to serve, but he had grown out of his young man's ambitions.

What Quoheleth tells us in Ecclesiastes is that God is the one who gives and takes away, and the simplest, best life is one where our gifts and graces are put to God's use, dedicated to God's purpose, rather than taken as gifts that we are given with which to gather wealth, fame or status.

We who gather here are Christians. We declare that Jesus Christ is our personal savior, and that his death on the cross is a choosing to die for us, and that he was redeemed in that act by God by his resurrection. For Jesus, life was indeed a living out of that summation from Ecclesiastes chapter 12, which was to fear God, keep his commandments, and for that to be the whole duty of everyone. His life is a model for us of how a life lived with God at its center will not want for excitement or fulfillment.

So, this coming year, you can count on there being some things that will surprise. There will be world events which will shock us, sadden us, and others that will make us happy. People around us will suffer misfortune. Others will find good fortune. Sometimes they will be the same person. There will be births. There will be deaths. Gas prices will rise and fall. Everything will change, and nothing will, and we will again not be equipped to be able to predict the difference. But if we greet the year without panic, seeing anti-Christs around every corner, but instead seek to serve God, seek him when it is hard and when it is easy, to reach out to the last and the least and the lost, and to lift each other up in prayer and in regard, we will attach ourselves to what is truly eternal and unchanging, and will weather any storm that comes.

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven. Expect change in the coming year, and hold fast to God and to Christ.

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