When I was growing up, I often heard the question asked on Saturday morning television, “What time is it, kids?” To which the kids responded, “It’s Howdy Doody Time.”
Now “Howdy Doody” has gone into the world of vintage television, but still the question of time is central to our lives – in the challenges of a lifetime, we anticipate a moment when “the force awakens” and we will be called to take our part in the struggle between good and evil, life and death, hope and despair, even if only on the scale of our daily lives.
The reading from I Thessalonians is all about time. The author asks a fledgling congregation to consider “what time it is” and asserts that Christ could come at any moment, like a thief in the night and we best be awake or we will miss our roles in Christ’s mission.
Now the Christians at Thessalonika lived in a very different world than ours. Many believed that Jesus would be coming in a visible fashion – and in their lifetimes – to set things straight, defeat the forces of evil and create a new world in which the faithful would be safe to worship, receive the rewards of righteousness and see Christ face to face. In light of his hope of Jesus’ return, Paul’s words to this cluster of house churches had an aura of crisis – don’t be asleep, don’t turn away from God’s mission, or you may lose the reward planned for the righteous ones.
Very few of us here expect a literal “Second Coming of Jesus.” Too many biblical prognosticators have been dead certain of the time of Jesus’ return and every last one of them has been dead wrong, often after gaining notoriety and making a fortune from book sales. Many of us wonder about the morality of God destroying the Earth for the sake of a rescue operation, solely focused on the faithful – clearly defined as those who hold the right doctrinal positions – and excluding the rest of humanity.
Still, Paul’s words remind us to stay awake and seize the moment. Paul’s words remind us of the question posed by Cape Cod poet Mary Oliver, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Oliver’s question is probing for us as individuals and as a church. Time passes quickly. We can’t step in the same waters twice, and life is brief, especially for those of us who have reached Medicare age or have seen the birth of grandchildren and great grandchildren. But, despite the brevity of time, we can choose in this holy moment to be wide awake to God’s presence and we can choose to be available to serve God’s vision for us and our church.
The most precious thing we have is time, and God calls us to use our time wisely and creatively. The parable of the talents not just about money; it’s about seizing the moment; it’s about knowing your gifts and then responding with creativity and grace. Two servants risk losing their master’s money and end up gaining a great fortune. The third servant, averse to risk, simply holds onto the cash and loses everything.
Now, this parable is not about punishment – and we don’t need to ostracize those whose careful behavior leads to missed financial opportunities. This scripture is about the rewards inherent in taking chances on God and ourselves. Those who take wise chances with their resources end up with more than they expected in terms of resource and adventure.
Now, I like to hold onto my time and also my possessions. Kate and I are researching our financial assets as she prepares for retirement. I’m careful about money due to times of unemployment in my family of origin. I will never forget having received food baskets for a brief period in 1963. I’m a fiscal conservative in many ways. But, I have discovered something important: I am a person with time, talent, and – yes – treasure. I have learned to let go of my feelings of scarcity and open myself to God’s abundance – the abundant energy of the universe that brought forth the big bang, billions of galaxies, amazing animal and plant species, and the wondrous chaotic adventures of science, medicine, literature, theology, communication and space travel.
When I let go of my strangle hold on time, and respond to a need in my family, community or circle of friends, I end up having more time. I have found out that when I share my treasure – my money – and when my first response is to be generous, I never lack for the financial resources I need. My abundance can bring joy to the scarcity others experience and enable them to begin to experience abundance in their own time, talent, and treasure. There is enough, but we need to let go to let God’s generosity flow through us to those who are in need – spiritually, economically, and relationally.
Here at South Congregational Church, we are truly a gifted people: we have time, talent, and treasure, personally and as a community, and God constantly asks “What do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? What does this congregation plan to do with its one wild and precious life?”
We are in the midst of doing great things with our building, we can see it in the fellowship hall and the art work in the new art room, formerly known as the counting room. But, our challenges are about mission – brick and mortar are spiritual and when we look at our talent, time and treasure as a church, “What will our gifts be? What will our legacy be?”
For God, subtraction ends up leading to multiplication, and taking wise risks for a great cause leads to growth and adventure: five loaves and two fish feed a multitude; a mustard seed becomes a great plant and hillsides become bright yellow, and a handful of followers create a worldwide movement. Seventy-five people and friends gathered for worship and moving with our companions out into our world, letting God’s spirit flow through us within and beyond these walls, can transform our village, bring direction to the aimless, warmth to the lonely and homeless, love to the forgotten and excluded, and abundant life for us and our church beyond what we can ask or imagine.