The Fulfillment of Time

I gave a speech in Muskegon on Thursday night, and making my way back to the east side early Friday morning, I think I may have complained to myself five or six times along the way, “This is a long drive.” While I don’t necessarily mind traveling long distances, what I do struggle with is the feeling of time being frittered away unproductively. I’m a doer. Minutes are important to me. Losing two-and-a-half hours behind the wheel of a car makes my primary motor cortex—the part of the brain that controls voluntary movement—start to itch. This is why, as someone who uses a treadmill to stay fit (at least, I did before my injury), a simple walk on the machine is tantamount to torture. I can’t even do it listening to music or watching a movie. I have to accomplish something. I have to produce something. As a result, and because my health matters to me, I made a tray of sorts that fits to the treadmill. It’s perfect for holding my laptop, and it even has a little space for one or two books.

I tell you, many a sermon or article has been written at five-miles-per-hour.

But back to where I began. The issue for me is the feeling of wasting time.

We’re all acquainted with the adages about time. “The time is now.” “Life is short.” “It’s about time.” “Time waits for no one.” “Time flies.” As a colloquialism, the saying “time flies” has had me thinking on more than one occasion. To say time flies is to say it goes away. But from another perspective, I don’t remember seeing my wristwatch ceasing to function at the funerals I’ve attended. It continued to tick. It’s the person in the casket who stopped. It’s the person in the casket who went away. Perhaps I’ve shared with you before my appreciation for Lord Chesterfield’s advice to his son. “Take care of the minutes,” he said, “for the hours will take care of themselves.” These are wise words, and I think about them often. They certainly put into proper perspective the little dash mark between the dates on a gravestone. In a way, that line is all the passerby is given for knowing the details of the deceased person’s life. Even more interesting, whether the person lived a full century or passed away shortly after birth, the line is relatively short. Some might think that makes life insignificant. I think it reveals the intrinsic value to the minutes God gives to each and every moment.

The Psalms have a lot to say about time. Throughout this wonderful hymn book of the Bible, we are called to the remembrance that God has ordered time (104:19), that backward or forward, God is in the midst of each of the moments on the timeline at the same time (90:1-17), that our days are numbered (Psalm 90:12), that He is with us without fail throughout the span of our years (27:1-2; 31:5, and countless others).

Two times Saint Paul urges Christians to make the best use of their time in this life, both in Ephesians 5:16 and Colossians 4:5. Those who are familiar with Saint Paul know that when he repeats himself, it’s because what he’s saying is important, which means we’d do well to listen.

There’s another point related to faith in Christ that Paul repeats on occasion. In Romans 13:11 he says emphatically, “You know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep!” In 2 Corinthians 6:2 he writes with similar enthusiasm, “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” By the time we arrive to 2 Thessalonians 5:1 and read the words, “Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you,” while the potency of his words is no less than before, he does seem to assume the reader’s awareness of something very important that has occurred—something that relates to time itself.

Paul wrote in Romans 5:6, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” Here he communicates to us very simply the single most time-altering event that ever occurred: the death of Jesus for sinners. Again, sort of repeating himself, later on in his epistle to the Galatians, Paul gives another accounting of this “right time,” except he gives the sense of it being a fulfillment by the person and work of Jesus.

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Galatians 4:4-7).

Here Paul holds nothing back. He stakes a claim in the incarnation of Jesus, reminding us that the Son of God crossed over from the eternal spheres of the divine. He took upon Himself human flesh and joined with us in every one of our seconds, minutes, and hours in slavery to Sin beneath the burden of the Law. He did this to win for us adoption into God’s family, having stolen away the unending fate of eternal Death awaiting all of us beyond that second date engraved on our headstones. He made us heirs, not of this world, but of the world to come, and He did all of it by sacrificing His own life that one particular Friday on the timeline so many years ago.

That one moment was the fulfillment of all time.

And now we live in time knowing that Death is not our end, which means we can (as Saint Paul already encouraged us) know how to live our lives making the best use of our time. Of course, this begins first and foremost with hearts set for the regular reception of His gifts of forgiveness doled out through Word and Sacrament. These make for the spiritual food that strengthen us for being His people in the here and now, for becoming attuned to knowing that an hour and twenty minutes in worship each week is not wasted time, but is instead a critical moment giving us the merits of “the fullness of time” located in Jesus. We become fashioned for understanding and committing to producing the genuine fruits born by the power of the Holy Spirit at work in this Gospel. We become people who know “the time is now” for serving others, because, indeed, “life is short.” We know “it’s about time” we reconsider our levels of giving back to Christ from what He has given to us, because we know our lives in this world will end and we won’t be taking any of it with us, anyway. We also know that because “time waits for no one,” every opportunity to give the Gospel to family, friends, and neighbors is a crucial endeavor. We know that soon all are found out of reach from such things—flown away, as it were—and we have retooled hearts for seeing them become members of God’s family, just like us.

Don’t Waste Your Minutes

Having just returned from vacationing in an area where massive crowds of people were vacationing as well, it’s an obvious saying learned by simple observation that every single person roaming the planet is unique—that no two people are exactly the same. This is true even for identical twins. Just ask their mother or father. It may sometimes be challenging to discern them in certain circumstances, but in the end, anyone who knows them well will know their distinctive features and be able to tell them apart.

The list of peculiarities between individuals is long. The standard characteristics used for distinguishing are often the things we can see, things like facial features, eye color, height, and build. While on vacation, part of my family’s efforts toward rest and relaxation involved just sitting together in the same room. Believe it or not, some of that time was spent watching nature shows on Discovery Channel. One show in particular, “Serengeti,” was incredibly well-crafted. Although, I think I liked it so much because its narrator never once blamed me for the peril of the animals. I wasn’t to blame for the weather, the swollen and treacherous rivers, the fly-infested plains, or the scorching sun causing desolate landscapes.

One thing I learned from the show is that when it comes to discerning individuals, namely family, animals rely more on smell than sight. It’s not just for purposes of predation or protection. I was amazed at how a baby zebra could find her mother in a confounding crowd of thousands; or how after years apart, peace settled between a cheetah protecting her young and two roaming male cheetahs when by their scents they all discovered they were siblings. I found it interesting that elephants will lift their trunks into the air like periscopes, and they will search the breezes to find relatives miles away. What’s more, their sense of smell is so attuned that they can even identify a relative’s remains in a pile of bones.

Perhaps a non-visual determiner between humans is an individual’s vacation threshold. What I mean is that I’m guessing most folks likely bear an inner clock with a unique alarm that tells them when they’ve had enough time away from life’s regular labors. For example, after about six or seven days, my son Harrison was ready to return to Michigan. Speaking only for myself, my alarm hasn’t gone off just yet. I think it still has about two more weeks left to tick. But no matter a person’s threshold, there’s something common to both: each only has so many minutes.

If I’m remembering it correctly, there’s the saying that while the hours will take care of themselves, the minutes are in our hands. In other words, we do well to remember that time is relentless, but as it carries us along, we have certain freedoms with the moments provided. For instance, my kids just can’t seem to figure out how I can say I’m resting during vacation when I continue to get up before the sun. But I do it all summer long because I want to squeeze as much as I can from every single day. For them, the morning’s minutes are meant for sleeping in. For me, they’re meant for accomplishing what the rest of the year is unwilling to allow. Perhaps most importantly, they’re meant for bringing me back around to remembering just how precious time is—that even as we may think we’re killing time, time cannot be killed, and a minute wasted cannot be reclaimed; or when we say so disconnectedly that time flies, we must remember we’re being carried along on its back as a passenger; or just how right we are when we say only time will tell, realizing that in time, all will eventually be revealed. Euripides is the one who said time is a babbler and that it speaks even when not asked a question.

All these things are true, and so for starters, knowing the value of every minute in my life and the lives of the family God gave to me seems to be one of the wisest routes I can travel toward my final minute—and to do so with the fewest regrets.

Taking a moment to sip my coffee and read back over what I’ve written so far, there seems to be a strange gap in between where I started and where I’ve ended. I began by talking about the things that distinguish people one from another, and somehow, I ended up pondering the importance of making every moment in life count. I guess that’s the danger in free-typing. Although, I suppose as Christians, the connective tissue to these thoughts isn’t as elusive as one might think. It begins to take shape when we consider that for all the natural discernments made between humans by sight, and all the natural discernments made between animals by smell, there is another sense employed in the Church that rises above all others: sound.

Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).

By the power of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel, Christians are born into the family of God, and by this, they are enabled for hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd and identifying Him in comparison to all others. By this, we know who to follow, and of course, this very important truth touches each of the minutes granted to us in this life, until finally culminating in the Last Day.

Listening to and following the real Jesus while battling the human will’s desire to follow false prophets and teachers is a major lesson to be taken from the three readings we’ll be hearing in worship this morning (Jeremiah 23:16-29, Romans 8:12-17, and Matthew 7:15-23). It’s a lesson that requires discernment. This discernment is an every-minute-of-the-day endeavor that takes aim toward a final day.

It’s critically time sensitive.

Don’t waste the minutes you and your family have been given, especially when you already know that one day there’ll be a final minute. In that moment, there’ll be far too much from a life lived following false hopes apart from Christ to cram into sixty seconds. Instead, feed as many of the minutes that come before it with the real Jesus—the One who has covered all your transgressions and given the merits of His work to you freely—knowing that His aim is to have you and your family by His side in a place where minutes no longer matter.