I am planning a short series on “Times and Seasons,” and this morning I want to talk to you about time. The young live with the myth that they have unlimited time. All mature human beings know that we have limited time available to us. Psalm 90 declares that:
The days of our life are seventy years,
or perhaps eighty, if we are strong;
In speaking of seventy or eighty years, the Psalmist is talking about what we might call a normal life, lived chapter by chapter through birth, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, old age, ups, downs, illness, and death. Some people do not have a normal life. Children die of childhood diseases; teenagers and young adults die in accidents they thought could not happen to them; men and women who have barely achieved middle-age die from from various causes, often through no fault of their own. When people die before their time, we say that their lives are like an unfinished symphony, or a painting that has been put away before all the details of it have been drawn-in and properly colored. We are sad, but we know, too, that they have had their time. Their time is past, and it will not come again.
We fear death, but the ancients were terrorized by something worse. They were terrorized by the endless cycle of existence. They thought no event, and no life was unique, but each repeated itself endlessly, like the sun that rises and sets, and the season that recur year after year. According to Thomas Cahill, the idea of time with a beginning, a moveable middle that some have called “the eternal now,” and an end is one of the gifts of the Jews. The idea is rooted in the God who has created, sustains, and will perfect the whole created order as we know it. Christians say that the history of salvation has a similar movement. The center of salvation history past was Christ on his cross, his body, broken for us, and then, Christ, risen from the dead, his ressurection the sign of his vindication before God, and the guarantee of the new life beyond the bounds of time, for all those who have faith in him. The center of salvation history present is the Holy Spirit, at work in the world, at work in our lives, enabling us to believe in Jesus Christ, and calling us into the church, which is Christ’s body in the world; and then sending us back out into the world, to be Christ’s hands and feet, always busy, until he comes. The center of salvation future is Christ coming back for his church on earth, or, our being called home to him in death, which are but two-sides of the same coin. Either event brings to an end time as we know it personally.
The gospel lesson from Matthew 25 fits nicely into this understanding of time and salvation history. Jesus told the parable about a Master and his servants, but the parable is obviously about Jesus and his disciples. Do not overlook how Jesus says, “It will be.” In saying, “It will be,” Jesus is speaking of a future time when he will no longer be with his disciples, bodily, and they will be left alone to serve him in his absence. Jesus said “it will be as when a Master was going on a journey.” The Master called his his servants to him, and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two talents, to another one. He gave to each according to his ability. Then the Master went away. The five talent man went “at once”, don’t over look the phrase, “at once,” and traded with his five talents. He made five talents more. The two talent man also went, though perhaps not so quickly, and made two talents more. The one talent man was not so bold. Knowing his Master to be a hard man, who sometimes took what was not necessarily his to take, he went and hid the one talent the Master had entrusted to him in the ground. When the Master returned, he asked his servants for an accounting. He was pleased with the work of the five talent man, and with the work of the two talent man. He praised each of them using the same words and saying:
Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.
Then the Master heard the report of the one talent man. He was very disappointed. He said:
You wicked and slothful servant! By your own confession, you knew that I reap where I have not sowed, and gather where I have not winnowed. So why didn’t you invest my money with the bankers, so that, at my coming, I could have received what was my own with interest?
Then the Master ordered the man’s one talent be taken from him, and given to the man who had ten talents; and he ordered the worthless servant himself be cast into outer darkness, where men will weep and gnash their teeth. Do not jump the the conclusion that this “outer darkness” is hell and nothing but. In this case, the “weeping and gnashing of teeth” may also be associated with the regret we experience when we realize we have wasted our time and opportunity. What did the poet, John Greenleaf Whittier say:
Of all the sad words of tongue and pen,
The saddest are these, “It might have been.”
And perhaps you will recall the name of Horace Mann the great 19th Century American educator and politician who promoted universal public education . It was Mann who wrote:
Lost – yesterday, somewhere between sunrise and sunset, two golden hours, each set with sixty, diamond-studded minutes. No reward is offered, for they are gone forever.
In his book, “Today Matters,” John C. Maxwell, tries to communicate the value of the time we thoughtlessly waste. It was Maxwell who wrote:
To know the value of one year… ask the student who failed the final exam. To know the value of one month… ask the mother of a baby born a month too soon (Who must wait to bring it home.)To know the value of one week… ask the editor of a weekly newsmagazine. To know the value of one day… ask the wage earner who has six children.To know the value of one hour… ask the lovers who are waiting to meet. To know the value of one minute… ask the person who missed the plane. To know the value of one second… ask the person who survived the accident. To know the value of one millisecond… ask the Olympic silver medalist.
No wonder Jesus encouraged his disciples not to waste the time available to them. In John 4:35 Jesus said: “Do not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest.’ I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see how the fields are already white for harvest.”
We Christians do not compete for the silver, nor do we compete for the gold. We do not even compete against each other. We compete against the relentlessness of time. And we compete simply to hear the word of the Lord:“Well done, good and faithful servant, you have been faithful in a little, I will set you over much; enter into the Joy of your Master.”
Now, if we know that time is precious, how then should we live?
First, we must let go the past, all of it. In Philippians 3:13 St. Paul wrote:
This one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind, and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal of the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
We certainly need to let go of our sins and failures. Too many of us sit around trapped by our past, reciting the liturgy of “woulda, shoulda, coulda.” As Christians, we must remember our sins and failures, so that we can use that knowledge, but we must remember them as if they happened to somebody else. In 1st Peter 2:24 the apostle writes that “(Jesus) himself bore our sins in his body on the tree.” When we give our sins and failures to him, we are free as never before.
We also need to let go of our successes. Billy Graham said that God will not take our sins and failures and unless we also give God our successes. Too many people sit around reliving our “glory days,” when God wants us to live in the now. It may be that God wants to say to us what Robert Burn’s Rabbi Ben Ezra said to his wife: “Come grow old with me; the best is yet to be.” It occurs to me that is exactly what God said to Abraham and Sarah, who were the Father (and Mother?) of all who have faith. Many of you will remember the name of Lib Green. You will not be surprised to remember that Lib and her husband Gene lived long and full lives, dedicating much of it to God’s work at New Philadelphia. It may surprise you to learn that, in 2017, thanks to an annuity that Lib set up before her death, she was our single largest donor. It may be so for years to come.
Second, we must bloom where we are planted, and make the most of the opportunities we have. God holds us responsible only for the time, talent, treasure and opportunities he has entrusted to us. God does not hold us responsible for the time, talent, treasure and opportunities God has entrusted to others. If you think you could handle more responsibility than you have before you right now, blessed are you. All you have to do is prove yourself faithful over a little, and God may give you the opportunity to be faithful over much.
Third, we must follow a plan. That plan is a lot simpler than most people imagine. In Ephesians 2:10, the apostle said that “God has created us in Christ for good works that we might walk in them.” John Wesley spelled this out for the early Methodists saying:
Do all the good you can; by all the means you can; in all the ways you can; in all the places you can; at all the times you can; to all the people you can; as long as ever you can.
That is about perfect! I would add only, that you should do good “as soon as you can.” Not only is time our most precious commodity, but many good intentions have died in delay.
Fourth, once we have put the plan into action, me must not give up! The best advice I ever received was from a dying man. He called me to himself and said, “Worth, never give up, never give up, never give up.” As I have grown older, and as I have piled up almost thirty years doing one task in this one place, I have come to think that Galatians 6:9 may important counsel believers can ever receive. Therein St. Paul writes, “And let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart.” (In the Bible the heart is the seat of the mind, emotions and will!)
Fifth, take a long view. Human beings have a life of very limited duration. It maybe that God has called us to start something that God will call upon someone else to finish. St. Paul understood this. In 1st Corinthians 3:6 he wrote, “I planted, and the preacher who came after me, Apollos, watered; but it was God who gave the growth.” As I have drawn nearer to the time of my own retirement, the long view has become more and more precious to me. I am confident that someone will join you to continue the work that we have done, and I hope and pray that together you will do more and more. I am not yet ready to retire, but at 68 I am certainly thinking about it. I was thinking about it this on Saturday as I finished my walk. I went by the front desk at the downtown YMCA. As I passed by, looked at the jar of inspirational sayings and Bible verses they keep at the desk, and I spotted a one green slip of paper down deep in the jar. It was the only green slip I saw. Since my name is Green, I thought it must be for me, so fished it out. It was from 1st Corinthians 3:7: “Neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who gives the growth.” Some people would call that coincidence. I wonder what the mathematical odds of that would be? And what about this? The New Testament text for Sunday, November 19 was also 1st Corinthians 3:7! Coincidence? It is hard for me to think that.
So, in conclusion, only one question need be answered: “When do we start ?” Well, according to Jesus, the five talent man went “at once,” to trade with his money. And in 2nd Corinthians 6:2 St. Paul gives us good advice when he quotes the prophet, who speaks for God, saying:
At the acceptable time I have listened to you, and helped you on the day of salvation. Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, today is the day of salvation.
With this in mind let us do all the good we can; by all the means we can; in all the ways we can; in all the places we can; at all the times we can; to all the people we can; as long as ever we can. And let us begin, as soon as we can. Let us begin today. What are your options?
Worth Green, Th.M., D.Min.