Date: June 19, 2016
Title: “Time For it All”
Preaching: The Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard
Scripture: Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
You may have heard the story about the city dweller, who goes out for a ride in the country, probably on a beautiful summer day like this one (after the Pride Parade, of course)! In any event, this fellow is driving along, enjoying the scenery, when he sees something so unusual he just has to pull off the road and watch. There, just beyond the shoulder of the road is an apple tree, heavily laden with beautiful ripe fruit. And underneath the tree is a small group of pigs, and the farmer who owns them.
Now this is not the unusual sight that stopped our driver in his tracks. As he watches, the farmer feeds the apples to the pigs, by picking each one up in turn, lifting into reach of the fruit, and waiting while it feasts. First one pig, then the next, and so on while each animal waits patiently and the farmer makes sure they all eat. Finally, it is too much, curiosity overwhelms him, so the traveler gets out of his car, walks over to the farmer and says, “Excuse me, but wouldn’t it save a lot of time to just shake the apple tree, wait for the fruit to fall, and then let the pigs feed themselves off the ground?” Whereupon the farmer replies, “Time? What’s time to a pig?!”
What is time to a pig. Indeed, time itself is a somewhat relative matter. We all know how slowly time drags along when we are children, wanting to be all grown up, and how quickly it slips past when we are grown. Some people seem to know instinctively just what time it is, and how long it will take them to move from one place to another, or from one task to another. Others seem to have no sense of time at all!
For many of us, calendars and clocks take center stage when we think about planning, preparing – even living our lives. Yet it was not always this way. Jeremy Rifkin, in his book Time Wars, writes that the idea of life being “scheduled”, and even confined to specific blocks of time… this idea is a relatively new one. Rifkin suggests:
The idea first came from the Benedictine monks, whose passion for organizing and filling every minute of the day grew out of St. Benedict’s conviction that “idleness is the enemy of the soul.”
It wasn’t until the 15th century, however, that clocks came into the town squares of Europe, and they didn’t even have minute hands until the 17th century! So here we are, four centuries later, and we have clocks everywhere – on our walls, in our cars, on our wrists, in our pockets, on our phones, our computers, our ovens, etc. And I can’t help but wonder whether we are better or worse off than our predecessors, who marked time by daylight, or seasons, or transitions of life. Are we better or worse off than the preacher of Ecclesiastes?
The author of this liturgical poem understood time differently than the way we typically understand it today. Writing after the Babylonian Exile, Qohelet, or Ecclesiastes, knew that human life needs to be taken as a whole. He understood it would never be an uninterrupted day at the beach, that every person will have their share of ups and downs. He also understood that time is not where our ultimate allegiance lies.
Ecclesiastes is a realist who refuses to look at life through rose-colored lenses, and suggests we take off our own shades to get honest about the complexity and the richness, the beauty and the pain of human experience. The preacher gives us 28 distinct “seasons” of life, 28 different times we will have to celebrate or endure. There is a time to be born, and there is a time to die. Ecclesiastes contrasts these times to each other…a time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted… in order to teach us the importance of inhabiting time.
We do not control time. We do not have to be controlled by time. But we do need to be present, to inhabit, to live in the time we have been given. I’ll never forget the fellow who pumped gas at the mini-mart in Silverton when I lived there. If ever there was a job I might consider boring, repetitive, and meaningless, this was it. If ever there was a time I might want to mentally check out, his was it. This guy didn’t do anything other than pump the gas – he didn’t even get to take the money! He didn’t wear a nice uniform, or participate in any great corporate identity. There was no big oil company behind him, and no extensive work crew to share the load or break the boredom for him. There was just this one guy, day in and day out, pumping gas.
And while I couldn’t tell you his name if my life depended on it, I’ll never forget this man, who did his job with a smile, and sometimes with a song or a dance, and always with a measure of grace. I once asked him, “Why the smile – the song – the dance?” How did he do it, day in and day out? He replied, “It’s simple, really. Because God is here, I have to be here too. And what better reason is there to sing and dance?”
Because God is here, what better reason is there for us to sing and dance? Because God is here, as we are born, and as we die; God is here when we build up and when we break down; God is here when we tear, and when we sew; God is here when we weep and when we laugh. God is here, so we have to be here too. And there is no better reason than that to sing or to dance!
Joan Chittister tells an ancient story about finding time for it all:
“Where shall I look for enlightenment?” the disciple asked.
“Here”, the wise one said.
“When will it happen?” the disciple asked.
“It’s happening right now”, the wise one answered.
“Then why don’t I experience it?”
“Because you do not look.”
“What should I look for?”
“Nothing. Just look.”
“Look at what?”
“At anything your eyes light upon.”
“But must I look in a special way?”
“No, the ordinary way will do.”
“But don’t I always look the ordinary way?”
“No, you don’t.”
“But why ever not?”
“Because to look, you must be here. And you are mostly somewhere else.”
There is time for it all. But we must be here, not somewhere else. Thanks be to God! Amen.