We Don’t Have Time for This $#!+

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Preached at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church – Tifton, Georgia

Ephesians 5:15-20

When I was in seminary,
something happened
that became instant legend.

I was not in the room,
but one day during homiletics
(the class where you learn the art of preaching),
a student was giving yet another
mundane, lackluster sermon
when the professor—
a crusty old adjunct from out of town
who had been a priest longer
than many of us had been alive—
slammed his hand on the table,
and said, “STOP!!!
We do not have time for this $#!+. [1]

Everyone was aghast.

That old professor—
who had probably preached
no less than 10,000 sermons
across no less than 100 pulpits,
over no less than 50 years—
looked at the class and said,
We    do    not    have    time
to crawl into our pulpits
and waste people’s lives
with things that
do    not     matter.
Time is short;
make the most of it!” [2]

Whether you were in that room or not,
you learned that lesson that day.

*     *     *

That professor’s admonition is good advice,
not just for preachers,
but for all Christians everywhere,
including you and me.
And it seems we’ve been giving this advice
since the earliest days of the Church.

Just look at today’s portion
from the letter to the Ephesians:

“Be careful then how you live,
not as unwise people but as wise,
making the most of the time,
because the days are evil.” [3]

Or, as the King James Version puts it:
“See then that ye walk circumspectly,
not as fools, but as wise,
redeeming the time,
because the days are evil.”

And just for fun, here’s how The Message says it:
“So watch your step. Use your head.
Make the most of every chance you get.
These are desperate times!”

In other words,
“we do not have time for this $#!+.”

*     *     *

Unfortunately, though,
we Christians have lost our sense of urgency.

Back when this letter was written,
they thought Christ was coming back any minute,
but now it has been about 2,000 years—
1,051,200,000 minutes, to be exact—
and still, no return.

So, unless you’re a crusty old homiletics professor
teaching young whippersnappers
how to preach their way
out of a paper bag,
you may not feel the same urgency
as the early Church.

They thought the end was near,
and it colored everything they believed.

Well, I don’t know if the end is near or not
(that’s a bit above my pay grade),
but I do know that we Christians
need to be living with our heads on straight,
for these, too, are desperate times.

So let’s take a look
at what that means for us today.

In this passage from Ephesians,
it means at least three things:
1.) Don’t be foolish.
2.) Worship God constantly.
3.) Be grateful in all things.

*     *     *

Number one: Do not be foolish.
Or, as The Message puts it,
“do not live carelessly, unthinkingly.” [4]

Most of us would like to think
that we are not fools,
that we’re nobody’s dummy.

But here in Ephesians,
foolishness is likened to drunkenness.

To be clear, this is not just a polemic against cocktail hour.
It’s bigger than that, deeper than that.

Think about it:
what happens when you get drunk?
You don’t see things as they are.
You become disconnected.
You become careless and unthinking.
You medicate yourself against reality
rather than dealing with it head-on.

So when the writer of Ephesians says
don’t be foolish like a drunkard
but know the will of God,
it’s akin to when Jesus says,
“be wise as serpents
and innocent as doves.” [5]

In other words,
Sin is real and the world is full of pain,
but your response cannot be
to bury your head in the sand.

I hesitate to even bring up
the scandals that have come to light this week
in the life of the Catholic Church.

(To be absolutely clear,
that is not our denomination;
that is not our process;
and those are not our priests.)

But good Lord, y’all.
This is exactly what happens
when we are foolish,
when we are unwise,
when we bury our heads in the sand.

That which is most holy
becomes most evil,
and instead of building up the Body of Christ,
the Body of Christ is ripped asunder.

This is why, by the way,
everyone who serves
in elected lay leadership at this church
and everyone who volunteers
with children or youth at this church
must regularly take part
in our child abuse prevention training,
not because doing so magically changes predators into something else,
but because it creates an atmosphere of accountability
and gives us a clear list of norms and protocols to live within,
so that, at this church,
when you see something,
you say something.

Sin is real, and the world is full of pain.
Don’t be foolish.
Don’t put your head in the sand.
Participate with God in the building of his kingdom,
even when doing so is hard.

*     *     *

Number two: Worship.

During the Acolyte Festival last week,
I told the kids that worship is
THE most important thing we do
as human beings.

And this is what I tell
every new member of our parish:
we expect that as a member of this church,
you will be in corporate worship
every single week.

Going on vacation?
Great.
Find a church,
and go to worship.

Partied too hard at the tailgate?
Fine.
Get out of bed,
do your face,
and go to worship.

This is not a commercial
for getting rear-ends in pews.
This is a prescription for the truth,
because when you come to worship regularly,
God strips away the lies you’ve heard all week long
and forms you more and more
into his likeness.

When you come before this altar,
when you kneel before the Lord,
when you receive from him week after week,
you begin to see yourself and the world
as they truly are:
desperately tangled,
desperately messy,
desperately riddled with sin . . .
and yet so, so, so loved by God.

Here’s the hard truth:
in our society
you are on your own,
and everything is forced to look
like it’s either
100% perfect or
100% evil.

This is the only place
where you are afforded the grace to know
that neither of those things have to be true.

If you don’t know what I mean
by 100% perfect, 100% evil,
just look at social media.

On social media, we walk the line
between two horrendous fables:

On one side we’ve created the fable of the perfect life
where everyone in your family is all smiles,
where you curate albums and stories
of all your happiest moments,
all your greatest vacations,
all your most beautiful and unbridled successes.
Yet deep down inside,
you’re barely holding it together.

Just this week it was revealed
that a man charged with murdering
his pregnant wife and two young daughters
had recently declared bankruptcy,
though nobody knew it.

On social media,
their lives looked absolutely perfect,
but they were $70,000 in debt.
They owned a house they couldn’t afford.
Their checking account held only $864.
They had a whopping $9.51 in savings. [6]

Y’all, they aren’t the only ones.
There are many, many more of us
in that exact same situation.

Our society puts
such enormous pressure on all of us
to look happy,
to seem stable,
to portray success,
but at what cost?
This is the fable of perfection,
and it’s slowly killing us.

But on the flipside,
the reverse is at work
in our society, too:
the fable that
everything is rotten,
everything is evil.

Now, don’t get me wrong.
I’ve come to believe
that Sin is alive and well,
and there are definite problems in our world.

But those who would tell you
that everyone is your enemy,
that all of us are under siege,
that everything you hold dear
is on the brink of ruin and collapse . . .
well that, my friends, is a lie
straight from the devil.

Evil’s favorite tactic is suspicion,
because when it comes to suspicion,
it doesn’t matter whether something is true or not.
If you suspect something is true—
if you suspect the world is out to get you—
then you’ll act as though it is.

But when you come to worship—
when you come to kneel before the Lord
and receive what he has to give you
week after week
with no strings attached—
both of these fables,
both of these lies
are finally laid to rest.

When you are here,
you are never as perfect
as you want the world to think you are,
and the world is never as awful
as you’re afraid it might be.

Here, the love of God
is the only thing that matters.

That is the whole truth of it,
and you’re not going to hear that
anywhere else.

*     *     *

And finally, number three: Give thanks.

The writer of Ephesians says
to give “thanks to God the Father at all times
for everything in the name
of our Lord Jesus Christ.” [7]

The Message puts it much more joyfully:
“Sing praises over everything,
any excuse for a song to God the Father!”

You’ve heard me speak many times
on the importance of making sure
we give thanks in all things,
so I won’t belabor the point.

I will simply say once again
that I’m amazed by how gratitude—
even when it is forced—
can shift the attention,
can change the meeting,
can form us into more loving, open people.

*     *     *

Maybe the end is near,
maybe it’s not.
Who knows?

But as I say every week
at the end of the service,
life is short,
and we have little time.

So keep your head on straight
and see the world as God sees it:
desperately lost,
yet capable of so much love.

Come to worship
and see yourself as God sees you:
imperfect and flawed,
yet loved beyond measure, no strings attached.

Give thanks continually
and see God as God truly is:
generous and loving,
providing more than you can ask or imagine.

And finally, in everything you do,
ask yourself this question:
“Is the thing I’m about to say or do
a waste of the time I’ve been given,
or does it bring glory to the living God?”

My guess?
You’ll know the answer
before you’ve even finished the question.

Do    not    waste    your    time
on anything that doesn’t truly matter,
for to quote an old, crusty seminary professor . . .

“We don’t have time for that $#!+.”

Amen.

 

 

 

[1] Stop clutching your pearls. I didn’t say the actual word in the pulpit.

[2] This is my best recollection of the spirit of something said fifteen years ago in a room where I was not actually present. Who knows? Maybe I heard it all wrong and have remembered it all wrong, too. Still, you get the point.

[3] Ephesians 5:15-16, NRSV

[4] Ephesians 5:17

[5] Matthew 10:16

[6] https://www.cnn.com/2018/08/18/us/colorado-watts-family-financial-struggles/index.html

[7] Ephesians 5:20, NRSV