November 2, 2014
Church of Peace, United Church of Christ
Rev. Mariah Marlin-Warfield
Ecclesiastes 9:7-12, Psalm 90
More Than Enough Time
Just about nine hours ago, we got our hour back. Today there are two two o’clocks in the morning, and I tell you, I love this! It’s like February 29th. It might make us feel mixed up all day, and it gets dark earlier. It’s certainly a hassle for shift workers who have to deal with a twenty-five hour day. And yet, there is something liberating and pleasurable about the notion of a bonus hour. You could get an extra hour of sleep, maybe. A whole extra hour of life added to our day, until it gets taken away in the spring.
Today we are beginning our November sermon series on the theme of abundance. It’s not just about having enough. It’s about reckless, irresponsible, generous abundance, the abundance of God. And today it’s about a life where we have More Than Enough Time…
Three years ago, there was a movie released called In Time starring Amanda Seyfried and Justin Timberlake. (Anybody happen to catch it?) It’s a sci-fi fantasy set in the year 2169. All the people are engineered with a digital clock programmed on the inside of their arms. Once you reach the age twenty-five, you stop aging, and the clock on your arm begins counting down from one year. Once your time runs out, your time runs out, and you die.
But in this futuristic world, time is currency. Everything is purchased with minutes and hours, and in some cases, years. Wealthy people walk around with centuries on their forearms, while poor people struggle to stay alive from hour to hour. An emergency shelter hands out minutes the way we hand out bags of groceries downstairs.
In the movie, our hero, Will, comes from Dayton, the working class region. This is juxtaposed with the wealthy region of New Greenwich, home to time barons who hoard time and increase the cost of living in places like Dayton. Early on, Will befriends a wealthy man who sacrifices his life and bequeaths to Will all of his time, one hundred and sixteen years. This sets Will on a Robin Hood-style quest to remedy the injustice between these regions. There is a beautiful death, and a troubled love story, and a not altogether disappointing ending.
What I found most chilling about this film is that the premise seemed eerily plausible. The film is asking us to imagine a world in which time is money, where wealthy people can practically reverse their aging, and poor people die too soon. When it comes to time, there is never enough. You know, I think we just might be able to imagine this.
We twenty-first century Americans know the pulsing pressure of not enough time. Our lives are overscheduled and timed down to the minute. We carve our months into weeks and our weeks into hours, all of it is governed by the clock so trustworthy and relentless. You could be running constantly, and nobody would find that unusual. Something in our culture values being crazy busy. Now you and I might hate the experience of being too busy, but popular opinion decrees that our lives have meaning when we have too much to do and not enough hours in the day.
Of course, there’s also the pressure that comes with not having enough days, the fear that arises when we get blindsided by our own mortality. We know this pressure when the people we love die too soon, because people we love die too soon. We know this when our own death is set before us so we must greet it or fight it, but we can’t not see it.
The writer of Ecclesiastes offers this bitter truth: “Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent… but time and chance happen to them all. For no one can anticipate the time of disaster. Like fish taken in a cruel net, like birds caught in a snare, so mortals are snared at a time of calamity…” (Ecclesiastes 9:11-12).
What if we mistake our life for our lifespan? There’s the fear that we won’t have enough time to get everything done this week, and the fear that we won’t have long enough to live, and I think both of these fears come from the same source. What if our deeper fear is not that we don’t have enough time? What if our deeper fear is that we don’t have enough life…
If you can imagine that for a minute, I invite you to join me in the middle and take a whole, deep breath.
Today we hear Psalm 90, a song which comes from the period following the Babylonian exile and which carries traces of this trauma. Reading through this poem, you feel a swinging rhythm moving back and forth between the frail condition of humanity over here and the almighty everlastingness of God over here. Notice the gaping chasm in between.
“God, a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past
… You sweep them away like a dream… (4a, 5a)”
“All our days pass away under your wrath, our years come to an end like a sigh. //
The days of our life are seventy years, or perhaps eighty, if we are strong;
…they are soon gone and we fly away” (9-10).
Now just like we can imagine a world in which time is spent like money, we imagine the human condition sung in this song. But notice in this Psalm, God is not just far away from humanity. God is not just infinite while we are utterly finite. God is furious. Why is God so angry?
“God, we are consumed by your anger! By your wrath, we are overwhelmed” (7).
What I’m wondering is how much of this anger is actually claimed by the LORD… Or could it be that the anger comes from our human side, from the one doing the singing? When you dare to take a hard long look at the chasm between our fragile human lives over here and the almighty, eternal God over here, when you panic“What if we don’t have enough life?!” could it be that rage is what we have to try and throw across the chasm?
In verse three, the Psalmist sings to the LORD, “You turn us back to dust and say ‘Turn back, you mortals’” but then in verse thirteen, the Psalmist stops describing and starts invoking. “Turn, O LORD! How long? Have compassion on your servants.”
Turn, O LORD! How long? Have compassion on your servants. How can somebody say this to God? How do you go from offering a reasonable description of our mortality to yelling a protest at the LORD?
This moment of turning happens between verses 12 and 13, and I’m pretty sure I know what happens right there.
Beginning at verse 11, “Who considers the power of your anger? Your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you. So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.” I’m pretty sure what happens next is the singer takes a breath. A whole breath right in the middle of the song, not to calm down and be quiet, but to make possible her protest: “Turn, O LORD! How long…”
And so it is. When we find ourselves standing in the middle of the worst fear that there’s just not enough time, there’s not enough life —our lives are not enough!… This is exactly the place to claim a whole, deep breath. Try it some time when you’re in a hurry. A whole breath is a protest against our crazy, frenzied pace. It says to the clock, You’re not the boss of me; I’m part of a power greater than time. We breathe and remember in our bodies the source of our being.
After all, as much as we trust the time measured by calendars and clocks, our experience of time is not so steady and reliable. Time feels much too fast when we’re working under a deadline and much too slow when we’re waiting for test results. In the morning, those extra eight minutes from the snooze button can make all the difference in waking up. You can sit for a few minutes at stop light on John Deere Road, and you can sit for a few minutes with someone who is dying, and it’s not the same. There’s a saying that goes, “The hours go slowly, but the years go quickly.” We understand this well.
And we human people breathe and invoke the Holy Spirit whose breath calls us to life, who prays for us with sighs too deep for words. Now a whole deep breath is what gives us the power to protest and to praise.
Breathe and remember our eternal life, which is not reserved for us in some far away heaven. Eternal life is not even just life that lasts forever. Eternal life knows the fullness of life outside of time. It refuses to stay on schedule because it does not belong to the clock, it belongs to God.
Breathe and come back to God, and then we see. It’s not how much time we have in our life, but how much life we have in our time.
The writer of Ecclesiastes issues such a dire warning: You never know when calamity will strike! It’s true. But so is the beginning of this passage: “Go eat your bread with enjoyment and drink your wine with a merry heart.” Today we are alive. In just a few minutes, we will come to this table of bread and wine. This table stands in between death and life, holding our memories of the ones we love, right alongside our longing for the promise of new life. In the middle, at this table, there is a whole deep breath.
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me. In God, our life is more than enough time. Life is so much more, than enough time. Amen.