Between noon and three

…spare us in the youngest day when all are shaken awake, facts are facts, (and I shall know exactly what happened today between noon and three); that we too may come to the picnic with nothing to hide, join the dance as it moves in perichoresis, turns about the abiding tree. — W.H. Auden, "Compline"

Tag: Time

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.

No time to waste

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.

Readings: Jeremiah 15:15-21, Romans 12:9-21, Matthew 16:21-28

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.