ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH September 2, 2018
Rev. Ed Musson
WHAT TIME IS IT?
Psalm 118: 21-29; Matthew 18: 15-20; Romans 13: 8-14
In 1968 a newly formed rock group released their first album entitled “Chicago Transit Authority.” They eventually changed their name to simply, Chicago. On that first album is a song entitled, “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” Some of you will remember the tune and the words, “As I was walking down the street one day, a man came up to me and asked me what the time was that was on my watch, and I said, ‘Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care about time?’” Well – we may say that that was but one of the burning questions of the radical 60’s, but it continues to be our question today as well, doesn’t it? We want our lives to be full and meaningful. And since we don’t really know what time it is, we pack them as full as they possibly can be in the hope of finding meaning in it all.
Yet we struggle at times, don’t we? In a Peanuts cartoon, Lucy observes as she is walking with Charlie Brown, “The years go by too fast…There are more people in the world than ever before, but there is less time to do things.” Then for an uncharacteristic moment, Lucy is silent, before she yells at Charlie Brown, “WE NEED BIGGER YEARS! “We understand that too, don’t we? We all face the limits of time and so want to make the most of the time we have been given. But does anybody really know what time it is? We have spoken before about how life is like a journey. We have some sense of when the journey began, and perhaps some sense of the direction we may be heading, but we really have no sense at all of where we are on the journey. We may know how far we have come, but have no way of knowing how far we have yet to go. We really do not know what time it is in our lives, do we?
Oh, we can use actuarial charts and make our best guesses, but really we don’t know at all. Which is why we, as people of faith, must continually put our time in God’s hands. Whether we call this journey of life, faith; or this journey of faith, life; the only way we can ever have “bigger years” is to live in the presence of a bigger God, I mean the God of all time and eternity, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and so seek to gain God’s perspective for the living of our lives.
I saw this week a piece entitled, “The Station”. I’ll read it to you – see if you can identify yourself. “”Tucked away in our subconscious is an idyllic vision. We see ourselves on a long trip that spans the continent. We are traveling by train. Out the windows we drink in the passing scenes of cars on the highway, of children waving at the crossings, of cattle grazing on distant fields. But uppermost in our mind is the final destination. Once we get there our dreams will come true and the now scattered pieces of our lives will fit neatly together like a jigsaw puzzle. How restlessly we pace the aisles, damning the minutes for loitering, waiting, waiting, waiting for the station. When we finally reach the station, that will be it, and we think to ourselves. When I’m 18! When I finish college! When I get a job! When I buy a new 450SL Mercedes Benz! When I get married! When I have children! When I’ve paid off the mortgage! When I get a promotion! When I retire! Then, I will live happily ever after! Sooner or later, we have to realize that there is no station, no one place to arrive at once and for all. The true joy of life is the journey. The station is only a dream which constantly outdistances us. So stop pacing the aisles and counting the miles. Life must be lived as we go along. So enjoy the ride…don’t just wait for the station!” (end of quote)
The advice is simple really: Relish the moment! Stop to smell the roses! Carpe Diem! Seize the day! Pop psychology and modern culture will tell us to live life to the fullest, for our sakes. You only go around once in life, so grab for all the gusto you can get. Live large and fulfil all your wants and needs and desires. How well we know though, from our own experience, such self-centered living is shallow and soon loses its meaning and gusto. But there is another way of hearing this same message. It is the message of our Christian faith. It encourages us to live life fully in the now, and to relish the moment, not for our sakes alone, but for God’s sake. “This is the day which the Lord has made,” writes the Psalmist, “let us rejoice and be glad in it!” (Ps. 118). As Ireneaus wrote in the early centuries of our faith, “the glory of God is a person fully alive.” So, people of faith, carpe diem! Seize the day!
In our Old Testament lesson this morning, the judge Deborah is called by God to lead the Israelites against the Canaanites, a people who had oppressed them for 20 years. The period of the Judges was approximately 1200 B.C. and it was a time during which God would raise up charismatic leaders, mostly military men, Their purpose was to lead the children of Israel through times of social or spiritual or political difficulty. In this time, God chose a woman judge named Deborah to lead the Israelites against the Canaanites who were a military powerhouse because they had added the newest technology to their weapons, iron. We read, the Canaanites had 900 chariots of iron, a stunning number, which meant they were a nearly invincible fighting machine. Yet Deborah rallied her troops together saying, “UP! THIS IS THE DAY ON WHICH THE LORD HAS GIVEN OUR ENEMIES INTO OUR HANDS! THE LORD IS GOING OUT BEFORE US!”
And by nothing less than divine intervention, including a heavy downpour causing the wheels of iron chariots to get stuck in the mud, Israel won a victory that day against overwhelming odds. Rather the Lord won a victory that day, for all Israel really had to do was show up! Still, Deborah’s cry was a call to action. “UP! Carpe diem! Seize the day!” For each of us, there is a moment in time, a window of opportunity, in which we too are called to act.
The ancient Romans pictured opportunity as a beautiful woman with long, braided hair in front, but with a bald head in back. If you meet her face to face and recognize her, you can grab her by her locks and hold on to her, but if you let her pass, she is gone forever because there is nothing you can do to catch her or hold on to her. Up!, says Deborah. This is the day for action. Carpe diem! Seize the day! The Apostle Paul gives us a similar message in his letter to the Romans. This letter, written near the end of his life, rings true with his firmly held conviction and expectation of our Lord’s imminent return. Just prior to our reading this morning, Paul is urging his listeners, then and now, to fulfill the law of God by living and acting in love. The whole of the law of God can be summarized in this one word, love.
Jesus said it as well. The Law is simply this: love God with all that you are and your neighbour as yourself, all the rest is just commentary. This law of love must be applied to all of life. When in doubt as to what is your best course of action, choose the way of love. When confused about how to respond to your neighbour, do whatever seems most loving, for to love is to fulfill the law of God. Paul goes on then to say, “BESIDES THIS, YOU KNOW WHAT TIME IT IS” IT IS THE MOMENT FOR YOU TO WAKE FROM SLEEP. FOR SALVATION IS NEARER TO US NOW THAN WHEN WE FIRST BELIEVED.” We clearly hear Paul’s urgent expectation of the imminent return of Christ. Wake up! Seize the day! The night is far gone and the day is near! Well – whether we, after 2000 years of waiting, share his sense of urgency or not, still we must live with this same expectation. BECAUSE This IS the day of the Lord’s coming, This IS the day of the Lord’s coming, whether it is His coming into history in the fullness of His glory, or whether it’s his coming into our own lives in a deeper and more meaningful way. Either way, this is the day which the Lord has made, so we must live fully and expectantly in each moment we have been given.
A few years ago one of the computer companies used a slogan, “Where do you want to go today?” It is a reminder to us that the world is full of opportunities and we have to decide where we want to go and what we want to do…today. Our faith offers us the same invitation. What are you going to do in this day which the Lord has given to you? This is the day we have been given to make a decision of faith. This is the day you have been given to make a decision about who Jesus Christ really is and what He has to do with you. “I’ll decide later”, you might say, – and very many do “when I’m older, when I have more of my questions answered, when I am more persuaded.” To you, I say, Seize the day! This is the day we have been given to lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light. Seize the day! This is the day we have been given to fulfill the law of God by loving our neighbours by asking forgiveness or offering forgiveness to the one from whom you have been too long separated; by responding to the need of the one who has too long been crying for help; by doing that act of kindness that you have been too long putting off! This is the day to right the wrong. Seize the day, for you may be given no other.
This is the day we have been given to “wake up from our slumber” and make the changes in our lives that we know need to be made, changes in our attitudes/ our behaviours,/ our language,/ our thoughts,/ our habits.
You know – There is a human tendency ingrained within each of us that we can put those necessary things off until a later time, a better time, an easier time. All but the strongest and boldest of us are card carrying members of the association of procrastinators when it comes to making the difficult changes in our lives.
We live by the motto: “Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow!” But the reality is, there is no tomorrow. There is only today and there is no better day than this day to make those changes we know need to be made, the changes we know God is calling us to make, so friends – seize the day!
Theologian Karl Barth, perhaps the greatest theological mind of the 20th century, writes in his commentary on Romans about living in what he calls the “eternal moment.” In a rather tight and difficult argument, he says that this moment in time is the only moment we have been given in which we can act. The past moment is gone and so is unchangeable. The future moment lies open before us but it is not yet, so is unusable, which means we have only THIS moment in which to live and act and love.
Barth calls it the “eternal moment- the Now when the past and the future stand still, when the former ceases its going and the latter its coming.” In this eternal moment God is most alive and most present to us. So he writes, “if we do not act in this moment, we do not act at all. If we do not love in this succession of moments, we do not love at all.” We can only act and love and live in the “eternal moment”, which is now.
The answer to the question with which we first started, which may well be the question of the ages, “Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care about time?” The answer is yes! Absolutely yes! Today is the day of decision! Today is the day of salvation! Today is the day to act! Today is the day to forgive! Today is the day to love!
Friends “Nothing is worth more than this day.” Not for our sakes alone, but for God’s sake. Today is the day to wake up from our slumber!.Today is the day to walk out of the darkness into the light! Today is the day to clothe ourselves in the Lord Jesus Christ.
So, people of St Stephens , “Up! Carpe Diem! SEIZE THE DAY!