Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor

Morgan Park

 Baptist Church

11024 S. Bell Avenue 

Chicago, IL 60643


Reflection September 1, 2019

"A Time For Peace" - by Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth

     This past Sunday (August 25), our friend, Vinal Van Benthem, brought to us her important message: “Praying in Our Native Language.” She talked about how we “swim” in the ocean of God like fish in the sea. I’d like to add some further reflections in this week’s Advance.

     We know that God lives outside of time yet God also resides in every moment. We, humans, are called to live in time but likewise beyond time. As the great 19th Century Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard phrased it: “(The human person) is a synthesis of the infinite and the finite, the temporal and the eternal.”

     In other words, we humans were created to bridge the gap between the finite and the infinite, the temporal and the eternal. And as the author of the Book of Ecclesiastes phrased it: “For everything there is a season.”

     Those of a certain age will remember the 1965 #1 hit song, “Turn, Turn, Turn” based on that passage from Ecclesiastes. I was in the first semester of my freshman year at Quincy University when the folk rock group, The Byrds, had their hit covering this Pete Seeger song.

     I was amazed to hear a rock song based on something from the Bible. “Turn, Turn, Turn” certainly holds the distinction of being the #1 song with the oldest lyrics! Pop Music had a profound influence on me during my college years.  

     We’d all do well on occasion to examine our relationship with time. As I plunge into elder-hood, I realize my time in getting shorter. I’ve told many about going to a dentist (not my regular dentist) and asking about replacing a tooth that had been recently extracted.

     He looked at me and said: “If you had a longer runway, maybe then you might do something about the missing tooth!” My “runway” is certainly shorter than it was when I was captivated by “Turn, Turn, Turn.” And I want to do as much as I can with whatever time I have left this side of the veil

     Many, myself sometimes included, feel that time is galloping along. There seems to be NO TIME to do what we want. Here’s a story I’ve shared previously from the philosopher Jacob Needleman’s book, Time and the Soul: “I am having dinner with a brilliant and devoted doctor. He is well known for having introduced revolutionary patient-care procedures in one of the country’s most prestigious medical centers.

     “When I remark about the success of his work and ask about its future, his dark eyes suddenly well up with tears … He puts down his cup and in an unsteady voice that is part desperation and part anger he says: ‘I have no time.’ I nod sympathetically.

     “But he goes on: ‘You don’t understand. I have no time! I am pathologically busy. It’s beyond anything I have ever imagined. I can’t give anything the attention it needs. I can’t do anything well. I wake up in the middle of the night on the verge of a breakdown.

     “And more and more people depend on me. More and more things, good things, important things, keep coming to me. Any one of them is worth the whole of my attention and needs my time. But ten, twenty of them? A hundred of them?

     “And it is the same with my staff. They are being driven past their limits’  My friend keeps talking … I cannot find a moment to break in and say, ‘Yes, I understand. It’s the same with me.’”

     While the example of this physician might be extreme, is it not the case that many of us are feeling starved for time? As Needleman notes: “Almost all of us are gasping for more time. We are starving (for more time.) All the devices … that our inventive culture offers only increase the yearning for time … Our cell phone, computers and fax machines and the countless other inventions that ‘save time’ only starve us more and more … We are paying for these things with our time.”

     If we want to live a meaningful life and not be constantly battling time, we need to develop a different perspective. One way to achieve this is to understand that everything in our cosmos, in our universe, is ultimately energy.

     We all learned in school, Albert Einstein’s famous formula: energy equals matter times the speed of light squared (E=mc²). What this really means is that everything we see and everything we are - all matter - has evolved from energy.

     When God initiated the Big Bang, only energy was produced at first. In a sense, matter evolved from that primordial energy as it slowed down and entered more fully into time. And even today, some 14 billion years later, matter is still evolving out of energy and yet all matter eventually returns to energy.          

     This is also the case with time. Time is an energy we can use in whatever way we wish. Prayer, as I preached recently, can well be understood as “wasting time with God.” This is a good way of using time. 

     Yet here are some ways, from Needleman, about how we squander the energy of time: “Some of us are almost always nursing some hurt or slight; others are continually angry or irritated, whether we express this anger or only live it in our thoughts; others fall from one occasion for self-pity to another, others are constantly guilty about things big and small, from their family relationships or humankind or the earth itself to their cat or dog or even a plant that needs watering.” (Needleman)

     We waste the precious and divine gift of time when we squander it foolishly, when we allow our thoughts and our mind to focus on hurts and the worries of the world. Did not Jesus teach us: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” (Mt 6:25 – 28)

     I believe Jesus is teaching us to pay attention to what is before us. When we pay attention, we’ll find we have all the time we need. When we pay attention to what is before us, we stop wasting time with worry and regrets and a hundred other emotional hijackings. This is how we liberate ourselves from the plague of feeling rushed.

     I believe if we’re patient with time, time will be patient with us. I hope to use some of the time I have left to seek more peace within myself and within our community.

     I believe the upcoming series of sermons on Senator Ben Sasse’s recent book, Them: Why We Hate Each Other and How to Heal, will point the way. I’ll write more about this new series of sermons in next week’s Advance.   

     I hope to further our church’s outreach into our community in the months ahead, as we discover new ways of being church now that we no longer need to worry about maintaining our aging church buildings. Bringing about peace in some small ways might be a great outreach ministry for all of us at our beloved church. 

     When I look at “For everything there is a season” passage from Ecclesiastes (Chapter 3), I see so many very different “seasons.“ But the one “season” I most resonate with is the final one: “a time for peace.”

     What makes peace so hard for us humans? Why do we, humans, constantly choose war rather than peace? Why do we, humans, have such a terrible and terrifying love of war? In the past century alone, an estimated 210 million people died because of war. What is it about our human species that makes us so prone to kill our own kind?

     How is it possible that many people believe they’re doing the work of God when they become suicide bombers? Terrorism is truly a blasphemy against God!

     Why have we, Christians, failed to take seriously the truth that we are disciples of the Prince of Peace? There’s a very dangerous love of war and death woven into many visions of the Apocalypse and Armageddon .

     Why do we, Christians, hate each other so easily? There is much in the history of our Christianity that must bring the Prince of Peace to tears again and again. 

     Either we’re disciples of the Prince of Peace or we’re not. If we are, then we must give up any love of war residing in our hearts and souls. We must treat everyone with kindness and compassion and love.

     Making peace requires time. The more we rush through our days, the more peace will elude us. The way too many of us drive leaves me baffled about the possibility of peace. As I tell my students at Moraine Community College: “If you’re the kind of person who rides the bumper of the car in front of you on the expressway: get therapy because you are unwell and a threat to us all!  

     “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” While many may well know these words from Ecclesiastes, we may not know what’s written a few lines later: “God has made everything beautiful for its own time. God has planted eternity in the human heart.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11; New Living Translation)

We have Eternity within us! So let us be at peace!

     I end with the well-known Peace Prayer attributed to Francis of Assisi: 

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love.

Where there is injury, pardon.

Where there is doubt, faith.

Where there is despair, hope.

Where there is darkness, light.

Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,

grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;

to be understood, as to understand;

to be loved, as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive.

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life. Amen!