Thursday, December 31, 2009

Memo for first Sunday in January

Ecclesiastes 3:1-9 “ For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die...”

“ It was the worst of times; it was the best of times…” so began Dickens “Tale of Two Cities”. Somehow this Word always fits the New Year. What we expect and what actually happens are never the same. History never, repeats itself—although it often does rhyme . So it is a good thing to pay attention to the similarities. You know “the one who ignores the past is doomed to repeat it” or something like that.

The preacher in Ecclesiastes makes some allowance for all of this with her ten verse couplets. Everything has its time. The reading of these somber words just feels good in the mouth despite the fact that this preacher was caught up in the fatalism of the day. She was a skeptic, who not only questioned every thing, she was certain that she was right. Finally, “All is vanity…” Paul Tillich in his Complete History of the Christian faith, p. 3, reminds us that the skeptic or stoic was the major challenger to the Christian faith in the first century. The skeptic lacked a knowledge of hope, and without hope a people fall into fatalism and despair.

Over the last year I have hung out with a group of people who are studying The Three Principles by Sidney Banks. I thought this material was the latest thing in Positive Thinking so I was very suspicious. (Preachers do not like to be confronted with a challenge to their theology). Basically, what I learned was a simple truth. Our thoughts control how we feel about life. But our thoughts are not real. We make up our thoughts and act as if they are real and this can get us into major difficulty in living. In a word – it is really a good thing to think about our thinking. (duh!)

The preacher in Ecclesiastes wrote in a way that causes us to put the emphasis on the first and last word in the couplets.

“A time to live a time to die.” But the part that is missing is to discover that how we think about life and death makes the difference. This may be why Wesley worked most of his life to connect the relationship between mind and heart or experience. The Christian experience has everything to do with Paul’s admonition in Romans 12:2 that “we not be conformed to this world but transformed by the renewing of our minds, so that we may discern, what is the will of God--what is good acceptable and perfect.