Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?
In daylights, in sunsets
In midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles
In laughter, in strife
In five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure a year in the life[i]
This song opens the second act of the popular musical Rent, as characters reflect on what has been and what is to come, wondering what to make of it all. The answer supplied by the chorus? “Measure in love.”
Time is one of the most fascinating concepts of our lives. While we have made it into an objective fact, marked by ticking clocks and the turning of calendar pages, it also can be a quite subjective or even relative thing. Some things seem to take forever, while others pass in the blink of an eye. In school, I remember teachers giving us assignments to complete in certain amounts of time and reminding us to “use time wisely!” – in other words, we needed to get down to work to make sure the task was complete. It’s a valuable life skill to be sure. Our lives are governed by our sense of time in a lot of ways, which means that we spend a fair amount of energy on time management. In fact, it can make the difference in whether we are on time for an appointment, or sitting on 75 stuck in traffic because we have, yet again, grossly misestimated how long it will take us to get downtown.
This morning, though, I’d like to consider this gift of time as a bit more than just how we accomplish our busy schedules. Time, you see, is also a theological concept. In Greek, this is reflected by the use of two different words to recognize time. The first, chronos, as in the root of our word chronological, talks about sequential and ordered time. The second, kairos, is the one we find in our text today from Ephesians, which gets at something bigger. Namely, it calls us to consider time as the right, critical, or opportune moment, particularly in relation to God’s timing and purpose.
In this section of moral instructions in chapter 5, the author speaks to this understanding of time, urging the Ephesians to be wise and make the most of the time they have been given. One more language note: the Greek verb that appears alongside time in verse 16 translates literally as “buy back” or “redeem,” which stands in contrast to the verses it follows that include warnings about not getting caught up in the pagan ways that surround them. Instead, the writer argues, Christians should remain awake and alert. In other words, we have been given the gift of “time” from God, but it’s up to us to make it into something worthwhile, moving from chronos to kairos.
So – what does this look like? This week I came across a video by an inspirational speaker named Jay Shetty. He grew up in London, England and holds a degree with honors in Behavioral Science. Inspired to make a difference in the world, he spent 3 years after graduation living as a monk across India and Europe, spending time in meditation and service to others. After this, he returned to London and eventually was invited by a business school friend to speak to those undergoing intense stress in the workplace, which has led over the past two years into a remarkable social media presence among other speaking engagements. I want to share a three-minute clip of one of his videos, which speaks to the idea of time and how we might value it, and offer you the opportunity to consider your own relationship with time.
How do we value time? That is at the heart of today’s text from Ephesians. In many ways, Jay Shetty modernizes the concept in this video, but in ways that reflect the Epistle’s intentions. Both prompt us, perhaps in uneasy ways, to think about the ways we allocate the minutes or seconds we are given each day. I’ll be the first to admit that more time than I would like is what I could categorize as “wasted time.” You know, the things that start as a short break, and the next thing you know, you’ve “lost” 30 minutes or more on some frivolous activity? It doesn’t always have to be watching tv or scrolling Facebook, either. Sometimes we get distracted by things that are otherwise productive; like when you go to put something away and end up reorganizing the entire closet, leaving your original tasks incomplete. I’m not sure exactly what the challenges were for first-century Christians, but I imagine they must have had their own examples, much like we do today. It’s easy to lose a sense of intention about our time, or to have the best intentions and lose track of it.
These verses help remind us of the ways in which our lives as Christians call us to mark and observe time in different ways. It’s not unlike the most basic instructions God gave to Moses and the people of Israel in the 10 Commandments to work for 6 days and then set aside one to rest – sabbath. It seems the Almighty has always been concerned with how we shape our time. And here in Ephesians 5, we get a reminder of it, with the call to participate in worship. As G. Porter Taylor notes:
Worship of God redeems the time. It orients the person to the Almighty and keeps his or her life in right relation [iii].
Worship here, of course, is not about a chronos understanding of one hour on a Sunday morning. It’s about a kairos understanding of time, as we seek to fill our lives with an awareness of the holy, so that we might be filled by the Spirit to the point where not just our voices sing, but our entire hearts take part in the melody. When we live in this way, we are truly embracing our vocational calling from God, which of course has implications for how we spend our time, and our lives become marked not by seconds, minutes, hours, days, or years, but by a sense of God’s ongoing purpose in our own lives and the world, and our active participation in it.
Sometimes, though, it can take some work to figure out what this means. It involves investing our time in reflection and worship to listen for that call. Consider this: worship – that time spent here in the Sanctuary, or engaged in Bible Study or service, or your own personal prayer life or other spiritual disciplines – is a lot like going to the gym. You can go and clock in a certain amount of time, but the actual time spent in the location is not what guarantees you the results; it is going to involve what you put into it. If all of your time “working out” is spent looking in the mirror, or perfecting the playlist, or making sure your outfit is the most-trendy, you might not get in the best shape. But if you pay attention to your form, push yourself to new limits, and maybe even check-in with a personal trainer or work-out buddy, chances are you will start to see some improvement. And then, beyond the time in the gym, comes the importance of rest days in between, a healthy diet, and even some cross-training that might happen in other locations. All of these, together, contribute to a healthier lifestyle marked by wise uses of your time in order for you to be at your best self. Our spiritual lives are not that different. They take intention and work. What better way than to start with how we approach something as simple and basic as time?
The early monastic communities and many people of faith for centuries have done this by “keeping the divine office,” that is pausing at certain times of day for regular intervals of prayer. This “Liturgy of the Hours” provides an ongoing reminder that we are to be oriented in a spirit of worship, seeking to move through our days not just with accomplishing a to-do list, but with a sense of our time, and our lives, being holy. Give it a try this week, whether it’s setting an alarm every few hours, or just one at a certain point in your day, to pause and reflect prayerfully on God’s presence in your life and your sense of what it means to live as a disciple. Such a simple practice can truly change how you see your life and the world around you. All it takes is a few moments of well-spent time.
And that is what the writer of Ephesians was hoping those Christ-followers would do – see the world through a different lens, a worshipful one, that just might help them make the most of the time they had been given by God until Christ returned. In the end, these verses echo our teachers’ instructions for any task at hand, broadened to the task of living: Use Time Wisely! May it be so.
~Rev. Elizabeth Lovell Milford
August 19, 2018
[i] Jonathan Larson, “Seasons of Love” from the musical Rent. Universal Music Publishing Group.
[ii] Jay Shetty, “Before you Waste Time” Video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vPaS85IA6oY, accessed 8/16/18.
[iii] G. Porter Taylor, “Theological Perspective: Ephesians 5:15-20,” Feasting on the Word: Year B, Volume 3, David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009).