Preaching as accompaniment
Yesterday I had the enormous privilege of preaching at a service of believer’s baptism for three teenagers. On such an occasion, preaching plays a key role in articulating what is happening and calling others to truly participate in it. On this particular occasion, my preaching ‘agenda’ was set by the testimonies of the young people concerned, who all had something to say about their sense of God’s timing. The sermon below was preached immediately after one of our oldest church members had read out Ecclesiastes 3 v. 1 – 11. [CLICK where highlighted for further resources]
The time is now
Time is a peculiar, elastic thing.
- When you are 6, and waiting for your birthday, every day lasts about a month.
- When you are 16 and trying to finish an essay under exam conditions – every minute lasts about 10 seconds.
- When you are 36 and waiting for feedback from a tough appraisal, every minute lasts about an hour.
- When you are 86 and enjoying a precious few hours with your grandchildren, every minute lasts a few seconds.
Of all the passages in the Bible about “time” this is certainly the most famous.
1. Time is limited
Nobody has an infinite supply of time. “Threescore and ten” is a biblical shorthand for an average lifespan. Of course that lifespan is now getting longer and longer, but the Bible is very clear that all of us only have so much time to live – whether short or long it will not last forever.
v.2 Time to be born…time to die
v.7 Time to tear & time to mend
All around me in this affluent place I see buildings being torn down and others put up in their place. At the time these buildings were the latest in architecture, design and style – but now they must make way for something else which accommodates contemporary tastes. As the buildings which looked so permanent rise and fall, they are a reminder that nothing lasts forever.I draw the line at keeping skull on my desk like Elizabethan man, but it is good good to be reminded that time is not infinite.
In the 2011 film “In Time” (Justin Timberlake) ,set in 2069, everyone lives until 25 without ageing – but then has only 365 days of time left – which they can buy., sell, trade or barter. It is a distinctly disturbing concept, but underlines an important truth.
We all have same amount of time in every day:1440 minutes, or 86400 seconds.What matters is how we use it. This is why Jesus said to his disciples that “night is coming when no man can labour”.
2. Time is critical
This photo was taken by 79 year-old Surrey photographer Kim Albury. In it he usses “very very fast” flash to freeze movement in his studio at home.1000ths of second earlier and the frog would still have been in the water. 1000ths of second later and the butterfly would have gone away. The Bible has a lot to say about CRITICAL time- kairos rather than chronos. The kairos or “God-moment” is a freeze-fame instant where something eternal takes place. It is the quality, rather than the quantity of such moments which matters. Its not how many moments you have but WHAT you do with them which matters
Abd-ar-Rahman III reigned as Emir and Caliph of Cordoba from 912-961 and wrote this towards the end of his reign:
I have now reigned about 50 years, in victory or in peace.Beloved by my subjects, dreaded by my enemies and respected by my allies. Riches and honours, power and pleasure have waited on my call. Nor does any earthly blessing appear to have been wanting to my felicity.In this situation I have diligently numbered the days of pure and genuine happiness which have fallen to my lot.They amount to……14. Perhaps he should have met Pharrell Williams!
Time is CRITICAL – and we can use it for good or ill
This is the part of the book where you might normally expect to find a short passage dedicating it to someone. I am not going to do that as the book recounts an episode in my life which I am not proud of, and represents part of my life which I am trying desperately hard to leave behind. I therefore see no point in dedicating it to anyone or anything – Nick Leeson, from the introduction to Rogue Trader.
Time is limited, but time is critical too – we have to make critical decisions about how we spend it if we are to find abiding happiness. We live in an era where interest in spirituality is higher than ever. I was asked on camera recently whether I thought it was because we all watch Vampires and read Harry Potter. No – it is because we all read the news …and ask questions about presence or absence of God. It is because we look in mirror and see a man or woman who cries out in the very depths of their soul for there to be something more. Augustine of old said “thou hast made us for thyself and our souls are restless til they find their rest in thee”.
v.11 says exactly this – that God has put eternity in our hearts and therefore we must seek him out.
Our time may be limited, but it is also critical – like the moment of action arrested in the photo. This day or this hour may hold the flashbulb moment where we can decide for God or not
3. Time is NOW
Some of the phrases in the Ecclesiastes passage seem a little odd:
v.8 A time for war? – it surely feels that way if you live in Kobane on Syrian/ Turkish border
v.4 A time to weep? – yes, if life and emotion have caught up with you.
v.5 A time to scatter stones ?- a way of sabotaging a neighbour’s business.
v.7 A time to be silent? – a good one for a person who talks for a living!
v.8 – Love and hate in same sentence?
These are all part of the warp and weft of living, but – when it comes to making a decision for God we know that time is limited. We know that time is critical too – where this moment or this hour may mean more than the one either side of it because of what we do with it.
Bible says that the time is not just limited or critical…but that it is now. NOW is best moment to respond to God. Jesus would often speak that way:
NOW is day of salvation
NOW Kingdom of God is near
Paul later picks up on it to say that NOW is the hour of salvation.
NOBODY has “all the time in the world”, but if we want it to count for God – NOW may be the right time to do something about it
I din’t use the video below, but it would have been perfect…