Pastoral Meditation: Times and Seasons

Pastor Grant M. VanderVelden shared this message at the funeral for Jerry W. Ewing on Wednesday, August 3, 2022. The message arises from Ecclesiastes 3:1-15 –

For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

 What gain have the workers from their toil? I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. He 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.

I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil. I know that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before him. That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already is; and God seeks out what has gone by.

“Pastor, I’m going to make it. I’m going to be there.”

With his health beginning to fail and his mobility already a challenge, that’s what Jerry told me again and again in the weeks and months leading up to last year’s duet of Ewing family weddings: “I’m going to make it, pastor. I’m going to be there.”

And so, he was – there last summer here in this sanctuary when his grandson Cole and his bride, Morgan, pledged to love, honor, and cherish one another; there last fall in the lush rolling hills of family acreage when his granddaughter Connor and her groom, Bryton, also exchanged rings and joined hands to become husband and wife.

Indeed, those weddings were moments to celebrate, times to relish and delight in the gift of love, seasons to revel and rejoice in the ties that bind.

I don’t know if Jerry was able to hang out at the receptions until the last dogs were hung, but dancing and partying long into the night weren’t among Jerry’s hopes and dreams for either time. He simply wanted to make it, to be there. And he was, in the right place, at the right time. For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.

Our lives arrange into rolling litanies of different seasons, rhythmic times surely appropriate for the moments at hand, days and nights of simply making it, being there, being present in the moment, and delighting in it all, come what may.

Put another way: Do what you can, with what you’ve got, while you’ve got it. Everything comes from God, and those times and seasons come as gifts from God, too. You are enough!

So, indulge a little, laugh when you can, shed tears when you must, be satisfied with what you have, put to fruitful use the gifts and talents that God has given you in the moment. Because time defines us. And thus it was for Jerry.

Times to plant seed in the fertile earth, and times to pluck up the bounty of the harvest.

Times to take some entrepreneurial risks with delicious seafood and vivid feather birds.

Times to laugh, and to joke; times to pack up the kids and go places close to home, and times to embark on grand adventures half a world away.

Times to fish and enjoy God’s Creation; times to play cards (and never having to worry about getting euchred when Jerry was your partner); always times for heaping helpings of Bush’s baked beans.

And above all, by grace, times to love – unconditionally and totally, over 61 years of steadfast marriage, the love of his life, Anna Marie, and the two generations of Ewings that their union delivered.

And now, sadly, comes a time to die, after a life well lived, bringing us to our time of weeping and our season of mourning – perhaps, for some of you, the first time you’ve ever felt such searing pain and groaning agony.

Red eyes swell with bitter tears, and tight throats lump with grieving emotion; the raw, jagged edges of broken hearts sharply and viciously stabbing deeply into the very fibers of your being, the depth of your grief reflecting the depth of your love, admiration, and respect for Jerry.

No, earthly life without Jerry in its times and seasons certainly won’t be the same. But though it doesn’t seem even remotely possible in this moment, joy and laughter will one day return to once again be part of our diverse and varied moments on earth.

We humans are in time and defined by its limits. From the midst of earthly time, we have a sense for eternal time, more than just a hunch or inkling that something else is out there. We dwell in the hope of that assurance, however dim, because God has dropped faith into our hearts through the work of the Holy Spirit and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

And through faith in Jesus, who entered our time and space to become one of us, we have – or should have – a mighty sense of the everlasting. We still cannot understand “what God has done from beginning to end,” but we can handle moments of grief and suffer a little more courageously, because of our oneness with the One who is the Alpha and the Omega – the beginning and the end – of all things.

From this time and season of letting go, the Lord urges us forward in faith, enjoying who and what we’ve got while we’ve got it, and always giving constant thanks to the God who forever gives us every good thing and who promises to make every new.

With eternity set into our hearts by faith, the Spirit moves us forward in life and opens our ears to that eternal melody of life everlasting sounding from God’s far-off country: Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling. What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear. I will cling to the old rugged cross and exchange it someday for a crown. And he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own.

Our souls and spirits are refreshed as we sing along as best we can to snippets of God’s life-affirming music, which declare that yes, there is a time for everything, and there also is an eternity for everyone – not always easy to see or obvious to sense, but we nevertheless render to God our thanks that we sense even the slightest glimpse of the heavenly banquet that lies ahead.

For the empty tomb of Easter morning declares that death does not, cannot, and will not have the last word or final say. And the light of comfort shines brightly in the assurance that we are not saying farewell forever but rather goodbye for now. For we will, one day, be together again with Jerry and all the saints, forever and ever.

In the meantime, artist and writer Bonnie Mohr frames our times and seasons of earthly living as a journey. Please see something of Jerry abiding in her words:

Life is not a race — but indeed a journey. Be honest. Work hard. Be choosy.

Say “thank you,” “I love you,” and “great job” to someone each day.

Go to church, take time for prayer. The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh.

Let your handshake mean more than pen and paper.

Love your life and what you’ve been given, it is not accidental — search for your purpose and do it as best you can.

Dreaming does matter. It allows you to become that which you aspire to be.

Laugh often. Appreciate the little things in life and enjoy them.

Some of the best things really are free.

Do not worry, less wrinkles are more becoming. Forgive, it frees the soul.

Take time for yourself — plan for longevity.

Recognize the special people you’ve been blessed to know.

Live for today, enjoy the moment.

By faith, Jerry made it. And so will we – in this world and the next.

Glory be to Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. Amen!

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