A Time for Everything

Ecclesiastes 3 is offered to us today as a lesson that brings a word of reality into our study of God. The writer, who refers to himself as ”Teacher,” says that God is in every part of creation and is present in every moment. Times of planting and uprooting, times of throwing stones and gathering stones, times of keeping and throwing away … everything comes under God’s purview:

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 
There’s a season for everything
    and a time for every matter under the heavens:
    a time for giving birth and a time for dying,
    a time for planting and a time for uprooting what was planted,
    a time for killing and a time for healing,
    a time for tearing down and a time for building up,
    a time for crying and a time for laughing,
    a time for mourning and a time for dancing,
    a time for throwing stones and a time for gathering stones,
    a time for embracing and a time for avoiding embraces,
    a time for searching and a time for losing,
    a time for keeping and a time for throwing away,
    a time for tearing and a time for repairing,
    a time for keeping silent and a time for speaking,
    a time for loving and a time for hating,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

Even the jarring examples he offers are part of God’s plan. It can feel disconcerting to read that there is a time for killing, a time for hate, and a time for war. Yet we know that in acts of self-defense and in times of battle, killing happens. We know that hate is too often experienced when people engage in anger, sin, and revenge. Yet perhaps it is understandable when we hate evil, injustice, and anything that opposes God. We know that wars are inevitable on earth and will not cease until Christ returns. The Teacher sought not to condone or approve of these things, but merely to pull the listener in with relevant examples. In like manner, he also assured us that there are times when weeping, laughing, mourning, and dancing will be our response to something. We may have little say over things that happen to us, but how we respond to them is important. The Teacher encourages us to respond with trust.

By being so specific, the Teacher has captured our attention. But the comfort that he intends to impart is found in the first verse: “There is a season for everything, and a time for every matter under the heavens.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Our Creator set the stars, the planets, and the seasons in motion at the beginning of time. Our Creator is present with us in every matter and every minute. Our Creator is watching everything that happens under the heavens.

Our Creator is here, with us, in it all. What comfort! What joy! To know that things aren’t just randomly happening to us, but that everything has a purpose, is the word of hope we need for today. This word of illumination should bring peace to our hearts. God is in control. God is omniscient (all knowing). Even better, God is omnipresent (always present).

God controls time …. the best of times and the worst of times. Whatever you are going through right now, God is IN IT with you. Thanks be to God!

Time to Rise and Shine by Michelle Robertson

Even to Death

With Covid restrictions lifting, the church is back in (modified) business. One of the things we did not do for the duration of the pandemic was funerals. People, however, continued to die. This brought much sorrow to grieving families who needed the closure that a memorial service brings. Funerals truly are designed for the living, not for the dead. To gather in a quiet sanctuary where you hear the resurrection proclaimed, sing hymns of faith, and tell stories of the departed can be a soothing balm for every hurting soul.

We have done several funerals in the last month and it feels right again. In life, in death, and in life beyond death, we need the comfort of being gathered together to sustain us.

I love the moment after a memorial service when the family has gathered in the Fellowship Hall to receive guests. The tension and formality of the service is behind us and we can hug, comfort, and laugh together as we swap stories and share memories. With a glass of lemonade in one hand and a plate of deviled eggs and finger sandwiches in the other, we take the next step together toward life without the decedent. Even in the midst of pain, we have a sense that God will make everything all right because we have friends and family we can count on.

It is a holy privilege to officiate a funeral. To see God’s abiding spirit among the mourners is a blessing every time.

Our Psalm today is a tribute to God’s presence in the holy city of Jerusalem. The psalmist reminds us that God is present in the city, the mountain, the palaces, and indeed the whole earth as he knew it:

Psalm 48 (New King James Version)

Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised
In the city of our God,
In His holy mountain.
Beautiful in elevation,
The joy of the whole earth,
Is Mount Zion on the sides of the north,
The city of the great King.
God is in her palaces;
He is known as her refuge.

God’s presence in Jerusalem is so well known that foreign kings tremble as they pass:

For behold, the kings assembled,
They passed by together.
They saw it, and so they marveled;
They were troubled, they hastened away.
Fear took hold of them there,
And pain, as of a woman in birth pangs,
As when You break the ships of Tarshish
With an east wind.

As we have heard,
So we have seen
In the city of the Lord of hosts,
In the city of our God:
God will establish it forever. Selah

It is interesting to note how the focus of “God in his temple on Mount Zion” begins to change over time to include “God at the ends of the earth.” The early Israelites thought that God resided in one location: first it was the tent of the meeting in the desert, then the ark of the covenant, then the holy of holies in the temple in Jerusalem…it was a while before the concept of “God is everywhere” began to take hold.

We have thought, O God, on Your lovingkindness,
In the midst of Your temple.
10 According to Your name, O God,
So is Your praise to the ends of the earth;
Your right hand is full of righteousness.
11 Let Mount Zion rejoice,
Let the daughters of Judah be glad,
Because of Your judgments.

12 Walk about Zion,
And go all around her.
Count her towers;
13 Mark well her bulwarks;
Consider her palaces;
That you may tell it to the generation following.

When Jesus came, we understood him to be Emmanuel, which translates to “God with us.” We understand that God is not limited to a location, but is present with us no matter where we are. He is present in our lives and most certainly in our deaths as he leads us from life to everlasting life.

14 For this is God,
Our God forever and ever;
He will be our guide
Even to death.

This is what we proclaim at a funeral. God is our fortress in life and he will be our guide even to death. Therefore we will not fear! God goes with us through the valley of the shadow of death and we are never alone. Thanks be to God.

God is With Us by Michelle Robertson

Stone Pillows

Have your dreams become more disturbing during the pandemic? I was chatting with friends who remarked that this is happening to them. I, too, am experiencing dreams that are louder, more colorful, more intense, and frankly more exhausting than usual. Obviously the stress of what is happening is being played out in our subconscious the minute we release consciousness. I often wake up feeling unresolved and tired. I imagine this is to be expected, given the situation.

So I thought it would be good to study a dream this morning that actually brought some good news to the dreamer. This is the kind of dream we all wish for…one that brings a sense of awe and wonder with it. This dream was filled by the very presence of God:

Genesis 28 (New Revised Standard Version)

10 Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. 11 He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. 12 And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; 14 and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. 

And indeed, Jacob produced the twelve tribes of Israel, which spread all throughout Israel and dominated the land. But even better than that prophesy was the promise God made:

15 Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” 16 Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” 17 And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

Note that verse 15 sounds very reminiscent of a promise Jesus made in Matthew 28:

 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.

And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (New Revised Standard Version)

I am with you, always. I am with you and will keep you wherever you go.

As you go off to college, I am with you.

As you go into surgery, I am with you.

As you go into the COVID-19 ward, I am with you.

As you go into the unemployment center, I am with you.

As you go into divorce, foreclosure, the second grade classroom, the never-ending argument…..I am with you.

Are you with ME?

18 So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. 19 He called that place Bethel; but the name of the city was Luz at the first.

The word Bethel means “house of God.” Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the “house of Bread.” Appropriate, as he became the Bread of Life.

God invites us today to create a Bethel in our own hearts. When you establish your soul as a house of God, he is GUARANTEED to come and inhabit your life.

So make a place for him, and open wide your doors. We are all climbing Jacob’s ladder. God will be with you, always, even to the end of the pandemic age.

Every Rung Goes Higher by Jennifer Thompson