Seven Weeks to Wisdom – Week 6: The Importance of Knowing “the Proper Time” – Part 1

Lesson 6 of the Quest for Truth "Seven Weeks to Wisdom" curriculum.

Lesson Developed by

Skip Masback

Goal

Bible Study, Appreciation of Biblical Wisdom as Guidance for Life

Materials Checklist

  • Bibles: New Revised Standard or New International Versions
  • Candle
  • Copy of “Seven Weeks to Wisdom: Week VII Handout of Excerpts if you prepare one
  • Print out copies for all of the excerpts from Skip Masback’s sermon “Now is Our Time” (attached)
  • Writing Instruments
  • Flip Chart Pad (with Post-It strip or masking tape)
  • Three small different colored pads of post it notes
  • Enough 4×6 index cards for each student to have two cards
  • The sheets of oaktag from last week with the headings: “The Great Book of our Youth Group’s Wisdom: A Collection of Proverbs.”
  • 3 Music Playing Devices (e.g. Smart phones, Tablets, Laptops) with speakers
  • A Way of accessing recordings and lyrics of the song “Turn, Turn, Turn” performed by The Byrds. The following links are to ad-sponsored sites. The song is readily available on apps like Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music, and Google Play without ads).

The Byrds: “Turn, Turn, Turn” Recording

Lyrics: The Byrd’s “Turn, Turn, Turn”

Optional Additional Resource: Interview with Pete Seegur explaining the origins and evolution of his song “Turn, Turn, Turn”, and his understanding of its relevance to today:

Pete Seegur Discusses His Song: “Turn, Turn, Turn

Purpose

To provide the youth with: a) an understanding of the importance of knowing “the proper time” in wisdom literature; b) the value of wisdom as guidance for life.

Objectives

To engage the doctrine of the “proper time” in wisdom literature.

Further Study

These are resources the leader may choose to review while preparing the lesson. In some circumstances, you may choose to share parts of them with your youth:

Introduction for Leaders

Here are some resources the leader may choose to review while preparing the lesson. In some circumstances, you may choose to share parts of them with your youth:

From Skip Masback, “Now is our Time” Sermon, November 13, 2011:

By 7:00 on the evening of June 18, 1815, the Duke of Wellington’s exhausted troops were on the brink of defeat. They had been fighting since 11:30 in the morning, ground down and pushed back by more than 12 charges by French cavalry and infantry. The Waterloo battle to stop Napoleon had now come down to this: a do or die last stand on a sodden ridge line.

At 7:30 p.m., Napoleon ordered his invincible Imperial Guard to deliver one final, crushing blow to the heart of Wellington’s line. French drums beat the Imperial Guard on towards his position, and Wellington ordered Major General Peregrine Maitland and his 1400 Foot Guards to take cover in the shelter of his ridge line.

As the French bore down on them, Wellington’s line braced for the attack, and Maitland’s Foot Guards remained hidden, lying prone in the wheat behind the ridge. Wellington waited as the French closed to within 50 yards, then 40 yards, then 30 yards before he finally turned to Maitland with the battle’s most fateful order: “Now, Maitland. Now’s your time.”

Suddenly, a wall of 1400 red coats loomed up before the French, firing into their ranks. As the French line staggered, Wellington ordered Maitland into a counter attack that drove Napoleon’s most fearsome troops reeling back down the hill.

It was one of the most consequential 15 minutes in world history, and it clearly turned on Wellington’s boldness, but it was boldness at the right time. Boldness at the right time is the key to greatness.

We all know how important boldness and timing can be. There’s an old story of two lawyer friends who were waiting in a teller line when armed robbers burst into the bank and lined the customers up against the wall to steal their cash. Suddenly, one lawyer felt his friend press something into his jacket pocket. “Psst! What’s that?” he whispered. “Psst!”his friend whispered back, “That’s the $100 I owe you.” Boldness and timing.

You and I live in a “timing is everything” world. We live surrounded by devices that mark our time. But if you reflect for even a moment on your own life story, or on our larger story as a people, you’ll realize that, actually, the really significant chapters of our stories are not governed by the regularities of clock time or calendar time.

 Our really significant chapters are governed by the mysteries of God time.  Sometimes no matter what we do we can’t make any headway for years on end; sometimes it seems that everything comes together in an instant and a path opens to the fulfillment of our hopes and dreams.

The Greeks called that moment when everything comes together, that opportune time that leads to fulfillment, a kairos moment. “Kairos” may be an unfamiliar Greek word, but almost all of us are familiar with the notion of “the right time” – “the opportune time.”

Our Ecclesiastes reading reminds us that our “kairos” times are in God’s hands: “a time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted, [3:2] and so on.

Like Wellington, every military leader knows the key to victory is to strike boldly at “the right time.” Every surgeon knows you must operate at “the opportune time.” Every business person knows there is a right time to invest and a right time to sell off. Boldness at the right time, at the kairos moment, is the key to greatness.

There are kairos moments in the lives of individuals, of communities, and even of civilizations.

From: Richard Niell Donovan at www.lectionary.org:

“The time (Greek:  kairos) is fulfilled” (v. 15).  The Greeks have another word, chronos, to denote chronological time.  Kairos is significant time – the moment of truth – the decisive moment.  When we talk about the number of days that a ship takes to go from one port to the next, we are talking chronos time.  When we say, “my ship has come in,” we are talking kairos time.  If we miss our departure but are able to sail a day later, we have lost only a day of chronos time.  However, if we are running for our lives and miss the last ship, it is an altogether different matter  kairos time. To miscalculate chronos is inconvenient, but to miscalculate kairos is tragic.  Jesus says that the kairos “is fulfilled.”  The decisive moment has arrived.  God’s reign is at hand.  Heads up!  Pay attention!  Don’t miss this one!  Your life is at stake!”

From Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology,  v. III at 369-372:

[369]”3. ‘Kairos’ and ‘Kairoi’: We spoke of the moment at which history, in terms of concrete situation, had matured to the point of being able to receive the breakthrough of the central manifestation of the Kingdom of God. The New Testament has called this moment the “fulfillment of time,” in Greek, kairos.

This term has been frequently used since we introduced it into theological and philosophical discussion in connection with the religious socialist movement in Germany after the First World War. It was chosen to remind Christian theology of the fact that the biblical writers, not only of the Old but also of the New Testament, were  aware of the self-transcending dynamics of history. And it was chosen to remind philosophy of the necessity of dealing with history, not in terms of its logical and categorical structure only, but also in terms of its dynamics. And, above all, kairos  should express the feeling of many people in central Europe after the first World War that a moment of history had appeared which was pregnant with a new understanding of the meaning of history and life. Whether or not this feeling was empirically confirmed – in part it was, in part it was not – the concept itself retains its significance and belongs in the whole of systematic theology.

Its original meaning – the right time, the time in which something can be done – must be contrasted with chronos, measured time or clock time. The former is qualitative, the latter quantitative. In the English word “timing,” something of the qualitative character of time is expressed, and if one would speak of God’s “timing” in his providential activity, this term would come to the meaning of kairos.

In ordinary Greek language, the word is used for any practical purpose in which a good occasion for some action is given. In the New Testament it is the translation of a word used by Jesus when he speaks of his time which has not yet come – the time of his suffering and death. It is used by both John the Baptist and Jesus when they announce the fulfillment of time with respect to the Kingdom of God, which is “at hand.” Paul uses kairos when he speaks in a world-historical view of the moment of time in which God could send his son, the moment which was [370]selected to become the center of history.

In order to recognize this “great kairos,” one must be able to see the “signs of the times,” as Jesus says when he accuses his enemies of not seeing them. Paul in his description of the kairos, looks at the situation both of paganism and of Judaism, and in the Deutero-Pauline literature the world-historical  and cosmic view of the appearance of the Christ plays an increasingly important role.

We have interpreted the fulfillment of time as the moment of maturity in a particular religious and cultural development – adding, however, the warning that the maturity means not only the ability to receive the central manifestation of the Kingdom of God but also the greatest power to resist it. For maturity is the result of education by the law, and in some who take the law with radical seriousness, maturity becomes despair of the law, with the ensuing quest for that which breaks through the law as “good news.”

The experience of a kairos  has occurred again and again in the history of the churches, although the term was not used. Whenever the prophetic Spirit arose in the churches, the “third stage” was spoken of, the stage of the “rule of Christ” in the “one thousand-year” period. This stage was seen as immediately imminent and so became the basis for prophetic criticism of the churches in their distorted stage. When the churches rejected this criticism or accepted it in a partial, compromising way, the prophetic Spirit was forced into sectarian movements of an originally revolutionary character – until the sects became churches and the prophetic Spirit became latent.

The fact that kairos-experiences belong to the history of the churches and that the “great kairos,” the appearance of the center of history, is again and again re-experienced through relative “kairoi,” in which the Kingdom of God manifests itself in a particular breakthrough, is decisive for our consideration. The relation of the one kairos to the kairoi is the relation of the criterion to that which stands under the criterion and the relation of the source of power to that which is nourished by the source of power. Kairoi have occurred and are occurring in all preparatory and receiving moments in the church latent and manifest. For although the prophetic Spirit is latent or even repressed over long stretches of history, it is never absent and breaks through the barriers of the law in a kairos.

Awareness of a kairos is a matter of vision. It is not an object of analysis and calculation such as could be given in psychological or sociological terms. It is not a matter of detached observation but of involved [371] experience. This, however, does not mean that observation and analysis are excluded; they serve to objectify the experience and to clarify and enrich the vision. But observation and analysis do not produce the experience of the kairos. The prophetic Spirit works creatively without any dependence on argumentation and good will.  But every moment which claims to be Spiritual must be tested, and the criterion is the “great kairos.” When the term kairos was used for the critical and creative situation after the First World War in central Europe, ti was used not only by the religious socialist movement in obedience to the great kairos – at least in intention – but also by the nationalist movement, which, through the voice of Naziism, attacked the great kairos and everything for which it stands.The latter use was a demonically distorted experience of a kairos and led inescapably to self-destruction. The Spirit Naziism claimed was the spirit of the false prophets, prophets who spoke for an idolatrous nationalism and racialism. Against them the Cross of the Christ was and is the absolute criterion.

Two things must be said about kairoi: first, they can be demonically distorted, and second, they can be erroneous. And this latter characteristic is always the case to a certain extent, even in the “great kairos.” The error lies not in the kairos-quality of the situation but rather in the judgment about its character in terms of physical time, space and causality, and also in terms of human reaction and unknown elements in the historical constellation. In other words, the kairso-experience stands under the order of historical destiny, which makes foresight in any scientific-technical sense impossible. No date foretold in the experience of a kairos was ever correct; no situation envisaged as the result of a kairos ever came into being. But something happened to some people through the power of the Kingdom of God as it became manifest in history, and history has been changed ever since.

A last question arises as to whether there are periods in which no kairos is experienced. Obviously the Kingdom of God, and the Spiritual Presence are never absent in any moment of time, and by the very nature of the historical processes, history is always self-transcendent. But the experience of the presence of the Kingdom of God as determining history is not always given. History does not move in an equal rhythm but is a dynamic force moving through cataracts and quiet stretches. history has its ups and downs, its periods of speed and of slowness, of extreme creativity and conservative bondage to tradition.

[372] The men of the late Old Testament period complained that there was a dearth of the Spirit, and in the history of the churches this complaint has been reiterated. The Kingdom of God is always present, but the experience of its history-shaking power is not. Kiroi are rare and the great kairos is unique, but together they determine the dynamics of history in its self-transcendence.

 

 

 

 

Gather

Gather (10 minutes)

  • Invite the youth to sit in a circle. As they settle down, place a candle in the center of the circle and ask one of the young people to light it.
  • Offer the following prayer from the Sufi Tradition:

All-powerful Creator, Sustainer, Judge and Forgiver of our shortcomings.
Lord God of the East and of the West, of the worlds above and below, and of the seen and unseen beings,
Pour upon us Thy Love and Thy Light,
Give sustenance to our bodies, hearts and souls.
Use us for the purpose that Thy Wisdom chooseth,
and guide us on the path of Thine Own Goodness.
Draw us closer to Thee every moment of our life,
Until in us be reflected Thy Grace, Thy Glory, Thy Wisdom, Thy Joy, and Thy Peace. Amen.

Introduction to the Session (5 minutes)

The Doctrine of the Proper Time

The wisdom writers committed their energies to reducing the anxiety over the hazards of life by identifying the inherent act-consequence nature of God’s creation. Once the order or reality could be discovered, memorialized and passed from one generation to another, the observant could conduct themselves in accordance with proverbial wisdom so as to maximize their rewards and minimize their suffering at the hands of the contingencies of life. Only a bit of reflection reveals, however, that there were inherent limits in the utility of proverbial wisdom. We’re going to examine one of those inherent limits today.

  • Consider the wisdom offered in Proverbs 24:11-12:

If you hold back from rescuing those taken away to death,
those who go staggering to the slaughter;
 if you say, “Look, we did not know this”—
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it?
And will he not repay all according to their deeds?

  • What is the wisdom communicated by this proverb? Do you think this is wise advice?
  • Ok. Now consider the wisdom offered in Proverb 26:17:

Like somebody who takes a passing dog by the ears
is one who meddles in the quarrel of another.

  • What is the wisdom communicated by this proverb? Do you think this is wise advice?
  • Do you see the dilemma? On the one hand, they are both offered as the counsel of wisdom to guide our conduct – and one can see the truth, the wisdom, in each. And yet, they are flatly inconsistent. One seems to counsel intervention and the other seems to counsel minding one’s own business rather than intervene. In fact, the authors of the Bible’s proverbial wisdom literature weren’t the least bit embarrassed by such seeming inconsistencies. Sometimes they put the seemingly inconsistent advice in back to back Proverbs! Consider Proverbs 26-4-5:

Do not answer fools according to their folly, or you will be a fool yourself.
Answer fools according to their folly or they will be wise in their own eyes.

  • Is this same dilemma is embedded in many wisdom sayings we often hear today? Consider the following:
    “Look before you leap.” What does this mean. Is it true?
  • Ok, then consider the following:
    “He who hesitates is lost.” What does this mean. Is it also true?
  • Now consider the following:
    “Two heads are better than one.” What does this mean? Is it true?
  • Ok, then consider the following:
    “Too many cooks spoil the broth.” What does this mean? Is it also true?
  • Now consider the following:
    “A Stitch in time saves nine.” What does this mean? Is it true?
  • Ok, then consider the following:
    “Haste makes waste.” What does this mean? Is it also true?
  • What do you think? Were the authors of Proverbs lazy or just not paying attention to the inconsistencies? Do the inconsistencies mean that the “wisdom” is useless and impossible to follow? Wouldn’t the wisdom literature be more helpful if someone had just edited out the inconsistencies so the guidance was simple and consistent? Or is the challenge that reality is just too complicated for simple, one saying fits all situations? This week we’re going to explore one solution to the apparent inconsistencies in wisdom literature: the doctrine of “the proper time.”

 

Engage

Engage (25 minutes)

Activity 1: The Importance of Knowing “the Proper Time”

As Yale professors John Collins and Joel Baden put it:

It is of the essence of the wisdom literature, however, that advice that is right for one situation may be wrong for another. As Qoheleth will say, there is a time for everything . . . ” Wisdom is not a matter of knowing a stock of universal truths. It is a matter of knowing the right response on a specific occasion. “Qoheleth” is the name given the “teacher,” the presumed author of the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes, another important part of Scripture’s wisdom literature. Qoheleth’s most famous teaching on importance of understanding “proper timing” was set out in 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 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.

Do these words sound familiar? They should. The legendary folk singer Pete Seegur adapted them for one of his most famous songs, “Turn, Turn, Turn.” You may be more familiar with the version of the song later recorded by The Byrds.

  • Pass out the lyrics to the song and play the recording by the Byrds (If you have the means to show a video with a monitor or projector, you may choose to play the song as a video.)

The Byrd’s “Turn, Turn, Turn Recording

Lyrics: The Byrd’s “Turn, Turn, Turn”

  • What does this Bible passage/these song lyrics mean? How does the teaching of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 help us understand how to use the Bible’s proverbial wisdom?
  • Here’s another Biblical passage, this one from the prophet Isaiah. Ask one of the youth to read verse 23, and then invite the youth to go around in a circle taking turns reading a verse:

Isaiah 28:23-29

23 Listen, and hear my voice;
Pay attention, and hear my speech.
24 Do those who plow for sowing plow continually?
Do they continually open and harrow their ground?
25 When they have leveled its surface,
do they not scatter dill, sow cummin,
and plant wheat in rows
and barley in its proper place,
and spelt as the border?
26 For they are well instructed;
their God teaches them.
27 Dill is not threshed with a threshing sledge,
nor is a cart wheel rolled over cummin;
but dill is beaten out with a stick,
and cummin with a rod.
28 Grain is crushed for bread,
but one does not thresh it forever;
one drives the cart wheel and horses over it,
but does not pulverize it.
29 This also comes from the LORD of hosts;
he is wonderful in counsel,
and excellent in wisdom.

  • Let’s explore what Isaiah has to teach us about wisdom. Here are the first three verses:

23 Listen, and hear my voice;
Pay attention, and hear my speech.
24 Do those who plow for sowing plow continually?
Do they continually open and harrow their ground?
25 When they have leveled its surface,
do they not scatter dill, sow cummin,
and plant wheat in rows
and barley in its proper place,
and spelt as the border?

  • Is it right for the farmer to plow the field? Is it right to keep plowing the field all year? How does the farmer know when to stop plowing?
  • Is it right to sow seeds of dill, cumin, barley and spelt? When? How does the farmer know when to sow?
  • Here are the next set of verses:

27 Dill is not threshed with a threshing sledge,
nor is a cart wheel rolled over cummin;
but dill is beaten out with a stick,
and cummin with a rod.

  • It seems that threshing sledges, sticks, rods, and cart wheels are all correct tools for working with a grain. But does the farmer thresh dill with a threshing sledge or beat it out with a stick? How does he know?
  • Does the farmer beat out the cumin out with a rod or roll over it with a cart wheel?
  • How does he know?
  • Here are the final set of verses

28 Grain is crushed for bread,
but one does not thresh it forever;
one drives the cart wheel and horses over it,
but does not pulverize it.

  • Apparently the farmer threshes/crushes grain for bread, in part by driving the cart wheel and horses over it, but the farmer does not thresh the grain forever and does not pulverize it. How does the farmer know how long to thresh? How many passes to take over it with the cart wheel and horses. How does he know?

Reflect

Reflect (15 minutes)

  • Pass out two or three index cards and a writing implement to each of the youth. Introduce the concluding reflection with language to the following effect:

All of three of the sets of verses in the Isaiah passage discuss tools that are appropriate for some tasks and should be used for some period of time, but their utility does not mean that they should be used for all purposes or for an unlimited period of time. The counsel to use them, like proverbial guidance, is correct, but it must be applied with good judgment about which tool (which saying) is appropriate for which task (for which circumstance) and at which time, and for how long. The passage sheds light on how we are to use proverbial wisdom. Remember the teaching of Yale Professors John Collins and Joel Baden that we read at the beginning of the lesson: it is not sufficient to simply memorize a collection of universal truths, we must somehow gain the experience, the deep understanding, the discernment to know which saying is appropriate for which time and circumstance.

  • Surely, the importance of knowing “the proper time” is as applicable to daily life as a young person as it was applicable to the daily decisions encountered by the people of ancient Israel. Ask the youth to reflect on examples of decisions in their daily lives that call for an understanding of “the proper time.”
  • As volunteers offer examples, let the group discuss what “the proper time” means in the context of that example. Continue to welcome examples and conversation as long as time permits.
  • Ask the youth to jot down any of the examples discussed that they would like to think about during the coming week as idea generators. Ask them to reflect periodically on the wisdom writers’ emphasis on the importance of “knowing the proper time” during the week.
  • Pass out copies of the short excerpt from Skip Masback’s sermon, “Now is Our Time” and invite them to read it during the week. Invite them, As the week goes on, to jot down an example or two of decisions in adolescent life that require attention to understanding the proper time and to bring the index card back with them to the next gathering.

 

Send Forth

Send Forth (5 minutes)

Invite the youth to join you in prayer. Let them know before you begin that there will be an opportunity for those who wish to lift up requests for God’s help with specific elements of wisdom during the prayer. Give a few possible examples. Note that every time a “petition” is lifted up, the group will respond with, “Lord, hear our prayer.”

Begin the prayer by thanking God for the blessings of creation, the God-given capacities we have to learn from experience, and the lessons learned by those who have gone before that they have passed along to us as “mother wit.” Invite the students to voice petitions asking God to help us embrace particular pieces of wisdom in our lives, communities, and our world. After any student offers a petition (e.g., “Lord, help us to be mindful the need to think through the consequences of what we say before we speak”) lead the group in responding “Lord, hear our prayer.”

Additional Document

Masback-Sermon-Excerpts.pdf