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Jul 31 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

July 29, 2012 – Ecclesiastes 3:7

A time to tear apart and a time to sew together;
A time to be silent and a time to speak.
Ecclesiastes 3:7

INTRO: Physicists argue over the possibility of time travel

I recently read a true story of a man living in 1945, who suddenly found himself in 1975
– it is found in a case history recorded by Oliver Sacks and entitled “The Lost Mariner”
• his patient suffered Korsakoff Syndrome, in which a portion of his memory as well as his ability to form new memories were obliterated
– he had not invented a time machine nor did his body jump through time
• he had passed through thirty years, aging, like everyone else, but he could not recall anything from them
• as a result, he was displaced in time
– his intelligence and skills were useless, because they belonged to the wrong era

Jews returning to Jerusalem after exile came home to a discouraging situation
– so the people began complaining, “The time has not come, even the time for the house of the LORD to be rebuilt” (Hag. 1:2)
– and God answered them, “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses while this house lies desolate?” (Hag. 1:4)
– God’s message to them was, “Consider your ways”
• nothing was going right for them
• they would plant lots of seed, but small reap a small harvest; put on clothes, but still be cold; make money, but put it in purses and pockets with holes in them so it would all run out
– their timing was off

The Preacher has taken us on a quest into some of the big issues of life
– one of his early conclusions is that there “is an appointed time for everything” (3:1)
• discover the rhythm of life, adjust yourself to it, and then you are flowing in time rather than find it working against you
• he has given us a list of examples and we have come almost to the end of it

A time to tear apart and a time to sew together

The interpretation of this verse that you find most frequently:
-tearing one’s clothing is a sign of grief, so this is about grief and recovery
– there are two reasons why that doesn’t make sense to me:
1.) He’s already mentioned mourning and weeping (v. 4)
2.) There’s no place in scripture where people sewed their clothes back together after they tore them

The Hebrew word translated “tear” has multiple meanings and is used in different contexts
– my favorite is in Isaiah 64:1

Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down,
That the mountains might quake at Your presence–
. . . To make known Your name to Your adversaries . . .

– it’s as if the sky were a curtain
• in Jeremiah 22:14, the same word is used for cutting a window in a wall
tearing makes visible something that was covered

Commentators have noted that Ecclesiastes contains strong echoes from the book of Genesis
– I think that could apply here
– the first mention of sewing is in Genesis 3:7, where Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves together for clothing

Therefore, tear is to uncover or reveal, while sew cover or conceal
– in general, tearing in scripture exposes or reveals something–a body, the person, a place (heaven)
• “rend the heavens” is a prayer for God to radically reveal himself

Interpreting the first line in this way provides a logical connection to the next line

A time to be silent and a time to speak

Adam and Eve concealed themselves both by sewing and by speech
– they hid their bodies with fig leaves and tried to cover their disobedience by shifting the blame
– a paradox: silence can both conceal and reveal
• it speaks volumes to investigators when a prime suspect goes silent
– words and speech can also be used to conceal as well as reveal

I find it a tough challenge to know when to speak out or shut up
– words come quickly in anger or for self-defense
– I’m tempted to speak when I don’t know what to say, but feel I should say something
• e.g., when someone is grieving

We could make a good argument that as a general rule we should keep our mouths shut

Even a fool when he is silent is considered wise (Pr. 17:28)

Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
Or you will also be like him.
(Pr. 26:4)

– but from the next verse, we could make an equally good argument for speaking out

Answer a fool [according to] his folly,
That he be not wise in his own eyes.
(Pr. 26:5)

– the point is: both answering and not answering could be the right thing to do or the wrong thing
• it all depends on timing

Jesus said something about time that we need to consider

When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘A shower is coming,’ and so it turns out. And when you see a south wind blowing, you say, ‘It will be a hot day,’ and it turns out that way. Your hypocrites! You know how to analyze the appearance of the earth and the sky, but why do you not analyze this present time? And why do you not even on your own initiative judge [discern] what is right?” (Lk. 12:54-57)

Oliver Sacks told a story of Dr. P, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat
– he had a special form of neural dysfunction that effected both visual perception and visual memory
– when Sacks showed him a glove and asked him what it was, Dr. P asked, “May I examine it?”
• he then described it as follows:

“A continuous surface, infolded on itself. It appears to have”–he hesitated–‘five outpouchings, if this is the word.”

Dr. Sacks observes:

“No child would have the power to see and speak of ‘a continuous surface . . . infolded on itself,’ but any child, any infant would immediately know a glove, see it as familiar, as going with a hand. Dr. P. didn’t. He saw nothing familiar.”

Sacks concluded that “. . . judgment is the most important faculty we have.”
– that is, the ability to identify and correctly interpret what we see, hear, etc.; to correctly perceive, evaluate, and make sense of the world around us

Early Christian monks would have agreed with Oliver Sacks
– in the fourth century, John Cassian said, “[discernment] rules and holds the field among all virtues”
– the role of discernment (or “discretion,” as it is sometimes translated) is to determine which thoughts in our head come from God, ourselves, or the devil
– the Scriptures played the major role in discernment, which Christian monks used for self-examination
Cassian, “For evil thoughts will hold sway in us just so long as they are hidden in the heart . . .”
– it is discovering an exposing what is in our hearts that gives us the freedom of choice

We cannot freely choose our actions without self-examination
– in his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul addressed a problem they were having with the Lord’s Supper
• his solution: examine yourself and then take bread and cup (11:28)
• first self-examination and then perform the right action

Imagine a man being given a suggestion under hypnosis to go buy and drink a cup of coffee
– as he heads for the coffee shop, he assumes it is his own idea and he’s exercising his own will
• but the idea was inserted into his brain
– we are not free if we’re unaware of the inner source of our thoughts, feelings and actions
• self-examination is for discerning, for becoming aware of what influences move and motivate us

If we want to get healthy or improve the quality of our lives, we need a diagnosis of our condition
– then we can apply the appropriate remedy or treatment
• if we never take a hard, honest look at ourselves, we’l never know

In my experience, the person who is most certain that he doesn’t have a problem–that someone else (or everyone else) has problems, but not him–is the person who most needs to do this work. He is the one who is most blind to his faults as well as to the causes of his behavior, attitude, and poor relational performance

– but it is almost impossible to break through that blindness and the prejudice of that kind of person
• the Pharisee is the one who cannot see his own sins or the errors of his logic or theology
– I was talking with a couple of monks one time about a mutual friend
• they shook their heads somberly, as if deeply concerned for him and said, “Our prayer for him is, ‘Lord, bring him pain’”
– that is a compassionate prayer when you realize that the only hope of his eyes being opened to his need for help is if pain drives him to it

Jesus said, “Discern the time” and in doing so, “discern what is right”

Paul said something about time we need to consider

Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise… but as wise, [redeeming] the time, because the days are evil (Ep. 5:15-6)

We have a tendency to treat time like space, as if we travel through it
– we are always trying to get to somewhere else in time and consider the present moment as only one leg of that trip
– in the movie, Click – Adam Sandler is given a remote that can be used to control real-world events
• so he begins to fast-forwarding through all the unpleasant or boring events of his life
• he quickly comes to the end of his life where he has only money to show for all his years and is otherwise alone and miserable
• what he discovered is that the experience and enjoyment of life exists in all those moments that seem dull, difficult, and confused — that is where relationships are formed and we discover the beauty of those we love

Because our main interest is in getting somewhere in time, situations come up when it seems we need to kill time
– but these “moments” are all we get, so why would we want to kill them?
Frederick Buechner, “You often hear the advice that if you keep busy, it will be over before you know it, and the tragedy of it is that it is true.”

Paul said, “Redeem the time, because the days are evil” — and, we might add, the days are few, and precious, and too valuable to be wasted

CONC: Another relevant movie is Groundhog Day

The message is that Bill Murray’s character finally wised up to make good use of time, to turn it to his advantage
– if Adam Sandler wanted to skip through time, Bill Murray had to repeat the same time (day) endlessly
– he finally decided that he would use these recurring hours to improve himself, to become a better person, to help others

Every day opportunities are given to us to become better people
– to upgrade our lives

But if we’re going to benefit from those opportunities, we need to discern the time we’re in and redeem the time

We don’t want to reach the end of our lives saying, “I should have . . .,” “I wish I had . . . .”
– may we rather say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith”

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