February 17, 2013

Ecclesiastes 3:1-15
Psalm 34:1-14
Ephesians 5:6-20

“Making the Most of the Time”

When the letter to the Ephesians was written towards the end of the first century, both its author and the Christians who received it were expecting the end of the world to come quite soon. They expected that Christ would soon return, and the Kingdom of God would be inaugurated. It could be any day now, and many of them hoped it would be sooner rather than later. “But in the meantime,” the Christian leader explains, “there are ways you should be living… ways you should be spending your time… and other ways that you shouldn’t.”

“Be careful… how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time…” the letter encouraged them. “Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord” and live accordingly. And if you’re not sure what is pleasing to God, here are some pointers: “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.”

Our context today is somewhat different. Even as Christians, we do not live day-to-day with the expectation that Christ may return today or tomorrow. Although it is our Christian hope that Christ will one day return and set all things right, most of us don’t think about it too much, and we certainly don’t avoid making plans for the future because of that expectation.

The church budget line for “Pension and Benefits” is going up this year in all the Presbyterian Churches across the country because the Pension fund needs more income to make sure that there will still be some pension money available by the time ministers my age eventually retire.

Some of you here today are likely planning for your retirement too, even if it’s many years away, or you’re saving money for your children’s education, or looking ahead to your own career plans, or relationship plans, or even just a little ahead towards your summer vacation.

Most of the time we live as if we are quite sure that we’ll make it to the average life expectancy in Canada of somewhere around 80 or 85 years or even more. We live as if we have all the time in the world.

It sounds funny to say that… “We live as if we have all the time in the world”… because most of us find ourselves rushing from one activity to the next, cramming too many things into a day or a week, worrying about the things we are not getting done and the responsibilities that we are not fulfilling. We often feel like time is short… not enough time to get a good night’s rest, not enough time to spend with our families, not enough time to get everything done at work, not enough time to keep things in order around the house, not enough time to worship and work on our relationship with God.

We rush from one activity to the next, often complaining that we are short on time… but we continue to live as if we have all the time in the world because we put off the most important things as if these things can wait until tomorrow, or next week, or next year, or “when other things slow down a bit.”

When the author of the letter to the Ephesians wrote, “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time…” he was mostly encouraging the early Christians to spend their time doing good instead of getting into selfish and destructive activities. This text would be a good one for a preacher who wanted to warn Christians away from irresponsible drinking, indiscriminate sexual activity, and even the use of vulgar language.

As we begin this Season of Lent, we could commit ourselves to ridding our lives of the kinds of harmful and shameful activities that the author is talking about: “For once you were in darkness,” he writes, “but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light – for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.”

But I think that, for most of us, the change that God is calling us to during this time of turning and returning to God, is not so much a ridding ourselves of evil activities, but a reordering of our lives to make the most of the time that we have been given. For some of us, it will mean working less so that we will have more time to spend with our families and loved ones. For some of us, it will mean playing less so that we will have more time to do our work. For some of us, it will mean choosing carefully between the many possible good activities and services we could be doing so that we will be able to do a few things well. And hopefully for all of us, it will mean a reordering of our lives in order to make time for worship, study, and prayer.

In Ephesians, we read the instruction “Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord,” and the only way we are going to do that is by actually spending some time talking to and listening to God.

Just think of the example that Jesus gave us. As he travelled from town to town and synagogue to synagogue, there was much to be done. There were sermons to deliver, stories to tell, and crowds and crowds of people to heal and to help. Jesus certainly had a full schedule! But between the speaking engagements and the performing of miracles, Jesus spent good times with his friends, and he shared meals with his neighbours, and he reclined at the table and let others serve him. And not only that… but when the crowds were pressing in on him, and the needs of the people were nearly overwhelming him, he took himself away from the work and he took time to pray.

Lent is sometimes thought of as a time of guilt and sacrifice and hardship that religious people have imposed on them, or that we impose on ourselves. But I don’t think it needs to be like that. I really like the Stewardship Committee’s focus on the gift of TIME during this Season because it’s not about feeling guilty and it’s not about depriving ourselves of good things.

It’s about pausing to acknowledge that every second, every minute, every hour, and every day is a precious gift from God, and to take a good look at how we spend that amazing gift. The idea is not to be hard on ourselves for the ways we waste time with too much work, or too much play, or too much whatever… But the idea is to look at our use of time honestly and make some incremental changes, week by week by week, so that we can make the most of the time.

In the wisdom book of Ecclesiastes, we are reminded: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” This time, right now, we have set aside and dedicated to the worship of God. We have been attentive to God’s Word and considered what God is saying to us today.

So let us continue our worship, and prepare ourselves to gather at the Table of the Lord. God has blessed us with the gift of this time. May we experience God’s presence and God’s welcome in this time. Amen.