First Sunday in 2007

“Beginning Again, Again”
Ecclesiastes 3: 1-13

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 2a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 3a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 4a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 5a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 6a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; 7a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 8a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. 9What gains have the workers from their toil? 10I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. 11He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. 12I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; 13moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil.”  (NRSV)

  dear Christian lady put in her will the unusual request that she wanted to be buried with a fork in her hand. When gossip got around, one of her friends was appointed to go ask her why. She said, “At many of our church fellowship dinners someone would announce, “Keep your fork in your hand, there's something better coming! I just want to be ready for the better.”

Most of us have had to “Begin Again.” Even children face change. Moving can be traumatic. We moved when I was in the fourth grade and I must have become a class cutup as a way of hiding my anxiety about being the new preacher's kid in a country school. Linwood Combination School held grades 1-12. Yes, I said “grade one through High School.” However, my new teacher befriended me and that made all the difference. I sat and listened, but most of all felt the warmth of grace. Years later I went back to preach in that church and had the opportunity to thank my teacher for helping me through that difficult beginning again.

I have never heard the audible voice of God but I have always felt the “still small voice” of the Spirit leading me through many new beginnings and opportunities at the major stages in my life: Ten years of higher education, our marriage, two baby daughters, and several moves to new pastoral appointments. In fact, most of us could agree that a major part of our daily devotional and ongoing prayer life has consisted of seeking God's guidance and help in meeting life's challenges. I feel that I appropriately entitled this sermon: “Beginning Again, Again” Our challenge is to respond to every day's new challenge with all of our personal ability; but primarily, with the Spirit's Power. The Son of God willingly shared in our human predicaments as a way of identifying with us, and as a means of encouraging us in times of fear, transition and new beginnings.

The saddest state of life is to meander around in a comfortable mediocrity without direction or purpose. Yet, many folks have few hopes and dreams. This is the dead end plight of what most think retirement should be. Many retirees are given a gold plated watch and have no idea what to do next. We human beings need challenge in every phase of life, including retirement.

I admire Jimmy Carter for not simply retiring to his family farm in Plains and just fishing everyday in his little pond. He has done some fishing, as well as pursuing his hobby of making furniture but many have come to love him as the most energetic and favorite ex-President. He has given new life to the “Habitat for Humanity” program as a hammer-in-hand volunteer. “The Carter Center” has become a player in the process of guiding emerging democracies into their new liberty. And he has given regular lectures at Emory University.

Bishop Arthur J. Moore penned these immortal words in his autobiography just prior to his death: “God has always been faithful to set before me ever receding horizons.” That's it; there is always more! Bishop Moore was best friends with Pierce Harris at Atlanta First Methodist and Pierce invited Bishop Moore to preach his last sermon as an active bishop from his historic pulpit. Bishop Moore said that he was required to retire, but he was not through serving God. As it turned out, retirement freed him up to travel even more all around the world and his influence grew larger. This was the old bishop’s new beginning. He was able to stay challenged for the rest of his life.

Perhaps Jesus also noted some connection with the personal experiences of the wise King Solomon, who referred to himself as a preacher, and who shared in his third chapter of Ecclesiastes the observations that all humans are finite but have been given an innate awareness of the infinite timetable of the world, as he knew it, and as it was inspired to him by God. Solomon repeats that there is a time for this and that and finally a time for all things. Eugene Peterson’s edition calls it “a right time.” Actually, there are no wrong times with God or with Solomon. Only in looking back on what has happened can we realize God’s timing at work. He brings His perfect will out of the events of life that happen. In recent years computers have helped us track the massive number of probabilities that happen in the randomness of life. But God’s timetable is perfect. Our part is finding that grove and trusting it.

We can point back to a time when we made a first commitment to Jesus Christ; but we can also attest to the many subsequent spiritual crescendos along the way of living. Every day offers opportunities for new ideas learned from new friends or new information. Many of you have shared with me a mutual life of reading. My Marilyn typically has a good book going that she can't put down. Learning new things is one of the most blessed gifts of God. The disciple of Jesus who reads can't help but leap high with new ideas. Lifelong learning is a chief means of our receiving a constant flow of God's Grace. There is always something better coming our way as we walk with God.

Our former Georgia Governor, Joe Frank Harris, used to delight in sharing the story of how as a young boy “he walked the sawdust trail,” at Indian Springs Campmeeting and gave his heart to Jesus. Yet, knowing him we are aware that his entire life has been a constant experience of change and new beginnings which has grown out of that initial commitment.

Every day affords new opportunities for new beginnings of new ideas learned from new experiences. God offers newness throughout our entire life. It is one of the most blessed gifts of God. The disciple of Jesus can't help but constantly “Begin Again, Again and even Again!”

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor
First Sunday in 2007