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Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

Bruce Lancaster

September 13, 2015
Psalm 90:1-12; Luke 3:1-6

From Psalm 90:

A Prayer of Moses, the man of God.
Lord, you have been our dwelling-place in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world,  from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You turn us back to dust, and say, ‘Turn back, you mortals.’
For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night.

You sweep them away; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning;
in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.

For we are consumed by your anger; by your wrath we are overwhelmed.
You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your countenance.

For all our days pass away under your wrath; our years come to an end like a sigh.
The days of our life are seventy years, or perhaps eighty, if we are strong;
even then their span is only toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.

Who considers the power of your anger? Your wrath is as great as the fear that is due to you. So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.

From Luke’s Gospel:

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” ’

Bruce Lancaster 2014My name is Bruce Lancaster, and it is indeed an honor and privilege to be in this pulpit, knowing what I do of the history of this church – its reputation for ministry and service, for its leadership and mission to the community, to our denomination, and into the world. I am here to serve as your interim pastor. Let me get one thing out of the way right now – I have seen how the search for a minister can test the perseverance of even the greatest saints, and there will come a time during the search process when someone will come up and ask me, “How much longer until we get our real minister?”

Well, for one thing, I am a “real” minister! But I don’t take offense at that! I do understand, time is on everybody’s mind when it comes to seeking a new pastor. I will tell you this now, and when it comes time for a Pastor Nominating Committee to begin its work, I will remind them: Success is not measured by how quickly a minister is called; success is measured by how the time is well spent in calling the minister God has chosen.

I’ll say that again: Success is not measured by how quickly a minister is called; success is measured by how the time is well spent in calling the minister God has chosen. It is all about time – and I know that one of the questions you probably have is: “Are we going to get out on time today?”

One church I served put a clock in the balcony because of a minister’s, let us say, ‘addiction to verbosity’ – the problem, they said, was once they put the clock up there, the minister never looked at the balcony again!

But it’s more than just worship ending ‘on time’ – time is ever an issue with us – my own ministry with you is about the in-between time. And how many of us talk about not having enough time, trying to save time or find the time, how much time do I have, it’s time to go, where did the time go?, been waiting a long time, time’s running out, or as the old hymn says, “time like an ever flowing stream soon bears us all away” – life is time.

And, yes, the question for this sermon comes from the song by the rock group Chicago – But long before Chicago had a hit song with it, it’s the question that underlies this 90th psalm written several thousand years ago. In my Bible, there’s a subheading that says, “A Prayer of Moses, the man of God.”

Maybe the psalmist pictured Moses, as I did, standing at the Jordan River, looking back across the years to Egypt and looking ahead for the people of God across the river into their future…

Talking about God’s eternity and our limited time as humans – he refers to all the generations; that a thousand years in God’s sight is just like one day; he even goes so far as to number the days for life, 70 years, 80 if we’ve got the strength.

Do you hear him thinking what we’ve often thought, If I knew then what I know now…as he looks back across a lifetime and forward to the future life of God’s people…and that’s why he prays to God: Teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.

Count your days so you can answer the question:

Do you really know what time it is?

That’s what Luke is emphasizing in our gospel lesson.

For Luke, he is reminding his readers that the gospel message is about a real person, Jesus, in real time – This is not some ‘once upon a time’ story.

If Luke were writing today, this is how our scripture would go: this is the time of the 7th year of President Barack Obama, when Greg Abbott is Governor and Steve Adler is Mayor – that’s the real time we live in here in Austin and the gospel message is still just as real now as it was then – real people, real time.

It’s a gospel question: Do you really know what time it is?

John the Baptizer knew – a time to prepare the way when peace and justice are the measures of the time. And we, too, are called to fulfill God’s purpose in the time we have – life is time that matters – that’s the biblical answer to our question – does anybody know what time it is?

So how do you count your days? Maybe you have a yearly calendar; keep up with your weekly planner, your hours each day – a paper calendar, smart phone, iPad… All of it to answer the question of what time it is, and what Luke is doing for the rest of his gospel and into his Acts of the Apostles – he challenges us to think about this real time in terms of the real presence of God’s activity in our world in the person of Jesus Christ.

Remember that the first act of creation was the creation of time, the first day. And forever more, God is active in our days, as Moses, this man of God so prayed: Teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.

Which leads to the second part of the question from that Chicago song: Not only “Does anybody really know what time it is?” But also, “Does anybody really care?”

We all get so caught up in time, but does anybody really care enough to work at gaining a wise heart – do you really care about the time God has for you – to spend your day caring about what God cares about – paths made straight…rough ways made smooth.

Think about it this way: however you tell time – Is it digital or does it have a face?

If it’s digital – it does answer the question: what time is it? But this factual, digital time, it’s symbolic of the way we live: sound bites, fast food, programmed meals in the microwave, right now, moment after moment after moment, what time it is now, nothing more, nothing less – just the time it is.

I saw an ad this morning for a one-handed watch, called the Slow Watch!

But if your timepiece has a face, like this watch, it does answer the question of what time it is…AND MORE. For the way we tell time can be: 11:26 or 15 minutes til, or half past.

It’s the face of time that allows us to see the present, but also acknowledge the past and look into the future, all at the same time. Just this past week we looked back and remembered – a tragic time, a violent day, the exact moment of where we were on September 11.

Difficult times, tragic times – we all have had times that are more than a long day’s journey into the night, but as St. Brendan prayed: I will trust in the darkness and know that my times, even now, are in Your hand.

Such was the faith of Moses as he offered his prayer – he lived in the presence of God and so he understood the holiness of time.

I believe this is the underlying foundation for the great commandment – to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, to love your neighbors as yourself.

Isn’t that the essence of a wise heart – to spend your time caring about what God cares about, of preparing the way in our day of peace and justice, walking with kindness and humility.

Many years ago, a man came to my office and told me about his 16 year old granddaughter – she had just come home from rehab – not for drugs or alcohol, but from a nervous breakdown – the stress of school and activities and the social pressures had gotten to her.

He and his wife had just come home that weekend from seeing her, about a two hour drive. She had stayed in her room for most of their visit. Her parents said she was very tired, very sad.

But just before they left, she came down the stairs and asked if he would walk with her down the driveway.

He said, “We walked to the end, a slow walk, I talked some, she didn’t say anything, just held onto my arm, about 100 yards there and back. And when we got in, she went back up to her room.”

“Bruce,” he said, “Soon after we got to our house, the phone rang, and it was my son, asking what had happened on that walk, what we had talked about.

“I told him, ‘nothing, what’s wrong?’ He said, ‘that’s just it, nothing’s wrong, it’s just that just when we went up to her room after you left, she was smiling, the first time we’ve seen her smile in 6 months. And we know it’s going to be OK.”

And as the tears began to slide down his cheeks, he said, “I crashed my airplane over Holland in WWII and spent six weeks hiding from the Nazis before I made it safely back to England.

I’ve survived two heart attacks and a triple bypass. I’ve been in car wrecks, other accidents – but do you think – Do you think that God kept me alive through all of that just to make that walk that day?”

So it is for you and for me – To really know what time it is – To know the presence of God, to live as the people of God, to fulfill God’s purpose in the time we have.

TO GOD BE THE GLORY