Listen to the Ticking Clock

I Corinthians 7:29-31

Sunday, January 18, 2015

An aunt and uncle of mine were among the first people that I knew to buy a VCR back in the mid1980s.  To put it mildly, they were excited about this new technology and quite proud of their purchase.  What I remember most about that experience was the first time that my uncle decided to record an event.  He is a huge Alabama football fan and his first foray into the world of capturing a live event on tape was an Alabama game against the University of Georgia.  It was a big game as I recall with both teams highly regarded. As fate would have it, the final plays of the game decided the outcome. It was literally one of those games that was decided in the final seconds – an instant classic if you will.

Having captured, on tape, such a thrilling game just made my uncle even more satisfied.  So, he and my aunt organized a party and invited friends over so that together they could re-watch the game and be mesmerized by this new advancement in technology.  To say the least, all of their friends were impressed and thoroughly enjoyed the novelty at that time of re-watching a game.  The whole evening built to a crescendo as they anticipated seeing again the final plays that had decided the whole game.  But, just as the contest reached the final minutes and the climactic ending, the screen on the tv went blank and everyone in the room sat trying to figure out what had just happened. It was only then that my uncle realized what all of us who lived through the VCR era always found frustrating – the VCR tape had run out of space before the game was over.  While he had captured 90% of the game, when the tape ended, he failed to get on tape the last 10% which was the best and most exciting part of all.  Simply put, he thought he had plenty of space and time with which to work only to discover when it was too late that he had miscalculated.

The New Testament, both in the Gospels and in Paul’s writings, warn against our developing the same attitude in life.  Over and over again, we are encouraged not to live with an attitude that says that we have plenty of time and space but rather to always live recognizing that time marches far more quickly than we can imagine and with the reality that none of us are every promised that tomorrow will be ours to enjoy as is today.

Without question, this way of thinking develops in the New Testament under interesting circumstances particularly in Paul’s writings such as our text for this morning from I Corinthians.  As many of you have heard me mention before, Paul was a devout Jew before he became a Christ follower as were almost all of the early believers.  As a result, he understood well the Jewish perspective that suggested that once the Messiah had been identified then the end was near.  For according to Jewish thought and teaching, the coming of the Messiah signaled that the generation alive at that time would be the last to enjoy life on this earth.

So, having affirmed Jesus as the Messiah, Paul naturally and simply imported this idea into his early Christian thinking, teaching and writing.  It led him to create an interesting set of priorities and it caused him to make some confusing suggestions such as the idea in our text for today that marriage should be avoided.  It wasn’t so much that Paul was opposed to marriage as it was that in light of a world that would soon be over, he wondered if marriage should still be the top priority.  Again, for Paul, the end was coming soon and therefore one’s priorities must change.

Our tendency today, I think, is to dismiss Paul at this point.  After all, the world did continue on far beyond that first generation and the church really never fully embraced Paul’s perspective that marriage wasn’t the best of ideas for believers.  Likewise, over the centuries, religious leader after religious leader has played on our emotions regarding the coming end of the world.  Many have told us exactly when this moment is coming and they have helped us to read the signs so to speak.  Yet, in each and every case up until this point, they too have proven to be wrong.

But, to dismiss Paul here altogether because of our suspicion of anyone who talks about the coming end is to miss the overarching idea here that is invaluable and very much on point for all of us no matter what.  That idea is the simple reality that life is not going to go on forever.  Our days will go by far more quickly than any of us want to admit.

One of the things that always strikes me as a minister is the holy moment of being with someone and their family members at the point of death.  Whether the person is 28 or 98, there is a statement from those who are present that is almost universal.  I literally hear the same idea in one shape, form or fashion almost every time death comes, “the years went by so fast”, “I can’t believe their lives are over”, “It seems like just yesterday that we married, that he graduated from High School or that she turned 13.”

I don’t want to be morbid and I don’t want to play on anyone’s emotions but life is brief and in one shape or another it will be over faster than any of us can imagine.

At the beginning of a new year, it is incredibly important to affirm what Paul says in these three brief verses.  Life is a precious, fleeting thing and none of us in this room have any guarantees that this year of 2015 will not be our last in one way or another.  In turn, we must live in light of this reality.

And, as Paul suggests, living in light of this should totally rearrange our life’s priorities.   Again,Paul’s belief, in the book of I Corinthians, that time was almost over caused him to rethink what was important.  In the same way, the point that time is fleeting should always be a reminder to us too that we should look at our lives and really consider whether or not the way we are using our time is the best way in light of life’s brevity.

I really like the movie that came out several years ago starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson called The Bucket List.  If you remember the story, both actors played characters in the movie who had just found out that they had terminal illnesses.  In turn, they created a list of things they wanted to do, places they wanted to go and dreams they wanted to accomplish before their lives ended.  These things comprised their bucket list.  The creation of these lists totally changed how they chose to spend their remaining days as they gave every last ounce of energy to accomplishing their dreams.

This all makes for a good movie but it also makes for a very problematic way of thinking in my opinion.  For the truth is that very few of us are afforded the opportunity that Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson were given.  Rather than getting a heads up that we have six months or two years remaining, for most of us, the end catches us completely and totally by surprise and thus we never get the change to reprioritize our lives or to reorder our days in terms of what is ahead.

Yet, the scriptures calls us, even while it looks like the future is limitless, to live and prioritize as if it is not.  The scriptures call us to be good stewards of every single day and to live each year fully aware that this life passes far quicker than we can imagine and that it will end, for all of us, far sooner than we ever expected.  As a result, are the things that we are focused on and are the places where we have placed our energies the wisest of decisions?

Having said this, knowing that life is fleeting should affect not only our priorities in general but it must also affect our priorities specifically from a spiritual perspective.   It is one thing to hear Paul’s reminder that life is fleeting and to reorient our priorities in this new year to focus on the most important things in life.  But even that decision will be short sided if it doesn’t include some serious reflection regarding our spiritual well-being.

It really is this simple I think – if we knew that 2015 was going to be our last year on earth – how would this truth affect our commitment to Christ?  How would such knowledge affect our commitment to reading the scripture?  How would it affect our prayer life, what would we do with our money or how would we treat others?  If we knew that 2015 was going to be our last year on earth, how would it change our feelings about the legacy that we are leaving in our community and in the world as it relates to the kingdom of God?

Just for a moment, imagine what it would be like each day if $86,400 were deposited into our bank accounts every night at midnight?  Likewise, imagine what it would be like if each day, we also had the responsibility to spend every single penny of that same amount.  In other words, each night at the stroke of midnight any remaining funds left unspent would be wiped out and a new $86,400 would be deposited.  If that was the way life worked each day, how would we approach those funds each new morning?

The irony is that each night, at midnight, 86,400 seconds are offered to us in the form of a new day.  Those 86,400 precious seconds are ours to use in that one given 24 hour period.  When they are over, they are gone forever and will never be ours to use again.  In light of this reality, what should our priorities be and how should we spend our time in general and as people of faith?  This is an incredible important question as twelve months with no promises attached stand in front of us.  What are the best things for us to do in 2015?  Remember, there is no promise of 2016.  Amen.