by whitneyrice

It’s Week 2021 and I’m Running Out of Time

Do you know what week it is? For me it’s 2021.

“No,” you may say, “the year is 2021, not the week. It’s the 2nd week in August. But it’s okay, we’re all stressed out, I’m not surprised you misspoke.”

But I didn’t misspeak. The week is 2021. For me. Today is August 15, 2021, and I was born on November 15, 1982. In a very strange non-coincidence, today marks literally the 2021st week of my life. On August 15, 2021, I have officially been alive for 2021 weeks.

The reason this catches my attention is because of a fascinating new book I’ve just read. It’s called Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman. He points out if that if you live to be 80 years old, you will have lived 4000 weeks. 4000 weeks—that seems terrifyingly short! Having moved past 2000, I’m already over halfway through!

Most people’s first thought on thinking of their lives as 4000 weeks give or take, is, “Am I making the most of it?”

If the time is so finite, are we cramming every possible meaningful important thing into it that we can? The answer is usually no, as we look out at a landscape of emails and diapers and grocery runs and recurring attempts to get a gym habit going again, punctuated by a vacation here and there which we mainly experience through the viewfinder of our phone camera.

We start to feel the pressure—work harder, play harder! I have to make the most of my short time on this earth by doing more.

Which week are you on? Week 1350? Week 1800? Week 3140? Was it a good one? Did you check something off your bucket list? Or at least return that phone call you’ve been putting off for a month?

Burkeman points out that we are stuck in an industrial notion of time that deeply shapes our quality of life in ways we’re largely oblivious to.

Our ancestors in the faith had a very different relationship with time than we do. For thousands of years, human life was shaped by loose, open rhythms of time communicated to us by the earth and the skies. You went to bed when it got dark and you were tired. You got up when the sun began to rise and the rooster crowed. You harvested when the crops were ready, and planted when the soil was ripe.

You didn’t need precision, and you certainly weren’t going to “run out of time” to do anything. You churned the butter until it firmed up. It wasn’t like it was due at 4 p.m. and if it wasn’t ready you had to send an apologetic email to your boss.

I certainly don’t do much romanticizing of days gone past—as a woman with many religious ideas I’d like to share, in the old days I definitely would have been burned at the stake at the very least. I enjoy not having dysentery. I like air conditioning.

But this business of time is something I do envy our ancestors’ experience of. Jesus never heard an alarm clock, is the point I’m making, it wasn’t even patented until 1847, and so the entirety of the scriptures are predicated on a relationship with time that was very different from our own. The ancient rhythms of the church, of prayer and communal gathering, of feast and fast, harmonized with the rhythms of the earth, which created together the rhythms of human life for centuries.

Our relationship with time started to change with industrialization. In order for a large, mechanized factory to work with multiple workers, everybody had to get there pretty much at the same time. Which meant that we had to agree on what time it was.

Clocks came in with monastic orders who wanted to time their prayers more precisely than by looking at the stars, which might be covered by clouds. So the monks did it first, but everybody else had to get “on the clock” once we started moving off farms and working at factories. The church bell was replaced by the factory whistle, and the acceleration that began then has literally never stopped.

Almost every piece of technology introduced in the last 100 years has had as at least one of its primary aims to “save time.”

But does your time feel saved?

Even though you know that it took your great-grandmother about four times the time and effort to do her laundry than it does you, do you feel awash in peaceful, discretionary time brought to you by your washer and dryer and the hundreds of modern conveniences you have?

We “save time” every day with our machines and gadgets, but what are we “saving” it for?

You can’t actually save time. It moves forward whether you “save” it or not. We want to save time because we’re trying to hoard it, as though that were possible. I don’t know about you, but my time feels increasingly out of my control, like it’s either over-programmed or dragging by, like I’m never making the best use of it and I’m too tired to try.

The infusion of capitalism into the concept of time created something called “instrumentalization.” What this means is that the value of something or someone consists in the result it can produce. It is instrumentalized—we use it as an instrument to create specific outcome.

This sounds fine at first—the valuable result of a cow is meat or milk or cheese. The purposeful outcome of a day of work is 20 emails returned or 6 classes taught or 4 computers repaired or 16 dresses made. Again, fine.

But as capitalism ate the world, we didn’t notice that both time and people were being instrumentalized as well. The value of time is now much work you can get done in it. The measure of a human being is how much output they can produce.

It’s so pervasive that even rest, leisure, and Sabbath are now marketed by their ability to recharge you to do more work. Pay attention to your rest and self-care, we’re told, they’ll make you more productive!

This pierces me to the heart because I’m an inveterate self-improvement junkie and productivity chaser. I love learning about the newest life hacks that save time and make your day more efficient.

But stepping back, I realize that I am instrumentalizing myself and everyone around me. I am taking my 4000 weeks and feeding them to an economic machine that is destroying the earth.

But Burkeman points out that all of our hurrying, all of our pressure to make the most of our time on earth, is really a reaction against our own human limits. The fact is that whether we save time or waste it, lose it or spend it (notice how many of our time images are economic metaphors), it is finite. The psalmist knew this when they wrote, “The span of our life is seventy years, perhaps in strength even eighty, yet the sum of them is labor and sorrow, for they pass quickly and we are gone.”

And we hate that. We rail against it. We will do almost anything to fight off the reality that we’re going to die, and in the span of things, we’re honestly going to die pretty soon. As Jim Finley says, “We’re all on the same highway, and the exit is coming up.”

But what turns this from tragic into beautiful is realizing that God does not instrumentalize time and people the way we have learned to.

We do not exist to produce things. The purpose of time is not to create more output. You do not have to earn your 4000 weeks on this earth. Your time here is not to prove that you’re useful or worthy or good enough. That happened when your soul was created by God before the foundations of the world, hidden with Christ in God.

You have intrinsic value, not instrumental value. And your time on this earth has intrinsic value, not instrumental value. You are enough, right here and now, no matter what you have done or not done up to this point, and no matter what you do or fail to get done for the rest of your life.

Consider what internalizing this Good News could do for you. Consider how living it out could change your relationship to your 4000 weeks. And notice how much differently you could love your neighbor if you weren’t instrumentalizing them. What a miracle it is that your 4000 weeks coincided with his or her 4000 weeks, in the 200,000 years that humans have been around!

Jesus only lived about 1700 weeks, but by God he made them count. But not by measuring the empirical, quantitative results of those weeks. If we measure how “successful” he was by the efficiency of how he used his time, he was a dismal failure. He only used 156 weeks for his active ministry, the rest were “wasted.” He only had 12 fully trained employees, about 70 unskilled workers, and in terms of social media followers? He lived in a total backwater, a 3rd rate colony.

Not a good use of his time. Not productive.

But Jesus didn’t measure time or people the way we do. He loved and healed and fed the people right in front of him, and he allowed himself to be loved and healed and fed for long enough, thirty years in fact, until he was ready to go out and serve others.

He valued people radically, and he didn’t “use” time at all. He allowed the current of love to carry him through time, and he held his time so lightly that he didn’t even consider how short it was being cut by allowing himself to be crucified. He could have extended his time on earth—he certainly had the power to not get arrested and killed until 20 or 30 years later, when he could have gotten more done.

But that’s not how he looked at the world, and it takes a radical conversion for us to join him in his outlook, where time and people are holy gifts rather than tools.

So here we are on page 7 of this sermon and I haven’t had time to get to actually talking about our scriptures this week. Sorry.

But once you start paying attention to the way time works in your life, you’ll also notice how the concept of time is all over the scriptures.

Just in our texts today, which weren’t chosen because they talk about time necessarily, we read, “The time that David reigned over Israel was forty years.” God says to Solomon, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches…I give you a wise and discerning mind…I will lengthen your life.” Paul writes in our lesson from Ephesians, “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time… [give] thanks to God the Father at all times.”

And Jesus brings it home for us in one word that he uses a lot. And that word is “forever.”

Forever is a word that is outside of time. Forever encompasses all of time and all that lies outside time as we understand it.

Jesus renders all of our worrying about time, how to use it, how to have enough of it, how to save it, how to spend it, completely moot when he tells us, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day… I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.”

When we root and ground our lives in Jesus, our short time on this earth transforms into part one of eternal life, life that flows onward even when our physical bodies wear out and die.

We never run out of time with God.

Life on earth gives us 4000 weeks, but Jesus gives us forever. There is no purpose other than joy. There is no goal other than love. There is no rush and there is no waiting.

The Kingdom of God is among you. Forever is here and now.

Don’t waste any more time worrying about it or trying to achieve it. “Now is the acceptable time, Paul says, “Now is the day of salvation.” Receive it. Embrace it. Savor it.

So which week is it for you and how are you going to live it? Today I’m living week 2021 of my 4000. I’m so grateful God allowed me to spend this day, this time, with you.

If you liked, please share!

The Terrifying and Short-Lived Providence of God

There’s not much I can say at this point that I would be confident in attributing to all Americans.

Most generalizations are pretty dicey right now.

We are such a divided country with such widely divergent experiences that it’s hard to speak for everyone.

It feels most days like the political divide has us living in completely different realities from one another.

But here is a generalization that I feel 100% confident in attributing to pretty much all Americans: we are really, really tired of not knowing what’s going to happen next.

If you’re like me, you let yourself be lulled into a false sense of optimism coming into 2021. It’s like we all thought that if we could escape the literal numerical reality of being in 2020, the Year of Doom, things would look up.

Everyone knew 2020 was a wash, but 2021! Things are going to be different!

We earned a fresh start.

We stuck it out and didn’t go (completely) crazy through a pandemic that restricted our movements and took away friends and family too soon, massive racial justice work on the streets and in our hearts, lost jobs among soaring income inequality, and rounding it out with murder hornets of all ungodly things.

We made it. We were all so ready for a new year with a fresh start.

And then on day 6 of the new year, right wing militants led an insurrection that invaded and desecrated the United States capitol.

After thinking for so long, “Things can’t possibly get worse,” they did. In spades.

If you’re like me, you’re exhausted, afraid, disappointed, embarrassed, and losing faith that this dream called America is even real anymore, if it ever was—and we know it wasn’t for generations of oppressed people.

White violence was tolerated and apparently even welcomed in the halls of Congress, as capitol police put up a pitiful defense against the insurrectionists and in some cases ushered them directly in.

White supremacy ran amuck in the House and Senate for five hours—or rather, it did so in flag-waving openness rather than just in the polite, buttoned down, suit-clad form in which it usually manifests there.

I can’t take any more crises. I just can’t.

The constant swerve between adrenaline-fueled panic and apathetic exhaustion has worn me to a paper-thin facsimile of myself.

I need to have something to lean on. I need something to count on. I need to know that tomorrow is going to be okay.

Continue reading

The Red and Blue Bridesmaids

“Keep awake, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

How many of us have been keeping that commandment of Jesus from our gospel today all too literally this week as we waited for election results?

I’m usually asleep at a deeply unfashionable 10 p.m., but on Tuesday night, actually Wednesday morning, I was up at 1:30 a.m. waiting for returns. I did that even though I knew full well it would be very unlikely for us to have a final result on day one, two, or even three of this election week.

We spent all week knowing neither the day nor the hour of a conclusive election result, and honestly it’s been one more exhausting ordeal in a year full of them.

It was a little 2020-ish in our story from the Gospel of Matthew as Jesus tells it.

This is not a happy group of women waiting in the house for the result.

You might say they were divided.

You might say they were polarized.

You might say they were unable to find common ground.

I feel like maybe half of the room was painted blue and the other half red.

The interesting thing was they all had lamps. But only half of them had oil.

Continue reading

We Need Mustard Seed Churches Now More Than Ever

Well, first of all, congratulations! You have a new priest! I’m so thrilled for you, and Grace Church will be very much in my prayers as you live into this next chapter of ministry with Father Bill.

We talked last week about what a precious time this season of transition is.

Often congregations want to kind of fast forward through the time between priests.

There’s a complex mix of emotions.

There’s grief from losing your previous rector.

There’s uncertainty over how the Spirit is leading the next steps of the church—are we making the right choices?

There’s anticipation but a bit of anxiety as the days tick down before your new priest arrives and joins your ministry.

Will things work out? Have we made the right call?

And that is a challenging set of emotions in normal times.

Add in the additional set of roadblocks that come with facing a transition during coronavirus, and anyone would want to throw their hands up in frustration.

Continue reading

The Present Sufferings, The Glory to Come

What a blessing it is to me to be with the people of Grace Church today, a congregation that has been so good to my family.

I feel grateful to be with you at this particular moment in your journey as well.

You are in a season of transition, and so am I. Everything seems unfamiliar and strange.

For me, it’s a new job; for you, it’s looking for a new priest.

These transitions would be difficult enough during normal times, but we are tackling them in the midst of a global pandemic, an economic downturn, and God’s clarion call to grapple with racial injustice.

If you’re feeling a bit at sea, you’re not alone!

So how can we navigate this time of change together?

Where do we turn when it’s so difficult to see the next steps on the path ahead of us?

Continue reading

Judas The Healer

Today we see Jesus sending out the apostles to spread their wings and try a little ministry on their own.

He “summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.”

That’s pretty important work, and pretty advanced work for a group of people who much of the time seem to not just have trouble understanding Jesus’ instructions, but often behave according to the exact opposite of what he’s trying to teach.

But Jesus, in a spectacular instance of the risk-taking behavior he so often displays, trusts them with significant power and authority.

And what drew my eye as I read it this time was the last name on the list.

“These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.”

Judas.

Jesus sends Judas out with power over unclean spirits and the ability to cure every disease and sickness.

Continue reading

Raise Your Hand If You’re Honestly Terrible At Anti-Racism

Today is Trinity Sunday. If you’ve been in church circles for awhile, you’re used to hearing a priest get up and fumble around in the pulpit for 15 minutes with no real idea of how to say anything helpful.

It strikes me that this is remarkably similar to how most mainline white clergy feel about racism as well.

We get up in the pulpit and fumble around for 15 minutes with very little idea of how to say anything helpful.

That’s where I am today, so God bless you for sitting here and listening while I ask for a Word to share from the Holy Spirit.

What have the events since George Floyd’s death on May 25th revealed to us?

They have shown us a white church having had very little impact on police brutality and systemic racism.

They have shown us an Episcopal Church that didn’t really get outraged until one of our precious historic buildings was threatened.

And they have shown me how much I was allowing white fragility and white silence to drive my behavior, and I didn’t even know it.

Continue reading

Questioning Evangelism

Today we grapple with the knowledge that God is both the problem and the solution, the search and the treasure, the hunger and the sustenance that lie at our very core.

It is God for whom we long most deeply, God whom we sometimes find it so difficult to feel and perceive, and it is God who is the endpoint of all our journeys, in this life and the next.

Remember the algebraic equations that made your 5th hour class a living hell all the way through eighth grade?

They all had some incomprehensible string of letters and numbers followed by the dreaded phrase: “Solve for x.”

God is the x hiding in the string of letters and numbers and the x in the final worked out solution.

But we are forever thinking we have reached the solution only to discover it leads to another question. Continue reading

I Am The Gate, But You’re Not Going to Like It

This week I’ve found myself thinking about boundaries and barriers.

You hear a lot of talk in the church about healthy boundaries—they’re so important.

And we have now found ourselves in a position of having to observe endless physical boundaries.

We stay at home, we wear masks when we go out, we observe six feet of social distancing—we have to stay separated not just for our own safety but for the safety of our community and its most vulnerable members.

But as you’ve seen on the news, there are some people who are tired of those restrictions and are demonstrating for the government to suspend them.

A lot of people are experiencing serious financial hardship because of the lockdown.

It’s a confusing and frightening mess.

Well, we are in luck because Jesus’ central metaphor in his teaching today is a fence, a boundary, a barrier. So let’s go to the scripture together and ask to be taught, to be healed, to be loved.

Continue reading

Seven Miles From Jerusalem, Chased Down By Jesus

As you all remember, the Road to Damascus is the story of when the Apostle Paul had a vision of Jesus and was so overcome by the glory that he was knocked off his horse and went blind.

The Road to Damascus moment is an incredibly vivid and immediate experience of God that instantly changes your life forever.

Many people in the Bible have Road to Damascus moments besides just Paul. Moses sees the burning bush. Isaiah is taken into God’s throne room. The shepherds tending their flocks by night are overwhelmed by the heavenly host of angels.

Each of these is a life-changing experience of God that floods the senses and sets one’s soul ablaze with the Holy Spirit.

But we aren’t studying the Road to Damascus moment in our Gospel lesson today.

We’re given the Road to Emmaus.

The Road to Emmaus is the polar opposite of the Road to Damascus.

The Road to Damascus is marked by suddenness, awe, intensity and clarity.

The Road to Emmaus is shadowed by fear, uncertainty, grief and delay, and the final, healing understanding comes only in the aftermath. Continue reading