Sunday, October 27, 2013

Phil Kniss: Revolutionary Time

Holistic Stewardship: Time
Ecclesiastes 3:1-15; Mark 2:23-28

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I know I’m not the only one who’s ever said this,
    but the older I get,
        the more I think about time, and how it quickly it’s passing by.
    I know to some of you I’m still wet behind the ears,
        but at this stage in my life,
        I find myself pondering this thing called time,
            ruminating, almost lost in thought,
            amazed at how everyone and everything around me
                has changed so drastically,
                while I’ve remained exactly the same.
        How does that happen?
            Then we pull out some old pictures,
                and I get a rude reality check.

    I find myself pondering the length of time—more than 17 years—
        I’ve been here at Park View,
            sojourning with you as pastor.
        We just celebrated Park View’s 60 years of history.
            I calculate that 4 years from now,
                I will have been here for one-third of that history.
        Next Sunday is All Saints’ Day.
        When we read the names of all those who died
            while associated with Park View, there will be 180 names.
            When I arrived as pastor, the list had just 72 names.
        So I personally know the stories of, and walked with,
            108 people, and their families, as they faced death.
        That’s sobering. In multiple ways.

But as the saying goes, time marches on.
    “Time marches on.”
        That simple phrase, which we often use,
            says a lot about our view of time.
        It marches.
        It’s unstoppable. Inevitable. Beyond control.
            It’s not really up for discussion or debate.
            It’s just something that is, and we deal with it.

But wait a minute!
    If that was all there was to it,
        why would we be talking about time,
        in a series on stewardship?
    To say we are stewards of time,
        is to say a whole lot more than “time marches on.”

We are here this morning as a gathering of believers, in worship.
    So we are thinking theologically.
    And theologically speaking, time doesn’t “just happen,”
        it doesn’t just march along,
            to some impersonal and universal law of physics
            or astronomy or philosophy.
        Time is a precious and thoughtful gift of God.

        The loving and powerful God of the universe,
            gave us, God’s creatures, the gift of time.
        And as with God’s other gifts, it is on loan to us.
        But God is still the owner of time.
            We are the managers, the stewards, the trustees.
            We are free to do with it as we choose.
            We have the power to use it well,
                or to abuse it, and waste it.
        But God always invites us to manage it
            in a way that honors the owner,
            in a way that is true to the priorities of God the owner.

We listened to Ecclesiastes 3 this morning.
    That beautifully poetic and rhythmic series of contrasting pairs,
        “a time to be born, and a time to die;
        a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
        a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”
    For everything, there is a season.
    Some of you hear that and think right away of the Pete Seeger song,
        as sung by the Byrds, “Turn, turn, turn.”
    But yes, Pete Seeger got it from the Bible.
    These words attributed to Solomon,
        are a lesson in how broad life is, how rich in variety,
        and how life revolves in cycles and seasons.

    Time moves not just in a straight line
        from the past, through the present, and into the future.
    It revolves.
    It turns round and round, like a wheel,
        one revolution after another.

Time, as revolutionary time,
    is God’s genius gift to us, and to the universe.
    It’s not a mindless, automatic turning.
    Time is not, according to the preacher/teacher in Ecclesiastes,
        a matter of God the clock-maker winding up the universe
            and letting it run like machinery.
    Time is God’s gift to us.

Listen to these words of the preacher/teacher—Ecclesiastes 3:11—
    “God has put a sense of past and future into their minds.”
Get that? Our sense of time—past and future—
    is something God put into our minds, God gave us.

God created the universe as a realm measured and marked by time—
    by orbits, by spinning and revolving bodies in space . . .
        by revolutions.

I’m speaking theologically here,
    that our sense of time, our experience of the passing of days or years,
        is due to this universe that God designed and created,
            out of God’s love and God’s regard for us.
    God put into our minds a sense of past and future,
        so we could experience life fully in this created realm,
        where we creatures are bound by time and space.

God doesn’t mark time that way.
    God dwells beyond our space-time continuum.
    The Creator transcends creation, and its limits.

With the psalmist, we said, in our call to worship,
    “A thousand years in your sight
        are like a day that has just gone by,
        or like a watch in the night.”
    God is beyond our time constraints.

The preacher in Ecclesiastes also said,
    about this time that goes ‘round in revolutionary fashion,
    “That which is, already has been;
        that which is to be, already is;
        and God seeks out what has gone by.”

I’m not sure I grasp everything
    that the preacher was trying to say here,
    but from my point of view,
    that’s a pretty good way to look at the stewardship of time.
        “That which is, already has been;
            that which is to be, already is.”
    Sure, every day is a brand new day,
        every year a new year.
    But whenever we take a step into an uncertain future,
        the good news is that God has already been there.

Most of us don’t live with that mindset, either about God or about time.
    We live, and our culture lives,
        as if time is a straight line, and we are being swept along it.
        Every minute that passes,
            is a minute we will never see again.
        So every minute we let pass without being productive,
            is a minute wasted.
        And if we miss some golden opportunity,
            that potential gold is lost forever.
        And if we really screw something up,
            if we fail at something, when we could have succeeded,
            kiss it goodbye forever, because there are no do-overs.

That’s what makes our life such a rat-race, I think.
    This linear view of time.
    This notion that we have to squeeze the most out of every minute,
        because we will never see that minute again.
    It makes everyone try to work harder, work longer,
        work more productively, and work without rest.
    That’s why Americans don’t have siestas, or afternoon teas.
        Because time is marching on,
            and we don’t want to miss a minute of it.

It seems to me, when we live in constant, frantic anxiety
    about the time passing by,
    driven to do more and produce more,
    so as not to waste a moment,
        we are acting out of a deep mistrust of God.
    It’s a way of saying to God,
        we don’t trust you to provide.
        We don’t trust your generosity.
        We don’t trust your wisdom in giving us the gift of Sabbath.

God, the Creator rested.
    And thus, God set an example for all creation.

    Animals and plants alike—
        nearly every created species has some kind of revolving cycle
            of activity and rest,
            of feeding and hibernation,
            of growth and dormancy,
            of summer and winter.
    The period of dormancy in the natural world,
        is precisely what brings new life and growth.
    The reason apple trees around here
        produced such delicious apples this fall,
        is that last winter, all the leaves fell off the trees,
            and the sap stopped running.
        The trees took a Sabbath from growing apples.

God’s rest, on the seventh day of creation,
    is a declaration of God’s abundance in creation,
        a declaration of God’s sufficiency.
When we observe Sabbath,
    we enter into God’s rest.
    We enter into the confidence and trust and peace
        that comes from serving a God who is able to rest.
    We find our rest in God’s rest.

    We don’t have to squeeze eight days of work
        into a seven-day work week, and still feel like we’re behind.
    God’s Sabbath grace reassures us
        that with only six days of work,
        we can experience seven days of abundant living.
    God throws in the seventh day for free.
        It’s a gift given out of God’s surplus.
        It’s a bonus, pure and simple.
        We haven’t earned it. We didn’t work for it. It’s a gift.

Like time itself, Sabbath is a gift of God’s grace,
    for which we are invited to be good stewards.
In our weekly seven-day cycle . . .
    in our revolutionary time that goes round and round . . .
    the seventh day is a gracious, generous gift from God.
    Those who feel compelled to overextend themselves,
        to cram eight days of work into every week,
        to push themselves to the point of
            physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion,
        are not committing the sin of working on the Sabbath, per se.
    They are committing the sin of not trusting God,
        the sin of turning down a gift from God,
        the sin of rejecting God’s grace.

God is saying to us, his people,
    “I am the Sovereign Creator, and I love you.
        I will provide for your lives.
        Enter the rest I have created for you,
            and offer to you as a gift.
        Enter my rest, the place of peace, shalom, and wholeness
            that I make for you in the midst of
            this world of striving, grasping, running, worrying.”

That, I believe, is the essence of Jesus’ teaching on Sabbath
    in the Gospels.
In today’s reading from Mark,
    Jesus’ disciples were walking along with Jesus on the Sabbath,
        and did something against religious law.
            Picked some grain and ate it.
        They did it in Jesus’ presence, and with his knowledge.
        Even though they knew it was against religious law,
            they somehow felt free and unhindered
            in the presence of Rabbi Jesus.

    The Pharisees saw it and objected to Jesus.
        “Why are you letting your disciples break Sabbath law?”
    Jesus gave an explanation from scripture, and then said, furthermore,
        “The Sabbath was created for people,
            not people for the Sabbath.”

I think what Jesus was really saying to the Pharisees, was,
    “You don’t get it.”
    If you take this gracious gift of Sabbath rest,
        and turn it into a new burden,
        into something to worry about
            and be anxious and legalistic about . . .
        and if you have to work hard, every moment of the Sabbath,
            just to keep from breaking it,
        then you haven’t begun to understand Sabbath as gift.
        You don’t know the peace, and shalom, and grace of God.
        You are striving just as hard
            as the other six days of the week.

To be good stewards of God’s gracious gift—
    this bonus time, that comes around every seven days—
    we must simply stop, breathe, and receive.

When we practice good, faithful stewardship of time
    we choose to be receptive, rather than productive,
    we choose to do what is restorative, rather than exhaustive,
        to let go, rather than grasp,
        to walk, rather than run,
        to trust, rather than strive,
        to worship God, rather than wealth.

Practicing Sabbath is not about adopting and enforcing laws.
    It is about joyfully, freely, entering God’s rest,
        it’s an important part of God’s gift of time itself.
        In our linear time, we tend to ignore that gift,
            because it seems like a lost opportunity to work.
        But in God’s revolutionary time,
            there are always more opportunities coming ‘round.
            Opportunity to work. Opportunity to rest.
        If we don’t get it quite right one time around,
            we know it’s coming around again.

    Going in circles, in this way,
        is not at all a boring way to live,
        it’s a freeing way to live.
        Every revolution holds new experiences,
            new people,
            new interactions and opportunities.
        In every revolution we get a chance to
            let go of some things,
            and take on some others.

    But it’s not all new stuff.
        In God’s time, what is, already has been,
            and what is to be, already is.

That takes a load off, you know?
    We don’t frantically have to make life happen,
        by filling every moment,
        as if it’s a once-in-a-lifetime moment.
    We can rest, truly rest,
        in the knowledge that God is turning the circle of time,
        and whatever unknown event or encounter in our future,
            whatever joy or sorrow might await us,
            God has already been there,
                and in a real sense, so have we.

    In our end is our beginning,
        in our time, infinity,
        in our doubt there is believing,
        in our life, eternity . . .
    [And] from the past will come the future,
        what it holds a mystery,
        unrevealed until its season,
        something God alone can see.

Let’s sing together, from Hymnal Worship Book, #614.

—Phil Kniss, October 27, 2013

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