St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 20th Sunday after Trinity, October 22, 2023
“See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”
ON EARLY TELEVISION, we enjoyed game shows. To Tell the Truth, What’s My Line?, Truth or Consequences, The Price is Right, and, one of my favorites: Beat the Clock where contestants matched skills and TV butterflies against a giant wall clock that ran 60 seconds as they tried to perform something crazy with everyday items. Throw a balloon in the air, race across the stage to stack something, then get back and catch the balloon before it hit the floor. Stack four plates, but without 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 countdown of five, four, three, two, one, music would play, an alarm would sound and Bud cried out, “Time’s Up!” In 1961, time was up for Beat the Clock and we were left to Gunsmoke.
Life sometimes seems to last a long time. Just ask a four-year-old how long it is until Christmas, or even next Saturday. Get to my age, and years run their course like that Beat the Clock second hand. Canon Reed ran 98 years before his clock ran out when, for his life down here, time was up. And for him, it was probably like a brief joyride in a plane.
We have for all our lives existed in a world of time. We follow time lines, and almost everything we know or think about is our past. Even my saying that is now past. For you, it’s present, but my words are now only a reverberation in your memory. So, what is time?
The Bible’s first words are, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Gen 1:1 God created light, “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;” Gen 1:14-15 Time began with a huge clock in the heavens. For Earth, two sweep hands tell the time: the sun and the moon. The sun goes around our sky once every 24 hours. That makes one day. The moon travels from new moon to quarter to full, back to quarter and new moon: four weeks—one month. We travel around the sun, and we mark one year. It’s time again for sweaters.
All our past lodged in memory, we watch the scene unfold before us as the present becomes our past: will this go forever? It’s easy to believe in endless time for all we’ve ever known. Cosmologists measure the movements of stars and conclude the universe must be 13.75 billion years old. In only 3 billion more years, the Andromeda galaxy will pass right through our own Milky Way. Something to look forward to. But we don’t question the existence of time. 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 whole career under a succession of emperors. He saw future events. Daniel received a staggering vision of the coming of Messiah. He saw the end of time. Daniel was given the exact year when Jesus came into His Temple in Jerusalem. The angel said, “But you, go your way till the end; for you shall rest, and will arise to your inheritance at the end of the days.” 12:13
The end of days: we know there is an end of life here. People die. They enter the void, in our view, and leave behind a still form. St. Peter wrote by prophecy that, “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 … longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish...” 2 Peter 3:5-9 This great seemingly eternal universe was created by one word from God’s lips. It exists only until God speaks judgment, and fire will consume it. I don’t set my watch for Andromeda’s arrival. I think it will end much sooner than that. To God, time means a very different thing than it does to us. His timing is perfect, but it baffles us whenever we set dates. The message is there, but we only understand it when it’s already happened. Daniel’s days and weeks were part of the record, yet no one interpreted it, no one was standing at the Temple gates awaiting the King riding into town on a burro.
While we swim the river of time, we learn, we grow, and hopefully make something of this life. Things that appear foolish can be wisdom. The Karate Kid learned of Mr. Miyagi: “wax on, wax off.” We live in our own age, and in the mystery of time, 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, heroic and villainous acts, triumphs and defeats, but at the very center of time comes Jesus. At the axis upon which time itself turns stands a cross upon which a man is nailed. Victory and defeat, villainy and gallantry, heaven and earth, God and all evil, truth and deception, light and dark all meet there. It’s the ultimate moment, the stakes are everything, all our souls are in the balance. He dies. He wins! Our bonds are broken. The enemy is crippled. Hell’s foundations quiver. Heaven cries, then cheers, then sings. The temple veil is rent in twain.
If there was a beginning, there is an end of time. John the Apostle was witness to it, and like Daniel he suffered a great mental blow to see such massive, crushing cosmic destruction, as a voice told him, “Seal up what the seven thunders uttered, and do not write them… [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. Then what?
I was asked this week in a radio interview if the war in Israel means the end of the world, Armageddon, the big one. There is no knowing. But the full biblical picture of that clock includes a complete world dominion, an economic system barring some from buying even food. It is possible, with time. It will come someday. This may be another rehearsal. God sends many premieres and foretastes so we will consider the reality of an end of things before it’s just too late. Time is surely running out.
Jesus tells a story of a king whose son was being married, and the family friends were all invited. They all RSVP’d back their intention to come. These were princes, magistrates, national leaders. The word went out to come now, it’s time. But they refused, made excuses, and even beat and killed the messenger. In St. Matthew’s account, he sent armies to destroy the ungrateful guests. He burned their city. You come to the dinner or else you are in real trouble. Time’s up.
It’s not okay to wait around in your life, figuring the Lord can send you invitations forever, sweeten the deal, and you just play the coquette. “I don’t know… I can’t decide… I’m waiting for a better offer… I’d be giving you everything I have, you know… What if someone else came along?”
No. Prince Charming is a man covered in his own blood, writhing on a column of torture, arms spread by spikes. He is not handsome. He is not rich. He doesn’t have a house or a garden. He’s dirt poor, disgraced, hard to look at. He extends His nail-pierced hand out to you this one time. There may not be another time. These stakes are too high to waste time pondering other offers. There will be no other.
Time revolves around this one moment in time, and asks only one question: “Who is Christ?” It’s not an intellectual question. Scholars know all about Him and fail this exam utterly. 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? Or not? Time’s running out. Decide.
And then walk circumspectly. As Christians, we have made that decision, and it’s settled. Or is it? We may be kidding ourselves to have believed our Lord’s words as kids, and then think we can run on the force of our childlike faith until death removes us. Reconsider and renew that faith now. We were left here for something. St. Paul’s word Walk is a way of saying we live and pass through time, go somewhere, do things, have an effect on our world. We address our lives to the God in whom we live and move and have our being.
We walk circumspectly, not foolishly but wisely. 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 take our light out to the darkness and drive it back. 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 puts in our hands.
Each of us has a song to sing, a word to give, a life to use to His glory. When it’s over, and the curtain is falling, the sky and the stars roll up like a screen, the sea is blood red and the earth groans its final agonies, time itself will end. That trumpet sounds. Time’s up. You’ve made your decision, too late to choose now if your life will become 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 sweating and happy and bold: Time’s up! And we made it.