Often in Scripture we detect a sense that a propitious time is upon us: a time to decide, to re-evaluate, to change, to turn around, to see differently, and to assess our lives, priorities, and commitments. Phrases such as “Now is the time of salvation/fulfillment is at hand/the moment is ripe/in the fullness of time” alert us to the value and opportunity of the times before us. There are two words in the Greek New Testament for time: chronos and kairos. Chronos refers to the ticking of the clock, the days of the week, the months of the year, and the passing of the years. Our words chronology and chronometer (an old word for a watch or clock) reflect the Greek background for this concept of time. Kairos, however, indicates not the arbitrary passing of time but the ripe moment and the unique opportunity. This kind of time comes upon us unexpectedly and demands from us a response. We ignore kairos at our own peril.
New Years in our society is a possible opportunity for kairos as it presents itself as a time to reevaluate and reassess who and whose we are. As we enter the New Year, I would like to offer three thoughts we should consider as we make our resolutions and set our goals for 2020. All three suggestions are biblical, pastoral, and relevant for those who have chosen to follow Christ. There is nothing unique or unheard of in these suggestions, but what we most often need to hear is not that which is novel or astounding but that which strikes a familiar chord in our hearts, dreams, and longings for a better us and a better world.
Our first suggestion is that we may live life with both feet on the ground. In other words, may we live in the time and place which are uniquely ours. From a pastoral point of view and from the perspective of what keeps people healthy and alive spiritually, I know of no better wisdom than to live in the present. Over the past decades I have seen people “wandering in times not their own.” Some of these wanderers look to the future as they await redemption from the mess they and their world are in while other wanderers (most according to my observation) try to go back and live out of the memories and images of the past.
There’s nothing wrong with memories. Memories can inspire, strengthen, caress, and make tender the heart. But when they become substitutes for the present opportunities of growth, service, and joy, they can become demonic as they possess and rob us of our potential for life and love. They can suffocate our openness to the present moment and make us unavailable to those around us who need us in their moment of the here and now.
John Claypool, one of the great preachers of the twentieth century, told of a time when he was sitting with his wife and son at a table for four at a restaurant six weeks after his daughter’s death. The empty seat brought pain, grief, and a flooding of memories. Claypool was tempted to dwell in that sorrow and those painful memories, and yet at that table were his wife and son. They were his present moment. He needed them, and they needed him. He would always cherish his memories of Laura, but that moment of kairos was asking something from him which could help heal his pain and that of his wife and son.
And then there are those who cannot live life with both feet on the ground because they are restless. They live lives of distraction. Over the years we have had basset hounds as pets. You don’t walk basset hounds. They walk you. With their acute sense of smell, they are forever stopping, going, stopping, going . . . They are always wanting to be where they are not. This can be amusing (and frustrating) with basset hounds who follow their noses, but it is often tragic in humans who are forever trying to find the greener pastures where they think they can live well and where life’s problems will melt away. And of course, I’m not talking just about those who move every six months. One can be born, grow old, and die in the same community (or even in the same house) and still live a life of distraction as one flits from one person, activity, task, and commitment to another in a pathetic search for belonging. There is a time for moving on—a time to reach out and to stretch and risk for God’s sake and one’s own growth and well-being. But for most of our lives, the secret is not in changing our setting but in changing our perspectives—not in changing where we are but in changing who we are.
Perhaps that bit of advice from decades ago is still valid for most of us: “Bloom where you’re planted,” for in truth if we cannot bloom where we’re planted, we will not likely bloom at all. I believe every one of us, regardless of who we are or what life has done to us, can make a difference of life and love to those around us if we will live with both feet on the ground—if we will bloom in the time and space that we occupy right now. And to be brutally honest, so much of our pain and so much of the pain of others who suffer from our neglect and unavailability are because we will not bloom where we are planted.
Secondly, we can resolve to live in compassionate, open relationships with others. When we consider what is really important—what life is all about—what authentic and healthy religion affirms as the meaning and purpose of our existence, we realize we waste much of our time. And I’m not referring necessarily to those prone to idleness and laziness. One can be as busy as a bee and as successful in terms of money and business as imaginable and still waste time. Some of us have the most peculiar ideas as to what is time well spent and what is time poorly spent. I cannot help but wonder how some of these ideas will sound to God when we give an account of our lives and our time spent on earth. I can hear us now as we try to impress God with our management of time:
- “I worked hard and sometimes up to seventy hours a week to provide a lovely home and as many of the luxuries as possible for my family.” But God may ask us where we ever got the idea that the splendor of one’s home and the availability of luxuries for ourselves and our families are appropriate goals in life in a world of so much suffering and injustice.
- “I worked very hard to promote myself in my job and at the end of my career I reached the top of the ladder.” But God may ask where in Holy Scripture success in business or status according to the standards of the world is presented as a priority for Christians who are invited to serve others in the Spirit of Christ.
- “I amassed a fortune by wise investments, frugal spending, and disciplined savings.” But God may say, ‘My Son said a lot about money but nothing that would give the impression that wise investments, frugal spending, and disciplined savings/hoarding comprise the standards for faithful stewardship and obedient discipleship.”
We could go on and on in our imaginings about how we had invested so much of our time and energy into activities and jobs, thinking that the Almighty will be impressed with our ingenuity and dedication. But I doubt if God will be impressed. If the Scriptures are to be trusted, I would imagine our Maker will ask on one question: “Did you love?” In the moments that were ours, did we love in compassionate, open ways and strive in that loving to make this a more humane and peaceable world? I doubt if much else matters. Yes, we need to provide for our families and strive for excellence in our work and be responsible in our stewardship, but all of this runs a distant 4th, 10th, or 100th place behind the priority of love and the faithfulness to God’s will.
Occasionally (when I find the courage) I ask these questions of myself: If the goal, purpose, mission, and meaning of my life could be measured in terms of the time, resources, and energy I spend each day, what would that goal be? Where do I spend the bulk of my time, the majority of my resources, and the greater part of my energy? Am I happy with what I see? Is it worthy of God’s love and calling of me? And do I see any possibility for things to change significantly in my life in ways that will mold me to be a better follower of Jesus as I continue my present patterns of time management and personal investment?
Now this may seem to contradict the first part of this sermon (to live with our feet on the ground and to bloom where we are planted). But there is no contradiction. Eternity has far less to do with the past and the future than we usually think. Eternity refers to that intensity, that purity, and that holy love which characterizes God and God’s Kingdom and which seeks to find expression in this world and in our individual and collective lives.
Living our time out of the perspective of eternity is not to long for some sweet by-and-by or to forget the troubles and sufferings of this world. No! To live our lives out of eternity is to love our world with God’s heart, to see it with God’s eyes, and to listen to it with God’s ears. It is to understand things in their proper perspective and to be strengthened by the assurance that all of time—even the common days that are ours—rests in the hands of God and to know that we trust a God who can redeem the times of our lives and even the times of our world.
In his first speech on the floor of the U. S. House of Representatives, the late Congressman Elijah Cummings cited a poem by Dr. Benjamin E. Mays. The poem expresses so well the enveloping of each moment of time within eternity:
I only have a minute.
Sixty seconds in it.
Forced upon me, I did not choose it,
But I know that I must use it.
Give account if I abuse it.
Suffer, if I lose it.
Only a tiny little minute,
But eternity is in it.
To live in dialogue with the Eternal God will enable us to live courageous lives of serenity, compassion, and purpose and will give us more security, more peace of mind, and more lasting and deepening joy than we have ever imagined possible. To know and experience God intimately and personally as the One in whom we (and all others) live, move and have our being is a most critical ingredient for a life of committed and faithful discipleship. Without that awareness and eternal grounding, our religion can be no more than a worn-out spinning of our pseudo-spiritual wheels.
So, these are the three thoughts I would suggest we ponder as we begin 2020:
- To live with both feet on the ground.
- To live in compassionate and open relationships.
- To live in the awareness that each moment is penetrated by the presence of the Living God.
My suspicion is that 2020 will truly be a New Year for us only to the extent that these patterns become more a part of who we are. So, by the grace of God and by our grateful response, may this truly be a Happy NEW Year!