New Season

Published: Monday, 02 January 2017

New SeasonThis sermon, ‘New Season’, was given by Geoff Pound at the Ashburton Baptist Church on New Year’s Day, 1 January 2017. It is the first in a new series entitled ‘New’.

Scripture Reading: Ecclesiastes 3:1-13

3:1 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
3:2 a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3:3 a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
3:4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
3:5 a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

3:6 a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
3:7 a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
3:8 a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.
3:9 What gain have the workers from their toil?
3:10 I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with.
3:11 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.
3:12 I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live;

In the early 1960s Pete Seeger, wrote a song that became one of the songs of his generation. It’s called ‘Turn! Turn! Turn! To everything there is a season’.[1] Seeger has gifted a sizeable proportion of the royalties to charity but some questioned him pocketing any money at all because the lyrics are lifted almost verbatim from (today’s reading) the third chapter of Ecclesiastes. Seeger replied saying he did write six words including the title phrase, ‘Turn! Turn! Turn! But he also wrote the music.[2]

This folk song grew in popularity when it was rearranged and sung by Judy Collins[3] and then when the Byrds produced a rock and roll version this song became an international hit.[4]

As the book of Ecclesiastes was written between the 3rd and 10th centuries BC Turn! Turn! Turn! has the reputation for being the No. 1 hit song of all time with the oldest lyrics.

Proving the truth of the words, that “for everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven,” this song had its season in the sixties when it’s plea for peace struck a nerve as the Vietnam War escalated.

At this old year-new year period it’s fitting that this Scripture should feature in our readings.

It’s easy to see why this Scripture is often read on occasions of great significance.

At funerals: “There is a time to be born, and a time to die.” (3:2)

At weddings: “There is a time to embrace… and a time to love.”

At periods of personal and national tragedy: “There is a time to heal…and a time to build up.”

This Scripture is not only relevant to Red Letter Days but for every day on our new calendar, because it seems to cover every special and ordinary season between birth and death:

“There is a time to plant and a time to pluck up.”

“There is a time to seek and a time to lose.”

“There is a time to keep and a time to throw away.

We only need to feel the heat, admire the colourful jacaranda and see the bark flaking off the eucalypts to know that we’re in the season of summer.

But I wonder what season it is in your life because many of us are facing different seasons.

A sign in a High Street shop over Christmas explained the ‘Four Stages of Life’:

Stage 1: You believe in Santa Claus.

Stage 2: You don’t believe in Santa.

Stage 3: You are Santa Claus.

Stage 4: You look like Santa.

Which is the phrase that might best describe your life at the moment?

“A time to break down.. a time to build up.”

“A time to seek…a time to lose.”

“A time to tear and a time to sew.”

As we read this Scripture over and over this week, see if there’s any phrase that the Spirit of God might highlight as the word for your time:

“There is a time to mourn…A time to love…A time to keep silence…a time to speak.”

It’s good to be mindful of those in our community who are adjusting to new seasons: children going to school for the first time, people starting new courses and jobs, those just entering into retirement, those celebrating the birth of a new baby, those dealing with the rawness of loss.

Our deacons are taking time (on the 21 January) to review the life of our church and to seek a sense of priority for 2017. Do pray for us that we’ll get a clear focus on the theme of this year in the life of our church.

What’s the season? Is it time for something new to be born?

Are there activities that have served their day but it’s time to let them die…

How might we better build up community and gather together?

This Scripture strikes a chord because it gives perspective to our lives. We might be going through a particularly tough season but the eternal God lifts our view with the truth that this too will pass.

We might be going through a period of exuberance and bountiful harvest but this Scripture reminds us that things can and will change.

In the National Gallery of Victoria, there’s a painting by Arthur Boyd entitled ‘Waiting for the Tide’. It shows a sheltered cove in which a couple of boats are lying. The boat in the foreground is occupied by two people. It looks heavy and it’s leaning over, stuck hard and fast on the mud in the inlet.[5]

Its occupants are helpless until the tide comes in, to lift and liberate it. But their presence in the boat indicates their determination to get on the oars and leave the bay the moment the waters rise.

The tide represents the forces by which we’re surrounded in our universe—the rising and the setting of the sun, the phases of the moon, the orbits of the stars, the revolution of the earth, the cycle of the seasons, the round of the year—all so amazingly reliable.

Our Scripture points to a God who determines the times and the seasons. Did you hear the order and rhythm in the reading?

“a time to seek, and a time to lose…”

“a time to tear, and a time to sew.”

It sounds like the ebbing and the flowing of the tide.

Like the boaties in Boyd's picture, we’ve got to wait. We can’t hurry the time any more than we can hurry the tide. There’s no point fretting. We’ll get there in the fullness of time. Sooner or later, the chance will come to escape the tiny inlet and venture out into the seas. Until the tide arrives, we’re alive and alert, waiting, with oars in rowlocks, to greet the new season of opportunity.

It’s hard not to feel cynical at the end of the year and we might say with the wise writer of Ecclesiastes:

3:9 What gain have the workers from their toil?

3:10 I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with.

In other words, ‘So what?’ What did we achieve in 2016 from all our toil? Did we kick any goals or was it simply business or busyness?

This week I saw a photo of a man holding a sign that read: “I survived 2016.”

In this week when people are reviewing the year with its wars and earthquakes and the number of famous people who have died there are many who’ll agree that 2016 has been what Queen Elizabeth described of another year an annus horribilis.

As with Pete Seeger we want to sing the chorus, ‘Turn, turn, turn’.

We’ve had enough of the time to kill and we want a time to heal.

Turn! Turn! Turn!

We’ve had enough of the time for war and we want a time for peace.

Turn! Turn! Turn!

We’ve had enough time to mourn and we want a time to dance.

In addition to our singing and wishing and waiting and praying for things to turn, there may be treasure to discover in these difficult, painful times of death, of breaking up, of throwing away and of mourning.

A pastor went to visit the farm of one of his parishioners and looking at the lush paddocks the pastor said: “I see that you and God are getting along very well together.”

The farmer said, “Yes, but you should have seen it when God had it all to himself.”

One of the things that’s not always clear is our part and God’s part.

Our reading doesn’t solve it but it delves into this mystery in v11

“God has made everything suitable for its time; moreover God 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.”

“There is a time to be born and a time to die.” These events are typical of those that simply happen to us.

“There is a time to plant and a time to pull up.”

These are the activities we have a greater influence over.

Then, there are times and seasons where we cannot clearly fathom God’s invisible presence and activity moving our lives like the tide moves the boats.

A pastor friend wrote this week:

“Five years ago, I decided like the magi to go by another road – after 35 years in university ministry and teaching, and seminary teaching and administration, I was disappointed that I was not chosen to be dean or president of a seminary....”

“I decided to venture into full-time congregational ministry - it has been a wonderful life – pastoring a village church, teaching occasional classes, writing daily, enjoying a simpler life with my partner, and having children and two grandchildren now in the next village over...”

“Truly [this is] the work of a gentle non-coercive providence, and I am grateful for this wonderful life on the seaside.... [It’s] not what I initially sought, but what emerged....and it’s wonderful...[6]

What a positive way to deal with our disappointments and the deviations that come to us on our journey.

The unknown author of this Scripture moves now from the seasons and the momentous events of our life to the here and now. The author no longer wants us to think back to our time of birth or look to our time to die. Our focus is zoomed in on today. This moment. Now.

Ecclesiastes 3:12

“I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live.”

That’s not a bad New Year’s resolution: To seek each day that we live to be happy and joyful and to seek this experience for others.

Then as an afterthought the author adds verse 13:

“Moreover, it is God's gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil.”

To see life as a gift including the simple things—our eating, our drinking and to take pleasure in all our toil.

That’s not narrowly the job we might have but it’s what the author refers to in v10, ‘the business that God gives to everyone’ (v10) each new day.

Let me conclude with Kalidasa’s poem[7], because it adopts this very theme, calling us each morning of this new year to put a frame around the new day and be alert to all the gifts and business that God will give to us in that day:

Look to this day!

For it is life, the very life of life.

In its brief course

Lie all the verities and realities of your existence:

The bliss of growth;

The glory of action;

The splendour of achievement;

For yesterday is but a dream,

And tomorrow is only a vision;

But today, well-lived, makes every yesterday

A dream of happiness,

And every tomorrow a vision of hope.

Look to this day for it is life!

[1] Listen to the song at this link: Pete Seeger-Turn! Turn! Turn! To Everything there is a Season, YouTube.

[2] Turn! Turn! Turn! Wikipedia.

[3] Judy Collins, Turn, Turn, Turn (1966), YouTube.

[4] The Byrds- Turn! Turn! Turn!, YouTube.

[5] This point is prompted and enriched by the chapter in F W Boreham, The Tide Comes in (London: The Epworth Press, 1958), 103-105.

[6] BE, Facebook, 26 December 2016.

[7] Salutation to the Dawn- Attributed to Kalidasa, Beliefnet.