Poolesville Presbyterian Church
Rev. Dr. David Williams; 09.18.2017
Scripture Lesson: John 3: 13-17
LISTEN TO SERMON AUDIO HERE:
It seems like there’s never enough time.
I’m reminded of that every time I get yet another recommendation for a book to read. “Hey, this one’s awesome,” a friend will say, and I make a mental note of yet another book I’m not going to ever quite find the time to get to, a literary holding pattern that starts looking more and more like the Library of Congress as the year go by.
There’s never enough time.
I’m reminded of that every time Facebook is geeking out about a new superhero movie that’s about to come out, which seems about seventeen times a year, and I realize that I just can’t even begin to keep up. I’m reminded of that every time someone recommends that I binge watch some new show that is supposed to be the most amazing thing ever.
I’m reminded of that whenever I look at my growing hutch of of book bunnies. You know, book bunnies, those ideas you have about a manuscript that you’d love to write. Oh, what a great idea, you think, and you jot it down. I currently have nine nonfiction book bunnies, twelve novel bunnies, and a dozen short story bunnies just waiting for me to sit down and get them done.
It’s reached the point that when my muse whispers another story idea into my head, I roll my eyes. Oh, c’mon. Why don’t you try writing one of those yourself for a change?
I’m reminded of it when I consider just how quickly my own youth swept away, how quickly the grey slipped into my beard, how just a blink of an eye ago two little boys were curled up on the sofa with my wife for storytime at night. Was that enough time? It seems like it wasn’t enough time.
Wouldn’t it be great if there was? If life just went on, forever and ever and ever, and you could do everything you’ve ever wanted?
Here, today, in a strikingly familiar passage of the Gospel of John, Jesus gets into talking about the life eternal. Twice in this short passage, we hear it: the end result, hope and goal of Jesus is ...in the Greek in which John’s Gospel was written: the zoen aionion. Zoe, meaning life. Aionion, from the same word that gives us aeon. A life of all the ages.
We hear that, in our busyness, and It’s easy for us to grasp on to that as something that might come in handy. Eternal life! I could finally get everything done! Surely the house would finally get painted if I were given ten to the five hundredth power years to get it done.
Here, the grasping part of my soul tends to welcome the idea of the life eternal as an endless quantity, a simple layering on year upon year until they stack all the way to infinity. But then I reflect upon it, and I’m not quite sure that wouldn’t be simply horrific.
Because an endless infinite span of years is meaningless if that time is not used well.
In fact, the human capacity to misuse time, to take what moments have been given us and to pour them into meaninglessness goes deep. It’s not that we don’t have enough life, not that the quantity of time given to us is inadequate. It’s that we take so much of what we’ve been given and make it nothing.
We fritter time away on nothingness, dithering away hour upon hour on things that do not deepen us or give us joy.
It’s easy to blame this tendency on the endless cavalcade of distractions served up by this net era. Give me ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, and how much of that am I going to spend on Facebook watching music fail videos or playing Battlefield? How much will be spent Snapchatting out conversations that are consigned to instant oblivion? Surely, surely we modern humans have become so easily diverted from anything of meaning that we’d squander all of infinity if given half the chance.
I was thinking about this when for some reason I providentially encountered something on Facebook this week. It was put out by one of those algorithms that tries to hook you into clicking through something on Facebook. Here, a kitten video! Watch kitten videos! More videos!
It was, out of nowhere, a link about Seneca. Not the creek or the road or the watershed that makes up much of this county. Not the Native American people from upstate New York. They didn’t call themselves the Seneca, anyway. They were the Onondaga, whose largest town was Osininka.
What Facebook pitched me this week was an essay by Seneca the Younger, a Roman stoic philosopher who taught and wrote from Rome at the time of Jesus. Seneca was known as one of the wisest men of his era, who mingled insight with his skill as a writer and public thinker. His one mistake: because of his success, he was roped into being the teacher and tutor for the young emperor. The new boy god-king, Nero, had been born into power. Nero was strangely charismatic, wildly popular with the masses for his antics, more an entertainer than anything else, an embarrassment to the elites in power in Rome.
Nero was utterly charming and just as equally unreliable. Seneca was brought in to tame him, and for a while, he did. Seneca was Nero’s favorite teacher, right up until Nero became convinced Seneca had been part of a conspiracy against him. Nero, like all powerful men of appetite and impulsiveness, wasn’t the safest person to be around. Things did not end well for Seneca.
The essay Seneca wrote was entitled “On the Shortness of Life,” which something you probably think about a great deal when you’re in close proximity to a man who can have you killed any time he wants.
The heart of Seneca’s essay is simple. Human beings, for the most part, are given enough time to live life well. We have the opportunity to find our purpose. We have the opportunity to do what it is we were made to do. There will be time enough.
He’s making this argument, remember, in a culture where the average human lifespan was 35. That might seem a whole bunch when you’re sixteen. But it feels like almost nothing now.
The reason we feel so lost, Seneca suggests, isn’t that we don’t have enough time. It is that we waste our time. We worry about things. We chase after unattainable wealth or prestige. We run in circles. We chew over the past. We allow ourselves to be battered by the whims and desires of others, caught in a cycle of anxious expectation that consumes us. As he puts it:
The part of life we actually live is very small. All the rest of our existence is not life, but merely time.
And in that bit of ancient insight, I think, there is a key to the life that Jesus is promising.
How much can one do with a life? If we look to Jesus, Jesus who didn’t even make it to that oh so short thirty five years? There is something of an answer. Eternal life is life lived to God’s purpose, where attention is given to our places of giftedness, where compassion and encouragement are allowed not simply to be something we’ll get around to, but part of our now.
Eternal life isn’t a question of quantity of life. It’s a question of quality of life, a quality of life that encompasses not just some endless time in the future, but this time as well.
Used wisely and compassionately and well, there is time enough for that life.
May that be so, for you and for me,