Longing for Leap Day

Longing for Leap Day
Rev. Douglas Taylor
February 28, 2016

What if Leap Day really were a free day on the calendar? What might it be like to wake up tomorrow, February 29th, to discover it wasn’t Monday? If it were instead an extra day spring up between Sunday and Monday that doesn’t exist except once every four years as an extra day? That it was a completely unscheduled and unencumbered day. A free 24-hours. What would you do? What do you want to be doing in life that you might do with even a small corner of time unexpected?

There is a one-panel cartoon showing God reviewing the slips of paper from the Suggestions box in heaven. “Let see, ‘Needed, more time.’ ‘Not enough hours in the day.’ ‘Could have used more time.’ ‘Not enough time for everything.’ Sheesh, I know what I’ll do different next time.”

This is similar to the “What if you won the lottery?” question, except with the original version, winning the lottery – though unlikely – is possible. Either way it comes down to a question of desires and priorities. What do you want?

The monthly worship theme through Soul Matters in February has been Desire – How are we a people of Desire? ‘What do you want?’ is a simplified version of the question. William Penn wrote, “Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.”

So, what would you do with your time? Tomorrow morning you wake up and find it is true, you really have the whole day to do what you want. No work, no appointments, no classes, no obligations. What would you do? Go to a show, order in Thai food, visit a museum with a friend, eat ice cream, read a book, go to the gym, snuggle with a loved one, go ice skating? I fear I might just fritter the time away playing computer games and taking a nap.

I also think I might not be the only one who would do that. But maybe rest and relaxation have become a scare priority in an otherwise busy and unbalanced life. Perhaps play is the important thing that does not currently fit in your life. Ponder this for a moment. What do you think you would do, and why?

Time is the ultimate limited commodity. Time is what no one seems to have enough of. Yet all have exactly the same amount of time each day, and we will never have more time hours or an extra day. All the best Time Management techniques are not really about managing time, they’re about managing priorities. The reality is we each have just these 24 hours, this handful of moments; we have ‘right now’. Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us “The present moment is the only moment available to us, and it is the door to all moments.”

So to ask about time is really to ask about priorities and to ask ‘what is important to you.’ And to circle back to the parallel question about winning the lottery, to ask about money is also simply a question of what is important. “Look well, therefore to this day.”

Of course, this sermon is serving as the opening of our annual Stewardship drive. Have you ever heard the concept of tithing applied to your time? What percentage of your time do you give to the various demands and passions of your life? When we talk about pledging now we don’t talk as much about dollars so much as percentage. People give 2% or 5%, or are working to get up to 1%. How would that look for time?

A forty hour work week is nearly 25% of the 168 hours in a week. You could make a case for not including the hours when you sleep in your total. That would be akin to the difference between gross income and net income, I guess. For the sake of argument, let us stick with the 168 hours. A tithe of time would be a little over 16 hours which is a lot, it’s unrealistic. But 1% of your time in weekly terms is about an hour and a half. That covers the worship service and part of the coffee hour each week. How much time do you spend here?

This circles back to the question of what would you want to do with your time because this congregation, like all congregations, is a voluntary association. People choose to associate with this community of their own free will. We run by congregational polity and the democratic process. The people who have chosen to join this congregation are the people who create this congregation – create it anew each day.

Much of what goes on around here happens because someone among us makes it happen. The more we put into it the more we have to work with. The more you give, the more you will receive. But I think the giving and the receiving is so mixed together it might be more accurate to think of it as sharing.

In many ways when we talk about stewardship as Time, Talent, and Treasure, the underlying hint is easily heard that the last “t” is the key. Treasure is what this is all about. We want to fund a good budget so the congregation can continue to thrive. While that is important, let the lightning strike me because I am going to say that is just not true. The three go together and if we are going to put one of them above any of the others it has to be Time.

Showing up, breaking bread together, welcoming others, listening and speaking together – these are the pieces that make the community. There is a lot going on around here that is not about the money or someone’s expertise. It is about the people showing up. What do you do with your time? And what does that say about what we hold to be important?

My point here is not far from Wendell Berry’s point in the reading we had this morning about the two mind sets. I initially discarded Wendell Berry’s reading about Exploiters and Nurturers when Bill Thorpe (today’s Worship Associate) brought it to our planning session for this service. I didn’t like the dichotomy. But I liked the point Berry was making.

If I could rewrite it I would cast the language as Exploiting and Nurturing; my argument is not with the premise of the dichotomy so much as the way it seems to cast people in unchangeable roles. ‘There are exploiters and there are nurturers and never the twain shall meet;’ and I don’t agree with that sentiment. I long to behave in nurturing ways as described in Berry’s reading but I have at times acted in exploitive ways by Berry’s definitions.

Exploiters are specialists and their standard is efficiency; I have called on specialists and I value efficiency in myself and others. These are not bad qualities, not necessarily ‘exploitive’ qualities. Exploiters, Berry tells us, serve institutions and organizations; they focus on quantities and ‘hard facts.’ I am too much of a pragmatist to think we could run our lives, or this congregation, or even our country without the disciplines and values labeled as Exploitative by Wendell Berry. Perhaps my argument is mostly with his word choice.

But when I listen generously to his perspective – I think he is saying that if we only focus on efficiency and facts, organizations and specialists, then we miss the point of it all.

He says “The exploiter is a specialist, an expert; the nurturer is not.” I would rather say, the specialists and experts in our world are paid better and valued more than the generalist but it shouldn’t be like that. The specialists should serve to support the generalists. Efficiency should serve to support care, money and profit should be in the service of health.

Wendell Berry casts the dichotomy as “one mindset is bad and the other is good.” I cast it as “both mindsets are valuable, but nurturing is the priority.”

In many ways, when I read through that reading a third time in preparing for this service, I saw Wendell Berry was lifting up people and time as the important values, rather than things and results. And saying it like that recalls to mind the words of Dr. King’s speech “Beyond Vietnam” when he said: “We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society.”

There is so much in the world around us and in our lives that is messed up and troubled. Racism, greed, hunger, police brutality, militarism, and extreme materialism. We in this congregation are doing our part – not only to set up a sanctuary of grace and people-oriented values, but also to extend out into the world around us a compassionate and human touch. We are working to nurture the world around us and nourish each soul within our community. And the greatest resource we have is that of time. It is the time we share with each other to listen and care for and help heal one another – that is what the world needs.

This month while the members and friends of this congregation fill in the annual 2016-2017 financial pledge, we can all consider how we are using our time. Please take time for the ice cream and the hike in the woods, the opera and the family movie night, your Small Group Ministry or choir practice or whatever other activity you do that gives you rest and personal nourishment.

But notice also the time you share to serve needs greater than your own. Notice and honor the time you share in support of this congregation or out beyond these walls helping to heal the world. What do you want to do? With whom do you want to spend your time? What do you long for?

Good people, I want you to know that the gifts of time, talent, and treasure you share here are appreciated and are used to create a particular kind of religious community. Thank you for the promise you make to use your resources in this way. Thank you for helping to create a community that is open and welcoming to the seekers and the skeptics, the deeply committed and the occasionally curious, the activists and the agnostics in need of a spiritual home. Thank you. The world needs faith communities such as ours. Thank you.

In a world without end,
May it be so.