Archives: Ordinary Time

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 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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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Heavenly Sweepstakes Cancelled Due to Lack of Interest

One of the things I love best about Jesus is how tricky he is.

Jesus is a sneaky, tricky person!

How do I know that?

Well, he’s laid a trap for us in this gospel parable, and ten bucks say every last one of us fell right into it.

Let me explain.

So we begin with the tax collector and the Pharisee.

This is not a subtle parable; we know whose side we’re supposed to be on.

In fact, Jesus tips his hand with the opening explanation from Luke: “Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt.”

Uh-oh. That doesn’t sound good. I hope I don’t end up in that group.

And the Pharisee prays, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.”

“What a dirtbag!” we think. “Seriously, does anyone pray like that? Thank God I’m not that arrogant! Thank you, God, that I am not a self-righteous jerk like this Pharisee! Thank you that I know that I am an unrighteous sinner like the tax collector. Thank you for making me more humble than anyone else!”

Oh. Wait a minute.

I think I just accidentally prayed a prayer identical to the Pharisee’s.

Jesus, you got me!

I fell right into the trap! Continue reading

Being Gratitude

Today I want to put two things together that might seem an odd match: healing and stewardship.

How do they fit together? Well, let’s turn to our gospel story from Luke and see what we can find out.

We read of ten lepers who band together and seek healing from Jesus.

The number ten in the Bible signifies completeness—think of the ten plagues of Egypt, the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb on the tenth day of the month, or the Ten Commandments.

So we could read the ten lepers as representing a complete picture of humankind.

That’s a bit jarring, isn’t it?

Even today, we would think of lepers as “the other,” someone different than we are.

We know that leprosy in the Bible could represent any number of different medical conditions, but these people were ostracized from society, driven out and forced to live in sub-standard, isolated conditions.

When we think of lepers in the Bible, we are likely to think, “Those poor people. That’s awful.”

We are not so likely to think, “That’s me. I’m a leper. I need healing.”

But that’s exactly where I want us to go. Continue reading

Banned Books, Banned People, Banned God

The Washington D.C. public library system did a fabulous project for Banned Books Month.

They constructed a scavenger hunt for banned books all around the city.

They took books banned by various jurisdictions over the years and put fake covers on them. These covers are plastered with labels that state the grounds for having banned them.

So for example, J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye has a cover that says “ANTI-WHITE,” because that is why it was banned in Columbus, Ohio in 1963.

A Separate Peace by John Knowles has a cover that reads “FILTHY TRASHY SEX NOVEL.”

Who wouldn’t want to read that?

It’s a fun project that draws attention to a serious issue. Censorship is alive and well all around the world today.

For centuries regimes, governments and dominant majorities have tried to maintain oppressive statuses quo by controlling what people read and see and hear.

And if they control what we read and see and hear, they can control what we think and do.

It’s very comfortable to place all blame and responsibility for censorship on some far-off blank-faced Big Brother figure we call “The System.”

But a dear clergy friend of mine asked me a painfully insightful question as we talked about the gospel lesson this week.

“Aren’t we censoring our own worlds all the time? Isn’t that what the rich man in the story was doing his whole life?” Continue reading

God, The Lost Sheep

The parable of the Lost Sheep is one of the great parables in the Bible because it is simple, understandable, and we recognize God and ourselves so vividly in it.

It is tremendously comforting to be reminded in such clear terms of God’s unending love for us.

When we are lost, God will stop at nothing to find us.

When we go astray, God will search to the ends of the earth to bring us back.

We cannot be reminded of that too often, because sometimes in our heart of hearts we find it difficult to believe that the Almighty and Everliving God would care that much about us.

As beautiful and important as I find that traditional interpretation, I’d like to try a different one today.

One thing you’ll find out about me is that I can’t stand the obvious sermon. I do not feel like I’ve really lived into studying a Bible text, and certainly haven’t preached on it well, unless the Holy Spirit helps me see a new and unique angle I’d never seen before.

And as my clergy friends will tell you, I sometimes play a little fast and loose with exegesis when I do that.

But I don’t care—if it helps us see God in ourselves and each other more clearly, than I’ve done my job.

So all that wind up is to say that I know I’m going way out on a limb with the interpretation I’m bring you today, and I’m asking you to join me just for the next few minutes.

If it leaves you cold, you can forget it during the Nicene Creed. But if it awakens something new in you, then thanks be to God.

So here is me bending this parable as far as I think it can possibly go.

All of Jesus’ parables function as analogies.

We read about the mustard seed and realize that it symbolizes our faith.

We read about the treasure hidden in the field and realize is symbolizes union with God.

And in this story, we traditionally picture ourselves as the sheep and God or Jesus as the shepherd.

But what if we flip that on its head?

What if God is the sheep and we are the shepherd?

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The End of the Reign of Goody Two Shoes, Or, Start Breaking Some Rules

What a scene we have in our gospel text today! I love it!

Jesus is teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath, and everything is going great.

The leader of the synagogue seems to be on board—it’s nice to have a guest speaker who brings a little prestige to your local congregation.

But then a woman in need shows up to spoil the party.

Can we be honest with ourselves for a moment here? Have we ever felt uncomfortable when someone clearly in need, someone who definitely doesn’t fit in with our crowd, shows up at worship?

I’ll confess to my shame that I have.

But Jesus, instead of dismissing or marginalizing her, or even waiting until after the sermon to take her aside and care for her, brings her right into the heart of the worship service and heals her.

The crowd loves it.

The leader of the synagogue is furious. But notice that he doesn’t quite have the guts to confront Jesus himself.

Instead, Luke says, “the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the Sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, ‘There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day.’”

Rather than reminding Jesus of the rules and thus risking a confrontation with a clearly powerful spiritual leader, he tries to intimidate the vulnerable people seeking out Jesus’ care.

Jesus creates the confrontation anyway.

He calls the man out as a hypocrite, and “when he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.”

Okay, so here’s the thing you should know about me. I am a professional Goody Two-Shoes.

I spent the entirety of my childhood, teenage years, and the vast majority of my adult life following the rules.

I’ve always been a good girl. I’m on time, I’m nice, I never wear white shoes after Labor Day, and I always send thank you notes.

If there is a box to be checked to get approval, I check it.

If there is a social custom to be followed to adhere to etiquette, I follow it.

The best I could do for my rebellious phase as a teenager was cop an attitude with my parents every now and then. I was so boring I never even drank before I turned 21.

I’m the prim and proper, teacher’s pet, snot-nosed Goody Two Shoes you loved to hate when you were in school.

But the thing I’ve begun to realize as I’ve studied the gospels over the years is that Jesus is not a Goody Two Shoes. Jesus is a red-hot rebel.

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