Qoheleth's Perspective: Make the Most of Every Opportunity
 Ecclesiastes 3:16,17, Ephesians 5:15-17

(c) Copyright 2008 Rev. Bill Versteeg

3 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven: 
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,
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 does the worker gain from his toil?  10 I have seen the burden God has laid on men.  11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.  12 I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live.  13 That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his 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 men will revere him.
15 Whatever is has already been,
and what will be has been before;
and God will call the past to account.
16 And I saw something else under the sun:
In the place of judgment—wickedness was there,
in the place of justice—wickedness was there.
17 I thought in my heart,
God will bring to judgment
both the righteous and the wicked,
for there will be a time for every activity,
a time for every deed.”
    18 I also thought, “As for men, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals.  19 Man’s fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath b; man has no advantage over the animal. Everything is meaningless.  20 All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.  21 Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal c goes down into the earth?”
    22 So I saw that there is nothing better for a man than to enjoy his work, because that is his lot. For who can bring him to see what will happen after him?

    Qoheleth was hungry for meaning.  He loved to ask deep philosophical questions.  His eyes watched carefully, his ears heard with precision, his mind analyzed, always looking for some truth to anchor his life by.  Qoheleth is Hebrew for Teacher, who exactly this teacher was, we do not know.  Some have though he was King Solomon, but there are a variety of reasons both within this book and from outside this book to suggest the Teacher, Qoheleth, was someone else.

    Like all of us, he was trying to make sense of this world.  And so he watched, perceived, tried to understand the times, the swings of history, the moods of cultures, the cycles of life and death.  And he concluded that the most meaningful part of life was to enjoy your work, to find satisfaction in our labour - for in time this was God’s gift of meaning to us.

    But then he saw something else under the sun.
In the place of judgment—wickedness was there,
in the place of justice—wickedness was there.

    In the place where he expected wise discernment, in the courts of the land, there the guilty went free and the innocent were judged and sentenced.  And in the place of justice - literally in the Hebrew - righteousness, where he expected all things to be right and in order, peaceful and true, where he would normally anchor his sense of meaning, there too he found the same distortion in judgement, where rightness was expected and belonged, he found wickedness.  When it came to finding meaning by saying this side is right and this side is wrong, when it came to finding meaning by standing on or siding with the righteous cause,  Qoheleth found only confusion, and inability to discern because everything was mixed together, good and evil, justice and wickedness, there were no black and whites any more.
    The times have not changed. 
15 Whatever is has already been,
and what will be has been before;

    A few years ago, when we as a congregation discussed whether or not the USA should attack Iraq and get rid of Weapons of Mass Destruction, we were fairly convinced that we were on the side of the right - there was meaning in this justified war.  Now we know we were misled about the WMD, and more and more, people in the US and Canada are seeing we are entrenched in a war that cannot be won. 

    We still assume though that we are on the side of the right, that our governments motivations are noble and true, that we really do want to make peace.  But then we discover that our governments are not so innocent.  When a Muslim blows up a plane, we call it terror, but when someone that America harbors blows up a plane, we do not hear about it as in the case of Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch who bombed a Cubanna airliner killing 73 people in 1976.  They are presently being protected by the CIA as an agents for the US against the government of Nicaragua.  Present George Bush even gave Orlando a presidential Pardon. It’s interesting that Bush’s son has said “those who harbor terrorists are as guilty as the terrorists themselves.” - a statement that has effectively become foreign policy that “revokes sovereignty to states that provide sanctuary to terrorists.”  But the US does not apply its foreign policy standards on itself.  The acts of the US against the government of Nicaragua include attacking soft targets, a dumbed down term for terrorism, but we never hear about it.  Our care for what happens in other nations very much depends on what is in it for us.  The US because it dreads insecurity is willing to put the world at risk.  It is not without reason that the bulk of Europe, if not the world outside of North America regards the United States with its first strike foreign policy as the world’s greatest threat to peace.
(Source: Noam Chomsky, Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assualt on Democracy, p. 5 Copyright 2006, Many internet resources under the names of Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles list the atrocities that they have perpetrated.)

In the place of judgment—wickedness was there,
in the place of justice—wickedness was there.

    Lest you think that I am painting our friends black and our enemies white, I do not have to remind you that those who hate North America are trained in their Mosques, their places of religion to hate us from the day they can understand language, in their children’s nurseries.  Being absolutely convinced that they are in the right, that their perception is right, that their life’s meaning is that they are on the right side, they are ready to give their lives to eliminate anyone who is Israeli or American.  They are indoctrinated in hate and they have a zeal to turn this world to Islam.  Islam may be a peace loving religion, which a Muslim Islamic leader said on the BBC Friday, but in the same breath, he said that Americans deserve to die.  He was absolutely convinced of the rightness of his perception.  As we come closer to the 5th anniversary of 9/11, though it may be politically incorrect to say that Islam has chosen war with the west, we must admit that those who are actively trying to destroy the west are not just a few wild eyed communists, by far the majority of them come from one faith - Islam, Islam that can say in one breath, we are a peaceful religion and you deserve to die.

    If we look with Qoheleth’s eyes, we can only agree that world events are confusing and complicated, blacks and white have mixed into the blinding mist of grey.
In the place of judgment—wickedness was there,
in the place of justice—wickedness was there.

    Injustices have happened on both sides.  Wickedness and abuse resides in all earthly seats of power.  And we do not know what the future will hold.  These realities were the realities that moved Qoheleth to write these depressing proverbs in Ecclesiastes.   So much so that he despaired of meaning in life, so much so that in chapter 4:2-3 he suggests that the dead and the unborn are happier than the living.  Yes these depressing thoughts are in the bible.

    If we look only at this world, the directions that it is going, it is right for us to be concerned, it would be very right for us to adopt the wisdom of Qoheleth and be deeply depressed about our confused and uncertain future.

    But even though Qoheleth in his wisdom came to the conclusion of meaninglessness, even though he despaired even of what might happen after death for animals and humanity, still within him was a profound conviction that forced its way to the surface, a conviction that resonates with the faith of every Christian.
17 I thought in my heart,
God will bring to judgment
both the righteous and the wicked,
for there will be a time for every activity,
a time for every deed.”

    He, and we, are convinced that there is a time for everything - including a time for just judgement accomplished by God who sees all, knows all, discerns all and judges all.  Now may be a time of greys and confusion, but there will come a time when all will be made clear and the motives and actions of all people who be exposed for what they really are - whether they be selfish, hating God and neighbor, or whether they fulfill God’s perfect law.

    Our Christian Hope, is that Justice will be done.  The witness of scripture, the word in which we anchor our lives is clear on this account.  Listen to the promise of Isaiah concerning Jesus...

And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
 7  Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.

Acts 17 tells us that God has appointed a day when the Lord will accomplish full justice when Christ returns.  He who discerns the hearts of humanity, he who knows our innermost thoughts will bring justice for every nation, for every people, for every individual.  Of his throne there will be no end.  Revelation 19 tells us that Jesus will come riding a white horse as King of Kings and Lord of Lords to establish his eternal just kingdom.  The greys of this world, the meaninglessness of not knowing which side is right will be ended and there will be no more war, sorrow, crying or tears.

With this in mind, then understanding as Paul says in Ephesians 5 that the days are evil - what should we do?

15  Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise,  
16  making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.  
17  Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.

1.   Make the most of every opportunity - to work for justice.  Our opportunities to spend ourselves on behalf of the poor, to give freely to those who have not, to do everything within our power, even if it means personal sacrifice, to worship God by helping others is clearly God’s will for us.  We are the richest tenth of this world, lets focus on those who do not have what we have, let’s focus on the poor, the orphans suffering from the effects of aids in third world countries, those who are suffering in slavery when we measure our well-being.

2.  Make the most of every opportunity: Seek to apply the law which says love your neighbor as you love yourselves to our foreign policy.  We may argue that we are innocent, we are not the United States, but the truth is we live in the benefit of their very broad shadow.  How loudly are we willing to raise our voice to be heard so that our country and even the country south of us will hear that God calls us as countries to love our global neighbors as we love ourselves.

3.  Make the most of every opportunity: Make sure our personal lives are characterized by justice, by honesty, by integrity, by faithful obedient service to God.  We cannot control what happens in this world, but we have a God given responsibility to control what happens in ourselves, in our actions with our fellow man. 

4.  Make the most of every opportunity: Pray.  Looking at Ephesians 5 and 6, we discover that prayer is the Christians best tool to wage war against evil and injustice.  For we fight not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces in the heavenly realms.  The simple truth is, a Christian who does not pray is a Christian who fails to understand the seriousness or the nature of the battle that we are in, nor the power of prayer to influence hearts and political process.  And so my final point this morning is to join us this evening, where we will take the opportunity to pray for peace, especially the peace of Jerusalem.

(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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