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November 22, 2020

Sermon Ecclesiastes 3:1.. “Silent witness:  Time”

“Silent witness:  Time”

Ecclesiastes 3:1

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

“Big Ben,” also known as “The Clock Tower,” also known as “The Elizabeth Tower,” is the most famous clock in the world.  Originally designed by architect Augustus Pugin, it’s the largest and most accurate four-faced striking and chiming clock in the world.

Standing at 315 feet tall, it boasts dials twenty-three feet wide, with hands nine and fourteen feet long.  It’s face bears more than three hundred pieces of opal glass, as well as an inscription that reads, in Latin, “O Lord, keep safe our Queen Victoria the First.”

And if you’d like to work on it, you better be in pretty good shape.  There’s no elevator, so you’ll have to climb each and every one of its 632 steps and wind it up, three times a week, by hand.  And just so you know, it’ll take you one-and-a-half hours to wind it every time!

And how did “Big Ben” get its name?  It’s called that because of its biggest bell, a whopping seven-and-a-half feet tall, nine feet across, thirteen-and-a-half ton mass of bronze.  For years, it was the largest bell in all of the United Kingdom.

But Big Ben isn’t the world’s only famous clock.  Think of the Rathaus-Glockenspiel in Munich, or the Prague Astronomical Clock found in the Czech Republic, or the clock overlooking Philadelphia’s City Hall.  For a handful of years, it was the tallest clock in the world.

But if none of those are quite good enough for you, and you want to know the exact, exact time, there’s an atomic clock ticking away in a lab at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colorado.  At the moment, they say that it’s one hundred times more accurate than any other clock in the world!

We have a fascination for clocks.  In fact, you could even say that, here in America, we’re slaves to the clock.  Not only do we hang them on our walls and lay one beside our bed, we strap them onto our wrists, (and, of course, we have them on our phones), so we can know the time anytime and anywhere we go.

The Bible talks quite a lot about time too.  Think of the words of Psalm 31:  “But I trust in You, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’  My times are in Your hands.”  Paul wrote to the Galatians:  “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those under the Law.”  And he wrote to the Ephesians:  “Make the most of your time, because the days are evil.”

And in our text for today, we hear about time once more.  Listen to the words of Ecclesiastes chapter 3:  “For everything there is a season, a time for every matter under heaven:  a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).

Written some nine hundred years before Christ, the book of Ecclesiastes comes to us from the hand of a king named Solomon, one of the wisest men who ever lived.  Now an old man, he took time to look back on life to find the meaning of life.

So he wrote in chapter 1:  “Vanity of  vanities, vanity of vanities!  All is vanity”  Or as another translation puts it:  “Meaningless!  Meaningless!  Utterly meaningless!  Everything is meaningless!... There is nothing new under the sun.”  And he wrote in chapter 2:  “All is a striving after the wind.”

Now here in chapter 3, he speaks some of the most amazing and most beautiful words of all.  In fact, they’re so beautiful, back in the late 1950s, Pete Seeger of The Byrds wrote a song called, Turn! Turn! Turn!, based directly on these words, “A time to be born, and a time to die.”

And it all begins with this--Verse 1:  “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:  a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal.”  And later he wrote:  “He has made everything beautiful in its time.”

It’s been said that time is the raw material of everything.  With it, almost everything is possible.  Without it, nothing is possible.  For each morning when you wake up, ahead of you is twenty-four hours of time, what one author called, “the unmanufactured tissue of the universe of your life.”  No one can take it from you, and no one receives either more or less than you receive.

How will you use your time?

Imagine for a moment that you, out of the blue, received a letter in the mail, from a place called, “Life Bank.”  And in that letter, they say they’re happy to inform you that, every day, someone will be kind enough to deposit $86,400 into an account that bears your name.  What a gift!  What a treasure!

But the letter also states that there are a couple of catches.  First, you can’t carry over any balance from one day to the next, for what you don’t use one day will be deleted from the next.  What’s here today will be gone tomorrow.  And second, you can’t borrow from the next day’s deposit.

But the real sticker is that, at any time, without any warning, the bank holds the right to close your account and perform an audit to assess just how you used the funds in your account.  And, based on that audit, you’ll either be penalized or rewarded.

If you’re anything like me, you’d want to put every penny to good use, and not waste even one red cent!

In just the same way, every day, God has gifted every one of us with 86,400, not dollars, but seconds--no more and no less.  We can’t borrow against tomorrow, nor can we go back and retrieve what’s already gone.  What we do not use carefully and wisely today is lost forever.  And since there is a day coming when each and every one of us must give an account, it makes absolute sense to consider just how we might use every second of every day.

As Moses wrote in the words of Psalm 90:  “The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away...So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”

Do you worry that God doesn’t have time for you?  He’s your “dwelling place in all generations.  From everlasting to everlasting, He is God.”

Do you worry that He doesn’t have the strength?  He brought forth the mountains and formed the earth and world.  A thousand years in His sight are like a day that’s just gone by.

Do you worry that He doesn’t have the love?  He so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, so that whosoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life.

As Paul once wrote to the Romans:  “One will scarcely die for a righteous person--though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die--but God shows His love for us in this, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

You’ve heard of David Cassidy?  Back in the 70s, he played a character named Keith Partridge in a musical-sitcom called, The Partridge Family.  And just as soon as he released his hit song, I Think I Love You, he became an overnight sensation and America’s “heartthrob.”

But as it often goes, it didn’t take long for everything to fall apart.  After three failed marriages, a series of arrests, and a long history of addiction to drugs and alcohol, he filed for bankruptcy in 2015.

Finally, two years later in February of 2017, after falling off a stage while performing, he was hospitalized with liver and kidney failure, and placed into a coma.  Though doctors hoped he could recover enough to have a transplant, he died at the age of 67.

After his death, his daughter, Katie, wrote, “Words cannot express the solace our family’s received from all the love and support during this trying time.”  Then she shared his last words.  He said, “So much wasted time.”

As one author put it, “Life is like a coin.  You can spend it any way you want, but you can spend it only once.”

So how thankful we are that, “in the fullness of time, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those under the Law, that we might receive our adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).  And “when the time came for the Baby to be born, she wrapped Him in cloths and laid Him in a manger” (Luke 2:7).  And though we’re like a “breath, our days on earth like a fleeting shadow,” (Psalm 144:4), God will “lift us up in due time” (I Peter 5:6).  And we long for the time when “all who are in their graves will hear His voice,” (John 5:28), and will “worship the Father in Spirit and in truth” (John 4:23).

Back in 2006, author Cormac McCarthy wrote a book called, The Road.  It’s a story about a father and son who are walking alone across America.

But it’s not the America we know.  It’s one that’s been destroyed by a meteor.  It’s bitterly cold, and everything is covered with soot and ash.  Their only food and clothes are what they can scavenge from the side of the road.  Their only hope is to head west to the coast, to be rescued before they die.

When they finally reach the coast, the father dies.  But before he dies, he and his son have one last conversation about a boy they had met along the road, about whom they could do nothing.

“Do you remember that little boy, Papa?” asked his son.

“Yes, I remember him.”

“Do you think he’s all right, that little boy?

“Oh yes, I think he’s all right.”

“Do you think he was lost?”

“No, I don’t think he was lost.”

“I’m scared that he was lost.”

“I think he’s all right.”

“But who will find him if he is lost?  Who will find the little boy?”

“Goodness will find the little boy.  It always has.  It will again.”

And so goodness comes to a stable, and it comes to a table.  It comes to meet us, and it comes to give itself up for us.  It comes to us in the person of a newborn Baby in a manger, and it comes to us in the person of a Man on a cross.  It comes to us on the road we travel, and it comes to us to let us know that we do not travel alone.  It comes to us in our loneliness, and it comes to us in our lostness.  It comes to us when nothing seems to change, and it comes to us when we are most subject to change.

And that’s why we can sing the words of the hymn:  “Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day.  Earth’s joys grow dim, it’s glories pass away.  Change and decay in all around I see.  O Thou who changest not, abide with me.”


Our times, dear Father, are in Your hands.  Grant us grace in our times of trouble, and help us to rest calmly and constantly in You, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen


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