Time for all things

Good morning, Friends! Thank you all for coming to worship today.

I expect today a lot of our members are at the beach this weekend, or down at the lake, or up in the mountains. This weekend is the last holiday before school really gets geared up, and a lot of families are seizing the opportunity to get away and be together.

That’s all right. This is also the time of year when the fall harvest gets going. Down by the coast, it’s the start of hurricane season. It’s the turning of the year, from summer into autumn. And we love to enjoy just one more sweet weekend of summer time.

This morning, I’d like us to look at the whole business of time – what time is, how we use it, how we view it, what its power over us is. Things like that.

There are a whole lot of images and proverbs we use when we talk about time. We’ve got Old Father Time, with a long grey beard, and we’ve got Baby New Year, with a bare butt.

People often see time as the enemy – it’s always chasing us, catching up with us when we’re not ready.

People say, “Time is money!” And we do all kinds of things to save time, and cram more activities into our lives.

Take a look at the shelves in any bookstore. They’re full of books about how to manage time better. They say we need to be more efficient. If we just try harder, we’ll be able to do a lot more.

What we never ask is whether we should be doing those things in the first place?

Just before I left for vacation, I bought myself a new calendar for the year ahead. And it’s already filling up. I’m not sure that I want to be doing all of those things. But they’re there. And because they’re on the calendar, I feel I have to do them.

I’ve got meetings, and doctor’s appointments, and deadlines, and reminders. I get tired just thinking about my calendar. It’s a heck of a way to live. And we all do it.

So, this morning, let’s just pause for a minute, and look at time in a different way – in God’s way. Let’s read some timeless ideas, from the book of Ecclesiastes.

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
A time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
A time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
A time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
A time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
A time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
A time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Time is, quite literally, all that we have. We have days, and years, and hours and moments. Time is all we have. Human life, the way we experience it, is really just time.

And time is really a gift. It’s the gift of God. Our life, our time, is a gift. We can’t be born any earlier. We can’t really make our lives much longer. Time is a gift.

When we think about time – whether we battle it, or fear it, whether we chop it up into little boxes or whether we waste it – we need to remember that it’s the gift of God.

Before we talk about anything else, we need to talk about receiving the gift. Before we can use any gift, there has to be a moment at which we receive it. There’s a point where the gift is extended to us, and a point where it’s received.

When we get a present, we should acknowledge the giver, and express our gratitude for the gift. Might be nice to ask the giver what their intention was, what use they originally hoped we’d make of it.

Usually, we don’t think of time as a gift. We take it for granted. We snatch it. Or we protect it. We almost never give thanks for it, and simply appreciate it, and enjoy it, together with God who is the giver of it.

How many times do we wake up in the morning and say, “Thank you, God for this day. . .” That’s a prayer. We need to be thanking God, every morning: “This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!” (Psalm 118:24)

We do that so seldom. And it’s so important. It’s important for God. I think God likes to be thanked. And it’s important for us. We need to be thankful. It’s important for our life, and health.

Little kids have a healthier sense of time than most grown-ups do. Kids know how to rejoice and be glad in the present moment, while grown-ups are always looking ahead to the next thing.

I can remember whole hours I spent when I was a kid, just watching a frog. That was all there was, in the whole world – just me, and a pond, and a frog. It was great! Kids can make a whole world out of a crayon and a piece of paper. Or a pile of leaves. Or a bath full of bubbles.

The gift of time can be an afternoon at the beach. You don’t think about when you’re going home. You don’t think about what you have to do that evening, or tomorrow. At the beach, you’re just there. The sand and waves and the sun are all that matter.

Somewhere along the line, we teach kids how to “do time” the grown-up way. They learn to chop it up into 7 periods a day, with 6 minutes between classes. I don’t care how good the teacher is. Any subject taught that way is not going to be learned well. It may have the right total of minutes. But it’s no way to use time.

I read somewhere once that the major reason for school isn’t really to learn the class content. It’s to get kids used to the adult way of life. They’ve got to get used to regular hours, every day, with time divided up into blocks. The rewards in school go to people who stay on task, and live by the bell, and put in the overtime. Kids who do that are going to be a “success”.

Dear God in Heaven, what are we teaching them? What are we doing to the precious gift of time?

And it’s like that, everywhere we go. We eat fast food, because we’re too busy to cook. We eat on the go, because we’re too busy to sit down, and actually enjoy what we’re eating. We’re too busy to live!

I remember, years ago, the buzz word was that we needed to spend “quality time” with our families. What that meant was that we were supposed to carve out chunks of time from our busy schedules, and make a special event out of doing things which are supposed to be 100% normal, like making cookies or telling a story.

That’s acknowledging that the way we live – our “real” lives – is crazy. Quality time – time which is a gift – is unusual. Our ordinary time is frantic, burdened and meaningless. What are we doing?

The symbol of our time – the gadget everybody’s “gotta have” – is the cell phone. It keeps track of all your appointments and addresses, get messages, send e-mails, watch the news, and be distracted anywhere you go.

What it really reminds me of, is the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland. The White Rabbit who goes around saying, “I’m late! I’m late! For a very important date! No time to stay! Hello, goodbye! I’m late, I’m late, I’m late, I’m late, I’m late!”

What are we doing?

My wife and I went on vacation last month. We were out of range of any cell tower. Our cell phones didn’t work. But we had a visit with our son, who we hadn’t seen for a year. We listened to the birds, and the wind. We had prayer time that was as natural as breathing. We often forgot what day it was. Time wasn’t a burden. It was a gift.

Labor Day is a reminder than most of us are workaholics. We are all very responsible people. We need to earn a living. We want to do good. And we see all sorts of jobs that need to be done.

I sometimes think we need to have workaholic groups, sort of like Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. You know at AA, the first of the 12 steps a person has to take is, “We admitted we were powerless — that our lives had become unmanageable.”

The second step is, “We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

The third step at AA is, “We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.”

Something like that has to happen to us and to our society. We need to get our time and our lives back again.

The Bible has several responses for how we can receive time, and how we can understand time and use it better.

The first response is, always to remember who is the author and giver of time. It’s God. The schedules and the to-do lists that drive us all week long, are things which we have superimposed on God’s gift. We need to remember the gift itself, and we especially need to remember the giver. God gives us this gift, because we need it. God gives time generously, to meet our needs.

If we walk with God, we have time to do all the things God wants us to do today. We have time to work, and time to pray. We have time to grieve, and time to celebrate.

If we find ourselves short of time, we need to ask if we’re doing the things God wants from us, or the things God hopes for us. If we don’t have time to smell the roses, or notice the sun rise, or have a deep experience of all the beauty in God’s world – if we don’t do those things every day, then we’re not spending our time the right way.

God loves us, and time is a gift which reminds us of God’s love. Love is the important thing. When we live in that love, we will learn to handle our time better.

Another way the Bible suggests we handle time is prayer.

“For God alone my soul waits in silence; from God comes my salvation. God is my rock and my strong place; I shall not be overthrown. . .” (Psalm 62:1-2)

Prayer is a way of making time, of making sacred time. A Jewish writer once said, “Our chief end [is to] sanctify time. All it takes to sanctify time is God, a soul, and a moment. And all three are always here.” (Abraham Heschel, Christianity and Crisis, 6/14/71, p. 118)

Prayer is literally a way of making time, of creating it. When we are together with God, a special and unique moment of time comes into being.

Prayer is like being at the beach with God. And it can happen any place, any time. That timeless time, that eternity in a moment, that we feel outdoors or at the beach, is prayer.

Another way the Bible suggests that we deal with time is through sabbath. The discipline of taking a full day off, once a week, not to pay the bills or do housework and chores, but to rest, is one of the most important steps we can take.

You’ve heard me say before that the sabbath isn’t something narrow. It doesn’t even have to be on a Sunday. But the idea that one day a week, we deliberately lay down our work, and rest, is so important.

The sabbath is physically and psychologically good for us. And not just for us and our families, but for society. In the Ten Commandments, God says the sabbath is also for “your manservant, your maidservant, your cattle, and the foreigner who is within your gates.“ (Exodus 20:10)

Our country’s prosperity is built on a lot of people who work at minimum wage, or who work two jobs, or who put in mandatory overtime. For them to have a sabbath, along with a decent income, would change the way our society is run.

It’s not saying that there shouldn’t be hard work. But work shouldn’t be slavery. And a lot of people today are forced to work like slaves, with no let-up, and no escape.

Another way the Bible deals with time is to introduce us to the idea of eternity. Usually, when we think about “eternity”, we think it just means “a very, very long time.”

Actually, what eternity means is stepping outside time, and coming to know those things which are “for always”.

In the beginning was the Word,
and the word was with God, and the Word was God;
who was in the beginning with God;
through whom all things were made;
without whom nothing created was made;
in whom was life, and the life was the light of all people.
And the light still shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has never put it out.

John 1:1-5

That is eternity. It’s stepping outside of time, and breathing in God’s time.

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even though they die, yet shall they live; and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. . .” (John 11:25-26)

That’s eternity.

We are called to live in time, but to be grounded in eternity. That’s the challenge. Not one or the other, but both.

Another way for us to make sense of time, which the Bible offers us, is the idea of seasons.

Usually, when we think of seasons, we think of something secular. We’re just coming off our vacation season, and entering into school season. We’re also in election season. In a little while it’ll be Christmas shopping season – which is mostly commercial, not sacred.

You’ve got football season, basketball season, baseball season, and soccer season. There are seasons for everything from hay fever to filling out your income tax.
The Bible reading we had this morning says, “To 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. . .” and so on.

Part of living is to recognize what time it is. There are times for grief. And we all know that you can’t just move past them. Sometimes we have to stay there for a while.

There are times for joy, and for growth. There are times for study, and there are times for putting what we’ve studied into practice. There are times for renewal, for sabbatical, and for re-inventing our lives..

One of the toughest kinds of time the Bible talks about is time in the desert. The people of Israel spent forty years out there, learning what it meant to live in freedom, and learning what it meant to depend on God, every single day.

During all those forty years, the people of Israel still had to live. They got up every day. They made their meals. They had families, and raised children, and walked through the burning sun on to the next day’s place. They still lived. And being in the desert changed them forever.

They lived more simply. They depended on each other. Even when they didn’t like each other, they had to respect each other.

The last kind of time I want to talk about from the Bible, is the promised time. God made a lot of promises, and God always keeps those promises.

Jesus promised to come back again. Jesus promised to take us home to be with him, in his Father’s house. Jesus promised that even though we die, we will live again.

So, we live in the here and now. But we also live, already, in the time of promise. We live in our time, but also in God’s time. One foot in the suffering and joy of today, and another foot in eternity, which is the time that never ends.

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