Text: Ephesians 5:15-20
“Make the most of the time, because the days are evil.” Or as the King James puts it, “Redeem the time.” That is our text for the day. Or our first text, our Biblical text. Our second text this morning is that classic motion picture, “Groundhog Day.”
“Groundhog Day” was released 20 years ago or so, and I understand a stage musical version is coming out next year. The movie starred Bill Murray as Phil Connors – a rude, arrogant TV weatherman from Pittsburgh who is sent to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania for Groundhog Day. He goes with a cameraman and his producer the night before to be there for the early morning ceremony where it is determined whether the groundhog can see his shadow. Phil and his crew do their piece for the news but on the trip back to Pittsburgh, the highway is closed due to a blizzard, so they go back to Punxsutawney for a second night.
The next morning, the clock radio in his hotel room goes off at 6 am and Sonny and Cher are singing, “I Got You Babe,” same as the day before. Phil goes to breakfast and it’s the same hostess with the same customers sitting in the same places. Phil winds up reliving exactly the same day, but he is the only one in this weird time loop.
He lives this same day, over and over. At first he is despondent. Then he tries to use the situation that he finds himself in for his own purposes. He meets an attractive woman and learns what high school she went to and her 12th grade English teacher. The next day when he meets her, he says, “Hey, I know you – Mrs. Jones’ 12th grade English class!” and he winds up getting a date. He notices an armored truck driver who drops something on the ground and doesn’t pay attention very well. The next day, Phil walks by at that exact time and picks up a bag of money without being detected.
But these self-serving efforts are futile because when he wakes up the next morning, the woman doesn’t know him, he doesn’t have the money, and he has to live the day over yet again. It drives him to desperate measures to try and break the cycle; he gives terrible, inane on-air reports hoping to get fired and finally, he kidnaps the groundhog and drives off a cliff, plunging both to their deaths. But it doesn’t matter; he wakes up the next morning and it is February 2 yet again.
Groundhog Day is a comedy but it has something important to say about time. Time is something all of us struggle with. For many of us, the struggle is a lack of time. Too many commitments, too many responsibilities, not enough time. For others, there can be the opposite problem. Having nothing much to fill up your days can be worse than having too much to do. We all have to make decisions about how to use our time.
The Apostle Paul wrote the church at Ephesus, encouraging them to live in a new way, as we explored last Sunday. He applies this idea to the concept of time and how we use it. “Redeem the time for the days are evil.”
Make the most of your time makes sense, but the part about the days being evil goes against the way most of us think about time. We think of time as good: “Time heals all wounds.” “Things will get better in time.” In the early 1960’s, a group of white ministers issued a public statement urging Martin Luther King, Jr. to be more patient in his quest for racial justice. His response came in the “Letter from the Birmingham Jail.” He noted that he had heard many such requests for delay and had just got a letter from a white brother in Texas who wrote, “The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth.” Dr. King replied that such an attitude stemmed from a sad misunderstanding of time, the notion that time itself cures all ills. King argued that time could be used for good or evil. Human progress, he said, is not inevitable, but comes through the efforts of people willing to be co-workers with God. Without hard work, he said, time is an ally of the forces of oppression. Which is maybe another way of saying that unless we redeem the time, it tends to be used for evil.
How do we make use of our time? Well, let’s go back to that movie. What if you were that person trapped in the same day, over and over. What if you only had one day, knowing that there was literally no tomorrow? What would you do?
Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day turned from despondency to self-centeredness to desperation to the point where he used time to better himself. He learned ice sculpture. He took up piano lessons. This gave way to using time to help others. A boy fell from a tree—at the exact time, every day—and he was there to catch him. A man choked on his steak—Phil was there in the restaurant every day to give him the Heimlich maneuver.
Finally, he becomes a genuinely giving person. Instead of putting down the cameraman like he always did, he brings him donuts in morning. Instead of being sarcastic to Rita, his producer, he was kind. And then at the end of a wonderful day with Rita, he says, “No matter what happens tomorrow, no matter what happens the rest of my life, I am happy today.”
The next day he wakes up and it’s not Sonny and Cher on the radio. He looks out the window and crowds are not heading over to be a part of the early-morning Groundhog Day festivities. After he set aside his selfishness, his self-pity, and his worry over tomorrow and began to use the time he had for good, then he could go on living.
For me, the movie was a good illustration of redeeming the time. Living each day to the fullest and making the most of the time doesn’t mean we don’t plan for tomorrow. For a lot of us, planning better for tomorrow would make most of our todays go a little more smoothly. So it’s not so much that we live each day as if it were our only day, but we live each day as if it were the only today we have--which it is.
How do we live each day to the fullest? Earlier in this same chapter, Paul says, “Live as children of the light--the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.”
Every day we have is a gift from God--a gift we can use for good, or a gift we can abuse. A gift we can hoard for ourselves, or a gift we can share with others. Phil Connors discovered that living for others actually leads to greater joy and happiness for yourself.
The other day I was leaving church and couldn’t go down Lynn Avenue because a semi was trying to back in next to the new building on the corner and was having trouble – the cab was actually parked on the sidewalk at the time, with the trailer sideways across the entire street. This did not surprise me; this sort of thing happens all the time. So I turned on Chamberlain but knew better than to turn on Stanton because of all the construction there – I had previously learned that the hard way. Hayward isn’t an option because it is completely tore up and closed all summer. I could have gone around the block to Ash, but it has also been difficult if not closed recently with construction work on a couple of fraternity houses. So I went down Welch, my only viable option, though not without its own problems. I successfully navigated the block to Lincoln Way only to find that I couldn’t turn right on Lincoln Way because there was giant boom parked in the only open lane of traffic. Basically, I couldn’t get there from here.
Well, eventually I made it home, but this is almost a daily occurrence. Roads are tore up all over town, the worst I can remember, but around campus it all has to do with construction projects.
What is driving all of this construction? The answer is fairly straightforward. The enrollment at Iowa State has been booming for the last several years. We are at 35,000 students and counting. And the question is, where do we put all of these students? ISU Housing is building new apartments and residence halls, and tons of new apartment buildings are going up – out west, by the vet school, in Campustown, and pretty much wherever there is land available.
Growth is generally good and we can brag that we are now a bigger school then Iowa, but there are repercussions. One is that the market for affordable housing is very tight. An increased number of renters in town means that rental prices go up for everybody. There are a lot of people who work in Ames who can’t afford to live here.
This is where our scripture for the day and the work of Habitat for Humanity intersect. We can choose to redeem the time by using it for the sake of others. The problem of affordable housing is not going to get better by itself. Time alone is not going to cure it; we need to find ways to act.
Now, it is easy to get into the mindset that our actions are inconsequential. In the light of the significant challenges regarding affordable housing in our community, what can we really do? Folks have been working for years on this problem, long before there was a boom in student enrollment. What can we do?
Well, it can be best to start with tangible action that makes a real difference for people. We can’t solve the entire problem overnight, but Habitat for Humanity is part of the solution, and for Habitat homeowners – people like Christi and Mook and their family - our efforts make a real difference. Investing our time and effort and money and prayers in an organization like Habitat is a way to make the most of our time – and our resources. As Habitat homeowners participate in the life of the community and as their mortgage payments go to help build more houses, our efforts are multiplied.
I know that many of you have worked on Habitat houses. Many of you have prepared lunch for those who are working. Some of you may have led devotions at the work site. Many of you have contributed financially to this ministry. As a church we have prayed for the work of Habitat.
When Phil Connors began to think of others, he really began to live. The same is true for all of us. As we think of others and not just think but act on behalf of others, we redeem the time. Amen.