Whole-Life Stewardship: Time
Today we’re starting our November sermon series called Whole-Life Stewardship. Stewardship means the task and role of taking care of things on behalf of someone else. As Christians, we believe that the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it. In other words, everything belongs to God, our Creator. We do, the universe does, our time does, our things do, the animals and the trees and the mountains and the air we breathe; it all belongs to God, really. We’re just the caretakers, the stewards of all that God has given us to watch over. We don’t act like this is true sometimes. We forget that we are stewards. We think that we are in charge. We think that we are the true owners of all that is. And so we need to remember. We’re doing that in a small group, as we read through Adam Hamilton’s book Enough. We do that when we gather for worship, when we sing praises to God and remember that God is God and we are not. We do that when we pray “Your kingdom come, Your will be done.” And we’re doing that in this sermon series. Every fall, we spend some time reflecting together and searching our hearts as we think about how we will support the ministries of this church through our financial gifts. But this year, we’re broadening our scope. We’re stewards of every aspect of our lives. It all belongs to God. How do we remind ourselves of that when we lose sight of the truth? Are we good stewards? How are we doing at managing the resources God has given to us? Each week for the next three weeks, we’ll look at an aspect of our lives as we assess our stewardship and our faith: our time, our talents, and our treasure. At the end of the month, we’ll celebrate the commitments we make with a time of thanksgiving, consecration, and fellowship around the table.
Today, we begin with time. God gives us time. How are we doing at being stewards of the time that we have? Honestly, I think being good stewards of our time is the most challenging thing. How are you using your time from God for God? I don’t know about you, but managing my time is a struggle. On the one hand, I feel like I can be obsessed with getting stuff done. I try to cram so much into my time. I want to feel productive, accomplished, and there never seems to be enough time to do all that I want to do, need to do, should do. And I know I waste too much time, filling hours with things I don’t really care about, or even with things I know I should actively avoid. Whenever United Methodist pastors are ordained, we’re asked what are called the “historic questions,” questions based on those John Wesley, founders of Methodism, asked of pastors, questions that we’ve been asking of our clergy for hundreds of years. One part of these “historic questions” reads like this: “Will you observe the following directions? a) Be diligent. Never be unemployed. Never be triflingly employed. Never trifle away time; neither spend any more time at any one place than is strictly necessary. b) Be punctual. Do everything exactly at the time.” Pastors have gamely answered “yes” to these questions for hundreds of years too, while secretly saying to ourselves: Never be triflingly employed? Never trifle away time? Do everything at exactly the right time? Seriously? Wesley’s directions sound like a formula for burnout. But he himself observed a rigid schedule of prayer, fasting, personal study, group study, serving the poor, and preaching the faith. How are you spending your time?
I’m not sure I even want to see an honest, factual breakdown of how I spend my time. For example, the latest software update to my cell phone came with a way to set time limits on any apps on my phone I want. If I want to, I could set it so that I can only be on my web browser for an hour a day, or only on facebook for thirty minutes. I could do that. But I haven’t yet. I want to, I think it would be wise. I think I use my phone too much. And yet, I’m not sure I’m really ready to confront my dependence on my phone, on the internet, on facebook, on distractions. Am I a good steward of my time?
And yet, I also feel like we get so obsessed with productivity, with doing, with achieving, with checking things off our endless to-do lists that we don’t enjoy the time that we have. Our time is a gift from God, isn’t it? And yet, we don’t savor it very well. The scriptures speak of resting in God. Jesus took time away to be alone with God. “Be still and know that I am God,” the Psalms command. But it’s so hard to do! We’re so wired to be productive that when we finally get the rest that we crave we’re too stressed to enjoy it. I think of my most recent vacation, when I visited Lake Placid for a few days. My intent was to just relax. I wanted very much to have a vacation where I just didn’t do anything. I booked a room with a beautiful balcony view of the Lake and a fireplace and a tub with jacuzzi jets. And then, I started to think that I wasn’t really making the most of my vacation unless I was taking in all the sights of Lake Placid. Shouldn’t I hit all the shops? See the Olympic landmarks? Go hiking? Visit the wildlife refuge? Hit all the vegan restaurants? I had planned on driving up Whiteface, but it was so foggy during the timeblock I scheduled it, I thought it would be kind of a silly trip. But I was stressing about not checking it off my list. Tina had to remind me that it’s just a couple hours away, and I could go back whenever I wanted. The most relaxing day of vacation was the day that I felt sick. I was dizzy all day and I had to just lay around if I didn’t want to feel like the room was spinning. It was the most relaxing day of vacation I had, but a part of my brain felt guilty for wasting my time.
In the midst of this muddle, this tug of war about how I spend my time, a refrain from the country band Alabama runs through my head (yes, I had a country music phase in high school): “I’m in a hurry to get things done. Oh I rush and rush until life’s no fun. All I really gotta do is live and die but I’m in a hurry and don’t know why.” Our time is a gift. God asks us to be good stewards of our time. And somehow I feel unproductive, exhausted, and like I spend too much time doing nothing worthwhile all at once. I’m guessing that relationship with time feels familiar to many of you, too.
I think our scripture passage today reflects some of this same tension. Usually, when we hear this passage of Jesus’s teaching that we usually classify as “about worry,” we read it from the Gospel of Matthew, where it is part of what we call The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ long chunk of teaching to the crowds gathered on the mountainside. But it also appears here in Luke, a little later in the gospel, not part of Luke’s Sermon the Plain to the crowds, but instead a teaching given just to the disciples. Luke’s version is just enough different than the one that I know so well from Matthew that I was able to listen to it a little more carefully. My attention caught on this: “Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” Both gospels include this verse. And Luke adds, “If you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest?” If anything, all we manage is worrying so much that stress steals hours of our time.
We talked about striving last week, our endless quest for success. Here, Jesus says that it’s the nations, or in other words, people other than God’s people who spend their time striving for more food and more drink and more clothes and more stuff and even more time. If we’re going to strive, Luke says, strive for God’s kingdom, God’s reign on earth. Luke says that it is God’s “good pleasure,” a phrase with extra emphasis - it is God’s deep joy to draw us into God’s reign. So, Jesus says, let go of your stuff. Give with a generous heart. Try to accumulate eternal treasure instead of earthly treasure, because wherever we accumulate treasure is where our heart will finally dwell, and we want our hearts in God’s eternal home.
But then, in the last several verses of our reading for today, Jesus shifts gears. God’s people should be people of action, dressed and ready, lamps lit, alert and waiting for God’s arrival. Jesus uses imagery of slaves in a household who are blessed if they are always ready for a Master’s return home, even an unexpected return. “You must be ready,” Jesus concludes, “for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” It sounds a little contradictory. How can we be both free from worry about how much time we have, and ready all the time, without even a chance to sleep lest God catch us unawares?
I’ve talked to you before about the theological concepts of time we find throughout the scriptures - chronos time and kairos time. Remember, chronos is the Greek word for our regular, ordinary, everyday time. Our human time. The seconds, the minutes, the hours, the days moving just as they do. But kairos – kairos is time in a different way. Kairos is God’s time – specifically, “God’s right time for action.” Usually the word “chronos” is used in Greek texts to talk about time. But in the gospels, for example, this “kairos” – God’s right time for action – is used more often than chronos – regular time. And that makes sense, because the scriptures are full of stories about God’s right time for things to happen. “In the fullness of time.” Kairos. God’s right time for action. It’s not that God isn’t in chronos time. All time is God’s time. But our lives are this strange mix of ordinary days and spectacular moments, days that blur together, and seconds that stretch out and feel like each moment contains an eternity. And all of these days, these years, these seconds - they’re all God’s time, and all of it is a gift for us.
We live in the tension. God is both in the ordinary of our daily routines, and breaking in in unexpected ways. God transcends time. And I believe that God wants us to be mindful of God at work both in our daily routines and in the grand moments. God wants us to both use our time well to serve God and neighbor, to put to use our gifts and talents to share the love of God, and to rest easy in God’s arms, not trying to earn God’s love with our relentless busyness, not trying to drown out our spiritual emptiness by filling our hours with meaningless distractions. God wants all of our time - our purpose-filled hours of work, our quiet hours of rest and renewal, our hours of devotion and prayer, our hours spent together with God’s other precious creations, enjoying God in the everyday moments, and ready for a God who also acts at just the right times too.
How are you using your time? How will you spend your days? Today is All Saints Sunday, a day when we are remembering those we have loved so dearly. I’m guessing that as we remember, most of us are not thinking that we wished they were more successful or productive. We’re just wishing we had more time. And that’s why I treasure this day so very much, when we remind ourselves that we are a part of the communion of saints. The “communion of saints” means the whole of God’s people, past, present, and future. And in the way that God works in chronos time and kairos time, the communion of saints means that time is flattened. We are all living in God right now, which is also always. The saints are alive to God always, and so they are alive to us and we are alive to them. We celebrate that in particular when we share in Holy Communion - we’re together with all who have gone before and all who will come after us at the table of grace, which is always kairos time, always God’s right time to act. We miss them so, but we are also together with them. We live in the tension.
How are you using your time? How will you spend your days? God has made a gift of time to you. What gift will you make of your time to God? Whether you are working or sleeping, busy or resting, praising or mourning, rushing ahead or falling behind, longing or remembering, your every moment is a gift that God is ready to receive. Amen.