Running on Time

Proclaim Sermons
Homily: Ordinary Time 20
August 15, 2021
Reproduced with Permission
Proclaim Sermons

Summary: The Bible speaks of four dimensions of time: past, present, future and eternity. But it is in the present where time most closely touches eternity

Do you know about time compression? For the last 20 years or so, it's been taking place on your television screen without your even being aware of it. When a movie made for the big screen is adapted for television, there's usually some editing necessary. First they have to eliminate certain R- or X-rated scenes, and there's often some cleanup of the language. There's also editing for time, to fit it into a two-hour TV slot, which, minus commercials, may not even be quite 90 minutes. To shorten the film, the editor eliminates parts of scenes but only so much of that can be done without hurting the storyline, and that's where time compression comes in.

Let's say that after editing, the movie is still 93 minutes long. The time compression process works by electronically slicing milliseconds out of the film, about 1,200 times every minute, thereby shortening the film to the allotted 90 minutes but without losing even one word of dialog.

For example, CBS compressed the movie Chinatown by 11 minutes, 8 seconds without the average viewer even being aware of it.

Don't you often feel as if somebody were doing the same to your day? Doesn't it sometimes seem as if a time wizard were shortening your hours so that you can't accomplish what you had hoped to?

Thoughts like that arise when we find ourselves busier than we'd like to be, but also when we hit life milestones, like birthdays or the turning of the calendar or our children leaving home. When we were young, it seemed like time moved slowly, that the privileges of adulthood were never going to come to us. But now that we are older, time seems to move quickly, almost as if time compression were taking place.

Four dimensions of time

The Bible offers us some help in thinking about time. In fact, it speaks of four dimensions: past, present, future and eternity.

Naturally, the Bible has things to say about eternity , but generally as something that belongs uniquely to God, the One who is from everlasting to everlasting, and who is above and beyond time. Even the eternal life that Christ promises Christians becomes theirs only because they go into God's presence.

The past is important in the Bible. Time and again the people of the Bible recalled how God had been not only with them personally, but also with their ancestors. The events of the exodus for Egypt, for example, were retold from generation to generation with the lesson that "As God was with us then, so he will be with us now."

Surprisingly, however, the Bible doesn't say very much about the future in its meaning of the time ahead on earth. In fact, in the older versions of the Bible, the word "future" does not even occur. In some modern versions, it is used occasionally, but most of those occurrences refer to God's covenant being made not only with the people at that time, but also with future generations. Proverbs 19:20 suggests that the wise person will listen to advice and accept instruction, and thus have wisdom for the future. There are also promises that those who fear the Lord will have a future and a hope. But that's about it.

Of course, the Bible was written in times when the things that usually cause us to think about the future didn't exist. Social Security, IRAs and pension plans were unheard of. People had little opportunity to schedule next summer's vacation or to think about what they would do after graduation. There's one guy in the Bible who does seem to plan ahead -- the wealthy landowner who has a bumper crop and then tears down his barns to build bigger ones. He says to himself that he can now take it easy because he's got it made. Jesus, however, calls him a fool and says that that very night, the man's soul is to be required of him, and he hadn't done anything about his soul's future.1 There are even Jesus' words from the Sermon on the Mount, "So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today."2

In the final analysis, the part of time that seems of most concern in the Bible is the present .

The present

In New Testament Greek, there are two words normally translated as "time." One, chronos , is clock time. It refers to the steady succession of seconds, minutes, hours and days. You can use your watch or your calendar to refer to chronos . For example, Matthew 2:7 says "Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared."

The other word translated as "time" is kairos , which means "the time of opportunity." The Bible has the view that time comes filled with God-given possibilities. In fact, every moment of time, as one of God's good gifts to us, comes to us with the potential of being used to respond to God and being spent for doing good.

An example of this kairos time occurs in our scripture lesson today where Paul says, "Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil."

These words, which call the days "evil," become more understandable when we realize Paul was talking about kairos time, the time of opportunity. Paul was speaking to Christians who lived in Ephesus, in the midst of a pagan culture. Because of that, their opportunities to tell others about the power of Jesus were limited. Their neighbors weren't very open to hearing this news. So Paul advises the Ephesian Christians to make good use of what few opportunities to share Christ arise, because there aren't a whole lot of them. This is the present moment of time that is of great concern in the Bible.

Here are some examples of kairos time. A young man and woman have been dating seriously for a period of more than two years -- chronos time. Finally, one of them brings up the topic of marriage. In that moment, they are in kairos time. Depending on the reply given by the other, the relationship will either to move to a greater level of commitment or begin to stagnate. Regardless of what they decide, chronos time will continue to march along, but kairos time, the acceptable time, will soon be gone.

Or here's a student attending college. He gets up morning after morning and goes to chemistry class, where the instructor lectures for 50 minutes or so. That's chronos time. But then one morning, the instructor announces that a major exam will be given the following Tuesday. Suddenly the 50 minutes allotted to Tuesday's class become something more than chronos time; they become kairos time, the time when the student's fate in the course will be decided.

You see, while time itself may not be compressed in those moments, a lot of importance is compressed into them.

The acceptable time

For all of us, any of our present moments can have this double aspect: time on a clock that is also a decisive moment. One such moment is when we become aware of the call of God in our lives. As Paul put it elsewhere "See, now is the acceptable time [ kairos ]; see, now is the day of salvation!"3

There are tides in our emotions that make us more ready to hear God's call at some times than at others, and those tides need be caught if we are to grow in faith. It is not wise to respond by saying "some other time," for while in one sense, God's salvation and call to commitment are offered to us every minute, in another sense, the confluence of events and emotions that make us ready to hear God are stronger at some occasions than at others. Thus the kairos moment when God has our attention becomes critically important.

Although time consists of past, present, future and eternity, the Bible pushes us to be concerned most about eternity and the present.

The past, though it unrolls behind us, is gone and cannot be changed. We can and should learn from it, and, as the Israelites did, allow it to remind us of God's faithfulness in days gone by, but we cannot make a life on memory.

The future, though filled with possibilities, is worth making arrangements for and setting goals for, but to focus primarily on the future means our life becomes wrapped up in either anxiety or anticipation, and they aren't any better foundations for life than is memory.

Our hearts need to be set on eternity and on the present. To focus on eternity means to be concerned with God. And to focus on the present allows us to respond to God -- "obeying the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, giving thanks for the present pleasure," as C.S. Lewis puts it,4 and responding to the present call of God.

One man tells about his own kairos moment. When he was 13, he attended a church youth rally at which the speaker invited any who felt so moved to kneel and pray. The man says:

I suddenly felt as if I should do so. I finally did, and it was an emotional moment. I can't remember much of what I prayed, but I do know that when it was over, my life was different. I settled some things about the direction of my life. I heard a call of God in that moment and in responding, determined a lot about the kind of person I would be. I had decided to follow Jesus. I haven't always lived up to the commitment of that moment, but it has drawn me back again and again. My life is most at peace when I keep faith with the commitment of that moment.

All of our times are in God's hands, but the present moment and eternity are linked. The present is where time touches eternity. Let's be open to what God says to us TODAY.