Friday, November 7, 2014

“Minutes And Months” - November 9, 2014

Texts: Psalm 31:14-15, 23-24; Ephesians 5:15-16

Last week we began our focus on stewardship by thinking together on the theme of friends and family – stewardship of relationships.  We looked at the Biblical story of Esther.  Now, just to see if anyone was paying attention, and as a way of testing memory and retention, the characters in the story were King Ahasuerus, Queen Vashti, Haman, Mordecai, and Esther.  (Hopefully folks will remember the "sound effects" associated with each character from last week's sermon.) 

Today, we are thinking about minutes and months - stewardship of time.  I won’t presume to speak for your life situation, but I can certainly speak for myself: time is often in short supply.  Think of all the demands on our time. 

We all live somewhere – home, apartment, dorm, condo.  There are certain things we have to do to keep up the place we live. For some of us, there is yardwork.  Mowing in the summer, leaves in the fall, shoveling snow in the winter (I’m looking forward to it already!)  We have to clean our homes, we have to do laundry, and some of us have to attend to home maintenance and repair.  It takes time to cook meals, and the frequency of eating out has increased dramatically from the time I was growing up.  That has coincided with a general increase in the busy-ness of life.  Who has time to cook?

Work takes up much of our time.  Workers in the US work much more and takes much less time off than workers in European countries.  A large percentage of us do not take all of the vacation time we have coming.  And all of our digital technologies have made it possible to work even when we are not working – which is not necessarily a good thing.

There are kid’s activities – we spend time driving to piano lessons, soccer practice, dance, swimming.  We spend time volunteering for various charitable and community groups.

We need time for family.  Sometimes it can be hard finding time for the people who live in the same house.  We need time for friends.  We need “leisure time” - time for hobbies, interests, movies, TV, sports, theater, concerts.  We need time for recreation – whether it’s golf or ping-pong or tennis or walking or fishing or going to the gym.

We give time to various activities and to organizations to which we belong – political groups, civic groups, interest groups from genealogy to quilting to model airplanes to woodworking.

If you are a student, your interests and the organizations you are a part of may be different, but it’s basically the same deal.  And then you have to throw in time for studying.  A lot of it.

And then we devote time to church activities – choir, committees, social events, student activities, work days.  It is often a challenge scheduling church meetings and events because of all of our competing activities.

Hopefully, in the midst of all of this and more, we find time for worship, time for prayer, time for reflection.

Did I mention time to sleep?  We need that too.  I prefer you didn’t take that time during the sermon, but we need rest.

When our daughter Zoe was busy in grade school and middle school, with numerous activities, it seemed like life would be simpler once she could drive.  And while it was nice when she got her license, life really didn’t seem any simpler.  And then after Zoe went off to college, it seemed like life would be a little less hectic.  And in some ways it is, but in other ways life is just as hectic as ever.  Somehow, stuff always comes along to fill the time that we have.  This idea that we will have more time later in life does not necessarily pan out.

I have talked to folks recently retired who feel as though they are busier now than when they were working.  Between volunteering in various places and social groups and grandkids and activities with friends and family and travel and hobbies, they don’t have much extra time and wonder where they ever found the time to work first place.  

At the same time, I realize that there are folks with the opposite issue of too much time and not enough to fill the time that you have.  Maybe you have lost a spouse, and there is too little activity and too much quiet around the house.  Maybe you are not able to participate in some of the activities you once did.  Maybe you are out of work.  There are those who don’t have enough or don’t find enough to do with their time.  One way or another, the way we use time is a fairly pervasive concern in our culture.

Difficult as it may be, the way we use our time is a matter of stewardship.  The Bible has some things to say to us about time.  It tells us that time is given us by God.  It’s a gift.  We have no say as to when our time begins or when it ends, but we have been given enough time for the things that matter.

We often talk as though time is a flexible commodity—we just need more time, we’ll say.  Well, there are several problems we may have in relation to time, but too little time is not one of them.  We already have all the time there is.  But one of our problems may be trying to pack too much stuff into the time we have. 

We moved to Ames from Arthur, Illinois, a small town with about 150 students in the high school.  That small school excelled in music, with a great marching band and an excellent show choir; and they did very well in athletics, winning league championships in boys and girls basketball and track and making the playoffs in football.  The way that they could do so well in so many different areas with such a small student body is that everybody was in everything.  A girl in our church was on the volleyball, basketball, and track teams; she was a cheerleader, in the marching band and show choir; and on the student council - among numerous other activities.  She was a talented and capable person, but she had no free time and felt stressed out.

Instead of helping her to prioritize and choose what was most important or what she most enjoyed; the culture kind of directed her towards just doing everything. 

That can be a problem.  It is good to be active and involved and to participate in things, it is good to contribute our talents as we are able, but we don’t have to do everything.  We can’t do everything.  And simply by saying “yes” to so many things, we are saying “no” to some other things, whether we realize it or not.  We may be saying “no” to time with family, we may be saying “no” to involvement at church, we may be saying “no” to being well-rested or less stressed or to leisure activities we enjoy. 

Packing too much into the time we have can be a problem.  Another problem is that because we recognize the importance of our time, recognize that there is a finite amount of time, we can come to worship efficiency and crowd out important things that don’t appear to be productive or efficient.

The Shakers were known for making excellent furniture.  It is no coincidence that they lived life at a bit slower pace.  Shaker communities concentrated on the quality of their work rather than time schedules or quick productivity.  Their work was offered to God and thought of as an avenue of worship—“Hands to work, hearts to God” was a common expression.  Because their work was carried on in an unhurried way and done well, the Shaker name became synonymous with superior quality.  When we are concerned with stuffing as much activity as we can into our day, we cannot create the kind of quality work the Shakers were known for.  They could have been much more efficient and mass-produced chairs and tables and dressers, but if they had, we might have never heard of Shaker furniture.

There are some very important things in life that are not efficient or productive.  Here we are, gathered together this morning in worship.  Is worship efficient?  Is our gathering together this morning productive?

If we wanted to be productive with our time, we could have stayed home and raked leaves, or washed the car, or studied for a test, or cleaned the basement.  What we are doing is not at all productive or efficient.

Marva Dawn wrote a book on worship with the title A Royal Waste of Time.   Worship is not productive in any pragmatic sense; in terms of society’s values, it is a waste of time.

Whether worship is worthy of our time, whether it is essential for our lives – that is a different question.  But when we order our time strictly in terms of productivity and efficiency, worship will not make the cut.  

There are any number of activities worthy of our time that are not efficient.  Taking a walk in the woods, reading a book, playing a game, listening to music – these are not efficient at all, not productive, but nevertheless important.  We can get to the point where we order our lives in terms of being productive, maximizing our time efficiency, but this is a temptation caused by our hurry-up world.

All of this points to one of the basic problems we have: identifying our priorities.  Knowing what is truly important to us.

I’d like for you to think for a moment about what is most important to you in life.  Think of the 3 or 4 things you value the most.

Do you have a few things in mind?  Now reflect on those 3 or 4 values in relation to the time you spend on each of them.  I suspect that for a lot of us, what we say is important may not match up with the way we actually spend our time.  If family is one of your values but you seem to never see your family, maybe things need to change.  If faith in God is one of your values but you devote very little time to prayer and worship and involvement in the community of faith, maybe things need to change.  If health is one of your values but you don’t have time for exercise, maybe things need to change.

Scripture presents us with several truths related to time and our use of time.  First, time flies.  Psalm 89:47 says “remember how short time is.” 

Sometimes it seems as though life is flying by.  I will see photos on Facebook of high school classmates, people I haven’t seen in years, and it amazes me how old these people look.  It’s unbelievable. 

Now, I’m still a young man, of course, but in my circle of friends and family – I’m talking about folks my age and younger – there has been serious illness, tragedies, great pain, and untimely deaths.  Life is too short to hold grudges, too short to worry over trivial matters, too short to allow relatively insignificant things to ruin relationships, too short to put off doing what we need to do or would like to do or feel called to do. 

Scripture also says that time matters.  Ephesians 5:16 says to “make the most of the time.”  It is important to make our time count.

A woman named Tracy Tiffany shared:
I knew my mother's 81st birthday was going to be a tough one for her.  She had just lost my father two months earlier after fifty-five years of marriage.  I was out of work that year and had very little money, but I told her that I would drive from Ohio to Michigan to spend a few days with her and that that would be my birthday present.

On her birthday, she took us both out to a very nice local restaurant.  As we were having dinner, an older couple in the next booth said hello to mom, and as I was introduced, I explained why I was visiting. “How wonderful!” they said.  “How we wish our children would understand that we don’t want or need any more things, that their presence means so much more.”

And then time evokes praise.  The way we use our time can bring praise to God.  Psalm 34:1 says “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.”

When we spend our time in ways that show kindness and compassion and concern and love for our neighbor and love for God’s world, our time brings praise to God.  This way of using our time may not fit with the cultural value of efficiency and productivity.  Spending an afternoon visiting someone is not very efficient.  Spending an afternoon singing in the Good Neighbor Concert is not necessarily productive.  But it brings forth praise to God. 

Scripture also says that time magnifies our choices.  Because time flies, because time matters, because our use of time can bring God praise, the choices we make about how to use our time matter greatly.

Even Jesus had problems with time.  He was in great demand and couldn’t be everywhere at once.  He took time to get away and renew and recharge, but the crowds always seemed to find him.  But Jesus also gives us some good examples of managing time.  He spent time with the crowds of people, but more time with the smaller group of disciples.  He cared for his family and spent time with his mother - he accompanied her to the wedding in Cana, for example.  He took time to enjoy dinners and parties and social occasions.  And he spent time alone, time away, time in prayer, time in worship.

Like so many things in life, when it comes to time, we need a sense of balance, and Jesus seems to model this.  Simply crowding our days with activities sometimes can be a way of escaping life.  On the other hand, doing nothing and procrastinating can also be a way of escaping life.  We need a balance of work and play, of activity and rest, of prayer and worship and service.

One writer put it this way:
     Take time to LAUGH, it is the music of the soul.
     Take time to THINK, it is the source of power.
     Take time to PLAY, it is the source of perpetual youth.
     Take time to READ, it is the foundation of wisdom.
     Take time to PRAY, it is the greatest power on earth.
     Take time to LOVE AND BE LOVED, it is a God-given privilege.
     Take time to be FRIENDLY, it is the road to happiness.
     Take time to GIVE, it is too short a day to be selfish.
     Take time to WORK, it is the price of success.
     Take time for GOD, it is the way of life.

God has put time in our hands.  How we use our time is not an easy matter.  We will continue to struggle with it.  But when we see the time we have as a gift from God, it helps us as we order our days.  Amen.

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