“What Time Is Is?”
“What Time Is It?”
Dr. Bobby Hulme-Lippert
January 2, 2022
When I was first learning the trumpet in the 5th grade it really did not take too long for me to be able to play a few notes. In fact, it was not long before I could play all the notes that make for Hot Cross Buns and soon after that Home on the Range and O Come All Ye Faithful.
I would get to my middle school band class ready to play these songs with the whole band. And I immediately encountered two problems that were not issues when I was practicing alone.
One would happen in those times in the songs where there was a measure or more where you just hold the same note for four whole counts. Well that’s not exciting – I wanted to keep moving to the other notes that I knew how to play.
So I would count about three beats and start moving into the next measure playing beautifully these notes I had learned.
“Stop,” I can still remember the band director cutting in time and again. “Some of you are racing ahead. Don’t cheat the whole note. Four whole beats…”
The other issue happened when I played a really fun measure well.
Maybe it was a measure of or two of lots of notes, moving really fast, and after a week of practice, I arrived to band class and focus all my energy on getting each not just right…and I lost track of everything else going on…and I fell behind.
What I quickly discovered is that it is actually far easier to play right notes; far harder to play them at the right pace, at the right time.
Ecclesiastes declares that there is “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” or as the Message translates, “There’s an opportune time to do things, a right time for everything on the earth.”
Lots and lots of notes to be played…but for every note there is a right time that is not too fast and too slow.
The sense of the Scripture from verse 2-8 where it talks about a time for this and a time that is not suggesting that what we need to do is simply decide what time it is. “I think it’s time to play a C note.”
No, the Scripture assumes there is a score and just as there is a summer, fall, winter, and spring… so too there are seasons, times when it opportune and right to do certain things or refrain from certain things.
Spring calls forth certain tending of the land that differs from the winter, for instance. Which is to say…we do not decide the times so much as we discern them – and play accordingly.
The ever-pressing question then is: “What time is it?”
Life and death are the parameters in which we ask this question and so verse 2 offers the frame that we do not choose (a time to be born, and a time to die) – and in which the rest is discerned.
Is it a time to plant – or uproot?
Soil healthy and time to put down roots? …Or tear up the ground – maybe move?
And Scripture is clear – both options are good, faithful notes: we are supposed to sew good seeds faithfully through prayer and encouragement and we are supposed to boldly walk by faith and like Sarah and Abram, uproot, and leave the familiar for the way of God…ah, but which right note to play this time?
We can continue down the list.
Is it a time to…
Embrace or refrain?
A statement that can refer to both sexual intercourse and more generally reconciliation. Is it a time for a new relationship? For marriage? For children…or not?
Is it a time for reconciliation in our lives? Or are wounds so deep in certain situations that this is a season to refrain – let the relationship lie fallow and breath before it is time to seek embrace?
Different right notes…but, what time is it today?
Seek or lose?
Is it time to seek after the estranged family member? Or let go? Seek next opportunity or chapter? Or lose that thought and double down on the current note?
What irony that we have at our fingertips the precise, satellite-controlled time and up-to-the-minute weather apps – like never before we know the time, we know the moment; and yet still we find ourselves slower to speak with certainty when we consider what time it is for our lives, our families, our church- and perhaps all-the-more-so with these two last years teaching us how little we can predict about what may unfold.
Andy yet, truth be told – it has always been that way.
Verse 11:”God has made everything suitable for its time (I agree, all things have their best, opportune time)…yet (we) cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.”
Or as the Message translates, “but God’s left us in the dark, so we can never know what God is up to, whether he’s coming or going…”
Talk about frustrating…
We have this sense that there is a right time to play certain notes so that the music lights up into a symphony of brilliance… ah, but we have no idea how to tell what time it is.
Unless…as with any orchestra, band, choir…unless you look unto the director again.
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
“The time is fulfilled; the time is come. The time is now. You have been debating what time it is for this or that – are we too fast or too slow…should we do this or that…
Our eyes look upon the Director and he declares all of time is somehow fulfilled in himself. To look upon him is to be in time. On time. Notes. Rhythm. Pace. Pianissimo or Forte. All of it.
And isn’t it interesting, then, that Jesus does go on to say, “So here are the precise notes you should play as you look upon me at this moment.”
Rather, he simply says “repent and believe in the gospel.” Repent – literally, turn your body around. Make the motion of changing, and trust in my way. My hope.”
It is as the 20th century theologian Paul Riceour once observed in his book called Time and Narrative, “speculative on time is an inconclusive rumination to which narrative activity alone can respond.” Trying to figure out the ‘times ’is an ‘inconclusive rumination – ’sounds like Ecclesiastes.
And the only response is “narrative activity” by which he means taking a concrete step of faith in following Jesus and in moving the story of our lives in God along…we discover with more and more clarity the time in which we are living and to which we are called to respond.
Which is to say – we are never given 20/20 vision. Goodness, Paul says at best we see through a glass darkly.
What are given is Jesus…and we are called to step by faith. Move in faith. Narrative forward in faith.
What does it looks like this day for our eyes to be set upon Jesus once again at the outset of 2022 amid a raging pandemic and everything else?
And what it does look like to take a real-time next step of faith?
Repenting, turn, shifting the body quite literally – because we recognize that our discernment of the times unfolds in correlation to our obedient movement. Narrative acuity in the way of Jesus is the only way to tell time.
Or more succinctly – you want to know what time it is? Hear Jesus calling and step forward in faith.
Are not the soon-to-be installed and ordained officers and commissioned trustee doing just that today? There is a reason we call them forward to pray over them. We want them to feel I their very bodies the sense of motion that will be critical to all they do these next three years.
This church is in a season where we have been asking a lot about what time it is. We step into this new year sensing an energy and expectancy and also uncertainty about all
the precise ways God is leading and moving even as we are certain God is doing just that.
And then of course all of that surrounded by the questions about what ‘time ’it is in our lives, in the life of this church, our city, our nation, this pandemic…
And amid our searching comes the voice of Jesus:
“Keep your eyes on me.”
Let us look upon the one the One who created the gift of time – the One in whom the fullness of time is known…and step – the next step of faith however big or small. One way or another live the narrative.
And trust… trust that the grace of Jesus is sufficient to take the cacophony of a 5th grade band and make it play with beauty and life. His grace is in fact more than sufficient to cover our frailties and enable us to play forth faithfully at just the right time, in just the right way. Thanks be to God. Amen.