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The Wisdom of Solomon: It’s about Time

May 29, 2011


Sermon:  The Wisdom of Solomon:  It’s about Time
Text:  Ecclesiastes 3:1-11


We welcome you to our service today on this Memorial Day weekend, a time of the year to shift gears.  School is out for most people, and many of our families will take some time for a few days of vacation.

As we come today to the end of our series of sermons The Wisdom of Solomon, I want us to think together about time.  I invite you to turn with me to one of Solomon’s most famous passages, Ecclesiastes Chapter 3.  I will never forget that Senator Sam Ervin of North Carolina, in his last speech as a senator, read this Scripture.  It has remained in my mind ever since that day as a Scripture for all seasons, a Scripture appropriate to almost every occasion.  I will read for your hearing the first eleven verses.  Hear now the Word of God:

 1 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:

  2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

9 What do workers gain from their toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

I would like to mention seven of the wisest sayings that revolve around the issue of time:

–          Albert Einstein:  “The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.”

–          Author Unknown:  “You can’t change the past, but you can ruin the present by worrying about the future.”

–          William Faulkner:  “Clocks slay time.  Time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life.”

–          John Wooden:   “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”

–          Abraham Lincoln:  “The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.”

–          Carl Sandburg:  “Time is the coin of your life.  It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent.  Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.”

–          Scott Peck:  “Until you value yourself, you won’t value your time.  Until you value your time, you will not do anything with it.”

Some years ago, I came to a moment of truth in my life while doing one of those year-end private inventories.  I had been through what felt like a mid-life crisis.  I was trying to make a lot of decisions about what I should do with my life and with my time.  A single verse from the Bible came to mind:  Psalm 139:16:  “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”  I realized that I had a limited amount of time.

In a moment of quiet reflection on that simple truth and during a brief time of prayer, I received a message from God.  It was not an audible message.  I did not even have my eyes closed, but it occurred to me – maybe somewhere deep in my memory bank – “Kirk, you have exactly the amount of time that I intend for you to have, no more and no less.  You have exactly the same twenty-four hours every day, seven days a week, week by week, day by day, that I allot to all of my children.  You have the same amount of time as Helen Keller and Mother Teresa.  You have the same amount of time as Bill Gates and Billy Graham.  You have the same amount of time as Albert Einstein and Albert Schweitzer.  Look at your calendar.  This is the time that I give you.  How will you spend it?”

I realized that sometimes I think I do not have enough time.  I actually have the correct amount of time.  I have exactly what God time gave me.  The Scripture says that God has ordained the time I have.  Saying “I don’t have enough time” is actually a sin.  It is as if I know better than God how much time I really need.  I do not know better than God.  Time is a matter of stewardship.  Paul admonishes Christians to use it wisely.  He uses the phrase “redeem the time” in both Ephesians and Colossians.  We are to make the most of every opportunity, to make the most of our time.

The Greek language provides us with two ways to think about time.  First, the word chronos relates to measured time, the counting of time.  It is time, for example, as expressed in Psalm 90:4:  “For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by.”  That prayer might have been on the lips of Moses while tending the flocks of his father-in-law, Jethro.  After feelings of despair, Moses finally said, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).  More important than counting the hours is making the hours count.   All of us know that we can do a better job with making the most of the time we have.

We must pay attention to non-repetitive events and understand that some events come and go and cannot be repeated.

My mother told all of her daughters and her daughters-in-law that if their husbands ever forgot an anniversary, birthday, or Valentine’s Day, the woman was at fault.  My mother practiced what she lectured.  I do not know how many times I heard her ask Dad, “What do you have planned for June 10th?”  That was their wedding anniversary.  Yesterday Clare asked me, “What do you have planned for June 18th?”  I looked at my calendar, and sure enough I had written “Wedding Anniversary” on that date.  I am sure she insisted that I write it down in January when I received my new calendar.  I can assure you that Clare’s birthday is written down in that calendar, too.  We dare not let those special events go by without acknowledgement.

The Latin phrase “Tempus fugit” means time flies.  Maybe a better expression of that idea comes from the song of the white rabbit in Alice through the Looking Glass:  “I’m late. I’m late.  I’m late for a very important date.  No time to say hello.  Goodbye.  I’m late.  I’m late.  I’m late.”

A couple coming into the Sanctuary this morning said, “We are late!”

I answered, “You are right on time.”

Time is constantly moving.  It is an ever-moving stream.

A second Greek word, one that I consider to be more important, is kairos, which deals with the quality of time, not measured time.  The ancient Hebrew Bible translated into Greek, the Septuagint, uses the word kairos for references to time in the passage we read in Ecclesiastes.  We love home grown tomatoes.  Fried green tomatoes are fine, but you really want to leave your tomatoes on the vine until they are ripe.  There is a right time to pick them.  Tomatoes are different from bananas, which have a life expectancy of about fifteen minutes.  There is a time in the life of a tomato when it was just right.  Kairos carries the meaning of the time is ripe, the time is right.  Throughout the New Testament, we see passages such as 2 Corinthians 6:2, in which Paul says, “Behold, now is the acceptable time for salvation.”  Mark’s Gospel begins, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15).  Carpe Diem, another Latin phrase, means seize the day.  Make the most of every moment.

We woefully neglect the use of time.  One way is in intimacy.  King David, perhaps the person in the Old Testament that we know best, was great at many things.  He was a poet, a songwriter, a warrior, a man among men, an astute politician.  He united the entire monarchy.  He knew just which city to choose as the capitol, the neutral Jebusite city of Jerusalem.  David’s neglect of intimacy caught up with him.  He did something that kings were not supposed to do.  He stayed home when his army went to war.  Strolling out on a roof of his house, he saw a beautiful woman bathing.  He decided to have her and committed adultery.  When she became pregnant, he, in essence, committed murder.  He put her husband, Uriah, on the front line so that he would be killed.  David’s neglect of his need for intimacy created havoc in his life.  Later on, his own sons, Absalom and Adonijah, turned against him.  Neglecting intimacy in your marriage and in your relationship with your children will destroy your family.

When Scott was a Cub Scout, we took a hike, following a railroad track and then a siding where little saplings were growing between the tracks.  The tracks went into a grove of pine trees.  There we found one of those old Southern Lady railroad boxcard that had just one sliding door.  Scott went around one side of the boxcar, and I went around the other side.

Scott, in his seven-year-old wisdom, said, “Dad, this boxcar has been here a long time.”

I thought, How brilliant of my boy!  Ever the teacher, I asked, “Scott, how did you know that?”  I thought he would talk about the rust on the wheels or those saplings growing between the railings.

He said, “Dad, look on the ladder!  There’s a bird nest.  Dad, a bird cannot build a nest on a moving train.”

You cannot build a family on a moving train either.  If you are always on the go, you neglect your need for intimacy.

We also neglect our need for devotion.  Bill Hybels has written a book called Too Busy Not to Pray.  It is not a new idea.  During the 1600s, Francis de Sales, a Swiss leader in the counter Reformation movement said, “Every Christian should pray no less than one hour a day unless he is very busy; then he should pray two hours a day.”  We cannot neglect our need for devotion.  Jesus did not neglect it.  At the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, we read that after a very busy night he got up early the next morning before daylight and went off to a mountain to pray.  If our Lord needed time with God, how much more do we need it?

St. Augustine said, “Thou hast created us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.”  I sometimes think of the words of a hymn during our time of prayer:  “Take my moments and my days; let them flow in ceaseless praise.”  The issue of time is a matter for all of us.

We come to this Table at the right time.  What happens here is another of those great conjunctions.  Here we experience a kind of devotion, a closeness to God, a time when we are in His presence, a time when we can sense the Holy Spirit right here in this place.  It is also a time of intimacy, a time of intimacy perhaps with our church family but more significantly a time of intimacy with our Lord.  This is our opportunity to come with folded hands and bowed heads to say, “Lord, I need you.”  It is a time to say, “Lord, I love you.”

This Supper is a memorial to the Lord Jesus.  This is not a Baptist table.  It is not Morningside’s table.  This is the Lord’s Table.  Any person who acknowledges Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior is invited to take part in this meal.  Let’s take the Lord’s Supper together.

The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread.  He blessed it, broke it, and said, “This is my body, broken for you.”

Prayer of Blessing for the Bread:  Heavenly Father, in a way, each of us is traveling on our journey to Emmaus.  Every time we break this bread and participate in this Lord’s Supper, the Scriptures become more real.  There is recognition.  Now as we take this bread, we remember what was done for us on Calvary.  Thank You for Your love and Your grace.  In Jesus’ name, we pray.  Amen.

My Jesus, I love Thee, I know Thou art mine.
For Thee all the follies of sin, I resign;
My gracious Redeemer, my Savior art Thou.
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

Jesus said, “This bread is my body, given for you.”  Do this as often as you do it in remembrance of him.  Eat all of it.

Prayer of Blessing for the Cup:  Father, we now come to this moment to hold a cup in our hands.  It is but the juice of the vine, yet it is also a memory that we have of your shed blood.  We pray that as we partake of it, we will recall Your willingness to pay this price for us.  Bless it for Your own glory.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

I love Thee because Thou hast first loved me,
And purchased my pardon on Calvary’s tree;
I love Thee for wearing the thorns on Thy brow;
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.”  Drink it as often as you drink it in remembrance of him.  Drink all of it.

We want to extend an invitation to any person who has never accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord and Savior.  Invite him into your heart.  As Paul said, “Today is the day of salvation.”  Do not delay.  Acknowledge him as your Savior today.

Kirk H. Neely
©  May 2011



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