Rest Stop — Rev. Louis Timberlake

Rest Stop
Becoming: The Path From Here to There
October 18, 2015
Rev. Louis Timberlake
Hebrews 5:1-10

For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people. And no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.  So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”; as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.”

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek

Growing up, I was never very good with time management. Now, I know most kids aren’t good with time management, but I was really bad, particularly when it came to school. I mean, I was an expert level procrastinator. The problem was, I got away with it most of the time, even in college. I remember my freshman year, I took a class that required a big term paper. It was one that you were supposed to work on throughout the semester, but of course I didn’t do that. So, I found myself the night before, having done next to nothing on that paper. It was around 3am before I actually got stressed enough to force myself to sit down and write the paper, so I ended up writing the rest of the night and on into the next day. We were supposed to turn in a hard copy and the professor had made it clear that being even one minute late would result in a penalty. I printed the paper literally five minutes before it was due and had to sprint from my dorm, across campus, to the academic building, and up three flights of stairs to his office. I was breathing so hard I couldn’t talk, but I put the paper in his hand right as time was up. And he looked at me and made some snarky comment about me needing to exercise more.

In all honesty, it wasn’t until I hit graduate school and was balancing that along with marriage and a job that I was forced to learn how to manage my time well. The responsibility list got long enough that I didn’t have any time to waste. And now, with parenthood, Kate and I are learning an entirely new approach to time. Her entire life, Kate has been the type of person that gets places ten minutes early. Then, she married someone who tends to arrive places ten minutes late. She had just about gotten me to the point where I was consistently on time to things, until Felder came along. Now we’re on baby time.

I read a fascinating article this past week about the different relationships with time across cultures.[1] If you’ve ever traveled other places in the world, you may have noticed a completely different approach to time. For example, in most of US culture and in places like Germany and the UK, we have a very linear, segmented approach to time. Time, for many of us, is scheduled in chunks based a series of tasks or commitments. And, when time isn’t accounted for, often we feel that it’s being wasted. We operate with this sense that time is a commodity that we manage.

In certain other cultures, like Spain and Italy, time is more fluid. If you plan to have a meeting with someone, the meeting itself is what is important, not the allotted time. It simply takes the time that it takes to complete something and schedules flex accordingly. To those of us that rely heavily on a carefully managed calendar, this is a foreign concept.

In still other cultures, particularly some Asian cultures, time is understood as cyclical. It is not a commodity that is disappearing as we speak. Everything comes back around, so we must take the time to make wise decisions. People may circle around a set of tasks for a while before ever committing to anything, at which point some might be deemed unimportant and simply dropped, while new things might emerge as the most important.

Our relationship with time shapes our lives. What is your relationship with time?

Abraham Heschel was one of the most prominent Jewish theologians of the past century. He wrote a profound book, The Sabbath, in which he talks about our relationship with time. He says that our society pressures us to anchor our lives in the world of space, the material world. But, he says, “Time is the heart of existence.” When our lives become about control and gain in the world of space, of things, then we miss something. He says, “To gain control of the world of space is certainly one of our tasks. The danger begins when in gaining power in the realm of space we forfeit all aspirations in the realm of time.” That’s powerful. What happens when our aspirations in the material world become more important that our aspirations in the world of time? What happens when the desire to gain in the material world dictates the rhythms of our lives?

There is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord.”[2]

What is your relationship with time? How does your schedule reflect the shape of your life? What are the rhythms that form you?

Now, at this point, most of you are thinking, what in the world does this have to do with that passage from Hebrews? So, let’s spend some time on that.

If you were here a couple of weeks ago, you may remember that we read from Chapter 2 of Hebrews, which emphasizes how important it is that Jesus is fully human, in addition to being fully divine. It is important because, by fully embracing humanity, by becoming like us, Jesus sets the beginning of that path towards salvation at our feet. We can walk that path because he walked it, as one of us.

This passage is emphasizing the same thing. In order for Jesus to bridge the gap between us and God, Jesus has to be both fully human and fully divine. That’s why the author of Hebrews talks about Jesus as the high priest. This book is called the Letter to the Hebrews. One of its primary goals is to show how Jesus fits into the Jewish tradition. The author wants to connect all of the dots.

In the Jewish tradition, the high priest is exactly what it says in verse one—A human, chosen by God, to manage the relationship between humanity and God. The priesthood was the way the people related to God. So, by claiming that Jesus is the high priest, the author is saying that Jesus is the means by which we relate to God. And, in order to fill that role, Jesus must not only be the Son of God, but fully human. Jesus cannot stand in that gap without being both God and human.

But, Jesus is different than the high priests of Israel. And that’s actually the core message of this passage. Jesus is different than all the other high priests that have come before. He’s different not just because he is the Son of God. He is different because, while he is fully human, like the other high priests—unlike the other high priests, he is completely faithful to God. So, in Jesus, we get a clear example of what it looks like for a person to be faithful to God. We get a clear example of what it looks like to be the people we were created to be. We get a sense of the intended rhythm for our lives.

Listen to the words the author uses to describe Jesus’ faithfulness.

“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.”

He prays, he submits out of reverence, and he learns obedience. Those are the rhythms that shape his life.

Earlier in the service, we watched a video of a prayer from St Francis of Assisi. St Francis is known, among many things, for founding the Franciscan monastic order. If there is anywhere that we can learn what it looks like to have a faithful rhythm of living, it is from our brothers and sisters in the monastic tradition.

When you commit to be a part of a monastic order, you commit to follow a certain rhythm of life, modeled after Jesus. Some people do this within a residential monastic community; others live out that rhythm in their daily lives in the midst of relationships, families, and careers. But, whether you’re living in a monastery or the suburbs, you commit to a daily rhythm of certain practices—like prayer, contemplation, reading scripture, work, and sleep.

It’s an act of submission, recognizing that we often do not practice the healthiest rhythms in our lives.  Our rhythms wear on us, they wear on others, and they wear on our relationship with God. So, not only are they unhealthy, but they become unfaithful. They are harmful to our relationship with God and our relationships with each other.

So, if we’re going to live in ways that are both faithful and healthy, then we have to submit to a different rhythm of life. The Christian life is about submitting to a different rhythm of life. Obedience is about letting God shape the rhythms of our lives.

Tim Elmore tells a story about a two lumberjacks that had a contest to see who could cut down the most trees in one day. At daybreak, the first one went to work, furiously chopping down trees. He worked up a sweat quickly and, by noon, had cut down sixteen trees. The other lumberjack had only cut down four, because he took the first two hours to sharpen his axe. As he sharpened, the one who was cutting at an incredibly fast rate was laughing at him, knowing that there was no way he could waste so much time a still win.

But, by early afternoon, the first lumberjack started to slow down. It took him an hour to cut down a single tree. But the other one was picking up speed. His razor sharp axe made it much easier for him to chop the trees. By late afternoon, the second lumberjack has passed the first one and easily won the contest.

Are you like the first lumberjack or the second? What are the rhythms that shape your life? If you had to answer that question to someone, right now, what would you say? I’d actually encourage you to do that today, maybe at lunch or on the way home. What are the rhythms that shape your life? Are they healthy rhythms? Are they faithful rhythms? Or are they harmful rhythms?

A healthy, faithful rhythm is one that prioritizes our relationships with God and with each other. A healthy rhythm doesn’t just make time for God, it prioritizes it. It doesn’t just make time for others, it prioritizes it. What would it look like if our rhythms started with prioritizing our relationship with God and our relationships with others? How would our lives be different? How would our world be different?

You know, what we do here on Sunday mornings is supposed to be practice for the rest of the week. We gather to be with each other and to prioritize our relationship with God. Worship is about setting a rhythm at the beginning of the week that will sustain and shape us through the rest of the week. It’s submission to something beyond ourselves, knowing that, when left to our own devices, we don’t always practice the most healthy and faithful rhythms.

And so, as we continue to worship this morning, consider what it would look like for what we do here to shape the rest of the week. For prayer and contemplation to become a daily habit. For time with others to become a regular practice. Ultimately, God invites us into a way of living that is far more than series of tasks on a calendar. God invites us into lives of fullness, where our rhythms match God’s rhythm. Where that which is most important comes first. So, may we pursue rhythms in life that are both healthy and faithful.

Discussion Questions

  • What is your relationship with time? Do you relate more with one of the cultural approaches mentioned in the sermon?
  • How would describe the rhythm of your life? How would you evaluate it? 
  • What determines the rhythm of your life? 
  • What does a healthy and faithful rhythm look like? 
  • What steps can we take to pursue rhythms that are more healthy and faithful?

[1] http://www.businessinsider.com/how-different-cultures-understand-time-2014-5

[2] Abraham Heschel, “Prologue,” The Sabbath.