Scripture: Ecclesiastes 3:1-13
I do not know if this is true for you, but there are some things that I read or see that stick with me for years. Usually, it is not the important stuff but something extremely random or off the wall. For instance, I can remember in detail the contents of an article I read about five years ago. It was written by someone just a couple of years older than me, and it was entitled “How The Karate Kid Destroyed my Generation.” Perhaps it was the apocalyptic title that really makes this article stick out in my memory. For those of you who might not remember, the original Karate Kid is a popular 80’s movie where Daniel is taught karate by Mr. Miaggi. Daniel begins the movie lost in a new city and the victim of bullies. He ends the movie(SPOILER alert) victorious over the bullies, a karate champion, and of course he gets the girl. This article argues that the Karate Kid ruined a generation because of the training montage. The karate kid has a scene where hours of hard work over the course of months is summed up in about a three minute montage of various scenes set to music. This is not unique to the karate kid. The Rocky franchise is infamous for including a training montage in every movie. Really every movie that features someone going from zero to hero has a similar scene. The article makes the argument that for kids of the 80’s these coming of ages movies were the stories we grew up on, and these stories completely glossed over hard work. Thus a generation grew up thinking that big things are achievable with very little real work and no pain or hardship. It is obviously an oversimplification, but I think the reason why this article has stuck with me is because there is some powerful truth to it.
I think the truth this article points to is that movies do powerfully influence us. There are some scientific studies that back this up. A 2008 study showed that romantic comedies might actually hurt real relationships. They found that problems typically reported by couples in relationship counseling at counseling centers reflect misconceptions about love and romance depicted in Hollywood films. That same year another study found that people who regularly watch romantic comedies are more likely to believe that falling in love is fate or destiny. It is easy for me to pick on romantic comedies, because those are not my kind of movies. However, all cinema has an impact on us if we realize it or not. I am not a sociologist with research to back this up, but I think the single greatest way that cinema has influenced our lives is that we all subconsciously expect our lives to follow movie plots. You know, there is a setup, a hardship, good thing somehow happen, and then a happy ending. The truth is life is more complicated than that, more random, more quirky, more wibbly wobbly.
Usually the most powerful and profound statements are the ones that remind us of the obvious truths that we take for granted. This morning’s scripture is like that. This morning’s scripture reminds us there is more to life than happy endings. This morning’s scripture reminds us that there is a time for everything. It reminds us that life will have ups. This morning’s scripture reminds us that there will be times of new birth, times of healing, times of laughing, times of dancing, times of mending, and times of love. This scripture also reminds us that life will have its down. There will be times of death, times of upheaval, times of weeping, times of mourning, times of giving up, and times of destruction. This morning’s scripture is powerful because in just a few sentences it captures so well the human experience. Our lives are a collection of times, both good and bad. The greatest truth of this scripture is found in verse 11 when it states about God, “He has made everything beautiful in its time.” This should encourage us and strengthen us because in the midst of all of lives ups and downs, we are not alone. God is active and at work in the world.
I now find that scripture a source of comfort and strength in difficult times, but that was not always the case. I can still remember clearly talking about this verse in Sunday school when I was fifteen. As I have mentioned before, in my teen years I was not a Christian and the conversation that took place around this verse helped fuel my fleeing from God. The teacher went into great depth explaining how this verse essentially means “everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) happens for a reason.” I simply could not accept that then, and I have since learned that our Methodist doctrine does not really support the idea either. I need to make clear what I mean by that. Often when someone says everything happens for a reason, they mean that they believe God is at work in the world. I believe that is true. I believe and affirm that God, according to his purposes does create circumstances that work out for a reason. I know that I have had many things in my life that had to be more than just a coincidence that shows to me that events happen for God’s reasons.
What I am saying is that it is dangerous to believe that every single thing that happens in the world, every evil choice, every act of nature, every accident is a pre-ordained event that God has planned out to the minutest detail. Not every single thing in this world necessarily happens for a greater reason. In one of my theology classes in seminary, the professor offered up a litmus test for our theology; a fancy way of saying our beliefs about God. This professor argued that we should only hold a theology that we would be comfortable sharing with a survivor of the Holocaust. Horrible, senseless tragedies like the holocaust, terrorist attacks, or even drunk driving accidents do not happen because they are part of God’s greater purpose. They happen because sin is part of this world’s reality, and until Jesus returns and defeats sin once and for all the vile fruits of sin will continue to pollute this world.
James Harnish, a United Methodist pastor and author from Florida tells a story from when his father died. His father died of cancer, and the last months were not good ones. They were full of setbacks, unforeseen difficulties, and pains. In his last days James and his brother were at the bedside of his father. An old friend of their father came to see him and in the process of the conversation the old friend tried to offer up reassurances, “we just have to believe this all is happening for a reason.” James’ brother replied, “You might have to believe that, but I do not. I am a Methodist!” In our Methodists beliefs, we affirm free will. We do not believe that God has pre-ordained everything. We do not believe that everything happens for a reason. We claim the truth of God’s goodness and grace is so much greater than that. The meaning behind verse 11, “He has made everything beautiful in its time” is that there is God can redeem everything. It does not matter how terrible or awful a situation is, God can redeem it. This is the fundamental message of the Cross. God loves us so much that God will not leave us in our broken state, but by God’s power he will save us when we cannot save ourselves.
Nowhere in the entirety of scripture will you find it stated that everything happens for a reason. No, the promises we find our so much more powerful. Romans 8:28 states that “In all things God works for the good of those who love him.” God has not pre-destined everything to happen. Rather God works as God has always done in the scriptures. During our darkest times God redeems and provides light. No matter how dark and bleak our lives seems we can take comfort in the fact that “the light shines into the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” We can take comfort in the fact that this is another season that will pass and that God is working for the good of those who love Him. We can find an unconquerable hope in the truth that there is a time for everything under heaven, and in all of those times God’s presence, God’s love, and God’s gifts can bring redemption. God can take that which seems senseless and bring good out of it. God can bring joy from sorrow, forgiveness from hate, and life from death.
An example of how God can redeem awful situations comes from the life of Joni Eareckson Tada. At only seventeen, a diving accident left Joni paralyzed as a quadriplegic. Initially, Joni was hopeless and thought of ending her life. However, God intervened in her heart, and Joni fully surrendered her life to God. Joni has gone on to be a force of good in the world. In the 1970s she created and led the organization Joni and Friends, that helps thousands of families with physical disabilities throughout the world. One of these programs, has prison inmates volunteering to repair broken wheelchairs to be sent to the disabled overseas. That program has distributed tens of thousands of wheelchairsto 102 countries. Every week, she has a five minute radio program that is heard and encourages over a million people. She has even served presidentially appointed committees that deal with disability issues. Because she was disabled as a teenager, Joni’s life changed drastically and because of that change many have been helped. God did not direct Joni to get paralyzed for a reason. Her paralysis was an accident, but God “made everything beautiful in its time”, redeemed the accident and by the grace of God brought good out of a tragic situation.
For many of us the start of a new year serves as a bench mark for the start of new beginnings. We tend to look at the flow of time linearly, and we see the next twelve months as a blank slate to fill. We can fall into the trap of expecting our life to follow the plot of a movie. We begin with all kinds of expectations and hope to meet and exceed all of those by the end of the year, with the 10 months in the middle just being a training montage where the hard work just somehow happens. Life is usually not that simple, it is a big ball of wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff. For all of us this year will hold the unexpected. There will be seasons and times for everything. Some of us may experience some of the highest of highs in our personal, professional, or spiritual lives. We might also experience the lowest of lows in those same areas, and it is possible it could all happen in the same week!
This coming year when we face bad times, when the unexpected tragedy happens, when the medical test are not good, when the deck seems stacked against us it is not always comforting to think that there is a time for every season. However, during those times we can be comforted because we know God is still working for the good of those who love him. This coming year when we enjoy the good times, when the unexpected joy occurs, when our most urgent prayers are answered, and everything seems to be going our way, it is also not comforting to think that this too is only a season. We can take comfort though, knowing that good or bad God is always with us. Whatever comes your way in 2015, whether it be good or bad, may you be able to give thanks to God for the gift of each and every precious day of this New Year. More than that, may you be able to turn your mind, heart, and soul to God every day.
I think it is so fitting that on this day, the first Sunday of a new year, we celebrate the Sacrament of Communion. It is important for us to give thanks remember why we can find hope in every single day of this new year. When we remember the love that God showed us on the cross it reminds us just how much God is in our side. It reminds us that no matter how rough life seems right now, we can ultimately say it is well with our souls. Whatever time of your life you face this coming year, whatever season you go through, may your eternal hope be found in God through Christ Jesus. May that hope sustain you through all of the seasons you encounter in 2015.