A Time for Everything
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
The first time I heard this scripture was many years ago when I was a Buddhist. I was attending the funeral of a very dear friend called Marjorie, together we had shared the responsibility of looking after the north of England Buddhist headquarters. Marjorie was a great inspiration to me, she was a very wise, creative warm and loving woman and I loved her very much. As her funeral was a Buddhist funeral I had no idea that these words, chosen by her husband, were from the bible. However, they stayed with me until many years later, when I first became a Christian, they provided a source of great comfort when another very dear Buddhist friend died of a terrible degenerative brain disease. I wrote to her family quoting this scripture and said in my letter that I believed when our loved ones die they are no longer in pain, their bodies are no longer slow and stiff, there is no more suffering for them and that I imagine that this is now their time to dance once more ... and in turn their memory will always dance in our hearts.
After my last service my friend Stanley (of 97) asked me to write a second sermon, 'part two' he called it, a sermon which explained what we as Christians could learn from the Buddhist practice and more importantly what it was that Buddhism didn't have and a life with Jesus did.
How could I refuse Stanley?
So Stanley I will try to answer your questions and I will do so by looking at this scripture and sharing with you the story of a wooden boulder, or rather a piece of wood, which was first cut from a tree that blew over in the storms of 1978 in Cornwall, a piece of wood which had a remarkable journey which lasted 25 years.
It's story began in the summer of 1978 when a sculptor called David Nash was told of a great oak that had recently been felled. Leaving the tree in-situ, Nash carved many sculptures from this single piece of wood over a period of two years.
However, the first sculpture was going to be a giant Oak ball, it was three feet across and weighed about half a ton. Being difficult to remove from the hill, Nash decided to make good use of the nearby stream, by floating the boulder downstream towards his studio.
But once released, Nash realised the potential of the ball. That he had released this natural object back to nature. And so from this point the “Wooden Boulder” was born, with its own life, with its own adventures moving when and where it wanted. From this point, Nash was merely the guardian of this sculpture. The creator set his creation free, yet he lovingly watched over it and recorded its progress.
This was a great gesture of liberation for Nash as he surrendered his work to nature and the elements to make its own journey, to make its own way in the world.
During the first 24 years it moved down stream nine times sometimes remaining static for months and sometimes years. Sometimes it's weight caused it to become bedded in stones enduring the varying water levels and changing seasons where it survived many storms and the continual force of the water until high waters spread over the shallow banks with the power to shift it.
The boulder has slipped, rolled and sometimes been forced by flood through the landscape, following the course of stream and river until it was last seen in the estuary of the river Dwyryd in 2003. It was there that it seemed to have finally come to rest, but then one day it was gone, forever, never to be seen again. It may have been washed out to sea or buried in sand in the estuary.
Nash followed the boulders engagement with the seasons and the weather, braving whatever the seasons threw at it. With every encounter it became more and more beautiful. Nash said that It became a stepping-stone into the drama of physical geography.
Over the years Nash followed the boulders progress and recorded its every move with his camera. Noticing how its exposure to the elements and by braving the storms of life, made it more and more beautiful, more beautiful than he had ever intended.
In 2001 it became wedged under a bridge. Nash lovingly rescued the boulder and sent it on its way, he took it from its dark prison , he lifted it when it could no longer move, when it could go on no further he brought it back into the light and set it free.
Then in November 2002 it was gone. The storm propelled the boulder 5 kilometres, stopping on a sandbank in the Dwryd estuary. It seemed like it had finally come home, it looked so beautiful, as if it belonged. But this was not the case and one day it was gone...far out to sea. Now tidal, it became very mobile. The high tides around full moon and the new moon moved it every 12 hours to a new place, each placement unique to the consequence of the tide, wind, rain and depth of water. The last sighting saw the boulder far away in the distance...on a new journey...towards the sunrise...never to be seen again.
The amazing Journey of this boulder and how it changes and enhances wherever it lands, is a little like our journey through life. Like the boulder we also need help from our creator sometimes - when we find ourselves stuck in a dark place like the boulder held fast under the bridge, our creator will always lift us and guide us to safety, just as the boulders creator lifted it to safety and sent it on its way.
The boulder follows a life pattern, it goes through struggles just as we do, it went through seasons and as things on the outside had an impact on the appearance of the boulder it changed, it's weathering enhanced it, it made it more beautiful. There were times of resting when the boulder was fixed, becoming more and more at one with its environment and during these times it slowly but surely changed - we too have resting times in our lives, times when God needs to work on us, when he wants us to be still and listen to him. Sometimes change is slow and then the storms of life bring about great change and disorder, we too have seasons, good times and bad, times to weep and times to dance. Life follows a dance, sometimes slow sometimes fast and if we think about the map at the beginning of the slides, it looks somewhat like a dance, the dance of the boulder, the boulder which never goes backwards only forwards never along the same path, because it always has a new dance to dance, a new song to sing a new adventure a new challenge.
You may be wondering what this boulder had to do with Stanley's questions, and at the same time you may be making connections between the story of the bolder and the scripture from Ecclesiastes which says, 'to everything there is a season.' Every aspect of our lives is a season, and there is a purpose for each of those seasons and there is a lesson to be learnt from each of those seasons. There is a reason for the season. There is a purpose for the process.There are seasons that we didn’t want to go through. But if you reflect on theses times you will see that this was a season of learning, of drawing close to The Lord a time of transformation and revaluation.
Lets go back to the boulder, this huge chunk of wood and the journey it took, the seasons which it went through. How it was first cut free from the tree and how Nash then let it go, liberated it, allowed it to follow its own path, all the time watching, looking over it loving it. At times when it moved forward rapidly it was dashed against the waters and rocks in the river and at times it was lodged and stuck and yet it through all its knocks and bumps in life it became more and more beautiful, in fact as it continued its journey,as the water rushed against it and the wind and rain and sun beat down against it - it became more and more beautiful, it's struggles actually enhanced it. It became all that Nash wanted and more.
Isn't that like life? Isn't it the difficult times when we become closest to God. Aren't these the times when this closeness allows Him to work in us , to change us and to make us into the people he sees we have the potential to be. Isn't this what happened to the wooden boulder? It never knew where it was going or what would happen next until it finally it ended its days as it floated off into the ocean.
To me I can see a link with this story and the scripture which I have shared today. I can see that there are seasons in our lives and there were seasons in the life of the boulder and sometimes it's winter and the ice and snow harden us and the biting wind and cold seem like they will never stop and then just when we need it the Spring arrives, light triumphs it melts the ice and life is re- born. Isn't that like the hard times the dark times we endure in life? The nights seem endless then the sun comes out and the days are long and suddenly it seems your mountain top experiences with God will last forever. Then winter draws in again and the dark nights which seem to last forever. During, these seasons the nighttime seems as if it will never end. In those long nights when the tears seem like they would never stop flowing, when life seems impossible, the mountains too hard to climb. But with God, even the impossible is possible, the morning will come, and the tears will stop flowing , joy will return to your heart and your spirit will be lifted again.
We must be confident then, that God will give us revelations and truths to propel us into new and different seasons. In Solomon’s effort to understand the “true meaning to life,” he sees that good times and bad times come to all, and this repeats itself in each coming generation.The wise man will understand this, and will prepare himself for the ups and downs in life and he does this by worshiping God through every season. He will be determined to find joy in the midst of sickness and despair, to find dependency upon God in the midst of everything being in turmoil, He will remain close to God in ever-changing circumstances we will leave his heart open and allow God to do what he needs to do.
If you can only thank God in seasons of great health and prosperity you will not be thanking God very much, because those seasons ebb and flow like the tide. We must try to find joy in the midst of each season and also in the transition between them. At each resting place the boulder became part of that landscape and its season in that landscape enhanced it, made it more beautiful , Just as the boulder became beautiful in every season so too will we if we seek God’s guidance as we deal the changing times and seasons. I now know and believe that our true happiness depends on God alone, that is why I never felt truly happy or at peace until I became a Christian and allowed God to abide with me and in me.
So I now can answer Stanley's question, I can tell you Stanley what my season as a Buddhist taught me. This season which prepared me for the day when I finally heard the truth. This season which brought me here today.
A season which taught me self discipline and which provided me with teachings in the form of beautiful letters of encouragement to the followers of a Buddhist priest who was put in exile and persecuted for his beliefs. A season which taught me to try and live a life of peace and kindness, to always love and care for others. A belief in cause and effect, a belief in the devil who would stop at Nothing to prevent people from doing good.
A teaching which believed that all sin in the world derived for ignorance, greed and anger and could be counteracted by courage compassion and wisdom. A teaching which had at its centre the love and care for its members, it's family.
But a season which came to an end because there was one thing missing, and that was Jesus. I slowly realised that there was no one to turn to in the darkness, because during my darkest moments my Buddhist practice gave me no comfort, it gave me no hope it gave me no answers.
So, I am no longer ashamed of being a Buddhist, because I now see that this was a season in my life. I understand now that I serve a God of seasons. Solomon tells us that we cannot avoid seasons it's part of the pattern of life, perhaps its trying to avoid these times which brings us sadness and unrest.
So lets embrace each season, lets learn from it, allow God to use these times to get close to us, and lets continue to worship Him through the good and the bad and then move on, wiser for the experience. The Buddhists had a teaching which said;
The sun will always continue to shine behind the inconsistent clouds and winter never fails to turn to spring.
My Christian walk has shown me a creator God who not only created the sun, but like the wooden sculptor is always close by his creations, through every season from the darkest winters to the light of spring.
My season of practicing Buddhism has taught me a lot Stanley and as I prepared this sermon I can see now, as I reflect on those times, what it did teach me. But it is only through accepting Jesus as your lord and savior that you can be finally free. Although I had many dear friends and felt the teachings were built on good principals I was never free, so I made a choice, a choice to follow Jesus, Because a life with Jesus is the only truth which will truly set you free.
Please take some time to pray, to give thanks for all the seasons of your life, the good and the bad remembering our father in heaven was never far away, watching over us, loving us ready to lift us should we fall.