Tuesday, February 23, 2016

What do I do with all this time?


We read in the Bible that with the Lord a thousand years are as one day, and one day is as a thousand years.  Apparently in heaven there is fast time and slow time, if we can speak of time at all.  God, to be sure, sees as a canvas what we see as a movie, but even for the blessed there seems to be no standard measure that corresponds to the hour.  In our situation, time is constant, but it presents us with an illusion.  When we're enjoying ourselves it flies by, but when we're waiting, or suffering, the minutes seem like hours.  Many ancient peoples, the Egyptians, the Phoenicians, and the Greeks, all thought of time as an endless circle.  Other ancient peoples saw time as a line, particularly the Persians.  For them each day and hour was unrepeatable.  Christians combine those views.  We see time as a phonograph record, spinning around but with a track that has a beginning and an end.   That definite end is Judgment Day.  Time will continue until God stops it with a bang.  We confess with Luther that this world is a "vale of tears," and at the end of it stands the Judgment, criticizing our every move, casting its threatening shadow over all the valley.  The seasons follow one another until that time, as God promised Noah, but time is a one way street.  We also learn from God's Word how time began, definitely not with a bang, as the pseudo-scientists would have us believe, but with precise well-planned moves.  Time and the earth are creatures that God made together, as He divided the light from the darkness, making it evening, then morning, throughout creation week.  Man, like time, is bound to the earth.  God gives us time as a gift.  We may use it, but we cannot stop it.  If it weren't for sin, time would be a great blessing, but sin brought death into time, and made us slaves to it.

As Christians we also know that time has a definite middle.  The center of history is the Incarnation of the Son of God.   Jesus of Nazareth, the Incarnate Word, Jehovah, Son of the Most High, came into the world in the middle of time to redeem us by dying on the cross.  From that mid-point of time He calls us to repentance, forgives our sins, and renews us by the Holy Spirit.  Therefore we have to look at both ends of time through the lens of its middle.  God has dealt with the Fall.  In Jesus He has taken away the fear of death and judgment.  He has not taken away frustration, poverty, pain, despair, and confusing situations, but today we see these as crosses to be carried with Jesus.  We have to go through them, unpleasant as they are, but we know there is a resurrection on the other side.  Pause a minute here:  we are indeed talking about the middle of time, but that is not predicting the date of the end.  We have no idea how many years elapsed between creation and redemption, neither do we know whether the redemption is the chronological middle.  Such predictions are vain.  The point is that within our history there is a before and after point, when Jesus died and rose again, He redeemed time for us.

So as we look at St. Paul's words, we must understand that Jesus has given us the stewardship of time, to use it for Him in grateful zeal.  Whether Judgment Day is in two days, or twenty thousand years, our stewardship of time is the same.  The people of Thessalonika knew the end was coming, so they all quit their jobs and sat around minding everybody else's business.  Thus St. Paul admonishes them, do not grow weary of doing good, appreciate that God has made you a steward of time, thank Him who made time and gave it to us, and also thank Him who placed His forgiveness into the middle of time to set us free from its tyranny.  You would think that would make us happy and confident, but for some reason it doesn't.  Instead we get nervous about time:  Change and decay in all around I see; Oh, Thou that changest not, abide with me.

There is something frightening about time.  Unless we look at it with the eyes of faith, we are going to draw back in fear.  Even though we know better, we find ourselves sulking and complaining instead of using our time wisely.  The earth and time are indeed temporary, but that does not make them unimportant.  We don't have to be afraid of these things.  They cannot drag us away from God.  Earth and time are the setting in which we do the will of God.  Of course there are evil elements: people prefer doing things the devil's way.  God wants His kingdom to displace Satan's system.  He urges us to take the Sword of the Spirit, the Word and Sacraments, to defeat the Old Adam.  With the shield of faith on our left hand, the sword of the spirit in our right, we can do good works, not as hired hands seeking a reward, but as sons and heirs of the heavenly household.  We will inherit all things in any case.  That confidence moves us to kindness, charity, wisdom, courage, honesty, loyalty, and the love of beauty.  Christ's death and resurrection assure us of eternal life.  Now we want to serve God with gladness.

There is something of an upstream swim about all this.  The world never stands still.  We are only human.  The cross is foreign to the Old Adam, and difficult for our weak flesh.  Such adversities make us want to stop and rest, or as St. Paul puts it, grow weary in well-doing.  The trouble is, whenever you rest, you slide backwards.  That's right, backwards is downstream, where we don't want to go.  Whenever the level of godliness sinks down, the level of wickedness rises to fill the vacuum.  Anyone who grows weary in well-doing, grows fond of evil-doing.  What can anyone do about it?

Turn to the Word of God.  Read the Sacred Scriptures.  Partake of the Holy Eucharist.  Confess your sins and receive Christ's own Absolution, who has all authority in heaven and earth.  Thus God speaks to your heart.   Answer back with prayer, especially praying for the Holy Spirit, for a stronger faith, for a view of things from the perspective of the middle of time, for the eternal blessings, and help meanwhile to bear the cross.  Because Jesus appeared for us in the middle of time, we can look back to the past with thanksgiving, and forward to the future with hope.  God was infinitely wise in giving us the gift of time.  By His grace, by the prompting of the Holy Spirit, we can be eager to use it wisely.  That does not mean we will understand God's ways.  We don't need to.  Rather we enjoy His mercy and grace, thus filled with hope, constantly refreshed with the Fountain of Life, we will not grow weary of well-doing.   AMEN.

~Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

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