It’s been years since I’ve been back to the little 10 person church I grew up in. But I have no doubt about what the sermon is going to be about this weekend. There weren’t a lot of constants at my home church, you never knew who was going to be speaking from week to week, and there was always a pretty good chance it was going to be you. Every week, that is, except for the Sunday after New Year.
On this weekend, the same man, a Patriarch of our church, would stand up and recount the different people who died throughout the past year. Then he would get to his main point, one that he repeated throughout the sermon, in various ways. “What if (insert New Year) was written on your tombstone?”
Looking back I guess I can see the benefit of this. It’s probably good for punk-teenager who think’s they’re immortal to have some reminders that their is going to be a day that their body runs down. These days if I need a reminder of my mortality, I jog.
So for the past few days I’ve been reading through the Lord of the Rings for the first time. Seriously one of the best books I’ve ever read. During the first few chapters, there is an interesting conversation between Gandalf the Wizard and Frodo the Hobbit. Frodo has just realized the deadly nature of what he is being asked to do. He learns that a whole lot depends on him risking everything with little hope of succeeding. And he tells Gandalf, “I wish this wouldn’t have happened in my time.” Gandalf response is classic:
“’So do I, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.'”
There’s a scene in the book of Acts where Paul is addressing the intellectual’s of Athens. He’s trying to explain the story of Jesus to these suspicious people. And here’s what he says:
The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth
and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands,
as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and
everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should
inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact
places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and
perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.
His point is that this Jesus isn’t just another god in their panoply. He’s not just another deity they should try and placate, but in fact the image of the very God that their lives are already oriented around, even if they were unaware of it. And the very reason that they were born in this time and this place was because God was trying to draw all parts of Creation back to Himself. Including Stoic Philosophers in 1st Century Athens.
They were made to live then for a reason.
Too often I hear Christians wax nostalgic. If it could only be like it was in the 50’s*, if we could just go back to the good old days, where everyone went to church, and people said Sir and Please. The world is changing exponentially, Post-modern’s have a different brand of spirituality, Truth is suspect, morality doesn’t mean what it used to. Everything is changing. (Except Dick Clark, he’s stayed the same). And it’s easy to be tempted to just stick our heads in the sand and long for “better days.”
But ours is not to decide what time is given us. Only what to do with the time that we have.
So maybe some of you need to hear that 2010 could be written on your tombstone. This could be the last blog you ever read. But I don’t think that’s nearly as effective as what Paul is getting at.
You could not die. You might live through yet another year. And if so there is a purpose behind you being here, in this place and this time.
Perhaps God isn’t giving us this time so that we could long for another one, but for purposes that he has in this one.
This is a New Now that God has given you.
Happy New Year.
*I’ve noticed it’s only my caucasian brothers and sisters who make this particular comment.