Ecclesiastes 3:1-9 (VOICE) For everything that happens in life—there is a season, a right time for everything under heaven: 2 A time to be born, a time to die; a time to plant, a time to collect the harvest; 3 A time to kill, a time to heal; a time to tear down, a time to build up; 4 A time to cry, a time to laugh; a time to mourn, a time to dance; 5 A time to scatter stones, a time to pile them up; a time for a warm embrace, a time for keeping your distance; 6 A time to search, a time to give up as lost; a time to keep, a time to throw out; 7 A time to tear apart, a time to bind together; a time to be quiet, a time to speak up; 8 A time to love, a time to hate; a time to go to war, a time to make peace. 9 What good comes to anyone who works so hard, all to gain a few possessions?
This passage from Ecclesiastes is one of those that has a place in our cultural memory that is not directly connected to our faith. For some of a certain age, it brings to mind a song by The Byrds. For those of us of a slightly different age, we might think of it’s use in that cheesy, but iconic 80’s movie Footloose. All of us have heard some or all of this passage used in one form or another in conversation.
The author isn’t necessarily isn’t necessarily stating a fact, but rather trying to grapple with the realities of life in our broken world. Our lives are filled with the extremes of birth and death; crying and laughing, mourning and dancing. This truth doesn’t change when we begin to follow in the way of Jesus. We still mourn and dance, we still laugh and cry.
This leaves us to wrestle with these realities just as the author of Ecclesiastes does and I believe that process is intended to be informed by our awareness of the realities of our life and our world, but also – importantly – by the question that comes in verse 9 – What good comes to anyone who works so hard, all to gain a few possessions?
The point the writer is making, and what we have to figure out for ourselves, is how are we going to respond to the highs and lows of this life. What is going to be our motivation as we walk through our lives that are filled with both joy and pain, love and hate, war and peace.
I believe that our motivation is supposed to be to respond to and reflect God’s love, grace, and peace in every situation we encounter – when we are dancing and when we are mourning. We are called to acknowledge God’s presence and providence when we are planting and when we are harvesting.
In times like we find ourselves in now, we are called to ask God’s Holy Spirit to help us know what we are called to build up and what we are called to tear down. We are called to listen to and follow the Spirit’s leading about when – and how – to speak up and when to be quiet (and just listen).
As the writer of Ecclesiastes says elsewhere in this book, everything is meaningless, and if we are living and working simply to gain a few possessions or something as fleeting as money or popularity, it is truly all meaningless. But, if we work hard to respond to God’s love and presence in our lives; build up God’s kingdom here and now; tear down the systems and symptoms of injustice; mourn with those who mourn and dance with those who dance as the visible presence of God in the midst of this broken world, then there can be nothing more meaningful than that.
Sharing God’s Love,
Prayer: Holy God, help us to know when to build up and when to tear down. To know when to speak out and when to be quiet and listen. And in all things, Lord, help us to live, speak and act in a way that reflects your light and love. Amen.