Call to worship and welcome
We come together as the people of God:
The old, the young;
The tired, the energetic;
The happy, the sad;
People different backgrounds and traditions;
People who are coming to know Jesus, and people who have known him all their lives.
The scriptures tell us there is a time for everything, and the time now is to worship God – to praise God in song, to hear the scriptures and meditate on them, and to pray for ourselves, each other, and the whole world.
Hymn: 315 Mine eyes have seen the glory
Prayers of adoration and confession
Let us pray:
Be with us, God of peace.
Come with your healing and your reconciling power.
Be with us, that fear may be cast out by love;
that weapons may be replaced by trust;
that violence may give way to gentleness:
Be with us, God of justice.
Bring with your righteous judgments and your mercy.
Be with us, that we may hear the cries of the oppressed
in every land;
that we may see the suffering of the poor in our own land;
that we may return to the way of righteousness and compassion:
Be with us, God of hope.
Be with us with your promises.
Be with us, that we may marvel at your faithfulness in past generations; and so that we may celebrate the things you are doing among us today;
that we may be your pilgrim people
on our journey to your kingdom:
Be with us, God of love.
Be with us with your kindness and your goodness.
Be with us that we may see your image in people of every race and culture;
that we may embrace you in the lonely, the bereaved and the rejected;
that we may be your accepting and a caring church:
Most wonderful God,
you are beyond our sight,
above our thought,
infinite, eternal, and unsearchable:
your wisdom shines in all your works;
your glory is shown in your goodness to all people;
your grace and truth are revealed in Jesus.
Therefore, we adore you, our God,
for ever and ever. Amen.
The psalmist says “Purge me from sin, and I shall be pure; wash me, and I shall be clean indeed.” (Psalm 51:7)
And so we pray:
Almighty God our Father,
we have sinned against you and one another;
we have sinned in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
In your mercy forgive what we have been,
help us to correct what we are,
and direct what we shall be;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Assurance of forgiveness
I will make a covenant of peace with you;
my dwelling place shall be with you,
and I will be your God. (Ezekiel 37.26-27)
God proves his love for us
in that while we still were sinners,
Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
Hear then Christ’s word of grace to us:
‘Your sins are forgiven.’ (Mark 2:5)
Thanks be to God.
Hymn: 217(i) Love divine
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
2 a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
7 a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
25 At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
This is the word of the Lord
Thanks be to God.
Hymn: 745 Seek ye first
Sermon: A time for everything.
A trivia question for you: what’s the oldest song to have reached the top 10?
Last year, we ended of a series of 50th anniversaries of Beatles albums, and several re-releases have been up there in the top 10 – so maybe 50 years old?
But no! The Lord’s Prayer was famously taken to number three by Sister Janet Mead in 1973, which gives us a top 10 hit that was more than 1900 years old. That’s not bad, is it?
And then Cliff Richard did the same thing in 1999 with ‘The Millenium Prayer’ - The Lord’s Prayer set to the tune of Auld Lang Syne, and when he did it, it was 26 years older than when Sister Janet Mead did it.
But there is an older one – a much older one.
In 1959 the American folk singer, Pete Seeger, took some words from a poem he found in an old book, added a few of his own, and wrote a melody… the resulting song was titled Turn! Turn! Turn! Later, it was sung by the Byrds and it became a hit. It’s a song that remains instantly recognisable, and one that symbolises a particular era in modern history:
To everything, turn, turn, turn,
There is a season, turn, turn, turn,
And a time to every purpose under heaven…
A time for love, a time for hate,
A time for peace, I swear it's not too late.
At the time of its release, society was changing dramatically, television became ubiquitous, censorship declined, contraception became easily accessible, and in Australia, we joined the US in the Vietnam War, we ended the White Australia Policy (1966), we started counting aborigines as people in the census (1967), most families had a car (if not two), and church attendance declined.
In fact, many traditions slipped away, and Australians (and the first world generally), could now decide for themselves what was important… and as it turns out, God slipped quite dramatically in importance. Churches ceased being central to the lives of most Australians and moved to the fringes.
Of course, the gospel hasn’t changed: Christ has died for us, is risen, and will come again. But many people have not heard, or not listened, or disregarded it.
The words of Pete Seger’s song, Turn! Turn! Turn! are taken almost entirely from the book of Ecclesiastes – chapter three, verses 1-8, this today’s Old Testament reading. Pete Seeger only contributed a few words – “Turn” (three times) plus the phrase “I swear it’s not too late” at the end. Traditionally, the book of Ecclesiastes is attributed to King Solomon (though the writer is only referred to as ‘the Teacher’ in the text), and therefore Turn! Turn! Turn trumps Sister Janet Mead and Cliff Richard – it’s the best part of 3000 years old.
Ecclesiastes, though, is a strange book – it is cynical and pessimistic, but I think when we’re faced with being a church in a society where God is not central, looking at the book of Ecclesiastes can be helpful. The situations that we face today are perhaps not as unique as we may first think, with society largely ignoring, or even being ignorant of God, and the people of God again in a minority.
Despite its apparent strangeness, the book of Ecclesiastes has contributed a lot to our language – most people aren’t familiar with Ecclesiastes as a book, but most people know many its phrases – vanity of vanities (1:2), There is nothing new under the sun(1:9), eat and drink and be merry (8:15) and even a fly in the ointment (10:1).
In this morning’s reading we have heard that there is a time for every activity under heaven - and in this context, heaven is not the otherworldly paradise (the one with angels playing harps on clouds), rather it is the skies. Every activity under heaven therefore refers to every activity on earth:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted... and so on
These are the things that make up our lives. The activities under heaven are the things of life. The things of all our lives. Everyone is born, it’s fair to say that everyone is going to die, and a whole lot of stuff happens in between. Weeping and laughing, silence and talking, love and hate, good and bad, highs and lows, triumphs and tragedy, hope and despair.
And generally these things happen over and over again – it’s a cycle. A daily cycle. A seasonal cycle. A lifetime cycle.
A few years ago, when I was at Cherrybrook and helping with the Cherubs play group, I was enjoying leading music. I mentioned to my daughter Hazel that I particularly enjoyed ‘If you’re happy and you know it’ – and everyone loved going through the actions – clapping, stomping and so on. Hazel, then studying Early Childhood Education said that it shouldn’t be “If you’re happy and you know it” all the time – we should let children know that it’s okay to experience and express other emotions, too.
And so I changed it. If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands. If you’re grumpy and you know it stomp your feet. Now if you’re grumpy, you might be tired, so if you’re tired and you know it have a rest. And after the rest, if you’re awake and you know it have a stretch. And so on… right the way back to being happy and clapping your hands.
That’s life, isn’t it?
We’re happy, then we’re sad, then we’re happy again, and on it goes. “Turn! Turn! Turn!”, as Pete Seeger adds.
And so, in this ongoing cycle, we’re left wondering what difference faith in God makes, and indeed, what difference we can make, whether as individuals or as a church, in the comings and goings of human life.
There have been many changes to the church throughout history, we had the split of the oriental Christians from the European, and then the split of the Western from the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Reformation which saw the division of the Catholic and Protestants.
Changes continue to happen, and today we have unparalleled access to the scriptures, we have the flexibility to choose where and how we worship, and we do have the opportunity to make a difference. There’s a time to break down, and a time to build up.
One of the key differences, with the changes happening now, compared to the historic changes that the church has gone through, is the very scale of those changes. It is individuals, not groups that make decisions about how and if people participate in church. At the time of the breaks with the Oriental churches and later the eastern and western churches, it was bishops making the decisions. But by the time of the reformation, it was largely theologians and the aristocracy making the decisions - so if your local baron decided to become a protestant, then congratulations, you became a protestant too.
But now, as it is with so much of society, it’s about individual decisions. Catholic and protestant distinctions, in Australia at least, don’t matter nearly as much as they once did. People freely change denominations to find churches that meet their demographic, geographic, social and sometimes theological needs.
It is good to be able to make those changes, but the other side of that is that people will make those changes, and it’s become less and less likely people will remain part of one group – whether it is a particular congregation or even denomination forever. There’s a time to seek, and a time to lose.
The church as a whole in Australia, as well as Britain, continental Europe and North America has been in decline by most measures for some time. The Reverend Wilbert Awdry, who was a Church of England minister, but who is so much more famous for a series of stories about Tank Engine named Thomas, had this to say about the similarity between the organised Church and the railways in Britain:
“Both had their heyday in the mid-nineteenth century; both own a great deal of Gothic style architecture which is expensive to maintain; both are regularly assailed by critics; and both are firmly convinced that they are the best means of getting [people] to [their] ultimate destination.”
While we often as a church, have to think seriously about what we maintain, we always need to remember our churches are monuments to the glory of God in our community, and people so often have strong ties to them – the places of their conversion, their marriages, the baptisms of their children and the funerals of loved ones. Our buildings are also a witness to the generosity of the generations of Christians who have gone before us.
There’s a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
So, do we – as a church, as a denomination, as a congregation, and even as individuals shake our heads and wring our hands at an uncertain future? Do we despair for the traditions that we stand to lose? Do we give up because we think we can’t possibly make a difference anymore? Is it all too much? Is it a time to mourn, or [is it] a time to dance?
In all of this, I think we need to come back to Ecclesiastes’ observation that there is a time for every activity under the heavens, and, along with that, what we heard in this morning’s gospel reading: the assurance that Jesus will sustain us even when we are weary and burdened. Weary of seeing the broader church in decline, burdened with trying to do the same with less, weary of trying to stretch our resources, weary of requiring more and more from fewer and fewer.
But Jesus said “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
I’m sure most of you are familiar with that passage, and have probably taken comfort from it. It is a wonderful poetic assurance “…I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” What a promise!
But I think it’s possible to miss part of what Jesus was saying, we tend to assume it’s all about burdens, and that Jesus yoke is lighter than alternatives. But these days, we don’t know much about yokes. We tend to think of a yoke as a burden.
But the yoke isn’t a burden, it’s a tool, a tool that makes burdens easier – whether it’s a yoke to harness bullocks together to drag a log through a forest, or a pole across your shoulders so you can carry two buckets of water easily. The yoke, rather than being a burden, is a tool that helps get the job done.
I’m reminded of Jesus’ words to the rich young man later in Matthew’s gospel, when the rich young man despairs of being able to be saved. “With man this is impossible,” Jesus tells him “But with God all things are possible”.
And so it is, I think, as we look to the future and see apparently overwhelming tasks ahead – we need to take heart that with God, with Jesus’ yoke, all things are possible. And I think it's important too, in the teacher of Ecclesiastes’ description of the activities under heaven, they are just that: activities. There isn’t, according to the teacher, a time to do nothing.
There is a time for every purpose under heaven, sometimes it will be a time to plant, sometimes a time to uproot, sometimes it will be a time to embrace, and sometimes a time to refrain from embracing; sometimes it will be a time to be silent, and sometimes it will be a time to speak.
But whatever time it is, we need to remember that Jesus yoke is easy, and his burden is light.
So I wonder – what is the time for each one of us now? What time is it for all of us together?
We’ve just about come through Covid. We had over six months of not being able to meet together. We’ve been talking to presbytery and with West Epping about a possible future together. The future might not be the same as the past, but we can be assured that God has a plan, and that we all get to be a part of that plan.
And there is a cycle. Jesus told us not to be afraid when we “hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.” (Mark 13:7-8)
Those things are facts of the world we live in… and I think to wars and earthquakes and famines we could fairly add bushfires and droughts and floods and even global pandemics.
It’s the cycle of the world. But don’t forget that every drought ends in rain, every flood ends in sunshine, and every dark night ends with a sunrise.
It may well be worrying a time, but it can also be an exciting time. And in all of this, we might long for the past, but we should be hoping for the future. And indeed looking to the future, with our hope in Jesus.
Jesus who lived and died and rose again, and who says to each one of us “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Friends, know that there is a time for every purpose under heaven, and our time, the time for us to make a difference, is now.
We thank you, Creator God, for all you have given us,
And the gifts that we offer you –
the gifts of money given here and elsewhere,
The gifts of our time and energy –
We offer to you so that they may be used to your glory,
to share the good news of Jesus,
and to help our neighbours in need.
We offer them to you,
in the name of your Son and our saviour,
Jesus Christ our Lord
Hymn: 209 And can it be
Blessing and dismissal
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,
The love of God,
And the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
Be with us now and forevermore.
Next Sunday: 2 May, 2021
John 15:1-8 and 1 John 4:7-21”
Theme: “I am the vine, you are the branches”
Acts 8:26-40, Psalm 22:25-31, 1 John 4:7-21, John 15:1-8