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Jul 17 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

July 15, 2012 – Ecclesiastes 3:4

A time to weep and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn and a time to dance.
Ecclesiastes 3:4

INTRO: The writer of Ecclesiastes calls himself the “Preacher”

He has a message and it is about life “under the sun”
– this is life defined by a definite number of hours–from the time the sun rises to when it sets

My granddaughter, Addison, is a petite five-year-old
– she has a very tender heart and the epitome of innocence
– a week ago, she was in a conversation with her parents about dinosaurs and their extinction
• a thought occurred to her and she asked them, “Are we going to die?”

The Preacher’s point is that we are going to die — that what we experience “under the sun” is life within limits
– furthermore, he believes that “the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth” (Ecc. 7:1), that it is wiser to live looking at the end of your life than beginning
– therefore

It is better to go to a house of mourning
Than to a house of feasting,
Because that is the end of every man,
And the living takes it to heart

This life span allows us the opportunity for all kinds of experiences
– not all are good, not all are bad
– every experience has its own time slot
• when the experience matches the moment, it’s “beautiful”

Part 1 of the Preacher’s message: the best we can hope for under the sun is to catch rhythm of life
Part 2: there’s more to reality than what exists under the sun — and therefore, more to live and die for

A time to weep

I’d like to skip this verse
– first, I’m a guy, so what do I know about feelings?
• but also, I want to believe that the weeping part of our lives is over, that we’ve gone through the hard stuff, learned those lessons, and now the rest of the ride will be laughter
• also, we’ve learned a thing or two about finding joy in each moment
– I’ve passed through seasons in which I’ve been worn out and wrung dry by sadness
• not just my own
• this week I met with a man to help work on a project, and even though we were in a public place, he could not explain his answers to my questions without tears

Of course, there’s such a thing as weeping tears of joy
– but that’s not what the Preacher has in mind here – he means the opposite of laughter
– this weeping is caused by pain
• I’ve noticed recently that many young people in South Orange County respond to the death of a friend by turning to heavy use of drugs or alcohol

“Drinking is like taking the wrong medicine at the wrong time.” Helmut Thielicke

• we all would like to avoid the pain that makes us weep

One of the most profound reflections on Jesus in the Bible is also one of the briefest
– “Jesus wept” – Jn. 11:35
• not for himself! He knew from the start what he was going to do

When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled (Jn. 11:33)

• he felt empathy for them and wept over their suffering and confusion
• Jesus was not immune to their heartache
– to appreciate the full significance of these two words, “Jesus wept,” we need to combine with several other statements
• for example: “So Jesus, being wearied from His journey, was sitting by the well” (Jn. 4:6) and “I am thirsty” (Jn. 19:28)
– Jesus entered fully into the human condition
• that he wept, means he knows what it feels like to be human and that sometimes it hurts
– this is exactly what is missing in a person described as inhumane
• a sociopath can laugh at the pain of others, but he can’t weep over their pain
• Jesus’ tears poured out of his humanness

It is not very likely that we’ve shed our last tears
– but the good news is, there’s “a time to weep”
– it is not something we were meant to be doing all the time — it is not forever
• weeping all the time is an indication that we’ve fallen out of life’s rhythm, that something is missing that should be there, and we need to find it

A time to laugh

There are several different types of laughter
– in the story of Sarah we see at least three of them:

  1. Sarcastic – laughing at irony, the absurd – Ge. 18:12
  2. Joyful – Ge. 21:6, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me”
  3. Ridicule — translated “mocking” in Ge. 21:9

– I would add two more types:
• laughing at what is truly funny (although humor is a subjective characteristic)
• the laughter of faith – Ps. 126:1-2

The different types of laughter make it a difficult subject to study
– that is why Drs. Newberg and Waldman, in How God Changes Your Brain exclude laughter from the list of activities that demonstrate definite neurological benefits
• however, they do say:

“Smiling stimulates brain circuits that enhance social interaction, empathy, and mood. In fact smiling has such a powerful effect on the brain that if you just see a picture of a smiling face, you will involuntarily feel happier and more secure.”

– other research indicates that laughter can lower stress and boost the immune system

It is easy to take ourselves too seriously, and that is not an attractive quality
– it is much more difficult to laugh at ourselves, yet that is a charming quality

Both weeping and laughing are spontaneous reactions to various stimuli
– both can also be faked, but it takes a really good actor to be convincing

A time to mourn and a time to dance

The relationship between this line and the first line is obvious–i.e., we’re still on same theme
– but the second line does not merely repeat first, it goes deeper

There are many reasons why a person would weep — pain, frustration, disappointment, failure, etc.
– there’s only one reason why we mourn: Loss

The Preacher believes “Sorrow is better than laughter” (7:3)
– he implies grief can take us to deeper places in our soul than mirth
– I think grief gives us a better idea of how far down our soul goes
• this, in itself, increases our capacity to experience joy

As far as dancing, I’ll just point to David, who totally lost himself in his joyful and passionate devotion to God

I have just about come to the end of a book on physics that a friend loaned me, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Einstein
– it reminded me that opposite charges attract
– this is the law that holds negatively charged electrons in orbit around the nucleus of atoms which contain of positively charged protons
These opposite emotional forces–weeping and laughing, mourning and dancing–are what holds our lives together
– they also give our lives symmetry

An important question that is not asked in this verse:
– what makes us weep or laugh? Mourn or dance?
– there are legitimate reasons and also illegitimate reasons
• sometimes the Bible gives cues or instructions in specific circumstances (e.g., Neh. 8:9-12)
– sometimes what makes us weep is only one stage of an event, but when the whole event is played out, it produces laughter
• e.g., Jacob regarding Joseph or Mary at the tomb of Jesus, “Why are you weeping?”

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
You have loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness
(Ps. 30:11)

CONC: Most hours of our day, we live somewhere in between weeping and laughter

What is the in between experience? Are we just numb the rest of the time? Do we dull our minds, emotions, and senses with alcohol and television?
– if we are awake only when weeping or laughing, then our soul has shut down for some reason

Frederick Buechner observed that when Jesus said we must become as a child to see the kingdom of heaven, it immediately reminds us that we are not children, that we’ve outgrown our childhood, and we cannot go back
– I think it also indicates that we lost something along the way, something we were not supposed to lose

Life was not meant to be played on one or two notes
– we were meant to experience every keystroke
– but to do that, we have to become like children
• we have to recover our capacity to feel and to respond to our feelings

A time for this and a time for that — it is time for something – what is it time for?
– we can only know by joining God in this present moment and discovering the wonders he has hidden in it for us

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