A Time to Stop

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March 5, 2014

A Time to Stop

Passage: Matthew 4:1-11

Ash Wednesday

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”

For more than two decades, I was required to measure my time in 15-minute increments.  For the lawyers or accountants amidst us, who bill in 6 minute increments, a consultant’s 15 minute cycle is easy.  It became second nature to recall each day how I would account for my time. Administration.  Meetings.  Travel.  Design.  Client development.  Employee development.  Operations of the firm.  How much related revenue did I generate?  How much time did I “write off” of my own or among my team?  That one would hurt.  Writing off time as lost, never to be retrieved or defining a period of time as devoid of no value seemed wrong.

On the flip side, my work as a consultant was to create recommendations and practical ways to reduce the amount of time my clients would spend to serve customers and generate profits.  In consumer banking you can imagine all of what a bank teller does.  We focused on efficiency.  Reduced cycle time.  I had all the consultant-speak that focused on getting the most value from the time worked by employees and ensuring investments providing a suitable return within a specific timeframe.  It was all about creating measureable value.

Did I create value? After twenty years, that last question began to haunt me while sitting on airplanes and compelled me to question if we truly knew how to measure time.  I grew weary of frequent use of economic terms to describe time; spend time, waste time, optimize time, time is money.

One expression that continues to nag at me is, take time.  Take time?  WE cannot take time.  Perhaps we do one task over another.  But, we are given time and it is ours to live into without knowing the number of our days – it is not really ours to take.  I understand this is just an expression, but we can grow so cavalier about the gift of time and lose track of how we are to honor time and not diminish it to a transaction.

Our Scripture lesson describes a period in Jesus’ life when he was tested.  The specific time frame of 40 days, implying his wandering in the desert and fasting were to the end of human limits.  Jesus, in the most compromised human condition, encountered all the temptations, which bombard us each day – to choose power over humility, to have our hunger satisfied and acquire in kingdoms of splendor.

Jesus was tempted to turn to these human pleasures, which could be measured and valued in this realm.  Jesus did not just reject the devil’s offers; instead, he also turned toward God to live a life which values relationships and love, in action, for one another.

Lent is a time for us to take notice of our lives together and before God. Do we value our lives with one another and as a child of God? Are we living fully into each day – with gusto, with love, freely admitting our humility, allowing ourselves to observe Sabbaths – time with God?  Isn’t it crazy that I would mention “allowing” ourselves a Sabbath when scripture defines it as a command?  Can we learn to be a human being and not always a human doing?  Are we seeking toward the good rather than falling into the temptations placed before us each day?

Lent also asks for us to reflect on our life with God beyond the horizon of our vision.  Jesus challenges us to accept on faith our life-long relationship with God that is not bound by death.

With this in mind, over the next six weeks, we will reflect in worship on time in this Lenten journey.  Think of the wisdom book from Hebrew Scriptures, Ecclesiastics.  Listen as I read selected verses.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.  All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again.


Several times in the past week I’ve been asked about “giving up” for Lent.  Shouldn’t we all give up something and deny ourselves what we enjoy as a practice to bring us closer to Jesus’ suffering?  Really, do we think giving up chocolate is akin to Jesus’ path on Golgotha to his passion?

We are embarking upon a journey which will lead to Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, the trial and execution.  In these days ahead of us, there is value in thoughtfully considering how we choose to live and what we choose between.

Think of Jesus’ temptations, he was tempted as any human, but rather than just deny what he – or we – crave, he turned toward God, with a confidence in what God values matters so much more.

So may I suggest in the coming weeks, what can you do to, purposefully, draw yourself closer to God?  Keep a journal.  Pray.  Hike.  Serve at a homeless shelter.  These practices may open up a space for God’s presence to be more clearly felt, and in the process, you may find you are no longer absorbed by social media, or you decline drinking, or unhealthy habits, excessive work, and you will leave them along the way.

If you are attracted to “giving up,” may I then suggest giving up gossip, getting rid of some grudges you’ve been holding on to that obscure your relationship with others and God.  Try to give up some of the boundaries; geographic, emotional and social that keep you sheltered from life.

Ash Wednesday is the day to recognize the measure of our time, from ashes to ashes, is not within our control.  But, our manner of choosing what we value and how to live is.