You Got the Time
The Last Sunday of the Church Year is the Church's New Year's Eve. And on New Year's Eve you think about time. You got the time. That can be a question: You got the time?' or a statement: You got the time.'
You got the time? Do you know what time it is for you? In Detroit, when the church was notified of a death, we tolled the bell once for each year of the deceased's life. People would count the tolls in an attempt to know whom. Hence the phrase from John Donne's 17th century poem: "Therefore send not to know/ For whom the bell tolls,/ It tolls for thee." Do you know that? According to the Introit, it's only the Lord who can teach you. "Show me, O Lord, my life's end and the number of my days."
Is that really your prayer? Do you really want the Lord to let you know how fleeting your life is. Watch a 50's movie. See how they show years passing. Calendar years rapidly fly off the screen. The Lord does indeed teach David this for the next lines are: "You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before Thee. Each man's life is but a breath." Get that? First David is convinced that is life is as short as the width of a hand. Jesus says by worrying no man can extend his life by even a cubit, 18 inches. Here David says the Lord has taught him it's not more than 4 inches. But then David goes on to say his life is nothing before Yahweh. And, "Each man's life is but a breath." This is the same word Solomon uses in Ecclesiastes: "All is vanity." It's the word for breath on a window. It's there and gone.
Has the Lord taught you this? Or are times rough now and you're sure that they're going to go on and on? Or are they good, and you see them rapidly flying? In one case, time is heavy and slow; in the other it is light and rapid, but in reality time is passing at the same speed. You got the time? Do you know as the opening lines of the "Days of our Lives" soap opera said, "Like sands through the hour glass, so are the days of our lives"? Or do you know as the "Guess Who" sang: that you have no time for a summer friend, the love you send, for a gentle rain, for watch and chain. "I got, got, got, got no time." Is not only the sum of that song but David's psalm.
You got the time? That is do you have the correct time. You know what it means to cross time zones. You probably know what it means to be just an hour off falling back or springing forward. And who hasn't set an alarm for PM when they meant AM? And while the majority of us have never lived on Tulsa, we know what Don Williams means in his 1978 song, "Living in Tulsa time." He goes to Hollywood to make it and finds he's out of step with them and so he's gonna set his watch back to Tulsa time. Being out of sync with the proper time is like being out of step when you're marching. You stick out; you're disoriented; and you'll step on or be stepped on.
So what time is it? The first part told us it's later than you think, and you can't know that unless God teaches you. This second part tells us we don't know the correct time apart from God telling us. Jesus says this to the apostles on the day He ascends, "It is not for you to know the times or season which the Father has fixed for His own authority." That means you can't conclude what the servant in the Gospel reading does. The insert has, "My master is taking a long time in coming." No, what he literally says is, "Delays the Lord of me to come." He wrongly concludes his Lord is purposely delaying and so is late. You can only know that if you know the Lord's times and seasons. You don't, but thinking you do, that leads to despair. That leads to focusing on the things of this life, what pleasures there are in this life. Then we slip into the Grass Roots seductive 1968 song, "Let's live for today..have pleasure while we can." Ask the people from Noah's and Lot's days how that worked out? Just fine until the day the skies opened with flood and fire.
The times and seasons are in the hands of the Man who is God. Psalm 139 says He knows all of your days before you have lived even one of them. Jesus repeatedly said only He knew the hour. It wasn't till the set time had fully come, says Paul in Gal. 4:4, that God sent His Son, born of woman, born under the Law to redeem those under the Lord, so we might receive adoption as sons. This is the active righteousness of Jesus. He keeps the Law in our place, and so removes it off our shoulders as a got to, have to, or must do before we can be adopted as sons. In Romans 5: 6 Paul refers to the passive righteousness of Jesus; again as to its timeliness. "You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly."
We say, "Timing is everything." "I timed it just right." God didn't rely on your timing to act. He sent His Son when it was time, and didn't wait for you to appreciate that fact. No, when we were still ungodly, powerless sinners, Christ suffered, sorrowed, sighed, cried, bled, and died for us and all people. "To everything there is a season, and a time to ever purpose under heaven." That song is not just for the Byrd's. It's God's Word. There is not just a time to be born, to plant, to heal, to build up, to laugh, to dance, to love, and a time for peace. No there is a time to die, to break down, to weep, to hate, and a time for war, and every single one of these times are in the hands of the God who has nail holes in them.
You got the time, but looking at your phone or watch can't tell you that. The Introit does. If you look up Psalm 39 in a Bible that has the superscription which is part of the Hebrew text and therefore is God's Word, you'll read: "For the choir director, for Jeduthun. A Psalm of David." You will find Jeduthun mentioned in 1 Chron. 16:41 he was among those "who were designated by name, to give thanks to the Lord, because His lovingkindness is everlasting." So this Psalm that begins with our death and how fleeting our days really are is a Psalm of thanks about everlasting lovingkindness.
After coming to the conclusion that according to the Lord his days are a mere handbreadth, his life but vapor on a glass, what does David look for? Sickness, frailty, pain, the dreadful, relentless ticking away of a clock, of sands swiftly swirling down an hourglass? No! David says, "But now now that I know how fleeting is my life Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you." There never comes a time when a Christian cannot hope in God. No one dies, gets to heaven, and hears God say, "Friend, you hoped too much in Me." What hope did Job have after losing good, fame, children, and health? What hope did David have hounded by Saul? What hope did Peter have to walk on water? What hope did Paul have after 2 weeks on a storm-tossed sea?
Why does David say his hope is in Yahweh? Because only He can "save me from all my transgressions." And let me tell you David had plenty. Do you know what he did after committing adultery against Bathsheba and killing her husband to cover up the resulting pregnancy? No, he didn't repent. He stayed an adulterer and murderer maybe for up to a year. And in this unbelief, perhaps despair, 1 Chron. 20:2-3 reports, "David brought out the spoil of the city, a very great amount. And he brought out the people who were in it, and cut them with saws and with sharp instruments and with axes. And thus David did to all the cities of the sons of Ammon." But the Lord didn't leave David in his time of misbelief, despair, and other great shame and vice. He sent His Word to him by the mouth of a man and saved him from all his transgressions.
All? The sexual assault, the murder, the cruelty? Yes, yes, and yes. His hope could hardly be in a God who only saved him from some or even most of his sins. It's all other nothing. God in Christ is not a part time Savior. If He only kept 9 out of 10 Commandments, that one unkept one would be biting into your back right now. It would hound you needing to be done, kept, fulfilled by you perfectly. Doing your best doesn't mean squat to God. His standard is perfection. Thanks be to God that God the Son kept all the commandments perfectly. And He took the time to pay for each one of them. Surely you've experienced a person presenting you with a bill that either wasn't yours or you thought someone else had paid? Talk about disconcerting. You try to process how you could owe it and how you're going to pay it. Well, God in Christ carried to the cross the sins of the world, not one was missing, not one fell off, not one can the Devil, your conscience, or someone else pick up and say: What about this one? Or, who's paying for this sin of yours? Nope, can't happen. The bill was Paid in Full on Calvary's cross on a Friday Christians call Good.
You got the time to hear this last part. You are to go on hoping in the Lord regardless of circumstances because He has saved you from your transgressions, and you are to be certain He hears all your prayers, all your cries for help, and is not deaf to your weeping. When David is fleeing for his life from Saul; he seeks refuge with the Philistines but they have no time for him. David writes Psalm 56 at this time. In it he says, "Record my misery; list my tears on your scroll-- are they not in your record?"
This New Year's Eve rather than picture God in heaven tallying up your sins, see Him in Christ collecting your tears. Would He take the time to do that if they weren't worth saving? Take time to think about that as you end this year. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Last Sunday in the Church Year (20191124); Psalm 39: 4-5, 7-8