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.
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