to everything there is a season

Sermon preached at DumfriesNorthwestChurch – Sunday, 11 August 2013

Ecclesiastes 3 verses 1-15  (Authorised Version)

“To Everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven…..”

These words from the Old Testament book of  Ecclesiastes were probably brought to the attention of many people through the soaring harmonies ,backed by the jingle-jangle sound of a Rickenbacker guitar – by, yes, the legendary American band, the Byrds.

The song was “Turn! Turn! Turn!” composed in 1950 by Pete Seeger who based his lyrics on that Scripture passage; the Byrds’ electric and electrifying version being released at the end of 1965.

It seems like yesterday!

I went off to University at St Andrew’s in 1966 with a copy of the “Turn! Turn! Turn!” L.P.

… and with high hopes

“To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven…. and that time was then: way back in the mid-60s : those were the days when hair was long and attention spans short.  We were going to change the world!

I was back in St Andrews a short while ago. It was exam time and it brought back memories – how, in 1973, I graduated and left to face the “real world”

The times, they were a changin’

But many of us don’t like change. We’d rather cling to the known, the tried and the tested.

Two summers before I left for the last time, the Byrds disbanded.  Their swansong record was the old hymn, “Farther Along”…. perhaps ,in a way ,it was prophetic….

…. because, you see, we can’t stand still. If we do, we stagnate and our existence becomes stultified.

Nor can we, on our own, radically change the world – history is littered with failed revolutionaries -and you don’t need a college education to tell you that.

Nor can we put the clock back.

Many of us look with real nostalgia at old photographs.

Have you seen the collections of old Dumfries gathered together by Desmond Donaldson in that splendid series of books “Bygone Dumfries and Galloway”?

We look at these photographs and think, “Ah, those were the days!”

With nostalgia, we recall the real sense of community that existed then – a time of neighbourliness, of mutual help and support. A sense too of identity.

This town was a place with a large labour force, employed locally.

Think of all the mills and factories there used to be: Wolsey at Ryedale, Gibson’s the glove maker at what was known as “Tartan Row” (Maxwell Street), Robertson’s, the Nithsdale Mills, McGeorge’s, Caruther’s Mineral and Soft-Drinks factory, the Carnation Milk factory, Johnston Cars at Heathhall …… and so on.

These industries employed literally thousands of local people…. so much so that the Suspension Bridge over the Nith was built for the Mill workers.

What about recreation?

Well, on a Sunday, there was a choice of twenty churches or other places of worship – probably 22 at one point.

Spoiled for choice for cinemas: the Lyceum, the Playhouse, the Electric Theatre (actually the Theatre Royal, the oldest working theatre in Scotland patronised by Robert Burns himself – and still going strong)

How about afternoon swimming in the Nith and then going to Dante’s Cafe or its next door neighbour, Setti’s, before going over the road to the Regal?

Or a visit to the famous Fuscos in the Vennel or to Piolis and then off to the “jiggin'” – Oughtons in the High Street or the Plaza just off it, the Imperial, the “Jungle” (or, to give it its proper name – the David Street Hall), the Unionist Rooms or the Assembly Rooms in George Street.

A nostalgic trip to Rugmans in Irish Street – where in 1969 Black Sabbath with Ozzy himself played… at the princely admission price of two shillings and sixpence (12 and a half pence in today’s money)

A nice cup of Earl Grey at the Steeple Tea-Rooms – a favourite meeting place at one time – for genteel ladies who shopped and lunched.

And what a range of shops: Binns, McGowans, Coopers, the Home and Colonial, Lennox’s, or Beatties for groceries…. so many emporia from which to choose.

Ah, the good old days!  Relatively crime-free, a close-knit community, God-fearing, innocent to a degree –

– yet it was a time of long hours and low wages, of poor working conditions, of poverty – sometimes grinding poverty – bare-foot children, hunger, tuberculosis, damp and cramped housing, poor nutrition.

The older photographs of ordinary folk going about their ordinary daily business are described by Donaldson (in the introduction to his first volume of pictures) are “poorly clothed, badly fed and disgracefully housed” – and he states, “It is obvious that those who suffered most were the children and the old people”

Of course, this ancient Burgh has a magnificent history.  It is a place of glorious tradition and rich heritage: the Town of Bruce, Burns & Barrie and, amazingly, even more people of note and achievement – and that’s something we are justifiably proud and of which we should never lose sight.

Yet it’s just as well that we can’t relive the past.

To everything there is a season…….

What we have been given is the present.

The past is gone and the future is beyond our reach.

It is down to us to fulfil the promise of the past and to build the foundations for the future….. by what we do in the NOW.

The New Testament doesn’t talk of God’s Kingdom in the past tense, or the future, as much as it does in the present. It is very much NOW that counts.

A potential follower of Jesus said that he first wanted to bury his father, to which Christ replied: “Let the dead bury their own dead”

And to another who first wanted to say goodbye to his household: “No one, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the Kingdom of God”

Another time, he said to his disciples, “Do not worry, saying ‘What shall we eat? or What shall we drink? or What shall we wear?  Seek first the Kingdom of God…. do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things.'”

Christ talked about the importance of the present time. Faith can’t be preserved like last year’s fruit, nor can it be postponed.  NOW is all we have – let’s make the most of it.

The grace of God is here -moving with us.

Our times are in his hand. He dictates the pace. He holds the key to change.

To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven.

To God alone belongs the past, the present and the future.

Let us recommit ourselves to God and let him shape and mould us -our present thoughts, words and actions – so that we may honour what has been achieved before us, to serve our neighbours around us, and to build for those who come after us.

Now glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:

As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end   AMEN

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August 12, 2013 · 12:06

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