13 September 2018

Hebrews 4
Ecclesiastes 3

All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless.

Ecclesiastes 3:19b

Without warning, my seminary colleague and good friend over many years dropped dead at home from a heart attack last week, age 65. We are creatures in time, not exempt from the inevitable. And not always seeing it coming.

The wisdom writer wrestles with this paradox of our biology. We share death with the animals. What’s different?

The good, the bad and the ugly. Those with tails and horns and those driving around Cape Town. Those attending Tokai Community Church and those free ranging in Kruger Park. Our time runs out.

There’s a wonderful obviousness and irrefutability to this creatures-in-time thing, with us living between the poles of birth and death.

We were asked what song they were playing before the service started when Ecclesiastes 3 was scheduled for the reading and sermon. They said the Byrds ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’. Actually, the Byrds was just an arrangement of Pete Seeger’s original (1950s), his anti-war song where he’s hoping for …”a time for peace, I swear it’s not too late”. (Catch a version of Pete Seeger and Judy Collins on YouTube in Black & White TV—yes that long ago)

But Pete Seeger’s other three original words, not lifted from Ecclesiastes 3, were “Turn, turn, turn!”. That became the song’s title, perhaps alluding to the turning globe of Earth time, but also calling for a turn-around.

I like that. ‘Turn’ in Hebrew (šūb) is used as picture-word for the turning around of repentance. We drum “Say sorry to your sister for hurting her!” into our little boys. Mumble, mumble… “sorreee”. But we find the grown-up version, repentance, a lot harder. It’s not a word, it’s a whole behaviour pattern.

Animals do killing nothing like as well as human beings and they’re not candidates for repentance. We are deliberate sinners and really do need to turn around and say “Sorry!”, both to the Lord and to our neighbour. And that includes our spouse, colleagues, employees and teenagers, among others.

Moreover, “Sorry!” is not absurd or meaningless. Forgiveness and the Lord’s embrace awaits.