Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Sermon for Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, "Making the Most of It," Ephesians 5:15-20


Sermon 8/19/12
Ephesians 5:15-20

Making the Most of It


            I have a friend who, every day for the past 8 months or so, has posted a number, counting down, at the end of the day as his facebook status. We’re at 124 right now. What happens at the end of the countdown? Well, according to some people, it will be the end of the world, December 21st, 2012, at least according to some very modern interpretations of a very ancient Mayan calendar. I expect, nearer to December, we’ll see a thousand news stories about the Mayan calendar and people who are preparing for the end of the world, just as we did when Harold Camp was predicting the world’s end last year, or when the Y2K thing was all we could talk about, or any number of other times people have been convinced they knew how it was all going to play out. And I suspect, on December 22nd, we’ll see some small news article acknowledging that we’re keeping on keeping on as a human race. I’m not sure what you all think about all these end of the world predictions. But for me, while I don’t consider myself a biblical literalist, I find it hard to interpret Jesus’ words about the end times in very many different ways. He says: about that day, the end of the world as we know – about that day, no one knows. No one knows the time or hour, not even him. That seems pretty clear.
            So I wonder why it is that we seem to be so fascinated, we humans, with the end? After all, maybe you aren’t stockpiling canned goods in your basement so that you can survive the apocalypse in a few months, but many of us have to admit to at least having watched any number of “end of the world” movies, be it 2012, or Independence Day or Armageddon or Terminator or so on. We seem fascinated with the concept of our own imminent doom. Why is that, do you think? Why are we so fascinated?
            If I look at what happens in the plots of these movies, I see a pattern. People realize that the world is about to end, and they suddenly start marking changes in their lives. Suddenly, they ditch the job that they never really got anything out of, or they mend relationships with family or friends that have been broken, or they make sure to tell people they love them, that they have been too scared or too busy or too whatever to tell in the past. Knowing that it might be the end, all these movie characters are spurred to action, suddenly reprioritizing things. Then, of course, when the world doesn’t end after all in the film, or they are one of a small handful of people who survives, they so on with their lives with a new perspective and focus, changed people who won’t take things for granted anymore.                                                    
So why are we so fascinated with the end of the world? I think we wish we knew when the end was coming, so we know how much time we have to start doing what we really already think and know we should be doing. We’d like to be spurred to action, and suddenly reprioritize. We’d like healing for our broken relationships, to make our life’s work something that has meaning to us, to tell people we love them. And we’ll get around to all that, real soon. Really. Soon. Any day now, right? If the end was coming, we’d make sure to get our lives into the shape we keep meaning to get them into anyway.
Today, we return again to “Paul’s” letter to the Ephesians with a short little segment. “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” “Paul” and his contemporaries lived in a time when they strongly believed that they were experiencing the end days. They weren’t trying to predict the end. They just assumed Jesus’ return was imminent. You know that we mortals always have a different understanding of time than God! So “Paul’s” letters are always filled with urgency, and here “Paul” says that we should be wise, careful how we live, so that we are “making the most of the time.” Rather than whiling away our time numbing our senses, “Paul” recommends being Spirit-filled, worshipful, and above all, spending time giving thanks to God at all times and for all things. “Making the most of the time.” Are you making the most of your time? Your life?
            As I mentioned before, Jesus was pretty explicit in his teaching about us not being able to know the day or hour when our end might come. But at the same time, Jesus did spend a lot of time talking about the signs of the times. Because we don’t know the day and hour of our end, we should always be prepared, Jesus taught. Since we don’t know, rather than be caught off guard and scrambling to do and live as we’ve meant to live all along, Jesus calls us to live as prepared people, ready, all of the time. At first glance, this can feel exhausting. Frankly, it sounds to me like having your house clean enough all the time so that it is ready for guests to drop by at any moment. Maybe this something that’s easy for you to achieve. But it has never been one of my skills! But I don’t think Jesus meant for us to live in a state of constant alert, stress, and panic. No, I think what Jesus meant was something like this: “Be careful how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time.”
Are you making the most of your time? Your life? As you look over the years of your live, and as you look forward to what may lay ahead, are you making the most of it? Are you being wise? Is your life centered in thanksgiving to God your Maker for everything, at all times? If your time was limited, how drastic would the changes need to be in your life for you to start living like you’ve always meant to be living?  
            Time is one of our most precious commodities. We think about money a lot – having it or not, spending it, saving it. But when it comes to time, we’re all on a pretty level playing field. None of us know how much we have of it, and all of us have the same amount of it to spend at a time. Are you making the most of it? I encourage you, this week, to track how you spend your time. I don’t want you to change your patterns – yet. You can do that at the end of the week if you aren’t happy with your results. But I want you to write down how you spend your time. Be honest, even if you don’t like what you have to write! But try to write down how you spend each half-hour, or hour, for one week. Then, if you feel like it, share it with me or Aaron, and let us know what you thought about how you’ve spent your time. Or share it on our church facebook page. Or if you’re really brave, you can share your record in print and I’ll put it up on my bulletin board. Next to my own, of course! But more than your report, I want to know what you think: Are you spending your time like you mean to? And if not, why not? What on earth are we waiting for?
            I’ve been spending a lot of time unpacking these last few weeks. Some boxes you can unpack in about 5 minutes – tossing books onto bookshelves, for example. But others take forever to unpack, like when I came to the box of my photo albums and yearbooks. I looked through my yearbook from my senior year in high-school and I read all of the entries from all of my friends, and I have to tell you, I don’t even know what some of it means anymore. Some of the inside jokes that we referred to, some of the phrases and memories we allude to – I honestly don’t remember all of them anymore. I am sure, when my friends and I were signing those yearbooks, we could never imagine a time when we wouldn’t remember it all anymore. But I was struck by the drive we all seemed to share to make the most of our time. Young people are pretty skilled at that. There are so many changes you go through so quickly, that young people often have an acute awareness of appreciating the short time that any one situation exists for them. Sometimes adults are frustrated with the occasionally less-than-careful ways young people choose to make the most of their time. But as adults, I think we could learn from the young people around us about trying to soak all the life out of every moment God gives us. Giving thanks at all time and in all places by making the most of it. Somewhere along the way, we become more hesitant, less willing to risk.   
Friends, our end is coming. It may mean our individual end in this life that we know, or our collective end, or something we can’t even imagine. But when and how it will all play out – well, that isn’t even the most important thing. As followers of Jesus, we’re to be prepared, by making the most of the gifts we’ve been given already, the gifts that we too often leave unused, unopened. Are you making the most of it? Are you living the life you want to be living? Are you spending your time how you want to be spending it? What are you waiting for? If you’re smart, you’ll make the most of it.
Amen.

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