Today we start a new sermon series called “A Time for Everything”, based on the third chapter of the book of Ecclesiastes.
We read part of that chapter today. I’m sure many of you have heard it before. It gets used a lot at funerals. But a lot of times we don’t really think about the things it says very much.
The author of Ecclesiastes tells us that there is a time for everything. That includes some unpleasant things. War. Hatred. Tears. Death.
Now we know those things exist. In that sense, we know that there’s a time for them. But why? Why is there a time for these things?
And that’s not all the author of Ecclesiastes says. He goes on to say that God has made everything beautiful in its time. Really? I mean, we know these things exist, but how in the world can some of those things be beautiful?
So that’s what we’re going to talk about in this sermon series. And we’re going to start out with what may be the hardest to understand. Ecclesiastes says there is a time for love and a time for hate. And both of those are among the things God has made beautiful in their time.
Now, it’s pretty easy for us to understand how there can be a time to love. After all, we talked during Holy Week about how Jesus gave the disciples the new commandment that they love on another. Jesus said the two greatest commandments are that we love God and love our neighbor. It seems like it should always be the right time to love. And of course, as we say all the time, God is love. And because God is love, we can understand how love is beautiful.
But hate? How can there be a time for hate? How can hate be beautiful?
That’s why we read the passage from Luke. Listen to it again: “Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.” Jesus says we are blessed when people hate us. We are blessed when people exclude us and insult us. So, if the hatred of others leads to blessings for us, then apparently there must be an appropriate time for that hatred. There is a time for hate. And if that hate turns into blessings, then I guess, in a way, that hate is beautiful.
But here’s the thing. The hatred of others can lead to God’s blessings toward us--but not always. We are only blessed by the hatred of others when that hatred comes because of the Son of Man. We have nothing to fear from the hatred of others--as long as that hatred comes as a result of us living the way Jesus told us to live.
If we do the things Jesus told us to do, if we really live the way Jesus told us to live, there are going to be people who hate us. That can be true on a global scale, but it can be true on a local scale, too.
If we really live in accordance with our Christian principles, if we really live the way Jesus told us to live, we’re going to stand out from the crowd. We’re going to be different. That’s not easy. It’s not easy to different. And some people are not going to like us because we’re different.
It’s not easy to be the one who says no when everyone else says yes, or the one who says yes when everyone else says no. We talk about peer pressure for young people, and it certainly is a problem young people deal with, but it’s not only young people who deal with it. We deal with peer pressure all through our lives.
I suspect each one of us here can think of times where we went along with something, went along with the group, even though what the group wanted to do was not what we really thought was right. I suspect each one of us here has done something we wish we had not done, or has not done something we wish we had done, because we’re afraid of what other people will think of us. We’re afraid other people will think we were weird or strange. Maybe we don’t think of it as hatred, but we’re afraid people won’t like us as much if we don’t go along. So, we go along to get along.
It’s understandable. I don’t know anyone who enjoys being disliked. I can’t imagine that anyone, anywhere enjoys being hated. But Jesus says we need to be willing to risk it. We need to risk being disliked, even hated, because of our belief in him. Jesus said we will be blessed if we are hated, and excluded, and insulted, and rejected because of him. If we are willing to risk those things, we will receive God’s blessings.
So, as often happens, we have to make a choice. We have to choose, basically, whether we want the blessings of the people around us, the blessings of the world, or whether we want God’s blessings. Because nowhere in the Bible does it tell us we will be blessed if we go along to get along. Jesus never did that himself. He could have. It would’ve made his life on earth a lot easier. But he never did. And he never told us to do it, either.
Now, understand, that does not mean that we should walk around looking for trouble. Jesus did not tell us to go around doing things with the goal of having people hate us. Jesus did not have a goal of having people hate him. But Jesus knew that some people would hate him as a result of what he said and what he did. He was willing to risk that in order to do what God wanted him to do. And if we claim to follow Jesus, then we need to be willing to risk that, too.
And Jesus tells us that if people do hate us because we follow him, that’s okay. In fact, Jesus says it’s more than okay. Jesus tells us to rejoice in it. Jesus tells us to leap for joy because of it. It’s nothing to worry about. Jesus says, hey, that’s how people treated the prophets, too. And of course, it’s also how people treated Jesus himself. He says we don’t need to worry about that hatred, because when people hate us because of our faith in Jesus, we will receive our reward in heaven.
That’s a tough thing. I don’t like it when someone just does not like me, much less hates me. Again, I don’t know anyone who does. But we need to be willing to accept it. And that acceptance, really, comes in two ways. We’ve talked about the first: being willing to risk being hated. But there’s another way we need to accept it. We need to accept it by not responding in the same way.
That’s what Jesus tells us later in our reading. Jesus tells us, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” In other words, Jesus says that, while there’s a time for hate, there’s also a time for love.
That’s a tough thing, too. It’s not easy to love someone who hates us. It’s not easy to love people who exclude us and insult us. It’s not easy to love people who reject us.
It’s not our natural reaction at all. Our natural reaction is to fight back. You insult me, I insult you. You’re mean to me, I’m mean to you. We tend to treat each other the way we get treated.
But that’s not what Jesus said. Jesus did not say we should treat others as they treat us. Jesus said to treat others the way we would like them to treat us. In other words, we need to treat people well no matter how they treat us. And we need to love people even if they hate us.
And Jesus, as usual, gave us the example. We just went through Holy Week and Easter. Think of Jesus hanging on the cross. Jesus was hated. Jesus was excluded. Jesus was insulted. Jesus was rejected. People did to Jesus everything he talked about in this set of Bible verse.
And how did Jesus respond? He loved them. He blessed them. He prayed for them. He pleaded with God on their behalf. He said, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.”
We’ve heard that so much that we take it for granted. We say, well, that’s Jesus being Jesus. That’s Jesus doing what Jesus is supposed to do. And it is, but that does not mean it was easy for Jesus. That does not mean it was his natural reaction. Jesus, while he was on earth, was fully human as well as fully divine. I’m sure there was at least a part of him that did not want to love those people who hated him at all.
But he did. He did the hard thing. He overcame that part of him that wanted to respond to these people in kind, that wanted to treat them the way they were treating him. Jesus had enough love to accept what was done to him and love the people anyway. And that’s what we’re supposed to do, too.
There’s a time for hate, but there’s not a time for us to hate. There’s a time for hate because when we live our lives the way Jesus told us to, not everyone is going to be happy about that. But there’s also a time for love. And when we respond to hate with love, even that hate becomes beautiful. And then we receive blessings from God.