Seasons Yet to Come

Sunday, May 13, 2012
Sunday, May 13, 2012

Rev. Dean Snyder

Ecclesiastes 3:11-16

I have not quoted my favorite Reinhold Niebuhr quote in some time. Reinhold Niebuhr may be the best American theologian who ever lived. So let me repeat my favorite Reinhold Niebuhr quote this morning. It has three parts. Here it is —

Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope.

Nothing true or beautiful makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith.

Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore, we are saved by love.

Listen to it again:

Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope.

Nothing true or beautiful makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith.

Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore, we are saved by love.

We live for only a season. History is long. We are here for only a short time.

If history began with the big bang, it began 15 billion years ago.

If history began with the formation of the earth, that was 4.5 billion years ago.

If history began with the beginning of life on earth, that was 3.4 billion years ago.

If history began when vertebrates crawled out of water onto land, that was 375 million years ago.

If history began when hominids started to walk upright, that was 7 million years ago.

If history began with the emergence of homo sapiens, that was 200,000 years ago.

If history began when homo sapiens invented agriculture, that was 10,000 years ago.

If history began when homo sapiens invented writing, that was 5,000 years ago.

History is long. Your and my lives are short.

So here is a question I ask myself — How did it happen that I entered into history at the time and place I did? How is it that I was born into the particular family and people I was born into? How is it that I was born into the body with the particular abilities and disabilities and gender and orientation and oddities of my body? With the particular mind that I was given?

Anybody else ever ask questions like this? Or am I just weird?

We get dropped into the world and then we get taken out of the world, and we can live only in the particular season that we are given to live in.

You can reenact the Civil War but you can not live in the time of the Civil War. You can spend a lifetime studying ancient history but you can not live in ancient times.

Jane and I had the opportunity to visit Paris a few years ago. The place I wanted to visit the most in France was the grave of Blasé Pascal. I wanted to stand by his grave to honor his memory. Very few books have moved me as much as Pascal’s Pensees.

Pascal, a 17th century mathematician and scientist, wrote these words:

When I consider the short duration of my life, swallowed up in the eternity before and after, the little space which I fill, and even can see, engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces of which I am ignorant, and which know me not, I am frightened, and am astonished at being here rather than there; for there is no reason why here rather than there, why now rather than then. Who has put me here? By whose order and direction have this place and time been alloted to me?

How many kingdoms know us not!

Why is my knowledge limited? Why my stature? Why [is] my life [limited] to one hundred years rather than to a thousand? What reason has nature had for giving me such, and for choosing this number rather than another in the infinity of those from which there is no more reason to choose one than another, trying nothing else?

The eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens me.

You ever wonder why you were born into the time and place you were born in? Is there a reason or is it all accidental? Why am I here? Why now rather than some other time? Why this place rather than some other place?

So far as we know, this is the only life we have. I know of only one Methodist theologian who believed in reincarnation.  Leslie Weatherhead wrote a little book called “The Case for Reincarnation.” As much as the idea of reincarnation appeals to me, that we would live again and again in different bodies until we fully learn the lessons life on earth has to teach us, I personally find the idea improbable … appealing but unlikely.

I assume this is my one life on earth. I assume this is your one life on earth.

We live in only one season of history. We don’t get to choose the season.

We started out this series of talks with the Book of Ecclesiastes. I want us to return today to the third chapter of Ecclesiastes which is about seasons and times. Ecclesiastes was written by someone they called “the Preacher”

The Preacher says:

[God] has made everything suitable for its time; moreover [God] has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. (Eccl 3:11)

The Preacher believed God put us in the season of history where God wants us. The Preacher believed that God has put a sense of past and future in our minds. That we have a sense of what has been and what might be … should be. We can have a sense of how time is moving.

We can not absolutely know what God has done from the beginning to the end. There is still mystery. There is still a need for faith.

But we can have a sense of what has and, more importantly, what might be. What God wills to be.

We can align our lives in such a way as to connect God’s past and God’s desired future.

We can only live in the season we are given. But we can align our lives with what God has done and is doing next. We can live eschatologically. Our lives can share in eternity.

We live in time but we can share in what God who lives in eternity has been doing in the past and intends to do in the future. Our lives can have eternal meaning. You and I can share in eternity.

For Christians the number one purpose of the Bible is to give us a sense of what God has done in the past. What does God do in the Bible?

The biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann says God does three great things in the Bible. He says biblically God is the “1. Freedom-Giver.” God leads slaves out of slavery to a promised land of freedom.

Second, God is the “2. Exile-Ender and Home-Bringer.” God restores people who have lost their homes, lost their place home.

Third, God is the “3. Life-Bringer.” God resurrects. God brings to life those who have been crucified.

Let me add a fourth. God is the “4. Reconciler.” God takes people who have been separated and alienated and restores them to fellowship and community so that in God there is neither slave nor free, Greek nor Jew, male nor female, straight nor gay.

What God has done in the past God is doing right now and will do tomorrow and eternally. And we can be part of God’s purpose.

Sometimes I wonder how anybody could miss it.

All this past week I’ve been thinking about the verse from the book of First Peter in the New Testament. Peter wrote it to the Gentile Christians. Gentiles were once considered dirty, unclean, sinful, lost, beyond salvation, disdainful.

But in Jesus Christ God reconciled Jew and Gentile.

And Peter writes to the Gentile Christians these words –

You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10)

Some of you here, once you were no people. Your name could not be spoken. Your love could not named.

Now the President of the United States is naming your name, affirming your marriages, holding you up as a model of commitment and love. You have become a royal priesthood.

How could the General Conference of the United Methodist Church read the Bible and see what God has done and not be able to see what God is doing? How is this possible?

Tomorrow a group of us here at Foundry will join other Methodists to talk with Michele Alexander who wrote the book The New Jim Crow. I believe Michele Alexander’s book wil