REDEEMING THE TIME
In Jonathan Swift's classic novel Gulliver's Travels, Gulliver first finds himself in the land of Lilliput, where he is a massive giant. But it is much more than just his size that is a mystery to the bewildered Lilliputians. Here is how they describe Gulliver's watch:
Out of the right pocket hung a great silver chain, with a wonderful kind of engine at the bottom. We directed him to draw out whatever was at the end of that chain; which appeared to be a Globe, half silver, and half of some transparent metal.... He put this engine to our ears, which made an incessant noise like that of a water-mill. And we conjecture it is either some unknown animal, or the God that he worships: But we are more inclined to the latter opinion, because he assured us (if we understood him right, for he expressed himself very imperfectly) that he seldom did anything without consulting it. He called it his oracle, and said it pointed out the time for every action of his life.The Lilliputians thought Gulliver's watch to be a God he worships. Already in 1727 Jonathan Swift was poking fun at what slaves to time we are. A watch is our God, he says, an oracle consulted for every action of our lives.
Think about it. Can you imagine what life would be like with no clocks or watches? In 1727 Jonathan Swift could imagine through his satire, and there were probably still some people whose lives were not so clock-oriented yet. But already it was also a probably enough to poke fun of it. How about us more than two hundred years later? Do we even joke about it anymore? Or has it become too painful? Is there any problem more pervasive in our lives right now than the problem of time? For most of us, we don't have enough of it. Not enough time to spread around to family, work, church, leisure, recreation, etc. I had one of those weeks again this week. I need time to get away occasionally and be refreshed at conferences to receive continuing education. But then I miss time with family, and I get even further behind with work. There just doesn't seem to be enough time in the week. And yet there is the plight of some who perhaps have too much time on their hands. We seem to be either overworked, overburdened, or underworked, bored. What about you? Do you experience time as a burden? Is there any bigger problem, one with more repercussions to every area of our lives, than the way we use our time? And yet how do we pray to God for help on this one? We can't seriously ask God for more time, can we? "Ah, Lord, do you think you could have the sun turn a bit slower so that we could have a couple more hours a day?" No, that wouldn't work anyway, would it? We simply find another way to fill a 26-hour day to overflowing. The new slogan of 24-7 would simply change to 26-7. And our time would be as burdened as ever.
No, something more drastic is needed. Our prayer must be for God to somehow help us to redeem the time. For God to help us to experience time as a gift of grace once again, instead of as a burden. And that will mean being open to letting God guide us on how it is that we fill the time. Yes, it goes back to that age old task of setting priorities.
This is too big of a problem for us to solve today. But I think that our lessons can give us some much needed direction. I'd like to begin with the second lesson, that grand picture of the heavenly worship painted by St. John the Seer. Now, be honest. Does the picture of worshiping before God's throne for eternity get you excited? It doesn't seem task oriented enough for us, does it? It doesn't seem to have meet any purpose beyond the simple praise and worship of God. And yet if we truly experienced life as sheer grace, as unadulterated gift, wouldn't our Creator elicit such ceaseless praise from us? The problem is that we don't experience life as grace. We experience it as something to be grasped after, something we deserve. So we keep working harder and harder to deserve it. We generate more and more reasons for us to justify our lives. Isn't this the basic reason we in the fix we're in? We don't experience our lives as grace, so time becomes a burden to us.
So one of the first things we can do is to truly learn to worship. One of the presenters at the worship conference I went to this week, said she has started to write a book entitled, "Why Worship Is a Royal Waste of Time." Got that? "Why Worship Is a Royal Waste of Time." It's a waste of time when it comes to all our projects of justifying our lives and our working to earn God's praise, rather than what worship simply is meant to be: accepting our lives as a gift of God's grace and returning the praise to God. The kind of worship we picture in Revelation 5 doesn't seek to accomplish anything -- except to simply be in God's presence and to praise God. Do you think we could begin to approach that? How would you feel, for instance, about checking our watches at the door when we come in to worship? Well, keep this in mind as we think about redeeming the time.
There's one other thing our lessons have to teach us about redeeming the time. Our time is redeemed as human beings when we truly experience God's call in our lives. St. Paul receives God's call in the first lesson. St. Peter at the end of the Gospel lesson. God calls each one of us, too. And as we come to know that call in our lives, our lives once again receive that stamp of grace. Because our lives become not so much about working on our own personal projects, as much as they are about working on what God has created us for. That's to some extent different for each of us, and there are no magic formulas to discovering that call. It's a lifelong process of discovery, I think. But it is a gracious process of discovery when experienced as divine call, and so goes a long way in helping to relieve the burden of time, of redeeming the time.
There's one other grace aspect to God's call in our lives. God doesn't call us to do things solo. God calls us into the church so that we can live out that call together. God's call is not our own personal projects but God's project for us -- plus God is calling us to work on together on those projects with others. God calls us to team work, the kind of team work that we acted out with the children's sermon [including H. George Anderson's insight into the awkwardness of switching to the other side of the boat instead of just turning the boat around]. It might be awkward at times. We might have to get out of our comfortable rhythms, but that's why we continually rely on grace.
In fact, when you notice the order of events in today's gospel, it becomes even more awkward. Notice that it starts with the fishing first, and then Jesus calls Peter to tend and nourish the flock. Usually our rhythm is to make sure we are tended and nourished first, and then go out for the strenuous work of fishing, right? In other words, we make sure we have all our nourishing programs in place like worship, Sunday School, bible studies, and then we worry about those evangelism programs of inviting new people to join us. We eat first, then go fishing. But our gospel lesson shows it the other way around. Maybe we need to get out of our comfortable rhythm and try some more daring fishing trips and worry about the eating later.
Jumping into an after-school program this fall, for example. Reaching out to the kids in our neighborhood and beginning to form relationships of caring with those kids and their families, well, that might be a bit awkward at first. Some of those kids might not even be from the same European background as us. But if with the help of the Holy Spirit, we get them hooked on God's love and care, and they get reeled in to want to spend more time with us, then the other kinds of tending and nourishing will come after. We'll find ourselves making room for them around our Lord's table at worship, and including them in the steady diet of God's word in Sunday school. Fishing first, reaching out with the nets of God's love, then eating, tending, nourishing. It might be awkward at first. It might throw us out of our comfortable rhythm. But that's how God's grace works in redeeming the time for us. It calls us out of this world's time, a time of grasping after life, desperately grabbing after what we think we deserve; and it calls us into the gracious world of God's love poured out through Christ which we are called to share.
So let's synchronize our watches to the redeemed time of God's call to worship and to serve. Amen
Paul J. Nuechterlein
Delivered at Emmaus Lutheran,
Racine, WI, April 25-26, 1998