Giving Time

Above: One of my photos from our “field trip” to Monterey, of the presidio chapel (now cathedral) in the city’s historic center, which I discuss in the the sermon below. This Sunday was the sixth after Easter, traditionally the beginning of “Rogationtide” and now a time when the Church is especially conscious of the human vocation to tend and nurture the fruits of the earth.

Collect: O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Readings: Acts 10:44-48, 1 John 5:1-6, John 15:9-17

In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen:

A friend of ours is in town this week, and on Saturday she and David and I drove down to Monterey for a brief field trip. Our first stop was the Roman Catholic Cathedral, St. Charles Borromeo, and the local history museum in the neighboring building.

You probably know better than I, that one of the things the rest of the country continually loves to criticize about California is that, “There is no history there,” meanwhile places like Boston are very proud of their Pilgrims. You also probably know better than I, that that’s hogwash. Monterey proves it — inhabited for centuries by Ohlone tribes, discovered in 1602 by the Spanish explorer Vizcaino, and finally settled in 1770, it significantly predates Washington D.C. as well as major swathes of the South, Midwest, and West. So do dozens of other sites in California including San Francisco and parts of the East Bay. There is plenty of history here, even too much history, if you ask those who have borne the brunt of it.

The cathedral we visited communicated nothing if not a continuing passage of time: its structure the long basilican form of Ancient Rome, its facade a perfect testament to classical Spanish mission, its materials the local wood and adobe hich characterize so many of the missions, while the interior decoration clearly reflects the liturgical reforms of the mid-twentieth century and the gardens our contemporary enthusiasm for succulents of all sorts. Meanwhile on the patio out front were marked the outlines of former associated buildings now gone, and inside there were cut gaps in the plaster to show off what was left of the original decoration. All the public educational signboards in town spoke of the rises and falls in the city’s fortunes over time, while the shiny modern tourist buildings of Cannery Row, built among the ruins of former sardine facilities, bear another profound witness to the continuing march of history.

And still the votive candles in the cathedral burned, every possible inch of available space taken up by these physical markers of people’s faith and prayers. Still the priest and altar guild were bustling through the sanctuary preparing for a wedding. Still a grandmother and her grandson stopped us in the aisle to say hello and make sure we felt welcome. I said to David afterwards how glad I was we started our visit to Monterey with the cathedral, and he replied by asking something to the effect, “Do you feel rooted now?” While I wouldn’t have described it that way myself, that’s exactly what it was, a feeling of being extremely moved by the whole thing: this whole orchestra of change, decay, recovery, shifting demographics, economics, politics, even liturgical priorities, and in the middle of it all, this physical testament both to the long passage of time with all its changes and to an abiding, enduring affection for the things and people and promises of God.

Why do I tell this story now this morning? Because for one thing today is Rogation Sunday, when we’re conscious afresh of our vocation to grow and to cultivate the fruits of the earth as well as the gifts we each possess as unique persons; but even more because, as our Gospel passage presents, love is both the first task and the last criteria by which we achieve our vocations. And love takes time.We’re confronted today by the need both to grow and to love, both of which simply take time.

I think a lot of times we’re tempted to think of time as a passive quality, merely the condition of our lives in which past, present, and future take shape, the long span of minutes or years which we have to endure before our tasks are complete or our lives are through. And it’s true time passes, more quickly or else more slowly than we’d like much of the time. But the candles burning in Monterey’s cathedral, or even in our own church here at St. Mark’s below the icon of Our Lady near the chapel, tell a different story. These candles are gifts of time: ours burn for six or eight hours or so, the ones they used in Monterey were larger, like the ones we use for the tabernacle, that burn for seven days. Eight hours or seven days, they are gifts of time. And they help to indicate that whatever prayer or faith we can muster in any given moment re-echoes for much longer in the presence of God.

When you work in a garden, there are certainly tasks to complete, but more than striking off a checklist of weeding or watering or pruning or whatever, you are giving the garden your time. And the result of your gift is that the garden flourishes long after you pull up the last weed or pack away the watering can to head inside.

Or if you’re a student, right now you might be in the final mad dash to finish papers and cram more facts into your head. But more than accomplishing a set of goals you are making a gift of time to the development of your self and your skills and abilities, a gift which will continue to bear fruit for years to come.

All the more so when we interact with one another. When we decide to give one another time, rather than simply spend time or guard against its being stolen or wasted, we are creating space both to be injured and to forgive, to injure and to be forgiven. When we give time, we are entering a relationship where we agree to sustain an experiment in coexistence, in cooperation, where our presence and unique personalities might exert some demands on one another, demands that may cause us to grow or develop in unexpected and maybe even painful ways — but which the gift of time ensures will not be subject to abandonment or neglect.

In short, in giving time, we are making a gift of ourselves to one another, which is why giving time is so often functionally synonymous with love. The challenge is, every new day, every new moment, is a new moment, and requires us to make a decision once again to give it away. The mystery is, that in giving it away, we find ourselves in possession of more than we thought we had in the first place.

This is also the mystery of that cathedral in Monterey, and I think of all our life of faith and love in this world. There are no things that remain the same, no monuments which can remain eternal unaffected by time, weather, or concern. There are no persons who are isolated completely from one another, no places which never change. What does remain, though, and what is finally the only thing that can, is the decision in the midst of it all to give away our time and our selves to the life we live and the people in whom it consists, across whatever days and years we find them drawing.

Let us be confident that giving it away, seemingly possessing nothing, is what roots us most firmly in the abiding love of God, is how the Holy Spirit presents us most overwhelmingly with all the riches of grace. So may our poverty be met with God’s abundance. So may our time be answered with God’s eternity. So may our gifts be multiplied in God’s love.

In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Amen.