Stewards of Time

Ecclesiastes 3: 1

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace. What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil–this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him. Whatever is has already been, and what will be has been before; and God will call the past to account. ” Ecclesiastes 3: 1

Recently Christine and I were watching a television movie that had been adapted from its big screen version. It was clear several scenes had been removed. This editing is called time compression, and it has been used for about the past twenty years. Sometimes time compression is used without cutting out scenes at all. Parts of the movie between dialogues are removed, or the seconds between scenes or the transition moments are removed. The movie moves right along and the show is shortened.

Have you ever felt time compression in your life? Sometimes life moves so fast we wonder what happened to those minutes, hours, days. Suddenly we wonder where the time has gone. Or we feel behind and rushed, or at least perplexed that our sense of time gives us a feeling of taking leaps into the future. Those time management seminars do not seem to help so much. Have you ever been to one ? Everyone gets a calendar and notebook with a system to help prioritize goals and tasks using the alphabet, coloring, or a complex notation system. In the end, time still marches on and cannot be managed at all, the person, of course, must manage themselves within time.

Yet still, time management books fill an entire aisle of a bookstore. It is possible to change our attitude toward time.

Learning a Biblical perspective of time is like going to the middle of a spinning merry go round. Children learn that the outside ring of the merry go round can swing them right off, but the closer to the center they get, the easier it is to stay on. This lesson is important for us today because many times our lives seem to be speeding up rather than slowing down. To draw this analogy out a bit more, it may be exhilarating to feel life spinning so fast and pulling upon every aspect of our body. However, we need to draw close to God, the center of our life, the center of our being, so we don’t feel as if the pull has increased so much that we are about to be thrown off the wheel of life. We agree that when life gets too fast, it can become scary.

Today’s Scripture listed fourteen statements in which Solomon affirmed the ups and downs of life. All of these events come from God and they are good in their time. The inference is clear: if we align ourselves with God’s timing, life will not be meaningless. Everything will be “beautiful in God’s time,” and time will process through even the most difficult experiences of life.

At the end of that list of the balance of life, Solomon repeated his opening question, “Is all this labor really worth it?” Then Solomon gave answers to the question. First, a person’s life is a gift from God. In view of the travail that we experience from day to day, life may seem like a strange gift, but it is God’s gift just the same. We “exercise” ourselves in trying to explain life’s enigmas, but we don’t always succeed. If we accept life as a gift, and thank God for it, we will have a better attitude toward the burdens that come our way. If we grudgingly accept life as a burden, then we will miss the gifts that come our way. Second, a person’s life is linked to eternity. We are created in the image of God, and were given dominion over creation; therefore, we are different from the rest of creation. We have “eternity in our hearts” and are in effect linked to heaven. This explains why nobody (including Solomon) can be satisfied with his or her endeavors and achievements, or is able to explain the enigmas of life. God accomplishes purposes in God’s time, but it will not be until we enter eternity that we will begin to comprehend God’s total plan. Our lives, our time come into perspective when we recognize our eternal nature that God has provided. The Puritan pastor Thomas Watson said, “Eternity to the godly is a day that has no sunset; eternity to the wicked is a night that has no sunrise.”

It is as if Solomon is asking us, How can life be meaningless and monotonous for you when God has made you a part of an eternal plan? You are not an insignificant insect, crawling from one sad annihilation to another. Our day to day living makes the eternity God has placed in our hearts the farthest thought from our minds. It is so easy to be consumed with the details of life and miss the big picture.

In the words of Michael Quoust, poet and priest,

Lord, I have time.

I have plenty of time.

All the time that you give me,

The years of my life,

The days of my years,

The hours of my days,

They are all mine.

Mine to fill quietly, calmly,

But to fill completely, up to the

brim,

To offer them to you, that of their

insipid water

You may make a rich wine as you

Made once in Cana of Galilee.

Following Jesus transforms our time in a miraculous way. It is miraculous when we enter into the most meaningful parts of life with a true realization of the eternal in our hearts. These times come when life slows down for a few moments and in a mystical way we realize the special meaning in a moment of time. The Bible separates time into Chronos and Kairos. Chronos is the chronological movement of time along a linear path. Kairos is the moment of clarity and meaning in life, when the birthday candles are blown out, when a baby is born, when a friend is healed or diagnosed, when loss happens, when love is felt so strong within that it consumes your whole heart.

Jesus teaches that kairos moments can be sought out. Remember the story of Mary and Martha when Jesus is about to eat a meal in their home? Martha is scurrying around being the best hostess she can be. Mary is quietly listening to Jesus. Martha rebukes Mary by asking Jesus to recognize who is doing all the work. Jesus answers that Mary has chosen the better part. In the prior Bible story, the Good Samaritan helps someone in need. In both of these stories, Jesus teaches that time has within it opportunities to step out of the chronos to experience a kairos moment.

This is a perspective that the things we are busy with are not the sum total of life. The story of Martha and Mary shows Jesus giving his blessing to time when the bustle of activity is set aside for reflection on the greater meaning of our lives, and for touching base with the Source of meaning, God himself. In short, the Bible calls us to keep the rush of life in perspective.

Being a steward of time means recognizing that the eternal within needs attention. I would consider our hopes and dreams, our values and goals, our most important loves in life to be what is at the core of our being. These things are of God. Since the day to day things demand our immediate attention, the biggest most important parts of who we are can be put aside. When time passes, suddenly the core values have been eclipsed by the day to day urgencies.

You must have heard this lesson about priorities. One day a professor took out a one-gallon pitcher from under his desk. He also produced several big rocks. He carefully placed the rocks in the jar. The rocks stacked up to the rim of the pitcher. Then he asked the students if the pitcher was full. “Yes” was their reply. Then he pulled out a bucket of gravel and poured it into the same pitcher. The gravel of course worked its way in between the rocks. Then he asked again, “Is the pitcher full.” A few said, “yes” but most were on to her now and reserved their judgment for later. He then reached under the desk and pulled out a bucket of sand. He poured the sand in and it penetrated the spaces between the rock and the gravel. This time when He asked if the jug was full everyone said, “no.” The professor said, “Good” and then proceeded to pour glasses of water into the pitcher until the water reached the rim. The professor then asked what the point of this exercise was. One student answered, “You can always cram more into life than you think.” Another answered, “Looks can be deceiving.” The professor calmly and politely said, “No. The point is, if you don’t put the big rocks in first you’ll never get them in at all.” Put the big rocks in first!

We have to take care of those big rocks first in life. What are the big rocks in life? Can we tell the difference between what is important and what is urgent? What is the difference between needs and wants? C.S. Lewis put it well, “Put first things first and we get second things thrown in, put second things first and we lose both first and second things.”

What is it that really matters most? In the eternal perspective, only God and people truly matter.

Orient your life around what really matters most and you will find the balance that you need. Jesus did this, and you can, too. It may take some significant effort on your part, but it is worth it. You will find balance for your life when you orient your life around what matters most.

Ben Weir, a Presbyterian pastor who was held hostage in Lebanon, was imprisoned in a basement room, with no windows, and only one bare light bulb hanging on a single wire from the ceiling. He had a cot, but he was fastened to the floor by a long, bulky chain. During the week, he would hide a small piece of bread and a small sip of water, he would repeat the words of consecration of those very common elements and there, all alone, he would celebrate the sacrament of holy communion. He remembered the fellowship of church, the hymns, the prayers, the love of God taught. When we was released 16 months later, he stated that waiting for God is a ministry in itself.

Even if we feel imprisoned by the busyness of life, we can redeem our time by putting those big rocks in first. We can remember the love of God and even the physical circumstances of life cannot destroy our spirit, the eternal within. Our task as Christians is to develop a life that puts God at the center so we can be released from the pressures and anxieties of the meaningless in time. Yes, there is necessity in what we do to fulfill the tasks of day to day, but it cannot be what gives our life meaning. We must provide a greater hope for ourselves.

Once we redeem our time, we are empowered to share God’s love with the world. God’s message of hope is our anchor in life, and we should be able to share that love with others.

George Allen, a psychiatrist, worked in Europe after World War II with a program that attempted to save orphans who were roaming around homeless, begging, scrounging for food. His team provided a temporary camp for them, where there was a bed, food, warmth, and care. The main problem was that it was very difficult for these children to fall asleep. Then one night, by accident, they discovered if they gave the children a piece of bread when they prayed with them at night, and let the children hold the bread in their hands as they were dozing off, the children fell asleep immediately. The children felt that they would still have something when they awoke. There would still be something to eat and someone to love them. That was true in those orphan camps in Europe, and it is true today for you and for me, as we share with the world this bread of Christ.

On this world communion Sunday, we see our individual time in need of redemption, as Paul wrote in our first Scripture. We also realize our corporate time is in need of focusing upon what our church is really about. Let us keep our lives centered on God and on what is most imortant in life. Let us not waste our church time on details that do not advance the kingdom of God. When we take communion, when we hold this bread and cup in our hands, let us receive courage to minister physically and spiritually, to those who are suffering and hurting, those who are discouraged, defeated, and depressed. Let this bread in our hands nourish us so we can provide bread in the hands of others. The kairos moments of life keep us from living in a time compression frenzy. Let the bread we take mystically nourish and unite us with the body of Christ that we may put bread into the hands of those who need to experience the love of God. Taking time to experience and share God’s love is being a genuine steward of God’s gift of time. Amen.