Stewardship of Time

A sermon preached by the Reverend Trevor Jamison at Saint Columba’s United Reformed Church, North Shields, 15th September 2019

Genesis 1:1-5; John 3:1-8

“I’d love to do that, but I just can’t seem to find the time.”

Welcome to the first sermon in a short series on “stewardship”. Today, on this third Sunday of Creation Time, we are looking at stewardship of time. Next week we shall consider stewardship of community. In week three, at our harvest service on September 29th, it will be stewardship of creation. Then, on October 6th, we’ll round off the series with stewardship of finance, including church finances!

Today, it’s stewardship of time: “I’d love to do that, but I just can’t seem to find the time.” Back in the day, when I was working as a librarian, before I got into being a church minister, one of the most useful training courses I ever did was on time management. As a result, my disorganised diary was put in order, and my desk, which had been piled high, with higgledy-piggledy piles of paper, was now clear and pristine.

Some lessons from that time management course have stayed with me, continuing to be helpful in my present work, though there seems to be something about the ministerial life that mysteriously attracts chaos and disorganisation. Still, I’m not too worried because Christian stewardship of time is a rather different thing from time management.

For us, for Christians, stewardship of time is about our use of time in relationship to God. Being well organised – time management – might form part of that, but it’s far from the whole story. So, what is stewardship of time about? It’s about taking the time to thank God for the gift of time. It’s about trusting God with regard to chronological time. It’s about taking God-given opportunities at the right time.

Taking time to thank God for the gift of time. In Genesis 1 we hear that God, who was before anything in creation ever was, commanded light and dark into being: ‘Then God said, “let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from darkness. God called the light Day, and darkness … night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.’ (Gen. 1:3-5)

Genesis 1 is neither an eye witness account (even in the story itself humankind does not come along until some time after night and day are created), nor is it a modern scientific description of events. Genesis 1 is less about telling us about creation in itself – the universe and planet earth’s place within it – than it is about telling us about God. It declares something about God; that God is the author of time itself. Without God there is no light or dark, night or day. Without night and day, and their subdivisions of hours, minutes and seconds, there is no time. To put it another way: no God, no time.

One hymn says, “think of a world without any flowers”.[1] That’s hard enough, though you can envision it if we, humankind, keep on misusing the planet in the way that we do. If a hymn asked, “think of a world without any time”, it would make no sense at all. Time gives structure and meaning to life; life has a beginning, a middle, and an end. At least, it has an end in this form of existence, though we hope, in God’s grace to go on to something more; some new form of relationship with God, when life comes to an end.

Time enables us to have a sense of progress through life: All the world’s a stage, as Shakespeare put it, and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances; and each one in their time plays many parts … [their] acts being seven ages.[2] But how would we ever know when to make out entrance or our exit; how would we ever be able to interact with each other, if there was no sense of time?

Without time our existence has no meaning for us. So, first of all, stewardship of our time is about recognising that it is a divine gift and thanking God for it. Our time is not our own. It comes from God as a free gift. Good stewardship of time begins (and how can you begin to do anything if there is no time) by thanking God.

In terms of stewardship of time and thanking God for the gift of time perhaps a little spiritual time management might be in order. Take a moment to picture your diary or timetable for the week – time you give to work, leisure, family, exercise, shopping and so on. How much of your time is taken up with what might be called spiritual activity? Since good stewardship of time is about our use of time in relationship to God, how much of that time do you spend thanking God for all you have been given?

How about taking a little bit more time each week for thanking God for the good stuff in your life, including the time in which to do things. Maybe a moment of “thank you” to God at the beginning or end of each day, for all that day might bring, or for all that it has brought.

Then, from thanking God for time we turn to trusting God with regard to chronological time. I would be a rich man if I had a pound for every time someone in church told me “You know, Trevor, we’re not getting any younger.” (I’ll be collecting money from several of you at the end of this service!) Add in another pound for, “You know, Trevor, we’re all getting older,” and I would be a multi-millionaire.

When people say this, they are making a serious point about the age profile of this congregation and many other. We are weighted towards the mature end. Of course, although we are getting older every day, we are not doing so more quickly than anyone else. Everyone is getting older … one day at a time, and no quicker.

All the same, this touches upon an important point about chronological time and trusting God. We don’t know how much time we have left. It’s hard to steward your time well when you don’t know how much of it you possess. Maybe we look at our age, and the law of averages, and make a rough guess. Yet exceptions to the rule show us not to take too much for granted or that we might receive more than we ever expected. We just don’t know.

Some people do know, up to a point. We get given news, perhaps news that’s unwelcome, about how much more of this life we can expect. Recently, I’ve been reading a book by the palliative care doctor, Katherine Mannix: With the End in Mind: How to Live Well and Die Well.[3] In it she shares her observations and convictions from working with literally thousands of people who are nearing the end of life. That might sound quite depressing. Actually, I found it a comforting and, at times, uplifting book.

One of Katherine Mannix’s observations is how on many occasions an indication of how long is left is the impetus for people to live well, not just in terms of actually getting around to the things on their “bucket list” but in living their relationships with others at a profoundly deeper level. To me, in that context, it’s almost as though they have been born again into a new way of living in relationship with others. We get a glimpse of what Jesus is getting at in terms of our human relationship with God when he tells Nicodemus (who came to him in God-created night time (3:2)), that you must be re-born from ‘above’ or ‘anew’ (3:3, 7).

For most of us, though, for most of our time, we don’t know how long we have. That’s where good stewardship of time involves trusting God about chronological time. Will we have time, individually or as a church, to finish this or that project? We don’t know. That should not prevent us from going ahead in the belief that all that we do has value within the context of God love, God’s concern, and God’s infiniteness. I don’t suppose the biblical book, Lamentations, is your first choice of reading. The title is not encouraging, but it does give us the verse, ‘The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.’ (3:23)

So, we are thankful to God for the gift of time and trust God concerning chronological time. Then, thirdly and finally, we strive to take God-given opportunities at the right time, when they come along.

“History”, the saying goes, “is just one damned thing after another”, yet nothing could be further from the truth. In his night time conversation with Jesus, Nicodemus is wedded to chronological time, and in chronological time you’re born once and that’s it: ‘How can anyone be born after growing old?’ he asks, ‘Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’ (3:4) Nicodemus misses the point. Jesus is not talking here about chronological time – length of time – one thing after another – but about a quality of time; a significant moment in time.

Neither life nor history is just one thing after another. There are special moments, times of opportunity, that we choose to take or let go by. That’s true of individuals and its true of churches. In the Greek there is ‘chronos’ and there is ‘kairos’. ‘Chronos’, from which we get ‘chronological’, refers to the sequence of time. ‘Kairos’ refers to the important moment; the opportune time for action. And every so often moments come along that are seized and things change. In the history of this church, Harold Lishman, hearing someone speak about housing conditions in North Shields in the early twentieth century, seized the moment, raised funds and built homes. Chronologically, his work continues in and through the Square Building Trust,[4] but only because he recognised a kairos moment when it came along.

I wonder what moment we in our time might recognise and seize when God sends it our way? Doing so will be good stewardship of time; stewardship which thanks God for the gift of time; stewardship which trusts in God for living well in chronological time; stewardship which responds with action when the time is right.

O God, giver of time, make us thankful, trusting, active stewards of your time. We ask it in Jesus’ name, Amen.

[1] Think of a World Without Any Flowers by Bunty Newport (1927-2004) and children from Emmanuel Junior Church, 1966. (Rejoice and Sing, no. 123)

[2] From As You Like It.

[3] Katherine Mannix With the End in Mind: How to Live Well and Die Well. London: William Collins, 2017.

[4] http://squarebuildingtrust.co.uk/

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