When my grandfather discovered that my kindergarten-aged brother didn’t know how to tell time, he came up with a plan. He told Robert that if he learned how to read a timepiece, they would go to the store, and Robert could pick out any watch he wanted.
This lit a fire under my brother. Robert immediately asked Dad to tutor him. Soon Robert was flying around the house telling us what our watches and wall clocks said.
It wasn’t long before Robert and Grandpa were coming home from the store—Grandpa sporting a huge grin and Robert with a children’s Timex strapped to his little wrist.
Learning how to tell time is a basic life skill. But equally as vital is being able to tell the kind of time that can’t be measured in seconds, minutes, and hours.
Our lesson this morning speaks to this. There is a time for everything—planting and harvesting, mourning and dancing, keeping and releasing. Or, to give a 21st-century spin to this, a time for logging in and a time for logging off. A time for casting votes and a time for counting them.
Knowing how to tell the time that defies clocks and calendars takes practice. We learn by doing, it would seem.
A colleague in Maine has been waiting for a week for new baby goats to be born. She had their due date circled on the calendar, but no one told Mama Goat. All Mama Goat knows is that it’s not yet time to nestle down in the straw to pant and push. It’s not time yet for those teeny tinies to come.
While this woman waits in Maine for her goats’ birthing time, a colleague in another part of the country is giving off signs that it’s time for her to put away her Bible commentaries and hang up her preaching robes. In short, it’s probably time for her to retire. She hasn’t noticed, but those who love her have, and they are hoping it’s not too long before what is obvious to them becomes obvious to her.
Sometimes knowing what time it is affects us individually. Other times, it affects a group of us. Sometimes even all of us.
Here in the Rocky Mountain Conference, it took the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 to make it clear that it was well past time to take up the hard, necessary work of discrediting, disrupting, and dismantling racism.
In all kinds of increasingly concerning ways, our climate is telling us that it’s more than time for the human family to radically shift our practices and priorities.
Closer to home, over the course of a number of congregational meetings here at Community Spirit, we have a newly articulated sense of what time it is.
After several moves and a pandemic, all of which required reorienting and regrouping, the time is now for our church to lean in with passion and purpose to ensure that we are here next year—thriving, growing, and making the impact on our community that no other church in Montrose can or will.
We are not the only church needing to know what time it is, of course. Covid and decades of cultural shifts have done a number on congregations across the country. Those who are attentive, those who dare look the truth straight in the eye, know that we don’t have the comforting cushion of time we had twenty years ago. We don’t have decades to fritter away wondering what to do in response to the challenges we face.
For every church, and ours, in particular, the time is now. Not tomorrow. Not last week. The time is now. Not when others we haven’t yet met find and join us, lending us their energy and vision. The time is now. Not when the handsome prince comes and kisses us awake—I mean when an anonymous donor sends a big check to spur us on in our good work.
There is great wisdom waiting for us in this fall’s stewardship theme. When we met in August to plan this season of faithfulness, Aljean and Charlie could have said, “Let’s go with ‘Now is the time.’” Instead, they both understood that the real message, the real invitation is to understand this season focused on extravagant generosity needs to be heard, felt, and understood as ours in particular. “Now is OUR time.”
We could easily let this potent emphasis frighten us. Or overwhelm us. We could even allow “Now is Our Time” to give way to feelings of resignation or defeat. Because I know you well, I know that instead of closing your eyes or wringing your hands, you will call upon your faith and together take hold of what has always sustained us: your hope-filled resolve and confidence in God’s guiding presence.
You will do this because you love this church and what it has meant for you to be a part of it. But you will seize this opportunity for another powerful reason as well. Because you also know in your bones that this decidedly different church has an impact near and far that is ours alone to make.
Now is our time. A time like none other. A time in which we say to God and one another, “We who have been given much have much to give.”
What else can we say? Plenty!
We who are here are here for those who are not yet here.
We who have voices will use them for those who have been silenced.
We who know the liberating love of God want all who live in shackles to be set free by this very same love.
I have said before that I suspect that God’s favorite shape is the circle and that one of God’s favorite words is “together.” But it wasn’t until I was at LaForet this past week attending the Anti-Racism Ministry Team’s retreat that I was helped to see one of God’s favorite postures.
Drawing our retreat to a close on Wednesday morning, Erin Gilmore played a piece of music that I will play for you in a moment. It’s a spirited song that speaks to the urgency of now AND our capacity to rise to the challenge of the day.
After we listened to Erin’s music, she sent us outside to spend time alone, listening and reflecting. With the singers’ harmonious refrain, “It is time now,” echoing in my soul, I stepped into the cool of the morning with a complicated mix of feelings about the hard and holy work ahead.
It was then, while I was wandering, aware that it is indeed time and yet wrestling with whether any of us has enough of what we need to do what needs doing, it was then that my eyes fell upon a generous curl of nearly-black pine bark resting on the ground.
This cast-off bark reminded me of God’s perpetually open hands. Not clenched or hoarding fists. Not wagging fingers or a palm held up as if to say “stop.”
I saw open hands. Hands that have released into the world, into our hands, all that God possesses. Hands that want to give this completely again and again.
I saw hands that are open because they have given everything away and yet are also hands poised to receive in glad gratitude whatever we, in our generosity, in our goodness, in our determined efforts, are moved to place there. A little of ourselves, a lot of ourselves, even all of who we are and whatever is available to us.
Now is our time. Not simply as a church, of course, but also as a conference and a country, as a people living on this earth overflowing with more than we can fathom or even fully use.
Now is our time. Now is our time to respond to God’s generosity, to respond with God’s generosity to give in support of the sacred, crucial work that is before us.
Now is also our time to release any desire to cling—to fear, to hesitation, to a belief in scarcity, to what we imagine belongs to us.
Now is our time to engage in extravagant generosity—our hands, hearts, and mind open in service to a hurting, needful world.
In a moment, I will invite you to rise up to offer your covenantal promises of giving for the year ahead. We will then sing a hymn affirming our trust in God’s provision, a trust that inspires, informs, and invigorates our extravagant generosity.
But first, let us listen to the song Erin shared Wednesday morning at LaForet, one which seems to me to express our noblest aims and our deepest hopes. The words of the song appear on the pink handout on your table.
(After playing “We Shall Be Known” by the duo MaMuse, the congregation will be invited to place their commitment cards in the basket. I will offer a prayer of blessing, and then we will sing our post-sermon hymn.)