The Sunday Sermon: Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost – October 21, 2018
Scripture: Mark 6:30-37a
Abundant Rain: Time
God has poured down for (us) abundant rain. Joel 2:23b
Pray with me …
Week two of our Stewardship Season in Pewee Valley at the Presbyterian church. We began last week with a reading from the Old Testament prophet, Joel, that included the words with which I began. It is here. All we need for the future of this congregation, this community. It’s all here. Will we offer a suitable measure back to God, back to the Love that created and sustains this, or any community gathered in Christ’s name? That’s the real question of Stewardship season.
In the next few weeks we’re going to talk theologically about our stewardship of time, of talents, and of tithes. (I do love the alliteration in that list, but always chuckle at how we avoid saying the word “money,” even during Stewardship Season!) And you’ll need to ask yourselves if you are giving a “suitable measure” of each to the future of this beautiful place.
In Sunday morning worship and sermon, throughout the week in conversation and in all of our correspondence through this season, please, please, please remember: You are not asking yourselves to “pledge” (time, talents, or money) to budgets. You’re being asked to pledge these things to the ministries and mission that we have been called to engage; and more importantly you are pledging to each other, and those who will find us here in the Valley in the year and years ahead. It’s a critical distinction: Not numbers, but neighbors. Not figures, but friends.
That said, I do actually have a number for this morning: 10,080. (What does that number represent? Anyone?) You should know this, I’ve asked it twice before. Here’s a hint: This morning we’re talking about the stewardship of our time together in service with and to one another, the wider community, and indeed, our world. 10,080? Anyone …
That’s one week, in minutes. At the end of the week every one of us has lived 10,080 minutes. Every week. We all get the same amount. Unlike money, which may vary significantly from individual to individual, family to family based on too many things to list, at the end of the week, we are all equal in the amount of time we have been given. At the end of the week we’ve all had one week. Seven days. 168 hours. 10,080 minutes.
Every one of us will choose to spend those minutes in different ways. And if personal experience holds true in any universal way, most of us will complain that there’s not really much choice in it. We “have to do this” and we “have to do that,” we “don’t really want to,” but that’s what is expected. Children, parents, friends, work, home, school … whatever. What we “do” most often defines who we “are.”
So in this time of stewardship at Pewee Valley Pres., we begin here: Our Stewardship of Time. And we’re focused on the conviction that in the giving of our time to our church we are engaged in articulating “who we are,” not “what we do.” The key is to make choices that balance our productive minutes together with our leisure minutes, our work with our rest, our time alone with our time in community. Stewardship of time in the church is about managing our time rather than letting our time manage us. When we are able to do that, we’re about to claim our faith identity and the life to which it leads.
Our scripture has an incredible amount to say to about time. From the classic Old Testament passage from the wisdom book of Ecclesiastes (There is a time for every matter under heaven), to “oh so” many of our Psalms (“The days of our lives are seventy years, or perhaps eighty” Ps 90:10a), the writings of Paul (“Be careful how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of your time.” Ephesians 5:15-16a), to our gospels. Listen for that Word of God from Mark’s sixth chapter.
Read Mark 6:30-37a … The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
You’re familiar with this passage, I trust, even though we stopped short of the miracle story. Most of you know that what happens after Jesus tells the disciples to “give them something to eat” is the feeding of the five thousand. The only miracle story in all four of the gospels. We stopped short of the Marcan miracle so we can talk about a modern day miracle if and when it happens: Time management and the stewardship of time.
How do we understand the lessons from scripture? How are we to make the most of the time we’ve been given? You might be surprised … With balance and a clear sense of identity. Let us not forgive the wisdom we just mentioned: “To everything there is a season …”
More than any other human, we profess, Jesus knew who he was and to whom he was called. In that knowledge, he modeled a life of balance. In the gospel story this morning, after hearing the report of the disciples and being tired himself, he responds to the need for rest. “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
Our ministry with each other and to this physical place, our mission with others outside these walls requires long hours spent with crowds of people and we, too, must choose to spend time in rest and renewal. But sometimes that long sought rest and our plans for it are spoiled. It happened to our friends on the waters of the Sea of Galilee.
“They went away by themselves to a quiet place … but when they landed they saw a large crowd.” No rest for the weary in this case. Some options, though.
Jesus could have told them to go away. He could have gotten back into the boat and stayed out on the water. He could have just laid down anyway and let the crowd take care of him. He did none of those things. Not for the first time, he balanced his life with his ministry. Jesus understood his time with others as time given to him, not time taken away. And so, he began to teach (again) and he told his disciples to continue to serve, as well: “Give them something to eat.” He understood his ministry (who he was) first, and found its place in life (what he does) after that. And with that identity, he balanced what has become for us, our Christian privilege: Proclaiming the good news and meeting the pressing social and material needs of others and of our church.
What I’ve learned from this passage this week, looking at it with an eye toward stewardship, is this: As long as we understand our giving of time to the church, its people and its mission in the same way we understand our giving of time in other areas of our life (our jobs, sporting events, mall and grocery shopping, nights out, our other obligations) then we will consider our time in the church as time taken away. We have to turn that mindset around.
As naïve as it sounds, when we consider stewardship theologically, we have to understand that church is not something we “do” it is someone we are. We don’t “do church,” we “are the church.” I think we feel this on some level beyond our reasoned thought – in our hearts. That’s part of why we keep saying “yes.” But we haven’t allowed our heads to make sense of it, because from everything we hear all week from every other message-senders in our lives, “we deserve a break today.” But how can we take a break from who we are?
If we can get our heads in sync with our hearts and understand why we come here, and serve here, and live here and love here, then the hours we spend with each other here are experienced as a gift – something we receive, not something we hand over; time we have been given, not time we have had taken away.
Now before you write me off as nice and quaint again let me remind you of something. Let me tell you that I know better than many of you how simplistic this message may sound. As fate would have it, I happen to be married to a pastor’s wife. She didn’t marry a Pastor, but she became one some nine years later, “in spades,” in fact, because I’m never been the type of Pastor that considers this vocation a forty-hour a week gig. So, I can assure you that all illusions about time spent in the church as “our own” have been thoroughly addressed. Any hint at trying to understand this idea simply and naively and I am straightened out. But that’s just it. It’s not simple thinking. It’s profound, deep identity-shaping thinking. We’ve been coming to church for so long out of a deep-seated sense of obligation and guilt that any more time outside of Sunday morning has come to be viewed as a real sacrifice for the church rather a call to the church.
I want to share something with you (I may wind up using this in the weeks to come, too). Years ago, I came across a church newsletter and kept an excerpt from it. It is a letter from a husband and wife, written to their congregation detailing a change in mindset about giving to the church. They write:
“It’s a way of planning for a future in which we have confidence and hope, even when we are uncertain of exactly what the future holds. (Our church) has been present for us – to marry us and baptize our son, to provide grief counseling when family members died, to bring us closer to God through exquisite music and powerful preaching, to surround us with a community of faith with whom we can reach out to the larger community on issues we care about – all because generations ago, men and women committed their prayers and passion and time and money to the church and its future. They planned ahead for us, even though they didn’t know us. We can’t repay them. But we can try and be them for those who come after us.”
We each have our own personal experiences, unique to us, in this community. This is not something we do. This church is who we are, who we’ve been and who we hope to be. This church was not given to us by our parents. It has been loaned to us by our children. We were here this past Friday at our Fall fish Fry, we are here this morning, we’re coming back later this evening, the office will open tomorrow for another week, some of you will come and go on this campus in the days ahead for any number of reasons, and all of you will think of your church or someone who is a part of it in the week ahead (That’s not an order. That’s simply a fact.)
Ten thousand and eighty minutes. How will you spend them in the weeks, months and year to come? How will you make the most of your time? How will you invest your time most wisely? How will you share who you are with Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church in the coming year. Coming to worship? Taking part in a Sunday school class? On a ministry team? As a Sunday school teacher, office volunteer, or as part of a workday crew? Sunday morning set-up, clean-up? A CDC angel or visitor to our homebound? A Youth Group advisor or member of our Wednesday morning “fix-it” crew? The sky is the limit. You have the opportunity again to provide for the future and make the most of your time right here, right now.
Jesus asks us to take the time – to teach each other and feed each other, to love all who gather and to provide for them. Not because it’s something we do, but because it’s who we are. Amen.
Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / October 21, 2018