Sermon for Twelve Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 15)

Text: Ephesians 5:15,16
So be careful how you live. Don't live like ignorant people, but like wise people. Make good use of every opportunity you have, because these are evil days.

Slow down

I came across an article about a real problem that is afflicting most people in the 21st century. It is called "Hurry Sickness". Hurry sickness, first diagnosed in the late 1950s, has reached epidemic proportions. So I thought this would be a good topic for this week’s sermon.
"Hurry Sickness is defined as a "modern malady caused by rushing about: a compulsion to do everything quickly, or a chronic feeling of being short of time, attributed to the fast pace of modern life and causing symptoms such as anxiety and insomnia"
(Encarta - Dictionary).

What are the symptoms of "Hurry Sickness"? Here are a few.
We are constantly looking at out watches and saying, "Just look at the time! I’m going to be late."

We hate waiting. At the Post Office we sigh impatiently as a customer up front is taking forever. We hate waiting at traffic lights – as we approach the red light we look to see what kind of vehicles are already stopped – if there is a truck or an older looking car in one lane we pull into the other because we want a quick get away.

At the supermarket, if you have a choice between two check-out lines, you note the number of people in each line and multiply this number by the number of items per cart. If you are still standing waiting to be served and the people in the other lane get away before you do, you feel annoyed.

Evidence of "Hurry Sickness" is seen in a plane. As soon as the seat belt sign is turned off people stand, get their hand luggage, and crowd in the aisle – all the time knowing full well that it will be another 10 minutes before they will start moving toward the exit.

The interesting thing about "Hurry Sickness" is that those who don’t know they have it, think that other people who have not contracted "Hurry Sickness" are lazy.

One article I read was entitled, "Stop the clock! I’ve got hurry sickness". The writer describes Hurry Sickness "as a whole range of behaviour that betrays our desperate need to save time, and our fury when it is being wasted." "How many of us repeatedly push the Door Close button on lifts, or the traffic light button when lights are red, even though we know only one push is required. How many of us refuse to allow cars to move in front of us in our lane, in case that one extra car perceptibly slows us down or increases our travel time?" The writer continues saying, "We’re trying to do in one day what used to take three people a week to complete." (Sian Prior – Courier Mail).

Another writer describes "Hurry Sickness like this". We are all riding on a very fast train that is travelling down a predetermined track, gathering speed as it goes, and we have been on it for a long time. Many of us want to slow down; some want to get off the train. Others are so used to the speed that they don’t notice it. The few who love the speed are the only ones who get their way. Most of us stare blankly out of the window, barely seeing the world flying by and feeling helpless. (David Kuntz - Stopping (Newleaf, 1998).

Publishers have had a field day with books like ‘How to have a 48 hour day’, or ‘One Minute Bedtime Stories’  for busy parents to read to their children. One office building has ‘close door’ buttons in the lifts that actually don’t do anything. Pressing the button gives impatient executives the feeling that they are in control of how much time they spend in the lift.

I came across this poem (author unknown) that reminds us that our poor use of time can cause us to miss out on some of life’s great moments. It is entitled "To my grown up son".

My hands were busy through the day
I didn't have much time to play
The little games you asked me to.
I didn't have much time for you.

I'd wash your clothes, I'd sew and cook,
But when you'd bring your picture book
And ask me please to share your fun,
I'd say: "A little later, son."

I'd tuck you in all safe at night
And hear your prayers, turn out the light,
Then tiptoe softly to the door...
I wish I'd stayed a minute more.

For life is short, the years rush past…
A little boy grows up so fast.
No longer is he at your side,
His precious secrets to confide.

The picture books are put away,
There are no longer games to play,
No good-night kiss, no prayers to hear,
That all belongs to yesteryear.

My hands, once busy, now are still.
The days are long and hard to fill.
I wish I could go back and do
The little things you asked me to.

I’m sure we can relate to this mother’s regret in some way. We have been too busy or too preoccupied to make the most of the opportunities that have come our way whether
it is those precious moments with our children,
wasted time at school,
missed opportunities to spend with the people we love,
or too busy to take a moment and make a difference in someone’s life.

"My, how time flies!" we say. Time doesn’t really fly. The clock ticks away at the same speed every day, day in and day out. The days of the week, the years pass by at the same speed as they have since the dawn of time. We keep blaming the time for our need to rush about.

The fault doesn’t lie with time itself. We do have the time. God gives us all the time that we need to do everything that is important. Time is a gift from God. He gives us the time to enjoy ourselves. God gives us time to work, to worship, to pray, to spend with our families, to serve and help others, to witness to others about Jesus before time runs out. As the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes says, "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven" (3:1). God gives us adequate time to do everything that is important. God didn’t make a mistake at creation by making the days too short. In Ephesians 2:10 we read that God has ‘prepared in advance good works for us to do’ (Eph 2:10) and you can bet that he has also provided the time we need to do them. When we haven’t got time for the important things, then you can be sure that we haven’t managed the time God has given us very well.

Paul gives advice to his Ephesian readers. He knows well that there are so many attractions and people in the world that will take control of our lives and lead us to misusing the time God has given us. He writes, "So be careful how you live. Don't live like ignorant people, but like wise people. Make good use of every opportunity you have, because these are evil days."

The phrase "making the most of every opportunity" is language borrowed from the market place. It literally means snapping up all the bargains that are available. And here Paul refers in part to the management of time as God’s priceless commodity. He is urging us to snap up the entire bargain God is offering and to invest our energies in activities that are worthwhile. And the person who is able to do this Paul calls "wise". To be wise is to know God and to steer away from all that displeases him. The wise person in this case is the one who "makes the most of every opportunity".

Paul then adds to this the phrase, "Because the days are evil". Even back in Paul’s time, when life would appear to be less complicated, the apostle knew that there were many things that enticed people to use their time unwisely. And here we can refer to all the kinds of sin we can imagine that wastes our God-given time. We are to use our time to carry out God’s will for us in our lives. It is not God’s will that we waste our time fighting, talking behind one another’s back, holding grudges, being greedy, indulging in drunkenness, sex outside of marriage, pornography, racism – I think you get the message. As far as God is concerned, all these are a waste of the time he has given us.

We could add that as far as God is concerned it is a waste of time pursuing the things of this world when there is someone who needs our love and attention (remember the poem about the mother who regretted not spending more time with her son).
It is bad management of our time when we don’t have time to spend with God in prayer, reading his Word, coming to worship and Holy Communion.
It is poor management of our time when we are so busy filling every moment of every day to the detriment of another of God’s gifts, our bodies. We’re stressed; we feel it in our asthmatic lungs, our aching backs, our tense shoulders, our memory depleted brains suffering from information overload because we have succumbed to Hurry Sickness.

An old saying goes, "Life is too short." Paul would agree that the time God has given to us is a precious gift and not to be wasted doing things that are harmful to ourselves, to our families, to our friends and in fact, anyone. Who knows, except God, how much time we have? As James says: Now listen to me, you that say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will travel to a certain city, where we will stay a year, and go into business and make a lot of money.’ You don’t even know what your life tomorrow will be! You are like a puff of smoke, which appears for a moment and then disappears (James 4:13-14).

James is saying that we shouldn’t presume that we would have a tomorrow to do the good we had intended to do today. Paul tells us to snap up every moment we have and make the most of it. Snap up every moment as we would snap up a bargain at the Shopping Centre. Use the time we have in the present to do the things God wants us to do. How many times have we looked back and seen the missed opportunities that were waiting to be taken? I am guilty of this as I dare say everyone here is.

That’s why he sent us a Saviour.
That’s why Jesus died on a cross. 
All of our misspent hours were nailed with Jesus on the cross. 
All of the hurt we have caused others because we have been too busy,
all of harm we have done to ourselves because we have failed to slow down, let go of some of the less important things and tried to cram too much into our daily lives,
all the times we have given other things priority over spending time with God and doing the work Jesus has given us to do in the church and in our personal lives,
all these were nailed with Jesus onto the cross.

Jesus is the great Healer of our Hurry Sickness. He says to us, "Are you tired? Worn out? … Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me - watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. … Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly." (Matt 11:28-30 The Message).


© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
19th August 2007

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