Rev. Rebecca Heilman
(John 14:15-31)

Presbyterians are known for our one-hour worship services – no shorter, no longer, an hour is just enough time for us to worship God. Growing up, I heard jokes around Presbyterian Worship services and this one joke was on my mind this week when writing about the wise soul of Ecclesiastes. There was a pastor who admirably was able to finish worship right at noon, the hour mark, each week. Then, one Sunday, this pastor preached until 12:30, which was out of this pastor’s norm. As the pastor greeted the members walking out the door, one of the members stopped and asked, “What happened to you today?” The preacher answered, “For years, I have always tucked a candy mint under my tongue at the start the service. It was always gone exactly at noon. That way, I never had to look at the clock or worry about what time it was. But this Sunday, the candy didn’t dissolve. I realized I had put a button in my mouth.”
How this pastor preached with a candy in his or her mouth each week, I will never know.

Time is important to us, western people. It keeps us in order and holds us accountable. It puts a limit on us and can sometimes open the world to all sorts of possibilities. Often, time is of the essence and time is money. We are good at finding ways to kill time and then we find ourselves with too much time on our hands. We enjoy when the time springs forward and are less impressed when we have to fall back an hour. Time is at the center of our lives.

Time is understood quite differently to our writer this morning. This person, this ancient teacher of wisdom, was called in Hebrew, Qoheleth (co-hell-leth), which when translated into Greek is Ecclesiastes, the title of the Biblical book today. Qoheleth (co-hell-leth), wrote in the time after the Babylonian Exile. It’s understood that the author lived through or heard about exile, pulled away and lived far from their homeland, away from the routines and community they knew so well. As Rev. Dr. Joanna Adams, a preacher, writes, the Babylonian Exile, “taught the Hebrew people that [their] human experience was never going to be an uninterrupted walk in the park and that time should not be a tyrant that demanded all our allegiance.” They were to embrace the time that they were in because they did not know when it would all be over. They were invited to live in the present. Qoheleth, through our text today simply saw life as it is. Laying it out there, letting the listeners know life is set in motion and the movement is set by God. Qoheleth is just stating the facts – That this is what happens in our lives and God strung it all into order. Some people see Ecclesiastes as an all-time pessimist, a cynic, a glass half-empty individual, someone who doubts easily and scoffs at conversations of hope. I mean, Qoheleth (co-hell-leth) is known for saying 38 times that quote, “all is vanity.” Considering all the writer and the Jewish people lived through, can you blame them? As a known pessimist amongst my family, I would say Qoheleth (co-hell-leth) is more of a realist. The writer lived through strife, a refugee in an unknown land and time, faced with unbearable hardships, deaths, and persecution. The wise writer of Ecclesiastes was a practical theologian, a loyal friend, someone who looked at the situation at hand and found wisdom to help the community manage that time and place, instead of dwelling on the uncertainty of it. Qoheleth (co-hell-leth) did not mess around. He or she spoke the truth, refusing to whitewash the situation. And so Qoheleth lays out 28 seasons of life in our passage today, arranging them poetically as if it would be easier to hear. Some of these seasons we understand completely – living life and experiencing lose with death. Some of these seasons, we don’t quite understand. There are all sorts of arguments around what the writer meant with “a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together.” Then there are seasons that we don’t view favorably, “a time to kill, a time for war.” But still, Qoheleth includes them, the ugly bits, the violent seasons, the seasons that sooth our soul. Not one is forgotten, and he includes them because it’s the rhythm of life as we know it, for better or for worse. Qoheleth invites the Jewish people to live in the moment. The past is the past and the future will come. There are seasons that we know about and there will be seasons we will learn. The present if where we can find God, it’s where we too can find hope.

Joan Chittister (Chis-ter) is an author, a spiritual leader and a storyteller. She tells an ancient story in her book, There is a Season, about the gift of living in the present time. Hear this conversation between the wise one and the disciple. The disciple asked, “Where shall I look for enlightenment?” “Here,” the wise one said. “When will it happen?” the disciple asked. “It is happening right now,” the wise one answered. “Then why don’t I experience it?” “Because you don’t look.” “What should I look for?” “Nothing. Just look.” “Look at what?” “At anything your eyes light on.” “But must I look in a special way?” “No, the ordinary way will do.” “But don’t I always look the ordinary way?” “No, you don’t…Because to look, you must be here. And you are mostly somewhere else.”

I admit, this wise soul understands me to a tee and maybe you too. We are often looking back, overthinking a conversation we had weeks ago. We’re reliving memories that make us want to dance or soar into the winds. We’re wondering about how we could have handled situations differently. We’re grieving a loss of a friendship or a loss of love one. We’re often looking into the past. We’re also looking ahead. We’re looking into the meetings of the week. We’re looking forward to those wedding dates, birthday parties, and family meals. We’re saying over and over again, “when life gets back to normal…When the pandemic is over…when all will be like it used to be…” We rarely live in the moment. Looking forward or reliving the past is much easier than staying present to the here and now. The past was much sweeter, and the future gives hope. The present season is cruel. It’s unbearable. It’s tense. It’s political. It’s lonely. It’s doctors appointments and test results. The here and now is full of death and high infection rates that scares us to the bone. It’s masked and social distanced.

But the present time, as hard as it might be to see it, to experience it, is also full of stillness, of bringing us closer in relationship with God and each other than ever before. Of us learning that we can do hard things. It’s an opportunity to be centered into God’s presence and feel the wind of the here and now. It’s embracing that this is where the church is at. Ecclesiastes writes in our text today, “What do workers gain from all their hard work? I have observed the task that God has given human beings. I know that there’s nothing better for them but to enjoy themselves and do what’s good while they live. Moreover, this is the gift of God: that all people should eat, drink, and enjoy the results of their hard work.

Friends, how can we harvest in time that we are in? How can we adjust? How can we be flexible in the here and now to reach those who need reaching to? How do we harvest in the time that we are in? Already you, Trinity, have adjusted and lived in the present time as best as you can. We’ve purchased a video and sound system that streams worship to people who feel safer at home, to members on vacation, to folks all over the world, country and state. When the pandemic hit, you pivoted and enjoyed worship outside, embracing that new space and knowing God is present under the oaks too. We’ve welcomed an online member and hope to establish more online opportunities. The Well Class has established such a beautiful and organic community where prayers are shared, faith is questioned, and all ideas are heard and welcomed. All over Zoom too. Who would have thought? The Christian Formation ministry team has developed a phenomenal curriculum for Sunday School so our children are outdoors, safe, and can still engage in the community of the church. We’ve worked on the building, built closets, hired a new Weekday School director, cozy upped the Narthex and found rest in this time.

We’ve harvested in this time of unknown, embracing where we are at and making decisions from there. It has not been easy, but we are reaping from our hard work and the dreams for this church. And so I’m here to interpret Ecclesiastes and all the author’s realist views – we’re not out of this pandemic yet. We’ll need to keep our creative juices flowing and our resilient hearts a pumping. We’re in a season that’s we’ve all frankly had enough of, but we are making the most of it, paving a path of purpose in the here and now as best as we can. As Qoheleth writes, “For everything there is a season…yes, but I know that there’s nothing better for them but to enjoy themselves and do what’s good while they live.”

This reminds me of another wise sage who writes, “Yesterday is but a memory, and tomorrow but a vision. But today well-lived makes every yesterday a memory of happiness, and every tomorrow, a vision of hope.”


[1] The Rev. Dr. Joanna Adams, Should There Be A Clock in the Sanctuary,

[2] The Rev. Dr. Joanna Adams, Should There Be A Clock in the Sanctuary,

[3] Ibid.

[4] Joan Chittister, There is a Season, Orbis Books, 1999.

[5] Kālidāsa, The complete works of Kalidasa