Rector's Chronicle

October 2018

In this stewardship season, we take time to consider what we might do for God with three of the most precious things we have: our time, our talents, and our money. With three funerals this first week in October, it occurs to me that, of the three, time surely must be the most precious. Two dramatic images spring to mind to illustrate this. They are available here: Advert for X Box and here: Life measured out in colored candy.

The first is an advertisement I think ended up being banned because it was thought to be in bad taste and perhaps a bit shocking. Yet I think it is both powerful and funny. For those who prefer words to pictures, the advert begins in a maternity ward, where a mother is in the last stages of labor. Her husband looks attentively on. At the crucial moment, the baby comes out like a shell fired from a gun. It shoots through a window up into the sky. The camera follows the trajectory.

As the child soars it ages - first a toddler, then a boy, then a teenager. He begins to scream. The sound deepens as he becomes a young man. The arc turns downwards, and the aging goes on. Middle age is followed by old age and then the ground comes into view. There is a graveyard. The journey ends with the now old man crashing into an open grave. There is silence and then a voice: “Life is short. Play more games!” A picture of the Game Console’s logo comes up on the screen.

I can see why it never quite made it for the young market at which it was aimed!  Still, it certainly makes the basic point vividly.

The second clip shows a man with a cardboard box of colored candy – M&M’s I think.  He pours them out on a black velvet cloth and begins to divide them up.  There are 29,200 pieces of candy to start with.  This is the number of days in the average life of someone in the USA (80 years).

The video goes on to subtract the first 15 years of childhood (5,475 =15 years).  There are now 23,360 pieces left. It goes on to list all the average amounts of time we spend on all things we have to do:

8,477 days asleep
1,635 days spent eating or drinking
3,202 days working
1,099 days commuting (unless you live outside the Beltway!)
2,676 days watching TV
1,576 days doing household chores
564 days caring for children or family
671 days bathing or other bathroom activities
720 days on community activities or worship in Church

All that leaves 2,740 says to do all the things that we want to do, all the things that make our hearts glad, all the things we choose.

It occurs to me that I soon will be 60, so I will be left with somewhere around 685 of these discretionary days or less than two years if I live until I am 80. Quite a thought, isn’t it?  Six hundred eighty-five days does not seem very much time at all!

The context of eternity and the finitude of life is not an exclusively Christian awareness, but the scriptures and the sayings of Jesus in particular do heighten this perspective for us over and over again.

Most people, I suspect, simply avoid the issue by not thinking about it.  But you can’t do that as a Christian.  It is there in your face all the time: “Here we have no abiding city.” (Hebrews 13:14), "For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26), or all the things Jesus says about the Kingdom of God.

On the one hand, the perspective of eternity and the temporary nature of life makes life all the more important.  Those days we have left are all the more precious because they are finite.  They are a gift we have been given by God and they are so very precious.  If we could only keep that perspective in mind we would savor every moment of this amazing, crazy, wonderful life we have been given.  Of course, we can’t do that.  The future and the past crowd in on us, and the present returns to being a means to an end; just another moment along the way.

The video about the M&M’s ends by asking, “What if you only had half of the days you might have or half that?  What if you only had one day?  What would you do?”  This question is close to the heart of things, because it is really asking, not “What would you do to enjoy yourself?” but rather “What would you do that expresses what you believe is important and that would make you the person you long to be?”

Finitude is part of what creates meaning; what makes our choices about how we spend our days important.  On the other hand, though, this perspective of eternity and the temporary nature of existence also makes life less important in comparison to the Kingdom.

Jesus points out in the Gospel we heard on Sunday, September 30, (Mark 9:38-50), that it is better to sacrifice your hand or eye or foot than to lose the life that is to come and to be estranged from God forever.  This is what makes Christians able, if necessary, to endure hardship and suffering.

Many people endure suffering, and some choose to if they can see some better end in sight.  But only someone who believes in a greater life is prepared to accept hardship and suffering willingly without any compensatory end in this life.  Eternity makes life more precious, but it also places our lives behind the greater end of what is yet to be.

The other images that draw this out for me are temporary works of beauty, sandcastles (yes, I would say they are things of beauty!), those wonderful chalk pavement drawings some artists do, or ice sculptures.

These are excellent analogies for life because they are temporary, but also permanent.  Life soon passes, sandcastles get washed away on the tide, pavement art washes away with the next rain, ice sculptures soon melt, but the works, what was actually done, the beauty, remains in our minds and hearts and goes with us wherever we go.

Christ Church and our life here is like this. We are only caretakers of the eternal flame of Christ’s light that burns here for a while. As we move into this Stewardship season, we are led to reflect on what we should do with the time we have left, what work of beauty, what wonderful sandcastle we can build, what sidewalk drawing, what ice sculpture we can make with the time, talents, and money we have at our disposal. Whatever we do, our aim should be to make it wonderful! 

Life is short, so we should indeed play more games, not the ones on line, but rather the great game of faith and love and life. Although none of us over 30 will be here in 29,200 days time, what we do now -- what we give and build and create now -- will still live on in this community, this Church.

The Reverend Timothy A. R. Cole