No time to waste
by Fr. Blake
This sermon was preached on Sunday, September 9, 2017 (13th after Pentecost) at CSMSG. It was Labor Day weekend, and Hurricane Harvey was wreaking havoc in Houston and elsewhere as it made landfall. Meanwhile I’ve just started reading some of the works of the late Rev. Dr. John Hughes, an English priest and theologian, one of whose scholarly concerns was to articulate an Anglican “theology of work” as inseparable from worship, love, and joy. It’s a version of one of his theses that I offer as the resolution to this sermon.
Collect: Lord of all power and might, who art the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of thy Name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, Amen:
“There’s no time to lose!” There certainly isn’t in Houston. The Red Cross, Episcopal Relief and Development FEMA, and scores of other helping organizations are partnering with thousands of local churches, groups, and individuals to help with the flooding. The damage is enormous. There have been other disasters, but as crises always are, this one is immediate and life-threatening for many, and life-altering for countless more. In this moment of great need, there is no time to waste.
For St. Paul too this morning, there is no time to waste. I don’t know about you, but I’m breathless after reading the long “to-do list” he writes in today’s passage from Romans: no less than thirty commands give the Romans, and we ourselves, marching orders from Paul. There’s no time to waste: from “Let love be genuine,” to “weep with those who weep,” to “feed your enemies,” and everything in between. The scope of the work is overwhelming. Any one of these commands might take us an entire lifetime to achieve. We’d better get started, there’s not a moment to lose.
It’s not just the number of commands either, but the nature of what Paul tells us. The first on the list is hard enough: “Let love be genuine.” Who among us hasn’t ever said ‘Thank You,’ or ‘Have A Nice Day,’ through gritted teeth? And yet not just one, but thirty. I don’t know what’s on your to-do list, if it’s anything like mine you’ve got enough to do already to take you all the way through this life and well into the next. But the stakes here are high. “Overcome evil with good.” “Take up your cross and follow me.”
If we allow these commands to govern our lives, we find ourselves on a completely different footing than the one we’re used to doing business on. The insult your mother-in-law shot your way; the way your friends or coworkers take advantage of you; even that rude driver in the other lane who can’t seem to merge at the right time; you’re just going to have to turn the other cheek. Because there is no time to waste. We are citizens of a higher country, a heavenly one. According to the rules of that country, turning the other cheek is not a sign of weakness but an offering of love, which refuses to demonize even the demons, and allows Life the final word — not death, corruption, or decay. We are not given enough time on this earth to waste it holding grudges or worshiping idols, whatever your favorite idols might be. There’s no time to waste. Get busy already!
And yet: If you’ve ever been in a position to volunteer in a crisis, whether for a natural disaster or a loved one’s illness or something else, you’ll have discovered an important truth — that even the most acute crises make for a lot of waiting around. The patient’s family waits for the surgeon to finish. The surgeon waits for the patient to emerge from anesthesia. The patient waits for the doctors and the body to do their work of healing. Volunteers wait for deliveries of sandbags. Delivery drivers wait for the next convoy. And so on. And the moment when you’re standing there feeling like you’re there, and you ought to be doing something already, is often the moment when most you are.
Sick people recall first not how busy the nurses were, but how attentive they were and how kind. Flood victims recall first not how efficient the relief agency was but the way they paid attention to them and their needs as if they were the only people on earth. Sure, work has to get done, and fast, no mistaking that. But in the final analysis, so often it’s the time spent waiting around, seemingly wasting time, that proves the most meaningful, the most restorative, on a personal level.
Love is a lot like that. Love doesn’t grow by tasks accomplished or any other kind of efficiency metric. It grows by two people wasting time with each other. Not treating the other as anything other than themselves: not as a means to an end, or a tool for my own gratification, but by simply wasting time with each other. Prayer is like that too: wasting time with God. So is the whole incarnation of Jesus Christ: the Son of God comes to earth in order to waste time with us lousy people, who were just as easily distracted then as we are today.
By any metric, Jesus’s incarnation was neither busy nor efficient. He spent thirty-three years on earth and only three of those in ministry of any recognizable kind. The “converts” he made in his lifetime all either betrayed or abandoned him at the cross. Jesus came to earth to waste time with you and me, and in the process to consecrate time itself to his use, to his glory, forever. He went to the cross to consecrate even death to the purposes of Love, and ascended into heaven that you and I might waste time with him there too.
So we’re left with a problem. On the one hand, there’s no time to waste: we’d better get cracking if we’re going to live up to our identities as Christians, and accomplish all that that entails. That’s no joke. And yet on the other hand, not wasting time any time toward that end, will require us to be okay with wasting time.
Or, put it another way. We’re used to thinking of Work and Rest as being opposed to one another. But in the Kingdom of God, they are not opposed, they converge. Work and Rest converge in the worship of Almighty God, and in his kingdom’s economy of love. For Christians, Work and Rest converge in the worship of Almighty God, and in his kingdom’s economy of love.
The work we are called to is to waste time loving God, our neighbors, our enemies, and each other. The promise is that we will find the time we waste in this way drawing into eternity, opening windows on earth into heaven.
So, here we are. It’s a Sunday morning, we’re all in church. The world is falling down around our ears in different ways every week. So what’s new? There’s no time to waste, not a moment to lose. Let’s quit acting surprised by it all and do something already. Say your prayers. Come to the altar. Be fed with the bread of heaven. And get busy wasting time with God and one another, loving in whatever material, emotional, or spiritual way you can muster. Take up your cross, lose your life for Jesus’ sake — your reputation too, your influence, whatever you most like to hoard — and find those windows onto heaven have become your own home, and the work of God has become your own rest.
In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Amen.