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Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Discover & explore: Time

The music in today's Discover & explore service on the theme of Time at St Stephen Walbrook included: A Prayer of Henry VI, Henry Ley; To Morning, Gabriel Jackson; Even such is time, Bob Chilcott; and Nunc Dimittis, Gustav Holst. The latest group of Choral Scholars of St Martin-in-the-Fields sang for the first time in this service and will do so for the rest of this series:

• Monday 10th October: Talents
• Monday 17th October: Treasure/Gold
• Monday 24th October: Guidance
• Monday 31st October: Promises (All Souls)
• Monday 7th November: Safety
• Monday 14th November: Money
• Monday 21st November: Security

Here is the reflection I shared:

I wonder which of these rewrites of Psalm 23 is true for you: ‘The clock is my dictator, I shall not rest’ or ‘The Lord is my Pace-setter, I shall not rush’? There are moments in our lives when it seems that we have all the time in the world and other moments when it seems that we have no time at all. We can see this visualised in Kim Poor’s painting The Angel of the Hours where time is vanishing from the clock which the angel holds. Is this an indication that the angel wishes to draw us into the timelessness of eternity or is it, an indication of the speed with which we feel our days go by? The comedian Dave Allen famously said: “You clock in to the clock. You clock out to the clock. You come home to the clock. You eat to the clock, you drink to the clock, you go to bed to the clock… You do that for 40 years of your life, you retire, what do they … give you? A clock!”

The reality, of course, is that time is constant and unchanging; it does not actually lengthen or contract. What changes are the choices that we make as to how we use our time and the feelings we have as a result.

The famous passage from Ecclesiastes that we have just heard read (Ecclesiastes 3. 1 - 15) is often understood as meaning that God orders our time and allots particular events to particular times and seasons. However, it can also be understood in terms of one of those phrases like ‘stuff happens’, ‘life happens’ or ‘shit happens’ which mean simply that what happens happens. The reality it says is that all our lives will contain enough time for births and deaths, tears and laughter, mourning and dancing, conflict and peace to occur. There is time enough in each of our lifetimes for all these things and it is inevitable that we will experience them.

While it is inevitable that the highs and lows of life will occur over the course of our lives, we don’t know when these things will occur or how long our lives themselves will be, and so inevitability is combined with uncertainty. We often respond to this by trying to impose order either by detailed planning on our own part or by asking that God will order our days. When we do so, we can end up preoccupied with the future, instead of experiencing the present.

As we don’t know how much time we have, it is imperative that we must use the time we currently have wisely. We do so by savouring and appreciating the time we have whether that is: time at home - growing together as a family; time at work – completing tasks and supporting colleagues; time at church - in worship, fellowship and prayer; or time alone with God - praying and reading the Bible.

Van Morrison sings that ‘These are the days, the time is now … There's only here, there's only now.’ Similarly, Simon Small has written, ‘There is always only now. It is the only place that God can be found.’ Each moment we are alive is unique and unrepeatable. As songwriter, Victoria Williams, has put it, ‘This moment will never come again / I know it because it has never been before.’ We live in the present and can only encounter God in this moment, in the here and now, today.

Equally, we can only give in the here and now. In Deuteronomy 30. 11 - 20 we read of Moses saying to the Israelites, “today … I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses” and exhorting them to “choose life.” Similarly, in Hebrews 3. 7 - 19, the writer of that letter says, ‘Today, if you hear his [God’s] voice, do not harden your hearts …’ The emphasis of these passages is that now is the moment to encounter God, now is the moment to live, now is the moment to give.

This autumn we are encouraging all those who come to St Stephen to reflect on the various ways in which we can use our time, talents and treasure in God’s service. Each of us has time, talents and treasure which could be given out of gratitude and to help this church. In the Stewardship leaflet we have given you today we list a variety of roles with which we need help here at St Stephen, so I encourage you to reflect on those roles and consider whether you could help us in some way.

How much time have we got? We don’t know, so we must use it all wisely. The past is behind us, the future is yet to come, so now is the only moment in which we can live and move and have our being. This means that now is always the moment in which to encounter God, now is always the moment in which to truly come alive and truly live, now is always the moment in which we can give of ourselves in thanks for all that God has given to us. There's only here, there's only now. This moment is unique and unrepeatable. It will never come again because it has never been before. So, these are the days for encounter, for living and for giving. The time is now.


Gabriel Jackson - To Morning.

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