Time

(Message given at Newberg Friends Church on April 26, 2015. During the message, I asked for and received many excellent suggestions from the group. So unfortunately here, you miss those, and instead read some of what I prepared and didn’t share.)

Jesus had a way of seeing things differently than most people.

Mark chapter 12 gives one of those times where he looked carefully and turned things around. Turn with me to Mark 12:41-44.

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny.
Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything–all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41-44, TNIV)

When an institution names a building after a donor, the donor is being recognized for the amount they were able to give. I don’t know of an institution that does what Jesus says here, recognizes people based on their giving percentage compared to their income.

But once again, Jesus is telling us, teaching us, showing us what life looks like in a grace economy. On the one hand, it’s a great thing: we aren’t measured only by dollar signs or what we accomplish. We don’t earn anything by our deeds or our giving or all the other things that are constantly measured in this life.

On the other hand, it means God’s measure of things looks at intent and effort. Sometimes that is freeing, and sometimes that is…paralyzing. Like I can never quite try hard enough. Like God demands everything.

We considered singing the hymn “I Surrender All” today. I was the one who thought of it first, but I thought of it for a not-so-positive reason. That hymn used to mess me up a bit. It could start playing all those tapes in my head of “not enough” and “try harder” and “you never REALLY surrender all”.

Can anyone else relate?

I can find several ways to twist faith in God into a club to pound myself with. Let’s take the example of money, the topic at the heart of this part of Mark 12. I could look at those who are rich, who do so much good in the world, who give in ways that make a huge difference in the lives of people and organizations… and feel like I don’t measure up. But here come Jesus’ words of hope: he celebrated the woman who just gave two very small copper coins!

Maybe there is hope for me! Maybe I can be noticed by Jesus! And, truthfully, I think that is a big part of what Jesus is teaching here. Even if you aren’t rich, you can make a difference with your generosity. God will see it.

But then I can twist even the good news. I hear his words: “She, out of her poverty, put in everything–all she had to live on.”

Uh-oh. I’ve never gone that far. I’ve never gone all in, given everything I had. Maybe even my sacrificial giving wasn’t enough, because I didn’t give it ALL. Maybe Jesus is just sitting there shaking his head at my feeble efforts.

What is Jesus doing with these words?

I think he’s reminding us that God is trustworthy enough for us to not have to worry. There are echoes here of the sermon on the mount, the reminder that just as God takes care of the birds of the air and the flowers in the fields, God will take care of you and me.

It isn’t just that the widow demonstrated limitless giving–it’s also that she demonstrated extreme trust that God would take care of her needs. When I’m at my best, I realize that all that Jesus says here is good news. It isn’t a message of condemnation. He’s reminding me not to compare my output to others and feel badly. He’s reminding me that to give generously and deeply is to be like God. And he’s reminding me that I can trust God to take care of my needs, I don’t have to hold on to “enough” so that I can take care of myself.

When I first looked at the topic today, I thought of this passage for other reasons than money.

In fact, I think that for many of us today, the commodity that is more difficult to give is our time. We are like the widow in that we often are pulled by so much time pressure that we only have small pieces to give…but many times, unlike the widow, we cling fiercely to the little discretionary time we have, afraid that if we give it, there won’t be any for ourselves and for our needs.

Time is just like everything else in this finite world: it is a limited commodity. Which makes it difficult, counter-intuitive, to take Jesus’ teaching to heart. Grabbing and holding on to limited things isn’t the way, he says. Whether it is money or status or time, when we grab and hold and hoard, it’s like storing the things that will rust and that the moths will destroy.

So there’s Jesus with his grace economy saying we can trust God to give us the resources we need…the food and shelter and money and time we need. And here’s us with every fiber of our being fighting him on that. Because there so often has been a disconnect. So often we haven’t had what we felt we needed.

Again, can anyone else relate?

So in God’s wonderfully ironic way, here I am today talking about trusting God with our time.

And there I was on Friday, not a single sentence of this message written, wrestling with trusting God with my time.

One part of my internal conversation was saying, “Come on. Come on. Get to work. Produce. All your time is God’s. You said you’d give it to God, even when it hurt. Do it. Don’t be lazy. What is wrong with you?”

Another part of my internal conversation was considerably more whiny, saying, “It’s not fair. It’s not fair. There’s always more to do than there is time to do it. You haven’t done any self care lately. If you don’t guard your time, everybody else is just going to take it from you. The demands will suck you dry.”

I was my own anti-sermon illustration. I illustrated the very things that were the opposite of what Jesus taught.

The first voice in my internal conversation was that “never enough” voice. Instead of grace, I felt the need to earn, I felt the fear of God’s rejection. The second voice was that “lack of trust” voice. I didn’t really believe God would give me the time that I needed. I didn’t trust that if I gave time to this responsibility of teaching that God has placed on my plate, I would find the peace and rest I need.

Quakers have used questions designed to prod us toward trusting God with our lives.

Our Yearly Meeting, our group of Quaker churches in Oregon, Washington and Idaho, has this question: “Do you give of your time and abilities in service to church and community, and gratefully use your possessions as a trust to honor God?”

It recognizes that everything we have isn’t really ours…it’s God’s gift to us, designed to be used to honor God. It reminds us with the word “trust” that the beneficiary of all of our stuff and time and resources is God. It’s all for God.

Our own Kathy Watson has done a lot of thinking and a bit of rewriting of these questions. Here’s what she came up with: “How is God calling you to steward the resources (time, things, money, and people) He has entrusted to your care?”

I believe these things to be true: God does give me what I need. All I have is God’s. My own life will best be what it was intended to be when I see my time and things as God’s, and ask how best to spend them. I believe it to be true, but honestly Friday wasn’t the only time I haven’t acted like it was true. Especially with time, it is difficult to live this out.

So I’m turning the tables on you today.

Rather than stand up here and tell you how you should be living this out, I’m going to flip it around and ask you to help me, ask us to help each other, to live this out.

I see two areas that are difficult…you may come up with some more. But one area is this: if Jesus holds up the woman who gave everything as the model of doing it right, how do we not get caught in the trap of thinking we have never given enough time to God? How does the church talk about the importance of using your time to serve God and others, without giving the message that you are failing, that you aren’t doing enough for God?

That’s where I want to start. What do you think? In our busy culture, how do we avoid that feeling that we can never do enough for God? [ASK]

Thank you! I often have to remind myself that with time, just like with money, Jesus doesn’t only look at the result. It’s not just about amount of time or money given to God, otherwise it would have been the rich ones instead of the widow who Jesus celebrated. I remind myself that Jesus looks also at what I do with what I have.

When I’m at my best, I know that the best way to do what I should with the time I have, the way to avoid guilt over what didn’t get done, is to ask God what I should be doing with this moment. When I’m confident I’ve asked and I’m doing what God wants me to do, then I am better able to let go of all the other “shoulds” and “could have dones”. Sometimes God does tell me to rest! Sometimes God does tell me to take a break! And I sometimes ignore it or don’t hear it because I feel the expectations of others to do and perform.

Let me ask another one.

Another struggle for me is to trust that I can give my time to God when I am so busy. If I do surrender control of my time to God, how do I know it won’t just suck me dry? That’s what I want to ask us to help each other with now. How can we find the ability to trust that God will give us time for ourselves, time for the things we love…that it won’t all just get used up serving others? [ASK]

Thank you! I’ve noticed about myself that I have the least trust that God will manage my life well at the times when I’m pretty much running the show of my own life without discernment.

When we were planning the service today, Elizabeth Sherwood made the analogy of beginning with tithing our time. With money, one of the helpful parts about aiming to give 10% of our income to the church is that it is a practice that is a beginning point to helping us see that everything truly is God’s. Perhaps the act of “tithing” 10% of our discretionary time to service or volunteering is  a helpful practice for getting us to see that God can redeem our time.

Before I wrap this up…do you have other questions or thoughts about this area of “time”? [ASK]

Thank you. I’ll close with something that seems a little like a tangent, but I’ll bring it around I hope.

Last Saturday was my birthday. The hard part of that came two weeks before, when I realized that there was a church work day and a memorial service on MY day. MY time was going to be swallowed up once again by all these demands and expectations. I came home pretty grumpy and feeling sorry for myself. I got a bit of the martyr thing going, and sounded a bit like Eeyore: “Why do these things always happen to me?”

I spent quite a bit of time brooding. And then as I was laying in bed trying to sleep, I prayed. I asked God for new perspective. I released my resentment. I reminded myself that all my time is God’s, and that it is best to give it gladly.

But I was still grumpy when I woke up. So I kept praying those things, in odd moments throughout the next few days. And I can honestly say that by the time my birthday rolled around, the worst had already happened. On my birthday, I enjoyed working outside with several of you during the work day in the gorgeous sunshine. At the memorial, I celebrated the stories of how God redeemed what felt like early failures in Esther May Thomas’ life.

Some of the basics still work to help change our perspective.

Ask God for help. Remind ourselves what is true. Do what God asks, even if we aren’t feeling it.

I want to ask us to take a few minutes to begin a process of discernment, one that I hope will continue throughout the week. It’s a bit risky. You may hear it as if I am saying you aren’t doing enough…but please believe that isn’t the intent.

What I believe to be true is that our time is used best when we offer it to God. It’s not about “more” or “quality time” or “results”. It’s about trusting God and partnering with God to experience the joy of giving and serving, about living a life that gives meaning. I had lunch recently with someone in our church who said exactly that: he is looking for more meaning in his life.

I believe meaning is found when we begin asking God how we should spend our time. Maybe it starts with a tithe, an offering of an hour a week for whatever God asks: listening to someone, writing a note, or volunteering with Love Inc. Maybe it’s serving with kids here at Sunday School, or driving someone to a doctor’s appointment with Faith in Action.

Maybe it is taking a nap or going for a hike or painting. Maybe it’s seeing one of your lunch breaks at work not as “your time”, but as time when you can listen and ask questions of someone you work with, as an act of love and service.

Not to prove yourself as a “good person”. But rather, recognizing that God loves you and has given you the time you have, and you will find fulfillment in spending time as God intends.

Maybe you’ll get an answer right here this morning, and you can write down what God is asking you to do and try to do it this week. Maybe this is just the start, and the answer won’t come until later this week. But let’s begin by asking, right now: what step, God, do you want me to take in offering you my time?

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