How do you spend time? How will you live this day? Each of our lessons appointed for this Sunday has something to do with the end of time, with a glimpse into the question of when.When will time as we know it end? What will that time look like? And however we think of it, whether as the culmination, the fulfillment, the end -- we canât think about the time when things will come to pass without thinking about what we are to do in the meantime. Readings about the future call us to look at how we spend our time now while we are engulfed in a world that keeps reminding us how short our time us, how fast time goes; a world where time management is an issue, where we look around and see problems so great that even if we had all the time in the world, we might never solve them. Scientists say the universe is both expanding and speeding up. It sounds as if even the cosmos works against us: thereâs more and more to explore, and less and less time to do it in!
How do you spend time? How will you live this day? As fall deepens into winter and days grow shorter, our lectionary texts ask us to look at time.
And why not? Isnât dealing with time one of our greatest struggles? We begin this life as children do, with their delightful incomprehension of time. Maybe you remember yourself, or some child you know, waking up long before dawn on Christmas day. âIs it time to open presents yet? When will it be time?â Or the countdown to a birthday: âIs today my birthday? Is it today? How many more todays?â We will grow old, some of us, and our days may stretch out before us, as we wonder how to fill our time: the time between visitors, the time between meals, the time between the great effort of getting up and the relief of another bedtime.
For many of us, time is a problem because for us, it is a limited commodity. We have to make choices about what we do and when. Surely one of our great human questions is a question about time. The questions is âWhen?â We want to know how much time we have, how long weâve got, what the deadlines are: when.
Thankfully, we are not alone in asking questions that begin with âWhen.â
âWhen?â was the disciplesâ question on the day captured in todayâs Gospel lesson. They were in the holy city Jerusalem, looking at one of the most beautiful sights they could ever hope to see â the Temple, adorned with beautiful stones and precious metals, brilliant, dazzling in the sunlight. And Jesus, their tour guide, says, âAll this will be rubble, ruins, not a stone left on stone.â
âWhen, teacher, when will this be? Give us some warning, some sign so we can know when.â
But Jesus responds, not with a countdown or a calendar -- not even with some good clues for calculation. He doesnât say when. And as for the clues, the signs, we may be surprised by how un-clue-like they really are. They are so general: wars, and rumors of wars, earthquakes, and famines. Certainly these are not specific enough to set a watch by. In fact, they are unfortunately as predictable and familiar as if Jesus had said, the sun will rise and set, spring will follow winter and winter will follow fall. Yes, there will be wars, and earthquakes, and famines, and plagues. There were then. One of the wars brought down that beautiful temple. But, as we know all too well, there still are wars, earthquakes, famines, and plagues today. No age has been without these calamities; and sadly, the time does not seem to be near when they will cease. The enemies, and strategies, and weapons, and targets change; but the constancy of war does not. No, Jesus is not predicting the end here. He is no doomsday forecaster.
But Jesus does not call his disciples to forecasting. He call us to faithfulness. He doesnât tell us when. But he tells us how to live, how to use our time.
It is significant that rather than signs of an immanent end, Jesus tells about things around us in the world, things that demand a Christian response. Not forecasting, but faithfulness. Jesus confronts our fears of living in dangerous times. He does not promise us rescue from the worldâs distress. Rather, disciples are called to serve in a suffering world, bearing witness to the God who will not let suffering have the last word. Jesus gives us signs, things to watch out for, not because they help us predict how long we have, but to tell us there is no more important day than the day we now live. The wars, rumors, earthquakes, famines, and persecutions remind us that there is a need for a witness to Godâs love, and that we are ones who can bring Godâs love to people who hurt, people whose lives have been torn apart when nation rises up against nation, or tribe against tribe, or people against people, when family member rises up against family member, when hurricanes strike and terrorists strike out, when people are hungry and sick and their lives are slipping away.
Jesus gives us signs, but they are not useful for predicting the end. They are useful for showing us where God needs us to be, where God is: among the poor, the lost, the least, the lonely, the weak.
Jesus tells his followers in the midst of these things not to be alarmed. Do not be terrified. Donât fill up your time with anxiety and fear. Our readings from Daniel and Hebrews point to the reason we need not be afraid. Both point to a confidence in the ultimate triumph of God. Knowing who holds the future, we can be aware, but not alarmed; faithful, not forecasting.
What does the future hold? Besides war and earthquakes and famine? Are these endless? Will every age know pain? Will time march on and on and on, bringing only so much sorrow? No. God holds the future, and for now we get glimpses. For us, the author of the Book of Daniel wrote: âThose who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.â The author of the letter to the Hebrews wrote, âI will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.â
It is a generous and gracious God who holds all life, all time, all our days.
So we are freed to be faithful -- to live every day as if it matters. Not because it might be our last, but because God holds the last, and every one until then. We can live as if this is the most important day of our lives, because it is a precious gift of God, an opportunity to show love, not fear; to be aware, not alarmed.
How do you spend time? How will you live this day?
Live this day, and every day knowing that God holds them all. And God holds you too.