As we approach the holidays, it is inevitable that the shopping calendar takes over. There is something ominous about the countdown to Christmas, where we are constantly reminded of how little time we have left to complete our necessary purchases. Knowing that we only have a certain amount of time brings a sense of urgency to what otherwise would be ordinary days (BTW, you have 40 shopping days left).
The shopping days countdown inspired me to wonder what it would be like to know how many days each of us had left to walk the earth. The most recent data suggests that the average life span for an American citizen is a little over seventy-eight years, 78.54 years to be exact. Women still live longer than men, and obviously that is an average, but for our purposes, let’s say most of us get seventy-eight years and some change to walk this earth. That’s around 28,647 days standing in line, waiting in traffic, wondering why this line is called the express line, as well as how many more times I’ve got to listen to “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” You know those experiences that bring us all fulfillment and joy.
There is even a website (convertunits.com/dates) that will let you put in two dates and it will give you the range between them so that you can see how much of your allotment you’ve already spent. It’s rather sobering. What if we all woke up every morning and we could see how many days we had left? What if, above the mirror in your bathroom, there was a big digital countdown, letting you know how many days you had to work with?
As we consider the question, “what if we woke up in the morning and knew exactly how many days we had left to live?”, this story of Mike’s last days on the earth give us pause. It makes us wonder how we would spend our last twenty days or seven weeks or three years or whatever amount of time we had left. I have a sneaky suspicion that we would all hope to live out our last few days as people who shine our faith out into the world right up to our last moment. Like Pastor Mike, we too would want to love others well, to make a positive impact upon those in our world, and to let others know that Jesus loves them dearly.
Loving others, being a humble servant, seeking to make a positive impact on our world – these are all things that Jesus and others modeled throughout the Scriptures. Jesus calls each of us to live out our faith in the world. In the parable from this morning’s lesson, we see that the Lord has given us something to invest. It might be easy to slough off the idea that God has given us anything to invest for the sake of the kingdom. The “aw-shucks” persona might look good to the rest of us, but God is not buying it. Although the word “talent” in biblical times definitely meant a unit of money, today we must push the interpretation of “talents” beyond pecuniary considerations.
If we are followers of Jesus, if we are vessels of the Holy Spirit of God, we have some form of investment currency — given by God — to trade, buy, barter, enhance, use, grow, develop and increase for the glory of God. We have been given some “talents” to play with. And, remember that the master of the story didn’t give his financial advisors the same amounts of cash. He distributed his portfolio on his assessment of their abilities. And so it is with us. We will not all be given the same amount, the same blessings, the same skills, the same strengths, the same brain power, the same social skills. But, we have something, and that’s what matters.
Furthermore, this story makes clear that the client expects a healthy return. He fully expects that on his return he will discover that his three investors have made him a pile of cash, and, of course, he intends to reward them appropriately. We cannot fall into the error of thinking that God is not interested in how we are spending the blessings given to us. It is disappointing when talent, blessings, brains and resources are squandered and under-utilized. God expects a return.
Often, we forget that our purpose on earth is not just to take up space, or fill our barns with grain or line our pockets with cash for our own use and personal glory (see the parable of the rich fool, Luke 12:16-21). Rather, the Bible says that we should: Take time to worship with others (Colossians 3:15; Hebrews 10:24-25; Acts 2:42; Ephesians 5:19); Love our neighbors (in other words, to invest in people; Matthew 22:36-40); Focus on our spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12); Be kind and helpful (Galatians 6:1-16, et al.); Demonstrate hospitality (Hebrews 13:2). We must live out this life of faith.
Paul writes of living this life of faith in 1st Thessalonians 5. There are echoes of last week’s message in these words as well. In verses one and two Paul writes that they know very well that Christ could come at any moment, comparing this again to His coming like a “thief in the night”. This reinforces the idea that because the day is unknown we must make each day count. Paul reminds them and us that we are “not people of darkness” but that we are all “children of light and children of the day”. Paul goes on in verse six to encourage us to “be alert and self-controlled” as we live out our days.
In verse eight, Paul speaks of how we are to live alert and self-controlled lives as a child of the light. He writes, “since we belong to the day… let us put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet, the hope of salvation”. When we begin our day by covering our hearts in faith and love, then all we do and say will reflect the light of Christ to those we encounter, especially those living in the darkness. When we begin our day with prayer, asking God to cover all we say and do and think with faith and love, then we will surely walk as children of the light. The breastplate also protects our hearts from the evils of the world, guarding us from the slings of the evil one. This is a protection I dearly need each day and I assume you do as well. And on top of our head, Paul invites us to put on the hope of salvation. It is when the hope of salvation is right on the top of our minds, then we live each day with a quiet assurance of God’s presence with us in the daily living of our lives as well as in the promise of life eternal.
When we live with faith, love, and the hope of salvation at our core, we indeed live and love well. May we each pray faithfully that these three – faith, hope, and love – cover us daily. The walk is not always easy and the road is long, so we need to seek God and His presence often and sincerely.
Returning to our Psalm for today, it speaks of our span of life, this long road that we walk, numbering our years at seventy or perhaps eighty years, if we are strong. The Psalm itself is rather melancholy and somber, saying, “our days come to an end like a sigh” and “their span is only toil and trouble”. It also speaks of God’s anger and wrath that come as a response to our sins and transgressions. The psalmist tells us that it is an anger that is as great “as the fear that is due” God. The solemn mood of the Psalm reflects the thinking and the theology of the day. The Psalm was most likely written prior to the development of the Jewish theology that came to believe in a bodily resurrection. It was written within the understanding that death is the end. From the Psalm’s perspective, life here on earth is but a small blip on the big radar screen of life. The Psalm is not written from the perspective that we have today – with the hope and promise of eternal life that we cling to as Christians who grieve with hope during our times of trial and loss.
The Psalm concludes with these words: “So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart”. We seek to gain a wise heart so that we can live into the deeper truth that we are each precious to God. We are not an insignificant blip on the radar. We each are invaluable to God. And we have been blessed to be a blessing. We can hone our skills, put our resources to good use, and see every day as an opportunity to serve the Lord. Or, we can live for ourselves. We can put all the blessings that God has given us on a shelf as being not relevant for our own purposes. We can refuse to risk kindness, hospitality and loving others and instead let it be all about ourselves.
We can live in a theocentric world, or an egocentric one. We can display God’s investment, or we can bury it in a hole. We can risk or we can run. When we count our days, when we live them as if each were valuable and special, then we are living into the correct answer to the question, “How many shopping days left”?
For the correct answer is that it should not matter. We should live each day like it does not matter how many days we have left. If tomorrow were my last day, I should live it just like I lived today; because I invested this day to the fullest for God. Knowing our final day should not change how we live each and every day of our life. We should count each of our days as if that day, those people we meet, what we say and do, were counted as if it were it were the only day we had to live.
Part of considering how we live out our days brings to mind thoughts of our bodily limits, of our human frailty, of the tenuous nature of life. It is precisely our fragility that makes our living so precious. It is the ticking countdown clock that makes each moment matter. We can take no day for granted. Each is precious. Each is important. When we live as if we will never die, we tend to waste the life we have. We worry about things that don’t really matter, we fret over things that are not in our control, and we become consumed by stuff that is not eternal.
But when we remember that our place in this universe is not a status we’ve earned, but a gift graciously given, we will focus not on the temporal things of this earth but on the eternal things like love and hope and forgiveness. Then, we value each day and hour and moment as a sacred gift from our Creator. We live and love well as our grateful response to the wonderful gift of life from God.