Sermon: The Mystery of Time

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Preached on 27th January 2008
by Reverend Keith Harbour

I.     TIME DEVOURS US.

1.      "Time like and ever-rolling stream bears all it's sons away."  Throughout history Scientists, Philosophers, and Ordinary People have wondered, puzzled, been confused by, the mystery of time.

         St. Augustine said "If no one asks me I know, but if I want to explain it to someone I don't know." In his monumental work ‘Confessions' he tries to penetrate  what he calls "The Ground Of Our Temporality."  Abstract statement but a deep endeavour to tease out profound religious experiences, within time, yet timeless.

         "Time like and ever-rolling stream bears all it's sons away."  Isaac Watts' hymn on Psalm 90.  We learn all our days pass away, all we have is 70 or 80 years which pass like a dream in the night.

         Ecclesiastes, written in old age reviewing his life, futile, pathetic, useless.  Money, power, pleasures leave him unfulfilled, life is a passing wind, nothingness, every generation worse than the last.

         O.T. Wisdom expresses the power of time. Paul Simon writes: "God only knows, God makes his plan, the information's unavailable to the mortal man.  We work our jobs, collect our pay, believe we're gliding down the highway when in fact we're slip sliding away.  Slip sliding away, you know the nearer your destination the more you're slip sliding away."   Haunting!

 

2.      Time has such power over us that there is never enough of it.

         Commitment to Ministry means often I should be at 2 or even 3 places at the same time, which is impossible.

         BUT wouldn't it be nice if we had more time?  8 days a week.  Pills that enabled us to do without sleep.  I knew a blind local preacher who used to go bed at midnight and get up at 4:00am, every day.  Margaret Thatcher did the same.  I envy them, how much more they can cram into his life!

 

3.      Although we'd like more of it, we wish it away.  We plan  future holidays, dreaming.   But when on holiday we think about what needs doing at home, wishing our lives away.  When children are tiny we wish they'd grow up, get to school, then college, then jobs, then married have children, and the same for grandchildren etc., etc.

         Time!  We cannot get away from it, we cannot control it, we cannot stop it, it devours it, we want more of it and we wish it away.

4.      St Paul talks about being "Slaves to the law."   I think we are slaves to time, the all powerful god of our lives.  Paul tells us Christ is the great liberator.   Can he liberate us from any kind of slavery!  From time!

 

II.    TIME IS REALISTIC.

1.      Greek - 2 different kinds of time -  Chronos and Xairos.  Chronos (chronometer) clock, chronicle, calendar. Hours, days, months.  Xairos  abstract yet positive; opportunity time, fulfilment.

         O.T. Hebrews, like us, had one word for time, but it was Xairos  opportunity time, not clock/calendar time. E.g. Hebrew months ABIB = Ripening Ears. ZIV = Flowers. ETHANIM = Perennial streams.  BUL = Rain.  Time not something to keep a track of with  watch or calendar but something that presents an opportunity that must be taken.  Seed time, harvest time.  Take the opportunity.

         Some Biblical Scholars spend hours working out when Amos Prophesied, ‘2 years before earthquake', when was that?  Search the  archaeological evidence!  Or Isaiah, ‘the year that King Uzziah died', when was that?  Can any historian date it accurately?

         SO WHAT? Does it matter?  The prophets were not interested in days, months, years.  What concerned them was the opportunity to proclaim the judgements of God, or the chance to point to a possible fulfilment of God's Plan.  God called, it was his time, right time.

 

2.      Did Early Church celebrate Christmas?  Not 25/12. St Paul shows they celebrated that Christ was born ‘When the fullness of time had come'. (Gal 4:4).

         Mark tells us Jesus began his ministry proclaiming that ‘The right time had come'  (Mk 1:15) not 10:30 on 11th of  Ethanim in 16th year of Emperor Tiberius and 25th year of Herod Antipas.  But the right time, opportunity for people, for all the world and the whole of history.  A very different concept of time to ours with clocks and calendars.

 

3.      Preachers look at ‘The Plan' ‘How many times am I out this quarter'?   Which days, what times?  Good 10:45 at Widdrington URC an extra lie in bed.   No not an 10:00 at North Broomhill, have to get up earlier!

         I look at my diary, I've got 8 evening appointments next week.  Rather than saying Not another Meeting', I should praise God for the abundance of opportunities to serve him and witness to his love.  We should be change our DIARY TIMES to OPPORTUNITY TIMES. Maybe we should call Church Notices, and Newsletters ‘The Opportunity Times'.

III.   TIME DRIVES ONWARDS.

1.      Either time controls us and then devours us or we can see time as glorious opportunities for achievements.  OK so far.

         What about God and time?  Traditionalists would see God as creator of time who stands above and beyond time and not effected by it.

         But in ‘Revelation' we get the statement that God is Alpha and Omega, ‘The Beginning Of Time And The End Of Time'.

         Prudentius (3rd Cent).  ‘He is Alpha and Omega, he the source the ending he, of the things that are, that have been, and the future years shall see'.  OR  Frederic Myers.  (From his  poem ‘St Paul')  Christ is the end for Christ the beginning, Christ the beginning for the end is Christ'.

 

2.      Jesus' last words in Matthew's Gospel are -  ‘I will be with you always to the end of time'.   To me, ‘Eternal God' does not mean God stands outside of time, but that God is the beginning of time, completely involved in the course of history and is the absolute end of time - God is time's completion, God is time's fulfilment.  He beats time.  (in both senses - beats and beats)

 

3.      When you acclaim Jesus as your Lord then you stand within his Eternal Kingdom, which is Past, Present, Future, and beyond the future.  You become his children, and his heirs.

         I bought my first Tape Recorder on the Never Never from Bainbridges, a deposit then 15/- a month for 24 months.  I felt like a slave, I wished the time away,  it was not mine until I managed to make all the re-payments.  I paid it off early, then it was mine, it belonged to me, I'd bought it.

 

4.      Here is Good News, if we are God's children, he makes us heirs to his Kingdom, he gives us everything through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.   Everything that is his is ours and that includes time.  The price has been paid, there are no more payments to make.

         ‘Time like and ever rolling-stream bears all its sons away'.  We  can say,  "So what!  We're not children of time!  Time has no control over us!  We belong to him who made and controls time."

.        For the Christian the time that, ‘ever rolls onwards' is truly a wonderful thing, for it drives on to the ‘End' and the ‘End' is Christ, and, through him, it is ours.

         Let us delight in the time we have.  Delight that each moment presents us with an opportunity to share in God's Unfolding Plan and to work in and for and to Eternity.

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