Proper 20C. 22 September 2013.
The Very Revd Alexander D. MacPhail
Some time ago I preached a sermon in which I mentioned that there are many aspects of living where the Bible does not offer guidance. It's not that one couldn't extrapolate teachings from Jesus or the prophets about compassion or other virtues and with adequate discernment piece together a reasonable response to a given situation. But I've been wondering about something else, lately, and maybe it's something you have thought about.
This is a little difficult to describe, so to get into it, let me tell you that I have recently been in several conversations about the speed of life. It's a theme that has dropped in on me over the last several weeks in the form of little chats with some of you, and through the art and music I've been enjoying. Perhaps the trigger of it all is the passage of yet another summer, and the recognition that we are, once again, heading into autumn.
"Spring and summer, pleasure you
Autumn, aye, and winter, too.
Every season has its cheer.
Life is lovely all the year."[*]
Several of you have told me that this is your favorite time of the year, when the leaves change, and the weather becomes cool. School is back in session. The steady rhythms of the year drawing to close beat their solemn cadence from Halloween to Thanksgiving to Christmas. In fact, it's only 94 days till Christmas—that's only 2256 hours—or 135,360 minutes. 8.1 million seconds. But who's counting?
And in these conversations and thoughts, poems, and scripture that have been dropping in on me, it's the speed of life that has seemed so poignant. One of you said that time seems to go by on roller skates.
Maggie just got on the bus for kindergarten. Five years of "what is this and what is that?"[†] And why?
Why is the sky blue?
Because if it were green we wouldn't know where to stop mowing.
Is Daddy being funny.
Yes, Maggie, daddy's just being funny.
Well, why is it blue?
She will just go on requesting till you tell her, never doubt it, everything is interesting, tell her, tell her all about it![‡] And Karin draws her breath in pain to speak earnestly and scientifically of the sun's refraction, but mid-sentence Maggie interrupts with another question.
Five years. And now she's on the bus. The days were long, but the years were short. And my father says, "Peter has already been with you for a third of the time he will live with you."
I sit down at my desk at church for what seems like five minutes. I check email, make some calls, and it's lunchtime. Lunch is a blur and so is the afternoon. Dinner, prayers and put the children to bed, and before long our covers are pulled up and another day is laid to rest.
Over it all, we hope and pray for the benediction of God. A blessing on what we've been able to do, forgiveness for our mistakes, grace for what we hoped to achieve but couldn't through lack of effort or time.
And it's the time that seems to be the enemy. Such a foolish thing. Time is a creation of God, just like we are. We shouldn't be enemies. What is eternity other than the absence of time? It happens now; it happened then; it will happen in the future.
In church we throw around words like eternal, everlasting. In the liturgical language of our Anglican heritage, we might say "world without end." Our prayers often end, "for ever and ever." Ever is enough grammatically, but we add on "and ever" for emphasis.
But the reason I bring all of this up is because a question arose out of all of these reflections, (a question that seemed much more interesting to me than the lessons for today, obviously!) And the question is, "How does God wish us to relate to time, until he inaugurates eternity?" Do you see what I mean?
And please notice how I choose to ask that question. Not that we relate to time until we die, as if we are people without resurrection hope who merely see this existence as being alive or dead, as many people do. But rather, how to do we relate to time until God inaugurates a living existence that is utterly timeless and eternal?
And as I thought about it, I realized that that's not really even my primary question. What I really want to know is "How does God want us to think and feel about our lives?"
Going back to Genesis, when the author writes, "So God created humankind..God blessed them and said, `Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.'" (1.27,28) And then to Micah—that wonderful verse—"What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God." (6.8)
It is spiritually seductive, when asking these questions, to remain in those verses in the Old Testament—before the teachings of Jesus and his instructions to go into all the world and preach the Gospel. But putting that aside for just a moment—not that it's not important—but I want to get right down into the very heart of my question, which is how does God wish us to regard the passage of time? How are we to relate to the speed of change, the frailty of our bodies, the loss of family and friends.
In cynical moments, we might regard life as a kind of joke. Years of childhood innocence and vitality are spent in happy ignorance that we will not always be able bend and lift, or run with the same power and purpose. An injury occurs from which it takes more than an aspirin and a day of rest to heal. Oscar Wilde famously said, "Youth is wasted on the young."
And then there is the grit and grace of decisions about what we will do and where we will go. When you are sixteen or seventeen, life seems like a corridor of endless possibilities, but once you walk through one of those doors, the others are silently locked. You chose this school, that person, this town, at this time with these people around you. Changes could and were made, but not every option was placed back on the table when you began to feel a twinge of regret.
You can divorce and remarry, but it won't be the same. You can leave that job and take another, but the experience is there. The field is different; the world is different.
And through all of life the desire is ever present for fulfillment. A desire for peace, happiness, maybe a bit of wonder, joy. Freedom to be yourself and to be surrounded by people who love and appreciate you for who you are.
I have heard people say, "I wonder if my friends knew what I really thought and felt, if they'd still be my friends." Hasn't everyone wondered that? Hasn't everyone wondered what level of acceptance we'd have if we were to empty our pockets? I know I have.
How does God want us to think and feel about our lives?
I think God wants us to treasure them. I think God wants us to be grateful for our lives, and to enjoy them. And I think he wants us to find the fulfillment we desire through a balance of serving and being served. Sometimes we give, and other times we receive.
We are given power in youth, and wisdom with age; both are beautiful and both give happiness.
I think God wants us to be deeply happy in the knowledge that our lives are knit together with each other and with God. And I think Christ's message to the poor is—by extension, for all people—that God loves us and wishes to be ultimate fulfillment for our ultimate desire.
For some of you, this may be a season of grief and loss, which are real and meaningful. There may be anxiety, and Lord knows, there are good reasons why, but I don't think God wants us to be anxious, or sad as some kind of default setting. I think we are meant to bear those feelings lightly, and give them as much as possible to God.
Through the Psalms and prophets, and through Christ himself, there is a message that trends upward. Do not be afraid. Christ is risen. We are risen. Time is not the enemy. Enjoy your time. Take heart, take delight. God is always with us.
Please support the mission of Christ with your time, talent, and treasure.
Go Ye Into All the World and Preach the Gospel