4 Epiphany 2009

Time Well Spent

The Fourth Sunday After Epiphany and
Rector’s 20th Anniversary at St. Mary’s, 1 February 2009
“When he was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed him. And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. – St. Matthew 8:1-2

In this morning’s account from St. Matthew’s gospel we hear of a leper who calls upon Jesus to cleanse him of his leprosy. Something that is not specified in the account is the timing of this miracle.

Chapter 8 begins with Jesus coming down from a mountain and great crowds again surround and follow him. He went up that mountain in chapter 5, accompanied by his disciples, and there delivered to them what came to be known as the Beautitudes, followed his teachings about the law, including the subjects of killing, adultery, divorce, false swearing, turning the other cheek, the higher righteousness and love for one’s enemies.

Next in chapters 6 & 7 he teaches about piety and prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, the inability to serve more than one master, about being anxious, being judgmental, how to ask in prayer, false prophets, doing the will of God and he concludes by teaching his disciples the parable of the house built upon the rock. Whew! That’s a lot of teaching!

So in chapter 8, when he comes down from the mountain, the likely time must have been the late after-noon. Amidst the crowds who have followed him, awaiting to receive him as he returns is a leper. This poor wretch seized upon the time, seeing it was a most fortunate window of opportunity. Without wasting any time, he immediately approached Jesus, worshipped him (that is knelt down before him) and petitioned Jesus in great faith.

Jesus responded. He put forth his hand, touched the man (which was forbidden) and cleansed him. He then instructed him to keep silent about this, but rather go and offer a gift of thanksgiving at the Temple he might receive from the priests a certification of healing, so that he could then reenter society and rejoin the community.

It is important for us to again note that the leper seized upon the time, seeing it as the best window of opportunity for approaching Jesus with his petition. Time is opportunity!

As the leper teaches us, time should be used for approaching Jesus, time ought to be used first to adore him, then the time may be used to petition him, and time should be the opportunity we use to express our faith in him. And if we approach him in faith, with our worship and petitions, God will reply to our prayers. How-ever, not within the timeframe we have set, but within the timeframe of his choosing. For his timing, at it is always perfect, will always convey what is best for us. When we adore and ask in faith, he will put forth, he will touch, he will cleanse and will restore us.

Now if the leper had not taken the time to seize upon this opportunity, he would surely have continued a leper, forever ostracized from society, and would eventually die the excruciatingly painful death of a leper. Time! On the face of it, if we don’t take the time to seize upon the opportunities God gives us and extends to us to come to him, that he might touch us, cleanse us and restore us, we too will simply continue in our sorry condition and eventually die in our sins, and ultimately find ourselves unhappily barred from entrance to his kingdom.

Touching the subject of time, I was given a beautiful antique pocket watch, by Doctor Robert King. It was from his collection of fine antique timepieces. He wanted me to have it as a consecration gift, and I was grateful to receive it. I’ve already shown it to a number of you. The pocket watch dates from 1850 and is termed a ‘priest’s watch.’ Unlike most timepieces of its era, its case is made not of gold, of silver or of any precious metal, but rather was made of base metal, perhaps additionally nickel-plated.

The theory behind this was: it would (at least for the 1850’s) be thought ostentatious for a priest to own or wear a watch whose case was of precious metal; rather it should be of base metal. So, this was the kind of watch a priest would have owned and used. Hence, it’s known as a ‘priest’s watch.’ Of course, the priest’s life ought to be anything but base!

This one has a beautiful face and registers not only hours and minutes, but has five small inner dials that indicate the seconds, the date, the day of the week and the month of the year, also the phase of the moon! It being quite heavy perhaps the base metal used was lead? I wouldn’t think of tucking it away in some drawer! I make good use of it in my home chapel where I have it placed on the top ledge of my prie-dieu where I can easily see it. It’s a good thing to have before me, because I tend to loose track of time while I am in there.

I am very comfortable using my home chapel, or oratory or ‘solitide’ as St. Theresa termed her personal chapel. I suppose she termed it ‘solitude’, because that is what she sought and found there! And that is something I too seek, as well as find there.

It is there that I offer Intercessions daily for each of you, it is there I offer the Morning Office and daily read a chapter of Scripture. It is there I take time to sit in Silence to reflect and listen. And at the end of day, that is where I offer the Evening Office, make my daily Examination of Conscience and recite the final Office of Compline. It is there that I sit to read and study the Rule of St. Benedict weekly, and on most Fridays recite the Rosary. It is primarily there that I work to deepen my spiritual life.

As I was recently reminded by way of a heart attack and close brush with death, we have no idea how much or how little time we have left on this earth, so it is well worth our attention and the investment of our time to use the time we are given to the Glory and Service of God and to prepare our souls to answer death’s call and to stand before our Maker. A brush with death teaches one how precious and how transitory is life, and reminds one of how close is death!

The hands & dials and inner works of that antique timepiece were designed to move forward. And second by second the future becomes the present, the next moment it is the past – and what have we to show for it? What have we done with the time? Did we move forward with time, or did time simply become time past, time wasted, time lost?

The hands and dials move forward, not backward. They calculate the present, not the past. We know that we can’t turn back the clock on life. We all have our regrets: time that could have been better spent. Haven’t we all squandered much of the time God has given us? We can spend our time bemoaning the past, or we can spend time planning for the future, here in the present. The future awaits, the present creates, the past only relates.

We know that we can not turn back the clock on life: but we can do something in the present, with the time that we’ve been allotted, to positively effect the future – our future and also the future of others. Someone once expressed this inspiring and challenging thought: Live every day as if it were the last. Because it could be our last – any time, at any minute of any hour, of any day of any year.

It’s important how we spend our time. In which ways do we include God in the way we use it? That which fell on good soil are they who hear the word of God and accept it and bear fruit, thirty-fold and sixty-fold and a hundredfold. He expects us to be creative and productive for him. God provides us with time to be fruitful. Having a personal relationship with God is more important than what we earn or what we have. God has given us time to learn about him, to adore him, to live a life expressive of him.

We are to be fruitful in this life, and we are to use the time also to prepare for the next. Which means we are to use a significant portion of our time to deepen in our spiritual life. But do we even put forth an honest effort to come and worship God corporately on his Day? Yet, if we think attendance at Sunday Mass is sufficient spiritual effort: think again!

Do we prepare ourselves to receive him in the Holy Communion and also take time to thank him after we’ve received? Do we think it important to take the time to make prayer a regular part of our daily life? Praying each and every morning and evening, however brief our effort might be. Do we take the time to offer God praise, to intercede for others, and not just ask for ourselves?

Do we take the time daily to read some from his Holy Word or are we totally ignorant of it? Do we take the time to have a daily period of Silence when we stop to listen in quiet for him? Do we take a few minutes the end of the day to reflect on the day’s actions and challenges, using the time to examine our con-science as to how we rose to meet them, failed to rise at all, or fell down? Do we take the time to acknowledge our sins, confess them and ask his forgiveness and for the grace and strength to repent of them and try again.

Those of you who attended the Annual Meeting heard me speak of some of these concerns. Pardon today’s reiteration; for some things bare repeating! As with the Lord’s Prayer, which is to be repeated often until finally we get it and truly imitate it.

Some day even the finest or costliest timepiece will wear down and stop ticking, as will our hearts one day wear out and cease beating! And then shall we stand before God. He won’t be asking us for the time. He will judge what we did with the time! St. Paul says in Romans, “Knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: Now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.” Only time knows just how near!

On this Twentieth Anniversary of our time and ministry together, thanks be to God for his perfect plan of bringing us together, for lo these many years. I thank him for sparing my life and granting extended time. And I am determined to make the best use of that time: that is, to use it more fruitfully for your spiritual direction and the benefit of your souls, as I continue to serve you as your Father-in-God.

Upon future occasion I may have to address you in tone or words you’ve perhaps not heard spoken from my lips before; as needs be, sounding the trumpet, to give a warning to all. Sentinels are posted to do that! So are those called and posted to shepherd, as God’s bishops. God’s business is serious business! Hence, one day I will be held fully accountable before God for the time extended me to serve you, as your priest and rector, now additionally as a bishop.

And because I now realize this, I began this morning to give you warning: God wills for us to be faithful and fruitful, and that means we all must begin to take ever so seriously our need to deepen spiritually. I bid you to seriously heed his trumpet call!

It is my spiritual duty, more than ever before, to try to encourage you and to provide for you: By encouraging you all to take seriously the solemn vows you made, or that were made in your behalf, at your Baptism (to renounce what is wrong, to believe what true and to do what is right). By encouraging you to honor the additional solemn promise you made at the time of your Confirmation: to follow Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour. By reminding you more often of your bounden duty as members of Christ’s Church: To worship God every Sunday in his Church, and to work and pray and give for the spread of his Kingdom. By reminding you of all other disciplines required of those who profess to follow him.

By providing you pastoral services and devotions that will help strengthen your souls. By striving to preach his Word in sermons that will inspire your souls and motivate your wills, and which will comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. By instructing also in such ways as will educate you in the Faith of Christ and his Church. By reminding you Sunday by Sunday, ‘While we have time, let us do good unto all men; and especially unto them that are of the household of faith.’ And by persistently reminding you of our real need to deepen spiritually so as to mature in Christ within the time still allotted us.

And by reminding you there is God’s Judgment, as there is also God’s Mercy. And that there is Heaven, as there is Hell – and we all have to decide before our time has run out, which it is going to be that awaits us, when time on earth has expired.