Thursday, December 8, 2016

Time Well Spent: A Sermon

“If you don’t have five minutes for the people you love, why do you have two hours for email?”  You could also say TV, gaming, scrolling through Facebook/Pinterest.  That was a question posed by one of the speakers at a conference I went to this summer called Rethinking Sunday Morning.  It’s a question that has stuck with me ever since.  And I think it’s a good one to think about, because in a few short words, this question is one that speaks to the connection (and all too often, the disconnection) between our priorities and how we actually spend our time.

I could be wrong, but I would guess that when most of us think about the phrase "using our time wisely," we usually think of how we can make the best use of the time we have so that we can get “the most bang for our buck” so-to-speak.  Or maybe more accurately, “bang for our minute.”  Recently, however, I had the kind of week that got me thinking of this phrase, and concept, a bit differently. 

The week started with a pretty typical list of some of the things I needed to do: things related to church, things related to home, and some things that were supposed to be just for fun.  All of these things were important in their own way—some of more immediate need than others—but then life happened.  And what I thought my week would be was quickly replaced with two cases of pink eye, a sinus infection, fevers, colds, a pinched nerve, rest, ice packs, and several visits to the doctor, pharmacy, and chiropractor instead. 

Personally, when the proverbial apple cart is overturned, I’m not always the best sport about it.  And so I try to remember to ask myself the question: God, where are you here?  And what I took out of the week was a reminder that though there are many important things to do on any given day or week, sometimes none of them turn out to be what truly matter most.  For me, what mattered most that week was taking care of my kids and taking care of myself, which can be much more difficult.

If you’ve ever experienced the death of a close loved one, you know the truth of this better than you probably ever wanted to.  And the same is true for a medical diagnosis that sent your life in a tailspin or finding out your daycare is closing, among other things.  Much more often though, it seems the normal rhythm in our lives is to fill our days and calendars to such an extent that sometimes the things that matter most are what don’t even make it in…time to pray, time to act silly with the kids, time to listen to your spouse’s highs/lows, even time to simply do nothing.

Since these things usually don't have a return we can quantify, even though they are so important, they often have a way of being pushed to the wayside of our lives.  And the reality is that we are so good at filling our days and our calendars with so many things (good and important though they may be), that we’ve almost become accustomed to thinking of down time as a luxury rather than an essential part of our lives, directly related to how we are created and called to be.

Whenever I start thinking about these sorts of things, and about how to make sure the time I have is time well spent, I am reminded of the familiar tale of the professor who was trying to teach his students’ time management.  He started out with a jar filled with some big rocks, and then added some smaller rocks to it.  After that he added some tiny pebbles, followed by sand, and then at the end he poured in some water.  After each addition to the jar, the students were convinced that he couldn’t fit anything more in the jar, but he showed them he could.

And then at the end, he asked them what they thought he was trying to teach them.  “That you can always fit more in!” his students confidently answered.  “No,” the professor said.  “If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in.”  No matter how many times I hear it, the wisdom of this illustration is always relevant.   

When it comes to using our time wisely, I think it’s also wise to remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:25-34.  You’ve likely heard these words before, and the admonition to not worry, but have you ever thought about these words in relation to thinking of our stewardship, and even more specifically, our stewardship of time?  I’m not sure that I have.  But in thinking of this text in this way, I love what author and Bishop N.T. Wright has to say about these words in his commentary on the Gospel of Matthew.

He makes the point that Jesus’ whole spirituality is many a mile from those teachers who insisted that the present world was a place of shadows, gloom, and vanity, and that true philosophy consisted in escaping it.  And when he told his followers not to worry, we can assume he led by example.

Jesus wasn’t always looking ahead anxiously, making the present moment count only because of what might come next.  Rather, he seems to have had the skill of giving attention totally to the present task and celebrating the goodness of God here and now, and he wanted his followers to the do the same.  And as N.T. points out, when Jesus urged them to make God their priority, it’s important to realize which God he’s talking about.  He’s not talking about a god who is distant from the world, who doesn’t care about beauty and life and food and clothes.

He’s talking about the creator himself, who has filled the world with wonderful and mysterious things, full of beauty and energy and excitement, and who wants his human creatures above all to trust him and love him and receive their own beauty, energy, and excitement from him. 

So when Jesus tells us not to worry about what to eat or wear, (and I paraphrase) how to get everything done and what might happen if we don’t, N.T. Wright says, “He doesn’t mean these things don’t matter.  Rather, his point was priorities: Put the world first and it gets moth-eaten in your hands.  Put God first and you’ll get the world thrown in."

And that’s what makes this gospel story such a good one to  hear again, because the reality is that there will always be more vying for our time and attention than we have time to do.  There will always be more we can add to our to-do list, more activities we can sign up for, more hours that our job or our hobby or the computer/TV will take from us if we are willing to give it.  And granted, even when we try to put the big rocks in first and have the best laid plans, there will be times that something happens to upset the apple cart and upend those plans. 

But in contrast, if we aren’t mindful of keeping God at the center, when we don’t take a moment to pray for wisdom as we schedule out our week or month, when we don’t even try to put the big rocks in first, then we aren’t being intentional at all.  And chances are, if we’re not being intentional, we’ll probably feel like rather than living life, life is happening to us instead. 

The truth is, like Matthew 6:25-34 reminds us, our God is one who delights in us, who  gives out of gladness, who is the creator of all that is good, right, and beautiful in the world.  Since we are created in this God’s image means that we too are at our best when give, serve, share, and walk in a trusting relationship with God.  And as Jesus wants us to remember, time doing these things is always time well spent.

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