A Time to Reflect – Sermon – Laura Gaffan

WELCOME

Good morning First Baptist. We welcome you to worship this morning. Be sure to remember your brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the week as you pray for them, and as the Holy Spirit brings their faces to your mind. Be sure to also connect with them in the ways that are possible. And if you have any questions or would like to talk to someone, please don’t hesitate to contact the church through the church telephone and leave a message. (519-733-4144)

Songs

Call to Worship

How good it is to gather together to praise our God!
It is a joyous thing to sing and speak God’s praises!
Let your hearts be glad and your spirits rejoice!
May we with joy and thanksgiving, give our attention to God’s word and love for us. AMEN.

Songs

Prayer

Prayer of Confession

Patient God, sometimes we just don’t understand, we don’t get it. We want instant gratification for all our needs. We don’t want to have to follow direction or instructions. We are impatient. We want you to come down from heaven and solve our problems right now. We don’t want to have to think about the problems and we are hesitant to create solutions. When we try to wiggle out of difficult situations we get even further bound up in our own problems. You ask us to trust you. You invite us to lean on Your strong arms of comfort and support. You set us on our feet and give us gifts and talents to use for healing and hope. All these wonderful things You do for us, and still, we whine and complain. Please forgive us, Lord. We are a stubborn people. As Jesus reminded the disciples to trust in God’s commandments and guidance, so we are called to place our trust and confidence in your Presence. Heal our wounds. Calm our spirits and souls. Challenge and encourage our service to humankind. And when at last we enter the land of promise, help us to truly give thanks and rejoice and praise you. AMEN.

Words of Assurance

You are not alone. God is always with you. You can place your trust in God, for God will not fail you. AMEN.

New Year 2023 A Time to Reflect

Today's Message: Laura Gaffan

This past November, I sat on a pew and listened to a beautiful eulogy of Tony’s Aunt Helen’s life. There had been a time of family of which she loved dearly. A time of work which she had pursued diligently. Her life was lived as a woman of devout faith. She loved God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit and had no problem sharing this with you if you had time for a chat. A time of sickness, which she had faced and fought bravely with culminated in a time to die. Ultimately ending in a time of peace held fast in the loving arms of her Saviour.

And this moment became a time to sit with my in-laws. A time to mourn and a time to weep and a time to silently embrace.

A few short weeks later, I sat once again with tears in a time of laughter and love as I watched my son Reid commit to lifetime together with the love of his life, Claire. I cried bittersweet tears while I danced with him as I remembered the sweet little boy who grew far too quickly into a man who I am so proud of. Where had the time gone?

In times of sickness and of health.

In times of better and times nothing short of the worst. Through all the times, love would be their commitment.

It was a time to laugh and a time to dance. (Yup, this Baptist girl loves to dance!)

These days, we sit with my father-in-law under Hospice care at his home. I listen intently to his stories and wisdom pops from him as he remembers times long past. Not just the better days, but times lived so full and fast that he did not see the gift that they were.

There is something about the beginning of a new year that causes me to stop and evaluate the previous year and re-evaluate my focus for the year dawning before me. 

Weirdly, the book that helps me keep the most perspective as I do this is Ecclesiastes. I have the habit of reading it at the end of each year, something I picked up from a pastor long ago. If you’re anything like me, the resolutions you made last week are well on their way to being broken and maybe there’s a reason for this. So, let’s listen to some wisdom from someone who also evaluated their life long ago.

Scripture Reading: Ecclesiastes 1:1-11

1 The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:

2 “Meaningless! Meaningless!”
says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.”

3 What do people gain from all their labors
at which they toil under the sun?
4 Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.
5 The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.
6 The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course.
7 All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.
8 All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.
9 What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there anything of which one can say,
“Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time.
11 No one remembers the former generations,
and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow them.

Honestly, if the Bible were a party, then Ecclesiastes is the party pooper!

Considered one of the books of wisdom with Proverbs and Job, the book gives us a valuable vantage point from someone who has had it all, lived it all and now offers us some sage advice of a life with no restraint. A wise word we most need yet are not eager to listen to.

As a people driven by the propensity to accumulate all this world has to offer, the words of this book offer us what we need most, an eternal perspective.

It offers no well-rehearsed platitudes to comfort the reader, but rather implores us to seek a different answer. Author and Pastor, Tony Evans, summarizes the book in this way, “If you are looking for the meaning of life in life, you will miss life.” Described also as the book we need the most but read the least, perhaps what we need is to sit with these words as we would a wise and respected elder sharing wisdom learned from a full life who is offering us a very timely, “Let me save you the trip.”

Long held as authored by King Solomon, scholars suggest that it may have been penned by one of his attendants for him.  The first 2 chapters suggest Solomon, but his name is never mentioned.

We do know from 1 Kings 3: 7-14 what God gave Solomon at the beginning of his reign as king. It says:

7 “Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. 8 Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. 9 So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”

10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. 11 So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, 12 I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. 13 Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for – both wealth and honour – so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. 14 And if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.”

Solomon was given not only incredible wisdom, but God gave him wealth and honour based on his obedience and a life faithfully walked with God. Written by someone penning the words of, “The Teacher, son of David,” leads us to think it likely is Solomon he is speaking about or is meant to make the reader think of him. It may even be a great, great grandson of David, as this is how things were written long ago. Whoever it is, he has no lack of resources, just like Solomon.

The book takes less than an hour to read, and you discover a brutally honest reflection of a man who has sought meaning in more ways than you can think of. He took on great projects, built houses, gardens and parks. Accumulated male and female slaves. He had more herds and flocks than anyone else. Chapter 2 verse 8 says he even amassed his own choir!

Silver, gold, wine and women. If it is Solomon, we know he had 700 wives and 300 concubines which, with all due respect to my gender, sounds like more of a nightmare than anything else. Even all his wisdom comes to nothing as he expresses that the fate of the wise and foolish are the same in Chapter 2:10-11.

10 I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
and this was the reward for all my toil.
11 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun.

Our English word, “Meaningless” is translated from the Hebrew, “Hevel” which actually translates best as “smoke or vapour”.

You see the smoke and you almost feel as though you can grasp it, yet it vanishes.  There and then gone. The author uses this word 38 times in this book. This translation is actually what brings me the most hope.

You see, the word “Meaningless”, carries this weight of hopelessness and the author certainly states the despair he feels in the striving and straining to achieve what this earth has to offer or as he states it, “Under the sun.”

I know what you might be thinking, OK Laura, seriously, this is one depressing sermon and before you shut me out completely, let me just say yes, I get it, but that is the point. Our striving, our straining and our achieving IS temporary. That which is fought for with our own hands is a fleeting pleasure. Ultimately, it will always fail to satisfy completely.

Listen to these familiar words and a truth I sometimes feel is hidden in plain sight. Ecclesiastes 3:1-15:

A Time for Everything

1 There is a time for everything,
     and a season for every activity under the heavens:

2     a time to be born and a time to die,
     a time to plant and a time to uproot,
 3     a time to kill and a time to heal,
     a time to tear down and a time to build,
 4     a time to weep and a time to laugh,
     a time to mourn and a time to dance,
 5     a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
     a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
 6     a time to search and a time to give up,
     a time to keep and a time to throw away,
 7     a time to tear and a time to mend,
     a time to be silent and a time to speak,
 8     a time to love and a time to hate,
     a time for war and a time for peace.

9 What do workers gain from their toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet[a] no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. 13 That each of them may eat and drink and find satisfaction in all their toil – this is the gift of God. 14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it, and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.

He has also set eternity in the hearts of men. The crux of it: God’s big, beautiful world is too large for us, yet its satisfactions are far too small.

At the beginning of the service, you listened to the song by the Byrd’s called, “Turn! turn! Turn!”. I am sure that it is familiar at least to most of us. Melodious, hauntingly beautiful, and massively catchy, the song hit #1 on Billboard’s top 100 in December of 1965. But this is not the tone that these verses speak. What Solomon is trying to portray is the relentless cycle of it all. Birth, death, planting, harvesting, war, peace, mourning, dancing, love, hate. Over and over and endless…however, maybe it is in the harmony of the song that we see our aching longing for all of this to make sense. Maybe the harmony reminds us of community, that these experiences, when shared, are points for us to remind one another that God is still there, still relentlessly pursuing a relationship with us. That our lives, lived together, sing a new song for a broken, hurting world.

You and I were made for eternity. Take a minute with this.

You were created out of an overflow of love of the Trinity. Out of relationship, for relationship. Father, Son and Spirit made you out of love for Their glory. So great was Their love for you that They refused to let anything separate us from Them. That is why Christmas is such a big deal.  Jesus traded that heavenly glory for a tiny manger. The union of the Three for a life of poverty and ultimately His life for ours in the most horrific of deaths.

For you.

Children of God, you were built for eternity.

The things of time will never and cannot completely, fully and permanently satisfy. Because we live in time, our lives will ebb and flow, that is the human condition.

You were created with a God-sized hole.

A vast emptiness within each of us that can only be filled with one thing: God Himself.

One of the most amazing things from the Christmas story for me is the willingness of Mary, who bends her head and opens her hands, heart and body as a literal dwelling place for God.

Mary chose to be a space.

There is no striving, straining, producing or performing in any of the accounts.

She is just receiving.

Perhaps this is what trips us up. There is nothing you can do to earn this grace. It isn’t based on you or your performance. You are offered it freely. All we do is receive.

2023 is here and my question is simply this. How will you fill that God-sized hole this year? Life will continue to ebb and flow. There are no certainties aside from this…. Jesus. He asks us the same question.

Mark 8:34-38

34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life[b] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

I know these are hard words and I know this is hard work, but here is my prayer for us this year. Find joy in the world God has created and the activities it affords, but don’t abandon yourself to it.

In a life that is glorious one moment and tragic the next, I pray you find a time to heal, build, laugh, dance, gather, embrace, mend, and speak. I pray that there are times of silence as you listen or reflect deeply. Live it, celebrate it, and when times are hard, grieve it. But don’t ever find your value in it.

Our teacher would end his book like this in 12:13. You will find similar words scattered throughout the book. Like a solid foundation he returns to after his house of cards falls time and again:

13 Now all has been heard;
     here is the conclusion of the matter:
 Fear God and keep his commandments,
     for this is the duty of all mankind.

Eugene Peterson translates it this way in the Message:

Fear God. Do what He says.

I often wonder if our resolutions are too small. What if our resolution wasn’t just to go to the gym three times a week, but that our overall health would be a priority? Would we not only go to the gym more often, but get more sleep and eat more veggies? What if we resolved that Christ would be our center? That He alone would fill the hole we try to stuff with everything this world offers? The relationship we seek to build and hold fast to would be with God? Would our resolutions to read the bible more, attend church more often even attend a study or two, become more organic and not just another “to do” list? I can’t help but think this is the wisdom that we find in Ecclesiastes.

There is a cross stitch sampler that hangs in my parents’ kitchen. It was created by my grandmother and reads, “Only one life, ‘twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.” A sobering reminder each time I read it.

Jesus, the light of the world is the only thing that lasts and the only thing large enough to fill a God-sized hole.

May you and I come to the end of ourselves this year.

Prayer

Heavenly Father,
Thank You for all You have allowed into our lives this past year, the good and the hard things that have reminded us how much we need You and rely on Your presence filling us each day. We pray that we lead lives led by the Spirit. Guide our decisions and turn our hearts to deeply desire You above all else. We ask You to release our grip on everything that keeps us from holding our hands out to You alone to fill. We ask for help to pursue You first, above all may You be the treasure we seek. We ask for Your wisdom and strength to constantly be with us.  Give us courage and boldness on the road ahead. Let Your gifts flow freely from our lives so others are drawn to You, and You are given the honour that You alone deserve. Give us discernment to hear and know Your voice. May Your Word be a literal light our path.

Amen.

Song

Benediction

Now, dear friends, go from this place in confidence that the God of Creation is with you. Go boldly into the world, offering peace, hope and healing love, in the name of Jesus Christ. And may the God of love, hope and peace be with you always. AMEN.