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Jul 24 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

July 22, 2012 – Ecclesiastes 3:5-6

A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace and a time to shun embracing.
A time to search and a time to give up as lost;
A time to keep and a time to throw away.

Ecclesiastes 3:5-6

INTRO: It is impossible for a normal, healthy human mind to comprehend the ruthless plotting, preparing, and perpetrating of the random murder of unarmed and unsuspecting men, women and children

[Thursday, July 19, 2012, a gunman entered a movie theater and began shooting patrons who had come to view the screening of a new release]

News reporters are asking investigators, What was killer’s motive?
– it sounds like a specific question, but the actual underlying question is the less specific, Why?
• our minds naturally grope for a reason or meaning to “senseless tragedies”
– but, as always in situations like this, there is no satisfactory answer
• there is no answer that will make us “okay” with it

When we face the hard facts, it’s not difficult to join the Existentialists who have argued that meaning isn’t something the universe contains or provides, but individuals must provide their own meanings
– a few biblical scholars think the Preacher of Ecclesiastes was an Existenialist
• for example, the New International Version does not read “Vanity,” but “Meaningless” (Ecc. 1:1)
– but that’s not at all what the Preacher is saying

The Preacher’s message: It is true that life passes quickly, like steam rising from a cup of tea
– death seems to drain the significance out of any achievement that distinguishes one person above another (2:12-16)
• we do not have enough time or wisdom to make sense out of everything that happens
• but if you cannot find life’s meaning, you’re looking in wrong place

The four lines we are looking at today have to do with gains and losses
– a time to collect and disperse, to accumulate and liquidate, to attract and repel
– this is the rhythm of our heartbeat – diastole and systole, drawing blood in, then pushing it out and away
• it is one of the fundamental rhythms of life

The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away.
Blessed be the name of the LORD.
(Job 1:21)

A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones

I have no idea what this means–that is, whatever the Preacher is referring to is unclear
– the language does not mean throwing “at” but away from (same word in v. 6, “throw away”)
• in other words, there’s a time to get rid of stones

I make the application to any important project
building: stones were needed for walls and some stones were “rejected” or discarded
(stones would also be thrown away when walls were destroyed by war or homes demolished; Lev. 14:45)
farming: they would throw away stones when clearing them from a field to cultivate it, but they would also collect stones to build retaining walls and temporary shelters during harvest

A time for clearing the  rubble and a time for acquiring building materials

A time to embrace and a time to shun embracing

The subject here is obvious: Relationships
– other places in scripture, the “embrace” is loving and affectionate
• the Hebrew word translated “shun” means, to create distance
– a time for bonding and a time for setting boundaries

When a person’s behavior is offensive, obnoxious, or intrusive, it is usually because they have a poor understanding of bonding and boundaries or they have not learned to develop the relational skills to form healthy bonds or respect boundaries

A time to search and a time to give up as lost

The subject here can be almost anything

The first part is fairly easy for us — it seems we are always looking for something

As for the second line, we’re either blind or resistant when it comes to knowing when to give up
– when do we give up the dream of making our first million?
– we do we give up our youthful appearance?

A time to keep and a time to throw away

The subject is ownership
– we don’t have to give away everything or give to everyone
• What Paul said regarding making donations, his intent was not to put believers in poverty (2 Cor. 8:12-13)

Not being able to “throw away” can become the sickness we know as hoarding

All of what the Preacher says in these lines makes rational sense – we can see its wisdom
– in fact, we’re almost tempted to say, “So what?”
– do we need the Bible to tell us there’s a time to keep and a time to throw away?

These rhythms reveal a hidden danger

Going through life, we create a field of gravity
– things are drawn into our orbit – stuff just accumulates
• even a homeless person can wind up pushing a shopping cart piled six feet high with possessions

In the Old Testament, a“great” person was someone who weighed a lot
– wealth and possessions expanded a person’s body, property lines, treasure vault
– the greater their mass, the greater their gravity
• wealth attracts wealth

The New Testament takes a second look at greatness
– a rich young man who came to Jesus (Mk. 10:17-23)
• his gravity field drew a lot of stuff to him
• eventually, his portfolio was so full, it created its own gravity
• when he had the opportunity to follow Jesus into eternal life, he wasn’t free to go – he was stuck in orbit of all he possessed

When called by Jesus, the disciples had only their nets and boats to leave (Mk. 1:16-20)
– but don’t underestimate what those things are to a poor person
– still, they were able to pull out of the orbit of their stuff

Jesus’ message: Beware of the gravity you amass

Still, another problem

Is it possible to accept our losses as easily as our gains?
– the Preacher says, If you see it’s time to give up, then give up
– but how can we?
• how can we not be thrown into panic or anxiety when stocks–we have thrown all our retirement into, our future, our dreams–plummet?

The Preacher seems rather stoical – wisdom is in knowing the time
– from Eastern philosophies we learn
• everything is an illusion, so don’t worry about it – or –
• desire is the source of all suffering, so let go of desire – transcend the suffering of loss

Christianity teaches us that it is good to care and to care deeply, but only if we care about the right things
– what are the right things to be passionate about?

That brings us back to the importance of learning how to tell time

How can we figure out where we are in time?

What do we see when we look at a calendar?
– today in the perspective of a month – or two, or year
– same when we look at a watch — this minute in perspective of twelve hours

We figure out where we are in time by looking at the big picture
– from the poem we could learn look at our current season from the perspective of our whole life
– but that’s not what the Preacher is pushing for
• he is telling us to stand in eternity to get vantage point we need for living in this hour

To survive losses with our souls and faith intact, we have to keep bringing our attention back to eternity

But we can’t approach this as “The Christian thing to do”
– people who try that find that either their faith breaks down or they look like posers

It takes something else we don’t find in normal rhythms of life
– something that breaks into the “time for this and a time for that”
– an encounter with Jesus in which he makes us a new person
• becoming a new person lifts us out of the ordinary patterns we fall into

Have you ever met someone who tells you, “I was born again on May 18, 1992 at 3:30 in the afternoon. How about you? When were you born again?” A right answer might be, “Well, I was born again yesterday. And a couple of weeks ago. And three or four times last month.” You see, we always keep coming back to the start, to the new thing Jesus is doing in our lives, to the most current update to the new person he is making us into

– if my faith endures the worst circumstances a person can experience, I cannot credit my religion, or the many years that I’ve been a Christian, or my spiritual progress
• it is only the mercy of God and miracle that Jesus works in me
• making me something other than what I was when he found me

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love. (Gal. 5:6)
For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation (Gal. 6:15)

CONC: So how do we tell time?

It feels like we have to look two directions at once:
– we look at this present moment to see what is here and now
– we look at eternity
• but when we bring our whole attention to God in the present moment, we discover the eternal now
– to stand at the crossroad of eternity and now is to see both at once — it is to stand with Jesus

And to stand with Jesus is to be made a new person, who is given a new vision, and whose life takes on a new meaning

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