"Is There Time?"

January 5, 1997 message
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland  USA
based upon Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 and Mark 1:9-15
[revised from January 13, 1980, Union Center, IN COB, and January 4, 1987, Greencastle PA COB]

Today we have made time to come before God in worship. We have set aside an hour or two from our busy lives. This is easier for some than others. Sunday mornings can be a real challenge getting children up and ready and out the door. Motivating loved ones (no matter what age they are) to come to church can become a real battle. Getting up, oneself, after a rough week, when the bed beckons, or other chores await, can be a real problem. Time, after all, is so short. When we do make it through those doors into this sanctuary, we may bring with us all sorts of excess baggage, full of anxiety, hypertension, anger, frustration, and guilt. If this description seems to fit you to a "T" this morning, please allow the Lord time to calmly sit beside you and help you set aside this baggage, so that you might simply experience his love for you...

Our frustration with time is not a special problem of this particular day. It is a carry-over from our busy weeks. We fill our lives full of activity or, more often than not, we allow others to fill it for us. Then, too, situations beyond anyone’s control take up our time.

This being the first Sunday of a new year, it’s appropriate, isn’t it (?), that we explore the use or abuse of time. At this time we look over the past year and make resolutions on things to be done in the next 12 months... I saw a sign board this week which read: "Resolutions are convictions of the soul." It was out front of a liquor store... Often, these resolutions go unfulfilled. We forget about them or, we run out of time to enact them.

Some of us were privileged to have time off over the holidays. Did we do all we needed or wanted to do with those "extra" days? Probably not. Christmas is such a hectic time, with or without vacation. Now that it’s over, things return to normal - "normal" being the frantic pace we all seem to race through our days. From students driven from class to class by those infernal bells, to factory workers punching in and out - racing to make quotas; From homemakers with a thousand and one things to be accomplished, to office workers who in this era of downsizing struggle to do twice as much aided by a new technology they barely understand; Young and not-so-young, we are all caught in a life-long race against time. Michel Quoist well described this state-of-affairs in the following prayer, written over 40 years ago:

I went out, Lord,
People were coming and going,
Walking and running.

Everything was rushing:
                cars, trucks, the street, the whole town.
All were rushing not to waste time.
They were rushing after time,
To catch up with time,
To gain time.

Goodbye, Sir, excuse me, I haven’t time.
I’ll come back, I can’t wait, I haven’t time.
I must end this letter - I haven’t time.
I’d love to help you, but I haven’t time.
I can’t accept, having no time.
I can’t think, I can’t read, I’m swamped, I haven’t time.
I’d like to pray, but I haven’t time.

You understand, Lord, they simply haven’t the time.
The child is playing,
                she hasn’t time right now... Later on...
The schoolboy has his homework to do,
                he hasn’t time... Later on...
The student has her courses,
                and so much work...Later on...
The young couple have their new house;
                they have to fix it up. They haven’t time...Later on...
The grandparents have their grandchildren.
                They haven’t time...Later on...
They are ill, they have their treatments,
                they haven’t time...Later on...
They are dying, they have no...
Too late!... They have no more time!

And so all people run after time, Lord.
They pass through life running
                    - hurried, jostled, overburdened, frantic, and they never get there.
        They haven’t time.
In spite of all their efforts they’re still short of time,
Of a great deal of time.
Lord, you must have made a mistake in your calculations.
There is a big mistake somewhere.
The hours are too short,
The days are too short,
Our lives are too short....

* * * * * * *

In the beginning God created the world. In six days the Almighty labored hard. After all this work, God rested - the time was right to rest. The seventh day of creation was a day of Sabbath, which means to "stop," "cease," "desist." After six days of labor God stopped to rest and, as scripture says, "it was very good." The children of Abraham made a covenant with this God who rested on the seventh day. They made it a practice to rest also on the seventh day of each week; to stop, to cease, to desist all labor and just "be." To this day, observant Jews still use the Sabbath Day (what for us today is Saturday) as a day of rest, to stop work and dwell with God in the synagogue and at home, and to thereby be renewed. For some, legalism changed the Sabbath from a positive experience of resting and revitalization to a negative ordeal full or do’s and don’ts. "Stop, cease, desist... don’t work (period)." More time spent on stopping work than upon resting.

In spite of any legalism, though, the essence of the Sabbath Day is still ending the week with a feeling of wholeness, of completeness. We have accomplished what we could in a week’s time. There is no crying over things left undone, for now we worship the Lord - our Creator, who supplies us with what we need to live. This is the essence of the Old Testament Sabbath: rest, completeness, wholeness.

Jesus, as a man, was raised in this Jewish tradition, and observed the Sabbath just like his earthly parents. As a rabbi, a teacher, he did not toss out the old practice. Rather, he fulfilled it through what he said, and what he did. If anything, Jesus returned the Hebrew Bible practices to their original, proper place. He placed the Sabbath day in proper perspective. He insisted that the Sabbath day was made for human beings, and not the other way around. It was to be a rest of rest, of rejuvenation, of healing, a day that men and women could devote solely to becoming one with God and each other.

The early Christians began the practice of celebrating the first day of the week, the day on which Christ rose from the dead. Resurrection became a symbol of new beginnings. In a way this fit perfectly with the Old Testament practice of Sabbath: rest, rejuvenation, healing -- resurrection, newness of life, re-creation. Actually, the early church celebrated both days, what for us are Saturday and Sunday. It wasn’t until more than 300 years after the time of Christ that both days were combined into one to make our Sunday. In tying the two together we see that which helps us in our race with time.

Our Sunday is first of all a day of rest from the week. It is here we say "stop," and put aside our enemy time. It is here we reconcile ourselves with time, and feel a sense of accomplishment from the past week, even if we have failed to make any real achievements that are visible. In God we find the power of hope that all we do is not in vain. In this hope we can look back upon the week we have just lived and see both what we did do, and what we didn’t do. This we accomplish, though, looking through the Lord’s eyes and not our own.

Through the eyes of Christ we find healing. Memories of our mistakes are soothed by the healing oil of his grace. We discover forgiveness: for ourselves and for those who may have sinned against us during the past week. Such sins, whether committed by us or against us, are a tremendous weight to carry. With this burden bearing down on our backs, we run ever more stooped over in our race with time. No wonder we grow so weary. God’s grace helps us to stand upright once more. Furthermore, through the eyes of Christ, we can look to the future not as another today, but as a new tomorrow. This fresh start helps give order to our scatteredness.

Sunday is a day unlike any other. It points both forward and backward, and we draw strength from it. It would be wrong, though, to let Sunday be the only holy day of the week. Our Christian heritage points us to the holiness of every day, of making every day the Lord’s day. Sunday, therefore, is (above all) a day of ordering our lives and putting time in perspective. You see, time is not our enemy. We so often fight it as if it was. However time is a gift from God. When we fight time, we are fighting the Lord of time.

The wise preacher, Ecclesiastes, saw time not as an enemy, but as a part of God’s order. In words that sound of misery at the inability of humankind to control events properly, Ecclesiastes surrendered the battle and recognized God’s role in ordering the universe. To everything there is a time, a place and, most of all, a purpose under heaven. We cannot fully understand time, we can only use it to do that which we have been called to do. And for everything we do there is a time, a place, and a purpose.

Repeatedly in the gospels reference is made to the fact that (quote) "the time is fulfilled" in all Jesus said and did upon the earth. "The time is fulfilled." Looking back, the long period of waiting for God’s Messiah to come and give purpose to Jewish history was over. The past was fulfilled. Messiah had come. "The time is fulfilled." Looking at the present day, Christ’s coming meant that God’s kingdom was being realized there and then. The kingdom was coming into being, the present was being fulfilled - filled to the fullest with God’s presence and power. "The time is fulfilled." Christ spent only a short time on earth. For most of it we have no record at all. The bulk of time recorded in the gospels occurred within a three year period. Three short years. During that time Jesus fulfilled his purpose. He did not pray for more time. He used the time he had been given.

You would think that, hanging on a cross, one might look back upon such a short life as a failure. God’s people were still wandering blindly in a wilderness of their own making. They may have been living in the promised land, but God’s real realm was but a pipe dream to most folks, even his disciples. The cynical, manipulative powers-that-be were still very much in control. Jesus was dying ... dead. Was this really the fulfillment of time?

Our faith tells us it was and is. In three short days Christ arose, and past, present, and future changed. There was and is hope where before there was none. There was and is power where before there was none. "The time is fulfilled." Jesus submitted himself to death, a point in time, and thereby broke the chains that bound humanity. Christ put time into perspective by submitting to it, or more to the point - by submitting to the One who created it.

In relation to time, we have a freedom in Christ we often do not recognize. Hear me well, for I’m not advocating sloth or tardiness, but is the clock (a humanly created instrument) so important that we must risk health and even life to meet its deadlines? "Slow down, Pete," Karen often tells me when I drive too fast, "is it worth risking your family?" Is our value as persons derived from the clock? Do we measure someone’s worth by how much money they make an hour?, or how much they can accomplish in the course of a day? Are you less of a person if you didn’t get everything done on your "to do" list? - or even make a measurable dent in it? Heavens no!

The clock and calendar are only tools to help us measure time. They are not our masters. Is some time more important than other time - work time better than home time, or vice versa? Weekends better than weekdays? July better than January? Young adulthood better than middle age? No, all time is a gift from God. To everything there is a time, a season, a place under heaven, as Ecclesiastes wrote long ago. "The time is fulfilled," Jesus said, "the kingdom of God has come near, repent (that is "turn") and believe..." I’ve often wondered if the rock group "The Doors" understood what they were singing in their big hit of the ‘60's, written by Pete Seeger: "To everything - turn, turn, turn, there is a season - turn, turn, turn, and a time for every purpose under heaven."

Let me finish the prayer I quoted earlier, a prayer about time. Is it your prayer?

You who are beyond time, Lord,
        you smile to see us fighting it.
And you know what you are doing.
You make no mistakes in your distribution of time.
You give each one time to do
        what you want them to do.
But we must not lose time
                waste time,
                kill time,
For time is a gift that you give us,
But a perishable gift,
A gift that does not keep.

Lord, I have time,
I have plenty of time,
All the time that you give me,
The years of my life,
The days of my years,
The hours of my days,
They are all mine.
Mine to fill, quietly, calmly,
But to fill completely, up to the brim,
To offer them to you, that of their insipid water
        You may make a rich wine
                such as you made once in Cana of Galilee.

I am not asking you today, Lord,
        for time to do this and then that,
But your grace to do conscientiously,
        in the time that you give me,
                what you want me to do.

1997Peter L. Haynes

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