“Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will
trample them under foot and turn and maul you.”
Let us pray. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in
your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
A stunning privilege, or perhaps occupational hazard, of being a pastor is how many days
are spent near the cliff edge of life. We might be invited to show up on someone’s best day or their worst, on their first day, or their last. Pastors, along with police officers and funeral
directors, are part of this dark triangle of care that arrive when death occurs, after the health care workers are done but before lawyers are involved. Though we are required to be serious, reverent, in our dark black or blue suits, there is often a levity among us. I remember saying to the funeral home director in his sunglasses, “I like those shades, Peter.” And he said, “Thanks, from the wife. Pastor, you can ride over to the graveside in the hearse with us.” “No thanks.” I said, “Hey, at least you have a choice, most folks don’t.” An awkward laugh snuck out before we all returned to the script. But he is right. We do choose this strange life, and it forces us to deal seriously with time.
You hear enough funeral homilies or words shouted into the wind near a grave or words
shared by family members, as they sit, laugh-crying, surrounded by old photos, you find yourself in the mountainous terrain of virtue, values, and the twisting path of choices prompted by life’s great unpredictability. You hear a lot about how people spent their time.
That is what I feel in my gut when I read Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount in
Matthew 7. I hear Jesus’ pastor heart laid bare, as he speaks about what really matters, and on the flip side, what he knows will lead to a bunch of heartache. Jesus says, don’t be a hypocrite.
Practice what you preach. Be kind even when no one is watching. Doing what is right might
seem obvious and popular and celebrated, until you realize how lonely it actually is. And today’s text cuts to the quick: Don’t give what it holy to the dogs and don’t cast your pearls before swine. Or they will trample it under foot and turn around and maul you. Or, said another way, Don’t give the treasure of your time to someone or something that has no way of appreciating it. That would be like leaving the gourmet dinner of your life on the counter in the presence of a curious puppy. That would be like tossing your meticulous paper calendar into a pigpen and then getting upset when it gets ruined.
Jesus was deeply attentive to time, especially for a person with no planner, no project
management software, not even a watch to accomplish his world mission. He spoke intimately about time, how his hour had not yet come (John 2:4) and when it had (John 12:23). He spoke of time as fulfilled (Mark 1:15) and yet when people wanted him to be some kind of fortune teller about the end of time, he was deeply humble, “no one knows the day or the hour, only the
Father.” (Matthew 24:36) It seems like he used different tools for telling time.
I spent this week trying to learn what those were. It’s an urgent question for me since I
can be a person who can make a to-do list that looks more like a dare than a plan. I can be
distracted and hurried and wildly creative in procrastination especially if a sermon is stumping me. So, as I studied the life of Jesus, I noticed five tools appearing again and again, tools that seem like a cipher that guided how Jesus used his time. They are 1) Scripture. He lived in the holy words of God’s covenant, allowing him to see beyond the present moment, 2) Season. The calendars of the natural world and the calendar of faith were his framework 3) Silence. He went away to pray frequently. 4) Spirit. He discerned spiritually when to stop and when to go, when to take something on and when to let it go, and 5) Sabbath. It was a day of freedom and healing from all the ways the world treats time as punishment. Now, you might notice other tools. But I have found that these five are still profoundly helpful in creating a healthy relationship with time.
- Scripture still asks me to see my life as part of God’s story… If the disciples could see
ordinary tasks like fishing, bringing spices to a tomb, or fetching water as their role
in the miracle, can I see my own tasks holy? Can I see my errands as places where I
might encounter Jesus or be called to life-changing service? Can I ground myself in
hope beyond this present moment?
- Season… It helps to ask what season am I in. If something is not happening now the
way I want it to, maybe it’s not for lack of effort or a bunch of mistakes, maybe it’s not
in season right now.
- Silence… I have to ask myself, have I been quiet for even 30 seconds to consider the
gift of time at all. If not, maybe distraction or demands are too loud, and I am unable
to hear what my life is trying to say. Time to be quiet.
- Spirit… The Spirit always asks these pesky questions: Is it true? Is it loving? Is it
important? If the answer is no to any of those questions, maybe I have happened upon
a poor use of time, maybe I’ve been caught flinging pearls at pigs and even hoping
they respond with appreciation: “She went to Jared.”
- And finally, Sabbath… have I rested long enough to remember that I am not God? If
the answer is no, then it is likely my striving could be coming from ego or fear. The
Sabbath is the Lord’s Day. It is like a snow day for the soul. It’s medicine for control
freaks. A pastor friend of mine once said about Sabbath, “If you can’t take a break
from the world, give the world a break from you.”
If five tools are too many, David Brooks from the New York Times boils it down to just
two. He says there are two kinds of living. The first is resume living, doing things that make a good resume: our successes, grades, prestige, promotions, awards. And the second is eulogy living… doing things that make a good eulogy: our relationships, struggles, values, even our quirks, all the investments we make in things that will outlasts us. Resume living is about how we appear to others: Do we appear sufficiently busy, steady, wealthy, beautiful and strong to earn the esteem of others. Eulogy living, and even deeper than that, Gospel living, is how God sees us. This kind of living is often counterintuitive. In this kind of living, strength can arise from what might have been considered a weakness. Beauty can dance in the midst of abject poverty. Wisdom can shine from pools of tears and this amazing grace can coat our lives in the midst of
storms we never saw coming, if we take the time to see it.
If we spend a little time on the cliff’s edge of eternity, with the updraft of forever on our
faces, it will change our to-do list, and an added bonus: usually Jesus is already hanging out
On Monday, I attended the MLK Jr. Day Celebration at First Baptist Church of Vienna, a
large predominately African American Church that has partnered with BPC many times in recent years. But, truth be told, I didn’t really think I had time to attend, plus the snow was starting. No one was as aware of the snow as the superintendent of FCPS Dr. Reid, who was also there. At the beginning of the service, another pastor I know leaned over to say she’d be leaving at 11:55 to get somewhere else. People were checking their watches and squirming a bit. The service was already running late. We were in one mode of time.
Then, the Gospel choir began to sing. And a middle school social worker won the Spirit
of King award, because she had spent her days helping children overcome many hurdles of their lives so they could reach for their dreams. And finally, the great great great great grandson of Robert E. Lee, whose name is Rob Lee, preached a sermon about what makes God’s dreams come true in our world. How his own family tree was bending toward justice. And then over the speaker arose the voice of Martin Luther King Jr., thundering out, crackly and urgent, “Time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood.” And then came that breathtaking crescendo: “I have been to the mountaintop! Like anyone, I want to live a long life, longevity has its place, but I am not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.” I left with a different sense of time coursing through my veins. I could feel the difference
between being passive and being patient, between being belligerent and being brave, between time as this punishing ticking clock and time as an invitation to dance with the Spirit, regardless of the circumstances. And, of course, by the time I got home, it was full snow day. It was less the footsteps of King, more the boot tracks of middle schoolers, but time itself felt kinder and also stronger. Sabbathy. Pearly. And, I hiked up the hill to sled with my son.
I don’t know what you are facing today, whether time feels like friend or foe to you. I do
know that Christ is with you in it. I know that God’s promises can be trusted and the Spirit is a weather pattern that moves in great power and profound gentleness. That is the Gospel, known as the pearl of great price.
So, I will end with this prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr that gives me great comfort when I
am twisted up by my own timeline and my impatience with the problems of the world: “Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore, we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore, we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore, we must be saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore, we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.”