Yesterday, I was driving to a wedding that I was officiating. Our own, Hollye Burgess got married to David Sheaks. I was daydreaming on my motorcycle at the corner of Harmon and 204, revving the engine, as us guys who drive Hondas do, letting all 250cc purrr. I was the first one in line at the light. When the light changed, I threw my bike into gear, careful not to pop a wheely, and went into the intersection. I stopped suddenly, because a black car zipped through on a very stale yellow light. I just started to go again when a white car nearly hit me as she went without even pausing through that red light. You don’t have to ride a hog like me to know that when cars hit motorcycles dead on going 45 MPH, the person on the motorcycle winds up being dead on arrival. I took a moment to catch my breath and thought to myself, man, my time could have been up just then.
Time is short and time is precious. If we are not trying to cram as much life into our short time on this earth, we are being foolish. The wise user of time wants to make every moment count, fill every minute with those things that are going to bring joy to…Who? Me? That doesn’t sound right. My neighbor? Holy cow, sounds like the “right” answer, but not the answer that is going to make me happy necessarily. God? Does God, big, giant, out there, somewhere even care about how little old me spends my time? While we all agree that wasting time is foolish, my guess is that our opinions vary widely on what the wisest use of our time might be.
Several years ago leaders of Messiah attended a conference at Peace Lutheran Church in Gahanna led by then seminary professor, now seminary president, David Lose. At the conference, Lose told a personal story about the pressures of time for a family of four who attended his church in Minneapolis. The family went on a vacation for a week to a beach somewhere. They had a glorious time. One of those euphoric moments where everything not only went right, but the fighting and bickering that all families experience was kept to a minimum. Returning home the parents realized just how precious time with their family was. They had been drunkenly misspending their time as Paul says in this fifth chapter of Ephesians. Wasting it on activities that might have been momentarily satisfying, but rarely left them feeling fulfilled and whole like that trip had done. They vowed to change. To treasure their family as the blessing that it was and to deliberately make time together throughout their busy week.
So, they made a list of all the activities that filled their days. Golf, volleyball, travel soccer, piano lessons, yoga, Spanish lessons, book club, dinner club, etc…Together they decided how many individual activities in a week was healthy and made sense and how many family activities every week they wanted to carve out time for. They came to a consensus over what they would keep and what they would leave out. Church did not make the cut. They had been regular worshippers as a family, but decided that there were other family activities that were more meaningful and brought them closer together. And the best time for those activities was Sunday. They decided that the best use of their time to become the best hope that God had for them, was to stop worshipping God.
While they still believed in God and celebrated that God had given them this gift to treasure, time with their family, they had lost their trust that worship and being a part of a church was the wisest use of their family time. They had decided that their attendance in worship didn’t make a difference to the God they believed in. Moreover, they felt confident that God would want them to do what was best for their family, even if that meant moving from every Sunday worship to occasional worship. This family made a very deliberate decision that families and individuals make all the time when they commit voluntarily to an activity that will consistently take them out of worship. Many who believe in the God revealed in Jesus, also believe that the wisest use of their time is to do something else on Sunday morning than worship that God.
Lose believes and I agree that often this is a logical decision for people to make because too often churches are horrible. Every church, including Messiah, should ask themselves hard questions about their commitment to meaningful worship and a Spirit filled life together. Are we a place where we expect the Spirit to be alive? Can we see evidence in our life together of God’s presence in this place? Is the mystery that the flesh of Jesus has become the bread of life in communion backed up by the love of Jesus that is shared abundantly in community? Churches that expect people to see value in attending, but whom offer no value in the worship or the life together will and maybe should continue the slow death march to closure. It is only logical that people once committed to worship, will make the decision that time is too precious to waste on a church where God seems all but absent.
While it is only logical to make that decision, it is not wise. God does care whether we worship or not. God’s hope for all of creation the writer of Ephesians asserts in the first chapter is to be reconciled to the body of Christ, to become a part of a church. The wisest use of time for any of us, this fifth chapter claims is spent worshipping the God who gave us whatever time we have on this earth. The God revealed by Jesus, who brought us from death to life in baptism, expects us to live a life of thanks and praise in communal worship. One cannot be thankful for a gift but dismissive of the gift giver.
So here is the bind for us. Time is precious and it should be used wisely. The wisest use of our time is to worship God. However, leaving worship hungry rather than fed is not acceptable. Ministry that is not offering wholeness to you or anyone else is not acceptable. The family in Lose’s story, like all of you should expect to be fed in worship and life together. But just as we wouldn’t stop eating if we couldn’t find satisfying food, we shouldn’t stop worshipping if we can’t find satisfying community. We need to get involved in our church to help improve our worship and fill a calendar with ministry that is making God’s love known. We are the church and we need to create a church that is undeniably a wise use of everyone’s time. God tells us to worship. The people of God need to make sure that worship is a good gift, our ministry bears Christ to the world in real and tangible ways and that it is time well spent.
Yesterday on my scooter was a frightening reminder how quickly our time can be finished this side of heaven. Time is a gift from the same God who gave us life and taught us love. May, we always celebrate and praise the gift giver by good, hearty worship and meaningful ministry that makes God’s love known. This is the wisest use of our time. Amen