+Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 20th Sunday after Trinity, October 14, 2018
“See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”
ON 1950s television we enjoyed many game shows. To Tell the Truth, What’s My Line? Truth or Consequences, The Price is Right, and Beat the Clock. That last one featured Bud Collyer, hosting contestants who matched their skills and their on-camera butterflies against a giant wall clock that ran 60 seconds while they attempted to perform something zany with everyday items. Throw a balloon in the air, race across the stage to pile something up, then get back and catch the balloon before it hit the floor. Stack these four plates, only you can’t use your hands. At the end of the show, a man was usually covered with whipped cream, pancake batter, or spaghetti. It was funny, and when the clock ran out of time to a rousing countdown of five, four, three, two, one, the music would play, an alarm would sound and Bud cried out, “Time’s Up!” From its first airing in 1950, the show’s clock ran down until 1961, when time was up for Beat the Clock and we were left to answer the $64,000 Question.
Life for some of us lasts a long time. Just ask a four-year-old how long it is until Christmas, or even next Saturday, and they say it’s such an eternity they won’t be able to wait that long. You get up to my age, and the years run their course like that Beat the Clock second hand. My predecessor, Canon Boardman Reed, ran a full 98 years before his clock ran out, and then, for life down here, time was up. And for him, it probably seems like a brief joyride in a P-51.
We take time for granted, and certainly, all our lives, we’ve existed in a world of time. We trace our timeline, and everything we know or think or experience enters our past; that is, it originally happened earlier than the present moment. Even my saying that is now past. You’re still thinking it over, and for you, it’s present, but these words are now only a reverberation in your memory, memory, memory. So, what is time?
The Bible’s first words are, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void…” Gen 1:1-2 God created light, the sky above, then said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years; and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth.” Gen 1:14-15 Time began with a huge clock up there in the heavens. For the inhabitants of Earth, two sweep hands tell us the time: our sun and moon. The sun goes around our sky once every 24 hours. That makes one day. The moon travels through phases from new moon to quarter to full, back to quarter and new moon: four weeks—one month. We travel around the sun, and when winter turns to spring, then summer to fall, and winter comes again: we mark one year. The clock’s hands move and we see that it’s once again time for sweaters and wooly socks.
It’s our common experience to have all the past logged in our memory, as we watch scenes unfolding endlessly: our future becoming the present and going into our past. We feel this will go on without end forever. It’s easy to believe in endless time, for time is all we’ve known.
Cosmologists look out at space, measure the movements of the stars, reading this huge clock backwards, and conclude the universe must be 13-3/4 billion years old. Have you wished the universe a happy big bang birthday lately? I recently read that in about 3 billion years, the Andromeda galaxy will pass right through our own Milky Way. Something to look forward to.
We don’t question the existence of time, or what we perceive as time. It must always have been. We’re just watching the screen, and on our screen the clock is going around.
The clock is also running out. Five, four, three…
The prophet Daniel lived six hundred years before Christ. His entire career was under foreign skies as a prophetic seer to a succession of emperors. He was given visions of future events. And at the end of his time, Daniel received a staggering vision that showed the end of the old world, and the coming of the Lord’s Messiah: a new day. He also seems to have seen the end of time. A series of days and weeks was told him, and when we decode the message, Daniel was given the exact year when Jesus came into His Temple in Jerusalem. The angel messenger then spoke to Daniel, “But you, go your way till the end; for you shall rest, and will arise to your inheritance at the end of the days.” Dan 12:13
The end of days: there is an end of all things. We know there is an end of life as we know it. People die. They enter the void, as it appears to our eyes, and leave behind them a still form.
St. Peter wrote by prophecy that, “by the word of God the heavens were of old… But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:5-9
There is much in that statement. This great seemingly eternal universe was created by one word from God’s lips. It will stand only until God speaks judgment, and then fire will consume it. I don’t wait for Andromeda’s big inning. I think it will all end much sooner than that. Yet, to God, time means a very different thing than it does to us. His timing is perfect, but it eludes us every time we set dates on Him. The message is in there, but we only understand it when it’s already happened. Daniel’s days and weeks were part of the record, yet no one was already standing at the Temple gates awaiting the King riding into town on a burro. It was time. But they didn’t read the clock right.
While we swim in this river of time, we learn things, we grow in knowledge and experience and hopefully we learn the lessons of this life. A person who is very old will appear to us either very wise, or very silly. It may not be the wise-sounding elder who is in fact truly wise, but rather it could be the silly one. That’s for us to learn, as the Karate Kid learned about Mr. Miyagi: “Wax on, wax off.” We learn from one another. We live in our own age, and in the mystery of time, we take part in the dance.
St. Paul told the wise men of Athens about God, that “He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being.” Acts 17:26-28
This great story is long in the telling, far reaching in its many dramas, accomplishments, heroic and villainous acts, triumphs and defeats, but at the very center of time comes Jesus. As an axis upon which everything turns rises a cross upon which a man is nailed. Victory and defeat, villainy and gallantry, heaven and earth, God and the devil, truth and deception, light and darkness all meet here. The moment is intense, the stakes are everything, all our souls in the balance for one throw. He dies. He wins. Our bonds are broken. The enemy is crippled. Hell’s foundations quiver. Heaven cries, then shouts, then sings. The temple veil is rent in twain.
There had to be a beginning, and if a beginning, there is an end of time. John the Apostle was witness to it, and though like Daniel he must have received an emotional blow to witness such massive, crushing cosmic destruction, he reports it to us. “[God] lives forever and ever, who created heaven and the things that are in it, the earth and the things that are in it, and the sea and the things that are in it, [and] there should be delay no longer, but in the days of the sounding of the seventh angel, the mystery of God would be finished.” Rev 10:4-7
Finished. Time’s up. The End. The double bar at the end of the last measure.
Then silence. Or . . . what? John reports: “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.” Rev 21:1
Time runs out. Jesus told a story about a king whose son was being married, and the family friends were all invited. No doubt the invitations were spectacular. They all RSVP’d back their intentions to come. These were princes, magistrates, national leaders, kings in their own right. The word then went out to come now, the feast is ready. But they refused, made fun of the invitation, and even beat and killed the messenger. In St. Matthew’s account, this king then sent armies to destroy the ungrateful guests. He burnt their city. If you don’t come to the dinner, and you treat the invitation with disdain: you’re in real trouble. Time’s up. You haven’t grown in wisdom, but in foolishness.
It’s not okay to wait around inside of your life, figuring the Lord can woo you, send you invitations forever, make offers, sweeten the deal, and you just play coy. “I don’t know… I can’t decide… I’m waiting for a better thing to come along… I’d be giving you all my time, you know… What if someone else came along later that I loved more?”
No. Prince Charming was a man covered in his own blood, writhing on a column of torture, arms spread by spikes. He was not handsome. He was not rich. He didn’t have a house or a garden. He was dirt poor, disgraced, even hard to look at. Now He extends His nail-pierced hand out to you: this one time. And there may not be another time. These stakes are too high to waste your precious seconds pondering other offers. There will be no other. Time revolves around this one moment and asks only one question: “What think ye of Christ?” That is not an intellectual question. Scholars know all about Him, intellectually, and fail this exam. No. What do YOU think of the Anointed One—in your heart of hearts, is He your Lord, Master, God, Ruler, Leader, Savior, Friend, and heavenly Spouse?
Time’s running out. Decide.
Then walk circumspectly.
As Christians, we have made that decision, and it’s settled. Or is it? We may be kidding ourselves, believed our Lord’s words while we’re kids, and then we thought we could run on the power of our first love until death removes this veil of tears.
But we were left here for something. St. Paul’s word ‘Walk’ is a way of saying we pass down through time, going places, doing things, having an effect on our world. We address our lives to the God in whom we live and move and have being. We walk circumspectly, not foolishly but wise. We redeem the time. What does that mean?
Time is. In time, stuff happens. Much of it is evil, dark, false, ugly. We can hide from it, or bear our light out into the darkness of a world and shed some of it abroad. We can make our lives count for something.
We only have so much time to make a mark in our world. And that mark ought to be what the Lord of light put into our hands. Each of us has a song to sing, a word to give, a life to use to His purpose.
When it’s over, and the big Viking lady sings her bit, when the curtain is falling, and the sky and the stars roll up like a window shade, and the sea is blood red and the earth groans its final agonies, time will end. A trumpet sounds.
Time’s up. No more time to make decisions, no more time to have your life be a beacon, a torch burning with the light of God’s Spirit.
When the clock runs out, where will you be? Breathless and victorious, on another shore, across the finish line, panting and sweaty and happy and victorious: Time’s up! And we made it.