Seasons of Change
Over this past week I have been trying to figure out my schedule. In between meeting people, getting to know the region, going to meetings, and trying to get settled in; I have been doing my best to figure out what my schedule for the rest of the summer is going to be like. What days do I want to take off? When should I be in the office? When should I go visit shut-ins? I have so many things that I want to do and so many things that I need to do, it seems like any schedule I make will be out of date by the next day. But even so, I get my calendar out and try to figure something out.
All this schedule thinking has got me wondering whether or not schedules are a good or a bad thing. On the one hand organization is always a good thing. It is good that I know where I need to be and when I need to be there. Schedules are also good at making sure other people know where I am going to be somewhere and when I am going to be there. The downside to the whole schedule thing is that it takes away some of that freedom I love. I can't just pick up and go somewhere, everything has got to be planned out ahead of time. It also makes it so that I have a little less freedom when it comes to things that come up. If there is a problem or an issue that I need to deal with, I have to make sure that I can fit it into my schedule. I think that this whole idea of scheduling is bound up in today's readings.
From our earliest days we are bound by schedules. When we are young these schedules may just be when we have to wake up, go to sleep, and eat our meals. Maybe when we get a little older we have organized activities where one night every week we have to be somewhere. Parents make these schedules for us and make sure we keep to them. When we go off to school we get something else tacked on to our schedule, now we have to go out every day. The older we get the more complicated and full our schedules seem to get. Working, learning, socializing, worshiping, sleeping, reading, entertainment, eating; all these things fill up our schedules and many of us long for the simpleness of childhood again. Oh to have someone else set up our schedule for us.
This fall I am going to be tacking a class called "An Introduction to Christian Worship." This is one of those classes that we have to take. It is taught Thursday evenings for four hours, and then again Friday mornings for four hours. Most certainly I would not have chosen this schedule. To make things just a little bit more confusing, it is not going to be taught every week, some weeks we will have class, other weeks we wont. This is because our professor will be commuting each week, she will be flying in to teach us this class. While I have no doubt that the school has gotten the very best professor for us, this crazy schedule is going to confuse me to no end.
But still, there is a schedule. For everything there is a schedule. Like the Book of Ecclesiastes says; for everything there is a time. In fact, when I first read over the readings for today I couldn't help but be reminded of what the Book of Ecclesiastes says about seasons:
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 throw 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 throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silent, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)
I think that the writer of Ecclesiastes knew something about schedules. Luke, who wrote both the Gospel of Luke and Acts, seems to have an understanding of schedules as well, and so do the early Christians that he is writing for. But there schedules are two completely different things.
The letters of Paul and the gospels seem to suggest that the early Jesus followers had a schedule that they had set for themselves. For right now they would live on earth, doing the things that Jesus had taught; but sometime in the near future they would, like Jesus, experience a new life. Paul describes that this time of change would come like a thief in the night, it would be unexpected so we had better be ready. But even in this, there is still the understanding that this was an event that would soon take place. New life would be coming soon.
The first few lines in Acts seem to be a repudiation of this schedule that the Jesus followers had set up for themselves. Will Jesus come back tomorrow; maybe. Will Jesus come back in a hundred years; maybe. Will Jesus come back in a thousand years; maybe. The author of Acts tells us that even though there is a schedule, it is not a schedule that we can know about. For all the complaining that we do about how busy our lives are, we still love our schedules and I am sure that the people who first read Acts loved their schedules too. But here the author is telling us that we can't even pencil in the date of Jesus' return on the calendar.
If you can put yourselves in the shoes of someone who followed Jesus, maybe we can imagine how big a blow this was. Think about how devastating it must have been to watch your teacher, leader, and friend killed on a cross. Think about the devastation that anyone close to Jesus must have felt. But the devastation is temporary, the sorrow of Good Friday is replaced with the joy and triumph of Easter. What was once lost is found again, the man who had died is now walking amongst us. Oh wonderful resurrection!
But the celebration doesn't last long. The resurrected Jesus is only with us a short time before he ascends into heaven. For anyone that has lost a loved one we may know this feeling. On one hand we know that we will see the one we have lost again, but on the other hand we cannot help but feel despair at knowing that the morning will come without them. With no schedule of when we will again see Jesus, how can we not be saddened to see him leave us.
Ecclesiastes tells us that for everything there is a season. There is a season to lose something or someone, and there is also a season to find what has been lost. These are God's seasons, the seasons of creation and the seasons of the world. Luke tells us that it is not for us to know the seasons of God. What is for us to know is that there is a plan that God will fulfill, one day Jesus will return and when the time comes, we faithful followers will be ready.
I have a poster in one of my offices that has a poem by Helen Mallicoat:
I was regretting the past and fearing the future.
Suddenly my Lord was speaking.
"My name is I Am"
He paused. I waited. He continued.
"When you live in the past with its mistakes and regrets, it is hard. I am not there.
My name is not I WAS.
When you live in the future with its problems and fears, it is hard.
My name is not I WILL BE.
When you live in this moment it is not hard. I am here.
My name is I AM."
I think this is what the author of Acts is encouraging us to do. We shouldn't be following Jesus' teachings because we are looking for some future reward. We should be following the teachings of Jesus because it is the right thing to do. We shouldn't be practicing Christian love ever hopeful that it will earn us our heavenly reward, we should be practicing love because it is the right thing to do. Let God worry about future plans, let God do the scheduling of when Jesus is going to be returning, we need to focus on the here and now.
Going back to Ecclesiastes; there is a time for everything. We need to be focusing on what this is the time for. This is the time for helping one another. This is the time to be reaching out to our neighbors in need. This is the time for love and forgiveness. Let God be concerned with where we are going, let us be concerned with where we are.
In this season of change, let's remember that the future is not where we are living. Let's live in the present, in this moment. Because living in any other time is hard. So when we fear change and fear the future, let us remember that the present is where God is, guiding us and waiting for us. Let's practice the love of Jesus in the present, not for the future reward, but because it is the right thing to do.
But the story today from Acts isn't just about the loss of Jesus, it is also about the gaining of the Spirit. This Spirit is sometimes called the divine counselor, a guide for us. This Spirit gave the followers of Jesus gifts to help spread the message of Jesus. I think that this is a great message that we are being sent. Even though we have lost Jesus, we gain what we need to spread Jesus' message. But on a more symbolic level, losses are followed by gains. When we lose someone we care for, we are not left alone. The person that has left us leaves us with everything they have taught us and the ability to spread the message that we have been given. That Spirit that is left behind, that divine counselor, is ever present within us and in our world, continuing the work of Jesus through each of us. There is a time to lose and a time to find. In Acts, the time when we lose Jesus, is the time when we find the Spirit, and when we find the strength to persevere through loss.
Lord, be with us right now. Help us to place the future in your hands, living just for the moment. Guide us to love, heal, and forgive. Grant us the strength to surrender our future to you, trusting that in you the seasons will change according to your will. Give unto us the peace that comes from trusting you in everything, but most importantly in our fears of the future, amen.