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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
 cloverdalecanrc.org
 
Title:Life Inside and Outside the Hourglass
Text:Ecclesiastes 3:1-15 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Unclassified
 
Added:2022-07-26
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: Psalm 90

Text: Ecclesiastes 3:1-15

 

LIFE INSIDE AND OUTSIDE THE HOURGLASS

  1. The Meaning of Time

  2. The Meaning of Eternity

 

  1. Psalm 71: 1, 3, 5, 7

  2. Psalm 119:1-3

  3. Psalm 90: 1, 2, 5, 7

  4. Hymn 43:1-3

  5. Psalm 102: 5, 11

  6. Hymn 43:4-6

 

Words to Listen For: bus stations, famous, math, however, unconscious

 

Questions For Understanding:

  1. What’s a popular motto about life?  Is it right or wrong?  Why?

  2. What type of text is Ecclesiastes 3:1-8?  Comforting, or depressing?

  3. What are the two questions and what are their two opposite answers?

  4. How do verses 9-15 fill verses 1-8 with meaning?

  5. What has God given us for the road?

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ our Lord,

It’s the summertime, the time that many of us do a lot of driving.  Whether going on a road trip or driving to a campground, or even to the ferry for a day trip.  Many of us spend a lot of time in our vehicles, a lot of time on the road.

And there are many philosophies about the road, perhaps the most popular being something along the lines of:

  • The road is home

  • The journey ITSELF is the destination.

And these sayings fill us, or at least they fill me, with a longing.  An aching.  A powerful desire to get back out on the road.

On the road, everything happens.  On the road there are twists and turns, there are long straight sections, there are rough roads and smooth roads…everything happens!  And that’s comforting…right?

The road is home.  The road is comforting.  How we long for this to be true.  Just get out and drive.  Really live.  It’s such a romantic and free-spirited sentiment.  

But…feelings are not facts.  How we FEEL about a statement, a motto, a catchy phrase, this doesn’t necessarily make it true.

So…IS the road home?  Is this true?

Well…

  • If the road is home…then to be on the way means that we have already arrived.

  • If the journey IS the destination…then this means that, in the middle of everything, we are at the end.  This, as it is, continues, and this, as it is, is as good as it gets.

And, so, you see, when we begin to examine these tempting mottos, they begin to lose a bit of their shine.

The very reason that “the road is life” is a motto that we want to embrace, is because we don’t feel at home within ourselves.  We have to be always moving.  Always seeking.  Always yearning.  We go out on the road looking for something or someone, we go out on the road trying to leave ourselves behind.

But FLEEING, and YEARNING, and SEEKING…these things aren’t ends in themselves.  These things aren’t fulfillment.

So the saying is false then.  These things aren’t fulfillment, life must be fulfillment, so life must be something else.

Well…actually…no!  There is some truth here.

     This life IS a journey.

     This life IS a road.

And so, if this life is all that there is, if this life is as good as it gets, a meaning in itself, then the best we can hope for is to numb ourselves.  To ignore the feeling of sadness only bus stations have.  To ignore the night of despair and move on.

To ignore the fact that, mile after mile, no matter how fast you drive, no matter how far you drive, there’s always more unchanging road, and you yourself are much the same.  NEVER ARRIVING isn’t an arrival.

And so, we must accept both the joy and pain of the road, while at the same time, recognizing that the road is not all that there is.

Or, to mix metaphors, eternity is the end goal of time.  Life inside the hourglass leads to life outside of it.

So this morning, let us examine

LIFE INSIDE AND OUTSIDE THE HOURGLASS.  We will see

  1. The Meaning of Time, and 

  2. The Meaning of Eternity

 

Life Inside and Outside The Hourglass.  The Meaning of Time.

An hourglass is something that is, at the same time, fascinating and monotonous to watch.

Children, you might be familiar with what I suppose should be called a MINUTEGLASS, from boardgames.  This is what you use as a timer, you flip it over, and the sand runs from the top to the bottom, recording the passing of time.

You see all those crystals, those grains of sand flow, one after the other, and then it’s done.

While The Preacher in Ecclesiastes may or may not have had an hourglass in mind as he penned the words of our text, it is consistent with the message.

Thing after thing, one after the other…happens.

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;

    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.

When we hear these words, when we read these words in this very famous passage, our first thought is COMFORT.

  • Everything happens for a reason.

  • Everything is ordained by God.

  • When there’s bad stuff, good stuff is right around the corner.

And…if God ordains it, it must be good.  Or, at least, lead to good.

But that’s not what the preacher is saying.  That’s putting words in his mouth.  What he is saying is: “Everything…happens.”

Simply that.

He isn’t saying “everything happens FOR A REASON.”  He’s not there yet.

“For a reason” sounds a lot like “finding meaning” and we’re still in the MEANINGLESS MEANINGLESS refrain.

Everything happens.  It JUST.  DOES.

This is a beautiful poem, but it does not fill us with hope.  This is a beautiful poem, but our hearts are not gladdened by its beauty, instead, they are saddened by its emptiness.

Because this is what life is…everything happening.  All those grains go through the hourglass, until they’re gone.  And all these grains pass in one direction.

This is the first pair of times The Preacher confronts us with.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

    A time to be born

        And a time to die;

 

All of the other pairs of opposite come between these two.  Killing and healing, weeping and laughing, love and hate, war and peace…all of these happen between death and life.

The Preacher, likely King Solomon, is an old man, reflecting back on his life.  There is more sand in the bottom of the hourglass now than at the top.

And Solomon’s great wisdom from all his years?  “Everything happens.”

Oh.  I was hoping for more, to be honest…

The wisest man, after 40 years blessed with Godly wisdom…THIS is the best he can come up with?  Everything happens?  It is what it is?

But I’m afraid it gets even worse, even more bleak.  It’s not JUST that everything happens.

Take a look once more at these 14 pairs.

Each positive is matched up with a negative.

    Birth with Death

    Love with Hatred

    War with Peace

And you know what that means?

Children, maybe one of you can help me out with the math here, my work doesn't require too much of that...maybe you can solve this equation for me…

14 positives and 14 negatives…

You have 14 and you take away 14 from that…what’s the total?

0.

Life, so says the Preacher, is a 0 sum game.

Life, so says the Preacher, is meaningless.

There is a time.  A time.  A time.  28 times.

Like the seconds ticking by on a clock.   Or the bells chiming out the hour.

     TIME.

     TIME.

     TIME.

     TIME.

So what does all this tell us about TIME?  What is The Preacher teaching us?

Simply put, TIME…like this world UNDER THE SUN that we heard of last time, IS MEANINGLESS.

It is!  Any way you slice it, time is meaningless.  We may protest, we may complain, we may HATE THIS CONCLUSION, but it’s true.  Time, like this world…is meaningless.  And this how The Preacher speaks of it in verse 10.

Now, the ESV softens it when it says - I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with.

But the NIV puts it well when it says - I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race.

Time is a burden.  Day after day.

Another birth, another death.

The cries of the newborn baby will one day, 80 or 90 years down the road, be replaced with the cries of loved ones as the cradle is traded for a coffin.

World War I, the “war to end all wars” it was called…how many years later did “never again” become “let’s invade Poland”?  21 years.  It was the SONS, not even the GRANDSONS, the SONS of those who fought in The War to End All Wars who would be conscripted to fight in the next world war.

And on and on it goes.

Time IS RELENTLESS.

This is the message of verse 10 in our reading as well -

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.

The span of our lives is but toil and trouble.

Time…what does it mean?  ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.

But.

And we’ve been waiting for this.  I know I have been waiting for the BUT.  The SHIFT.

So let’s ask another question that seems identical, but really isn’t…

The first question again: Time, what does it mean?  Absolutely nothing.

The second question however: Time, what is it GOOD FOR?  ABSOLUTELY…EVERYTHING.  Absolutely everything.

Wow that IS a SHIFT.

And yes it is.  We needed a shift, and a big one.

This is the shift that happens from verse 10 to verse 11.

From time is a burden that God gives to mankind, to God making everything beautiful IN ITS TIME.

     There IS Hope

     There IS Meaning

     There IS Beauty

And all this comes from the destination at the end of the road of time….ETERNITY.  Our second point.

What gain has the worker from his toil?  I have seen the business - or, the BURDEN - that God has given to the children of man to be busy with.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, He has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.  I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live;  also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God's gift to man.

I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him.  That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been; and God seeks what has been driven away.

Alright Solomon, slow down here.

The first 8 verses of our text are so simple.  EVERYTHING HAPPENS.  Solomon was the wise man, right?  Everything happens.  So simple.

But then these verses that follow…well, HERE IS THE WISDOM!  This is BEYOND ME, you might think.  What does this MEAN?  Too wise for me!

But no.  We have been given wisdom by the Holy Spirit as well.  The Holy Spirit illuminates the text for us.  So let me guide you along with the wisdom He has given me as well.

He has made everything beautiful in its time.

He has MADE everything beautiful.  Do you see?

Not only has God CREATED all of this, not only is every birth and death under His sovereignty…but He has also filled them all with meaning!

Just like God created the oceans, and then filled them with life…

God created life, and then filled it with meaning.

He has made life…all that happens, all our times…

AND He has made them GOOD.  He has made them BEAUTIFUL!

And how has He done this?

By reminding us of eternity.  By placing the concept of eternity in our hearts.

He has made the road beautiful by reminding us of the destination.

Writer James K.A. Smith puts it like this:

The heart’s hunger is infinite, which is why it will ultimately be disappointed by anything merely finite.  Humans are those strange creatures who can never be fully satisfied by anything created - though that never stops us from trying.

And this is why we were so depressed in the first point.

  • What do you mean that this isn’t a comforting text?

  • What do you mean that all these finite things, life, love, peace…what do you mean that they can’t ultimately satisfy me?

And then we begin to panic.  And we begin to mourn.

James Smith goes on: 

We experience frustration and disappointment when we try to make the road a home rather than realize it is leading us home.  When we try to tell ourselves “the road is life.”  Then we foist infinite expectations on the finite.  But the finite is a gift to help us get ELSEWHERE.

    Time is given to us to get to eternity.

 

    TIME IS THE ROAD

        ETERNITY IS THE DESTINATION.

 

Continuing on, just briefly, almost done with James Smith

There is joy in the journey precisely when we don’t try to make a home out of our car…there is love on the road when we stop loving the road.  There are myriad gifts along the way when we remember it IS A WAY.  There is delight in the sojourn when we know where home is.

 

Verse 11 - He has made everything beautiful in its time - He has made it that you can enjoy the road, as long as you realize it is a road

He has made everything beautiful in its time.  Also He has put eternity into man’s heart.

We can walk this road with purpose and with joy and with meaning…because God has sealed the roadmap on our heart.  He has given us a taste of home.  He has given us a taste of our hometown…a place where we have never been, yet the place we were made for.  The place where joy is found.  The joy of a refugee who has found a home.

What we ultimately long for is not the road to continue on indefinitely, but for the road to end.  For the never-ending cycle of life to finish, and to finish well.

This is just like the Buddhist idea of Nirvana, but with one important difference.

For the Buddhists, life is a cycle of reincarnation until you reach ultimate enlightenment that’s called Nirvana.

When you achieve Nirvana, you enter into a transcendent state where you do not suffer, you do not desire, you have no self-awareness.   Essentially…the rest of nothingness.

But, beloved, we are not Buddhist, nothingness is not our ultimate destination, our home!

Instead, it is the exact opposite.

Our home, with God in Heaven, means MORE OF EVERYTHING.

More joy, more pleasure, more peace, not only in the AMOUNT, but in the DURATION.

_____________

Life here, life on the road, is so temporary.  So fleeting.  And this impacts us on a deep level, maybe even an unconscious level…because we were MADE FOR ETERNITY.  God has placed eternity in our hearts, yet we cannot find out what God has done from beginning to end.

We have eternity in our hearts, we were MADE FOR HEAVEN, MADE FOR UNION WITH GOD - and yet we are not made INTO God.  We are distinct from Him, our knowledge will always be incomplete, our knowledge will always be growing…and so our eternity will be spent searching out MORE JOY, MORE PLEASURE, MORE PEACE, MORE REST, MORE LOVE, and we do not have to go searching for it, down a long dusty dirt road…because we know that ultimate joy, ultimate pleasure, ultimate peace, rest and love is found, not only FROM GOD, but IN GOD.

And this, just like eternity, is something that we have a foretaste of, even now.

We have already been given a taste of this, in Jesus Christ.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.

God is in control of every mile of the road.

God is in control of every grain of sand in the hourglass.

 

And what did He do with that control?  What did He do with the time in His sovereign hands?

One day, there was a time for CHRIST to be born.

When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son

In the fulness of time…Jesus Christ came to meet us, running towards us as we plod down that dusty dirt road, tired of the journey, unsure of the destination.  The incarnation is God shouting for us to return to Him.  Reminding us that all is meaningless without Him!  But with Him…

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son

The grain of sand, the ticking of the clock that was the prophets had passed, and the day when He spoke by His Son had come.

At just the right time, Jesus Christ, the Son of God came, to prepare the hearts and minds of those who would believe in Him.  During His earthly life, He was the shout of God “Walk THIS WAY!  Walk MY WAY!  I’ll carry you down the road, clear to the end!”

And then, another grain of sand, another tick of the divine clock: There was a time for CHRIST to die

At just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.

The most important day in the history of forever.  The day that changed everything.  The day when sins were finally paid for.  The day when we were justified.  Abraham, though He lived thousands of years before that day, was justified ON THAT DAY.  At THAT MOMENT, when Christ said “it is finished” … it was.  All those who believe in Christ TODAY, thousands of years AFTER THAT DAY…were justified ON THAT DAY.  AT THAT VERY MOMENT.  The most important mile of the road.  The time appointed by God.

Now, we have to remember, when we put our faith in Jesus Christ, when the Spirit works faith in our hearts, and we see Jesus running down the road to us, and we run to Him…this isn’t the end of the road.

When we come to faith, we are not immediately transported off the road to our destination.

It is appointed for us to struggle.  To walk, to limp, to crawl down that road.  

Faith, justification, adoption into God’s family isn’t a magical transport home, it’s not a portal to heaven.  It doesn’t pluck us off the road, it just changes how we travel.

God knows that we can’t get THERE from HERE,

     And so He says “I’ll come get you!”

     He says “I’ve put a roadmap into your heart”

     He says, “you will not walk alone!”

     He says, “take my burden on you as you walk…every other burden is heavy, but MY BURDEN…MY BURDEN give you wings!

Beloved, we have been given the road as a gift.  We have been given time as a gift.  But let us not confuse the gift with the giver.  Let us not confuse the road with the destination.

The road may be long, the road may be tiring…but the road is not the end.

And the road is not even ours.

This is God’s road, and we must walk it, in His strength, throwing off every weight that could slow us down, throwing off sin that so easily entangles, and walk the road, to His glory, until we reach our final destination, at home…with God Himself.

AMEN.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Jeremy Segstro

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