A Time to Keep, A Time to Cast Away

The text for today is Ecclesiastes 3:1-8:  “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter 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 cast 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 cast 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.”  Here ends the text.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Admit it!  Many of you (especially those of you from the baby boom generation), can’t hear this passage of Scripture without hearing Roger McGuinn’s twelve-string guitar or the “Turn! Turn! Turn!” chorus added by Pete Seger and sung by The Byrds in their folk rock version of this passage.  But even without its inclusion in popular culture and the peace movement, these verses form one of the most famous and best loved portions of Ecclesiastes.  With one short poetic line after another, Solomon skillfully drives home the truth stated in the first verse:  “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”

Now, all of these things are true, and most are applicable to marriage, but there is a particular reason why this passage seemed appropriate for this day.  As I considered what I would write for this special occasion, one pair of opposite seasons and times kept coming to my mind: “A time to keep, and a time to cast away.”  A time to keep, and a time to cast away. 

Why this half verse?  Well, how can I put this?  Let’s just say that Marissa will never be featured on one of the episodes of “Hoarders.”  She’s much more likely to cast away than to keep.   She probably wouldn’t have any of her papers, ribbons, or trophies from school if her mom had not rescued them from the garbage can. 

And I know Derek is at least a little bit the same.  It was his birthday.  Someone sent him a card.  He opened it up at our house.  He read it.  Then he took it over to the garbage and cast it away.  When questioned by one of the “keepers” in our house, he simply replied, “I read it.  It was nice.  Why do I need to keep it anymore?”  Makes perfect sense to me.

There is a time to keep, and a time to cast away.  And, Derek and Marissa, today I’m going to emphasize a few of those times those words will serve you well in your marriage.  And to help you to remember, I have two gifts.    

The first is a wooden chest.  In itself it is a keepsake.  It is one of a kind.  It was made by the loving, skillful hands of Grandpa Bob.  Use this to keep mementos of both the big occasions and milestones, but also to hold those little memories that you will find often end up being more significant when you look back on them.

The second is a waste basket.  Purchased at Wal-Mart, it is mass-produced consumable, meaning that there are a lot of them and that they expect that you will keep coming back for more when this one is no longer useful to you.  Use this for those items that need to be cast away or thrown out.

There is a time to keep, and a time to cast away.  I urge you, first of all, to cast away the world’s conceptions of love and marriage and keep the proper, godly understanding of marriage and love that you’ve been taught. 

We live in a season and time when there is much misunderstanding about marriage.  You’ve heard the frightening statistics.  As you’ve met with Pastor Nix, I’m sure that he has reminded you that good marriages do not just happen.  They require much work and sacrifice.  There are many forces, spiritually and socially, that battle against the union of marriage.  No wonder the rite of holy matrimony begins with this warning: “Marriage is not to be entered into inadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, deliberately, and in accordance with the purposes for which it was instituted by God.”

There is a time to keep and a time to cast away.  Keep confessing and casting out sins, one to the other.

God Himself instituted marriage in the Garden of Eden before the fall into sin as a means to preserve and prosper human life in His good creation.  This is why I prefer to use the term holy matrimony.   Marriage is holy because God, who is holy, instituted it.  He makes the two individuals into one flesh, and He blesses all creation through this union.  Because God instituted marriage, it is used in Scripture as an illustration of the relationship between God and His people.  This reality is particularly recognized in the Church’s teaching concerning holy matrimony.  “‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’  This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:31-32).

Like holy matrimony, there is much confusion about the nature of love.  It is frequently mistaken for a mere emotion, a feeling in the gut or the heart, a state that one can fall into and out of almost randomly.  Certainly, love brings all sorts of pleasant feelings, but real love is, oh, so much more.  Especially the kind of love spoken in the New Testament, agape, a favorable regard based on one’s choice, a commitment.  It is often allied with notions of sacrifice, one for the other. 

One of the most familiar Bible verses is: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son…” (John 3:16).  It is important to note that this verse does not say, “For God so loved the world that He got the “warm fuzzies.”  God’s gift of His Son was a result or consequence of His commitment, His deep resolve to secure our salvation.  God’s love results in action, specifically the action of self-giving or self-sacrifice expressed in 1 John 3:16: “By this we know love, that [Christ] laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”  And St. Paul connects Christ’s self-sacrifice and human marriage in Ephesians 5: “Husband, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her” (v 25). 

This is the definition of real love.  Real love considers the needs and well-being of the other person first, regardless of cost.  Over the years, emotions will wax and wane, but love, agape, chooses to serve the other because of thanksgiving and gratefulness for the mercy shown to the sinner in Christ.  Hear how Paul talks of the loving relationship: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).  Cast away all selfishness, envy, rudeness, or resentment.  Keep Christ at the center of your marriage.  Let His love be the fountain and source of your love.

There is a time to keep and a time to cast away.  Keep your relationship a high priority.   Relationships require time.  You must spend time together or you will grow apart.  You demonstrate what is important to you by how you spend your time.  How can you maintain your relationship as a high priority?  Many couples schedule a weekly date night even after the wedding.  Make the necessary arrangements.  Call the babysitter.  (I might know one or two people who would be available from time to time for a very reasonable price :-).  This ensures that you will focus on each other.  Communicate every single day.  Pray together.  Read Scripture and devotional literature together.

Even more importantly: Keep the Sabbath day holy together; that is, do not despise preaching and God’s Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.  There is no love greater than the love that God shows toward His rebellious children by granting the forgiveness of their sins.  This is one reason why it is extremely important for your family to be present regularly in God’s house when the Gospel is purely preached and the Sacraments are administered according to Christ’s institution.  As you hear that you are the recipient of unselfish divine love, that God in Christ has made the ultimate sacrifice on your behalf, God’s Spirit melts the hardened me-centered heart and leads to forgiveness.

“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”  We’ve heard this line many times; but it’s wrong.  The forgiver may not need an apology, but the one being forgiven certainly needs to say it.  By acknowledging your sinfulness, you are open to hearing God’s word of forgiveness.  A heart calloused and hardened against sin is not able to love or be loved.  Know how to say you are sorry.  Be honest enough to admit when you are at fault.  As you become more aware of your own personal failings and of God’s amazing grace and steadfast love, you can become more patient and able to forgive others.

The Christian life is a struggle for as long as we live in this world.  The forces of spirit and sinful flesh are perpetually at war inside us.  Believers are simultaneously sinners and saints.  We are accounted by God to be saints by virtue of Christ and His sacrifice on our behalf.  Yet we continue to transgress the Law of God in thought, word, and deed.  It is a paradox.  And this paradox increases exponentially in Christian marriage, which starts out with two sinners and two saints.  If you put two people together long enough, they will inevitably sin against each other.  That is the state of our condition until the resurrection on the Last Day when our glorification in Christ will be made perfect. 

Meanwhile, we must find ways to live together in peace.  Repentance and forgiveness are the empowering dynamic of our life together in this world.  The wrongdoer admits his guilt and determines to change his behavior.  And the other part graciously grants pardon.  Repentance and forgiveness are the key to a happy marriage.  Keep confessing and casting out sins to one another.  When you both abide in the forgiving love of Christ, your marriage will be able to weather any storm.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” And I believe that it’s now time for your vows and the consecration of your marriage.  Amen.


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