Sermon 16 Nov St Mary’s Whitby
Rev Felicity O’Brien
Christian stewardship is about our managing of those things God entrusts to us – how we take care of resources so that they will be put to good use, and not wasted. It involves giving back to God a proportion of our income, time and talents, and how we do this reflects his place in our lives.In the first address on the stewardship of wealth, Tim pointed us to the Biblical principal of tithing – ie giving to God a tenth of our income ; a principle God laid down as the proper stewardship for his people in the Old Testament. Or you could put it the other way – tithing involves keeping 90% of our money, talents and time!Last week Ralph addressed the stewardship of gifts and talents.He pointed out how everyone has their own God-given talent, for example painting, music, mercy, hospitality and the like. Add to that the spiritual gifts that we have as Christians, which Paul tells us are for the proper functioning of the Church.Ralph concluded his address with an appeal for us to consider where each of us are presently – or could be – using our gifts and talents to serve God in this parish.
Time is the third resource that we are considering in this series about stewardship of God’s gifts to us. It’s not like money or talent, where the amount we have differs widely from one person to another. We each have the same number of hours in the day. 24 hours, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. How many years we have, well, that’s where it is limited, at least here on earth. Our time in heaven is infinite, so we really have a lot of time!
Have you ever heard yourself saying, I just don’t have time to do that? I used to say that I didn’t have time to exercise. But what I really meant was, ‘I can’t stand exercise so I am not prioritizing it at the moment!’
We must think therefore about how we use this resource, where we all have the same amount to start with. Time is like a jar which we can fill with stones. If we put lots of smaller stones in first, we may not have room for the larger. So it is with our time. If we fill our lives with many activities that are not so important, we will not have room for the bigger rocks, the more important.
As Christians, our biggest rock is God. We need to prioritize spending time with God. When this large stone is in our jar, there’s still plenty of room.
Our Gospel reading tells us how Jesus used his time – after a really busy day, healing Peter’s mother-in-law, and many who came to see him, Jesus got up early. He didn’t lie in bed groaning about the big day he had. He knew that to be refreshed after his ‘yesterday’, and to be ready for his ‘today’, he needed to plug into God. He took himself away and prayed.
That’s such a good example for us of how to use time. Jesus didn’t sit down with a diary and plan out every hour in advance. He made sure he had the resources to deal with what the day would bring. And then when his disciples came looking for him, he was ready to get up and get on with his day’s work.
Our bishop encourages all the clergy to do the daily office, with the readings very morning. At least so far he hasn’t done what bishop Victoria does, – she rings up random members of clergy at morning teatime and discusses the scriptures with them! It soon becomes obvious if you haven’t got a clue what she is talking about!
I have been trying to follow this discipline of starting my day with scripture, and do you know that I have found it is a really good use of time. Instead of reading a library book while I drink my tea, trying to get human before the kids explode onto the scene, I can find peace and imagination and support and encouragement in the daily readings. If the boys are up early I can read it to them too – this week we have been going through the book of Daniel, and Josiah and I shared that.
During this month’s stewardship campaign I would encourage you to take stock of your time, how you use it. Is it wasted? Do you spend a lot of time doing things that really don’t further anything, let alone the kingdom? Now I’m not for a minute suggesting that you spend every waking hour in prayer and scripture reading. That is not very practical unless you are called to a monastic lifestyle. Even then you would still need time to do chores.
But have a think about those bits of time that you spend on rubbish. Watching TV? Sometimes it’s good, other times, usually actually, there’s nothing to watch anyway. That’s when I suggest to Kevin that we should have a polite family conversation, and start thinking about which polite family to invite over! When we use our time, let’s try to use it well. Even when we are with people, it’s easy to not be really present, to not really invest the time in them. Especially these days when everyone seems to be on their digital device, looking someone in the eyes and really listening is important.
My daughter is away in the UK at the moment, and she rings up every few days. Sometimes she catches me when I am busy, or have other plans. Last week, I was looking forward to watching a TV programme when her call came through. But then I thought – oops. What is a better use of my time, – talking to my daughter who is away, or watching some programme? I had to make the decision to be really present with her. And then we could let the conversation go deeper, not just comparing the contents of our diaries, but talking about how we felt.
Our reading from Exodus talks about a really important use of time – not trying to do everything yourself, but delegating! Moses’ father -in -law Jethro was a wise man, and Moses listened to him. ‘You can’t do this all yourself son!’ Often when we are in any position of authority we take on more and more responsibility till we are at breaking point. We run around feeling indispensable, out of a need to be noticed, to be important. But that’s not a good use of our time for the kingdom of God.For one, we get so burnt-out that we are useless. The enemy wants that to happen, he wants us to be so overloaded that we fail in our ministry. If we are constantly overworking for the church we can become resentful, and even walk away.
But no, Jethro told Moses that he needed to find other people who had the necessary skills. Moses then had to think about his people, to get to know them, what their talents were, so they too could have a part in the work. If we hog the limelight, other people will not have a chance for ministry. In any position of leadership, it’s much better use of our time to delegate and disciple others, letting them grow.
What about when we need a rest? My son is sitting exams at the moment, and getting rather stressed about all the study to do. Mind you, it would not be such a big task if he had started a bit earlier…
I told him that he could do a chunk of study, a chunk of piano practice, then a chunk of recreation. He said, surely you mean relaxation? I thought about this. No I did mean recreation. Think about the word – re-creation. As we take time for ourselves, we can allow God to speak to us through the world we live in, through music, plants, pets, each other, and all the bounties he gives us. In doing so we are being created afresh, ready for the next work.
Relaxation lets all the muscles flop, they rest, but are not readied. Recreation is better. It’s a wise use of time. Recreation is important – let God speak to you in those times.
So how then could we use our time for the kingdom? First we need to spend time with God, letting God recreate us in his image ready to do his work. We need to spend time listening, so that we have an idea of what that work is. If we rush off for the sake of busyness and bright ideas, as I said before, we will risk burn out.
How about giving time to the church? We all have areas of time that are not taken up in our jars. If God is the biggest rock, we can also put in other biggies like family and work. Then church could be on the next tier. Can you tithe time? If you work a 40 hour week, a tenth of that would be 4 hours. Imagine if everyone associated with a church worked for 4 hours per week for the church, how much the kingdom could grow! We could have letter-box drops, special events, extra services, more visiting. All sorts of bright ideas (I’d better be careful…)
Think too about when you use your time. There are many sayings about attending to things promptly- ‘one year’s seed is seven year’s weed’ is a favourite of mine. Often leaving things till later just makes the task bigger. We can fit things together in the same time-slot so they don’t take as long.
When I was first asked to talk about time today, this was the sort of thing that sprang to mind- my experience as a mother in managing time. For example, instead of gazing into the middle distance waiting for the jug to boil, I could be emptying the dishwasher. Or taking something with me each time I go into the kitchen, instead of making a separate trip for the dirty dishes.
These are just ways of cramming more into the day though. What is more important is taking time to consider how to use it wisely. Doing my time-budget.
This time of year there is Christmas coming up, and before doing any shopping, if we are sensible and don’t want to see that word ‘declined’ or ‘avail exceeded’ on the eftpos machine, we look to see what we can afford to spend. It’s the same with time. We can take stock of our time budget, and it’s a good idea to do this while we are thinking about stewardship, to see if we are using this precious resource as well as we could. Maybe we will find time that is being wasted and not bearing fruit? Maybe we will prioritise something differently – perhaps fitting in something that we’ve always wanted to do.Remember though that we do not need to make these decisions alone- the Holy Spirit will guide us if we take time to listen.
So my friends, let’s take Jesus’ example, and draw aside before we get too busy. Let’s take time to listen, and let God guide us how to use our time.