Sunday, December 19, 2021

The forgotten man

 Matthew 1:18-25:

18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.  19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.  20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”  22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”   

He was a man faced with a detestable duty. He was a man of compassion, even tenderness. But he was also a man of honor, a man of a stern code. His obedience to the Law was unwavering. The moment he learned that his wife was pregnant he knew that it was the end of their betrothal, and potentially even the end of her life.

It was two millennia ago in the Roman-occupied land of Judea. Joseph’s wife, Mary, was going to have a baby and it was not his. Compassion, honor, and duty dueled within Joseph. He could not pretend there was no problem. She obviously had betrayed him. The whole town of Nazareth was watching.

It would have been easy for Joseph to put Mary through the spectacle of public divorce, which would have disgraced and humiliated Mary before the entire community. But Joseph was both righteous and compassionate, so he decided to send her away quietly.

It had to have been a tough decision. It wasn’t that Joseph was head over heels in love with Mary. In the arranged marriages of his day, it’s quite possible that Joseph did not even know Mary very well. Joseph’s conflict of conscience was likely not about what to do to one he loved, but over the ever-present tension of how to do what the Law required. 

To say that Joseph was a righteous man meant that he adhered to the Law. Righteousness and religious lawfulness were the same thing to Judean Jews. As a righteous man, Joseph knew he could not pretend Mary had not transgressed, and transgression it could only be since Mary was pregnant and Joseph knew he was not involved. As a righteous man, Joseph could not be blamed for choosing to have Mary disgraced before the community, for the Law did authorize at least that. Joseph’s crisis was that his righteousness impelled him to do the right thing by the Law, but he didn’t like it. Finally, Joseph decided Mary would have to pay the price for infidelity as the Law required, but on his terms. He would break his betrothal to Mary and send her away without fanfare, leaving her to fend for herself. Doubtless from Mary’s point of view that would have been unpleasant, but she would not be subjected to public humiliation. 

After Joseph had made up his mind, he dreamed of an angel. The angel filled Joseph in on the rest of the story that Mary’s unborn child was from the Holy Spirit. 

In Joseph’s dream the angel gave Joseph two instructions. First was to take Mary home as his wife and second to adopt Mary’s child as his own, giving him the name Jesus. 

Matthew uses the word “Jesus” eighty times. This name was a popular one in the first century. Paul mentions a man named Jesus as one who send greetings in his letter to the Colossians. A man named Jesus is included in Christ’s genealogy in Luke, although some Bible versions call this person Joshua or Jose. Even Barabbas’ first name was Jesus. The first-century Jewish historian Josephus names twenty different men he knew named Jesus. “Jesus,” as a name, was about as distinguished as, well, “Don” is today.

The Son of God receives an ordinary name, uniting him with the people of this world rather than separating him from them. In Hebrew the name is Yeshua, which means “God helps.” In Joseph’s day, when a Jewish man gave a name to the child born to his wife, he was announcing that the child was his own. Maybe Joseph’s and Mary’s families knew that Joseph was not the baby’s natural father, maybe they didn’t. It didn’t matter. When Joseph publicly named the baby Jesus, he was also giving to Jesus his own identity, his own lineage, and that settled that. Jesus then could truly be said to be of the line of David, because Joseph was of David’s line and Joseph announced  Jesus as his own son. “This child belongs to me, this child is my child,” is what Joseph proclaimed when he named the child Jesus. 

Joseph gets the short end of the Christmas stick. Mary gets a lot more play. Did you know that Joseph never speaks in the Gospels? Joseph hears, Joseph dreams, Joseph acts and Joseph obeys, but there is no record of even one syllable he uttered. Mary is the one with the speaking part. Mary is the one of whom Michelangelo carved the Pieta, one of the most beautiful statues ever made. Her role is the most sought after in Christmas pageants. 

Another pastor told me of one afternoon before the annual children’s Christmas program, when a mother phoned the church office to say that her son, who was to play the role of Joseph in the Christmas play, was sick and wouldn't be able to be there. “It's too late now to get another Joseph,” the director of the play said. “We'll just have to write him out of the script.” And they did, and few of those who watched that night realized that the cast was incomplete. Joseph is so easy to overlook and leave out.

In 1993, my wife Cathy played Mary in the Christmas pageant at our church in Virginia. They asked her to play Mary because they wanted an actress who was gracious and beautiful and devout. Also, because they needed a woman with a newborn infant, our two-month-old daughter, Elizabeth, to play the baby Jesus. Elizabeth and Cathy, Jesus and Mary, were a package deal, couldn’t get one without the other. But any guy off the street could have played Joseph. In fact, the associate pastor asked me, “Did you want to play Joseph, or should we get a man from the choir to play him?” I said I would but talk about feeling like a fifth wheel … .

Which made me think: We should ponder theologically where Joseph fits in with God’s redemption of humankind. Joseph’s adoption of Jesus is not insignificant. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, Paul says that through Jesus Christ we are adopted as children of God. It is a common and emphatic theme with Paul. Paul calls followers of Christ sons of God and children of God, and let’s be fair, if Paul were alive today, he would say daughters of God, too.

Before God adopted us as children of God in the family of Christ, God sent his son to be adopted by Joseph into the family of humankind. Jesus really is Immanuel, God with us. We really are brothers and sisters with Christ and through Christ with one another. Joseph affirmed on behalf of all humanity that God belongs with us. 

What if Joseph had said no to the angel and had sent Mary away anyway? Can we imagine Jesus growing up in the home of an unwed, single mother in first-century Judea? Would Jesus have ever known God as his heavenly Father if Joseph had never taken on the role of Jesus’ earthly father? It took courage for Joseph to claim Jesus as his own. His example calls for us to muster the courage to make Jesus our own as well. 

Hear then anew the Word of God, Matthew 1.18-25:

18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.  19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.  20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”  22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 

 23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”   

24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no union with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Joseph adopted the Son of God as the child of humankind, and through Christ God adopts human beings as children of God. There seems to be a symmetry of salvation and relationship at work. It is a Marvelous Exchange! We see in Joseph’s story that we and God belong to each other in and through the one whom Joseph named Jesus, “God helps.”

Sunday, December 12, 2021

"Magnify" - A reflection on the Third Sunday of Advent

 Delivered at Bellshire United Methodist Church this day

Luke 1.39-45:

39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.

41 When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord."

Advent, says Webster’s, means not only specifically the four weeks before Christmas, but means in general the coming into being of something. Usually, “advent” denotes the coming into being of something new, something that has not existed before. Hence, it is especially appropriate that this season is called Advent because one thing is for sure: The God of the universe had never been born as a human being before. 

But that’s not the only reason. Jesus’ birth, amazing as it is, is not the only one. His cousin John the Baptist was born about six months before Jesus, and the Scriptures are clear that John’s birth is just as miraculous as that of Jesus, though in a different way. 

For neither Jesus nor John would have been born except through the work of the spirit of the Most High. The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and announced the news of her child’s Advent to her, but Elizabeth saw no angel. Instead, Gabriel went to her husband, Zechariah, while he was on duty as a priest in the Temple. To hear something from an angel is the same as hearing it from God, since angels don’t make stuff up, so it’s clear that God was very active in the Advent of both Jesus and John. 

Zechariah didn’t believe Gabriel, so Gabriel literally struck Zechariah dumb, removing his ability to speak until after John was born. (Elizabeth’s reaction to this development is unrecorded.)

Both Zechariah and Elizabeth were elderly when this happened. Luke says that after Zechariah returned home Elizabeth became pregnant – one assumes in the usual manner – and went into seclusion until her fifth month. She gave credit where credit was due: "The Lord has done this for me. In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people" (Luke 1:25). 

In contrast, Mary was a young woman. We used to think she was barely out of girlhood, maybe as young as 14 or so, but it is much more likely that she was older, perhaps even in her early twenties. Like Zechariah, she argued with Gabriel, but she got away with it. Her fiancĂ© Joseph, like Elizabeth, had no angelic visitor and had to take everything on faith. But like Zechariah, Joseph was marginalized in the telling of the story. The story so far is not about Zechariah or Joseph, but about Elizabeth and Mary. 

There is something intriguing about these two women that pervades more than their personal stories. There seems a common theme in the Bible that whenever God really wants to break into human affairs with something really, truly new, God goes to women to do it.

Not every time, of course. Women do not figure prominently in Moses’ story, for example. True, his mother successfully protected Moses from Pharaoh’s soldiers, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him, and Moses’ sister arranged for their mother to be hired by Pharaoh’s daughter – all important roles, but narratively not front and center. 

Even so, the history of the Jews was replete with instances of God’s advent coming through women. Consider Sarah, long-suffering wife of the original patriarch, Abraham. She reached the end of her ninth decade childless. God had long before given Abraham the promise that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky, but Abraham, the old coot, gave up on Sarah when she was a mere seventy-five. He had a son by a slave girl, Hagar. 

God didn’t let Abraham get away with that. When Sarah was ninety, she gave birth to Isaac, the only son Abraham and Sarah would have. Isaac carried forth God’s covenant promise. Isaac married Rebekah, and they also were childless until their old age, when they conceived twins, Esau and Jacob, and Jacob would be renamed by God as Israel. The rest, as they say, is history.  

After Mary and Elizabeth greeted one another, Mary burst forth into a song of praising God we have come to call Mary’s Magnificat. 

For centuries Christians have remarked on how much Mary’s Magnificat resembles Hannah’s song of praise, related in First Samuel. Hannah was married to Elkanah, a Levite and a priest. For many years Hannah was childless. Hannah spent her years in tears and bitter disappointment. Finally Hannah reached the end of her rope. She prayed near the temple, in her day a rough building of wood, for Hannah lived a long time before King David, who built the first grand Temple. 

Hannah prayed, "O LORD Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant's misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life... ."

The prophet Eli happened to be sitting in a chair nearby and saw her utter the words but did not hear her voice. He thought she was drunk and told her, "How long will you keep on getting drunk? Get rid of your wine."

Like Zechariah, like Joseph, like Abraham, Eli just didn’t get it. Hannah explained what she was doing, and then Eli gave her his blessing. 

Hannah did give birth to a son, Samuel, whom she turned over to Eli so he would be brought up exclusively in the service of the Lord, as Hannah had promised. Samuel led the people against the Philistines, selected Saul as the first king of Israel and anointed David as Saul’s successor. Pretty important guy in the history of the Jews!

From the beginning, the Jews and Christians have understood that God’s will is worked out in history, and that means through the lives and deeds of men and women. Only rarely do acts of nature figure in the working of God’s will. It is what people do that counts, and when God wants to bring something new in human society, he brings forth a baby. And that means God turns to women.

The ancient Jews were just as aware as we how babies are made, but the Jews always credited new births as gifts from God. God’s promise to Abraham pervaded their understanding of what new birth meant. They understood that all new births were accomplished because of the providence of God. The repeating theme of remarkable births "suggests that the people of God come into existence and are sustained in their existence [only] by the grace of God,” not by their own efforts (Marcus Borg). 

There is another facet of the Bible’s remarkable births that is central. It was summed up in what Martin Luther said. The greatest miracle of Mary’s story was not that she conceived, but that she believed. It is her faith which is a model for us. First and foremost, Advent is about faith, to be open-hearted and open minded enough to be like Mary in accepting the gift of grace in God’s own son. 

Among other titles, Jesus is known as the Prince of Peace. I was out Christmas shopping the other day and it struck me that it seems odd that the time of celebration of the Advent of the Prince of Peace is perhaps the most frenzied, harried, un-peaceful times of the year. I started watching other shoppers and noticed that no one was smiling. They were shopping with all the grim determination of soldiers moving toward the battle line. 

Peace has multiple definitions. Jesus said, "Peace I give to you." In this day we certainly pray for the absence of war that is peace. But there can be, and should be, spiritual peace, a wellness of soul even during times of conflict or simple frenzy. One of the most important ways we can find that kind of peace is to do what Jesus taught, to live for a greater cause than ourselves. 

I have a thought experiment for you. Try to imagine next Christmas. Not this Christmas because it’s so close. Think about Christmas 2022. Now imagine that everything you love about Christmas will be just like you want it to be, except for one thing. You are not going to give any presents to anyone. You won’t be sick and so unable to do so. You just won’t give presents. You’ll still go to your family’s big Christmas gathering and everyone will give each other presents, including giving to you. But you will give nothing to others. All you will do is receive gifts from them.

Does the idea appeal? Would you want to spend a Christmas like that? Even a three-year-old wants to give presents at Christmas. It is not the getting that gives joy and satisfaction at Christmas, it is the giving. That’s why we so often have a hard time answering others’ question of what we want for Christmas, and so insistently ask it of others. In our hearts, we know that what we want to get is always much less important than what we need to give. 

At Christmastime, and no other, does our culture widespread focus on giving. That’s a good thing. The joy and peace of Christmas is found in giving. But Christ’s promise is that we may find peace in all times and all circumstances if we give not just our things to others, but our very selves to the One who is ultimate. 

So if Christmas is to be a time of wellness of soul, our giving must be of more than our stuff. The first gift was Emmanuel, "God With Us." And the first Christmas gifts were not the gold, frankincense or myrrh the three magi brought. It was the devotion of the shepherds who brought no presents neatly wrapped. They brought and gave only their hearts and praise. 

What shall you give for Christmas? Yes, give things to one another, but most of all give your love as well. To our Lord, give not only your love but also your life. And you shall have peace, and your soul shall magnify the Lord and your spirit shall rejoice in God your Savior.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021


This is the original ship's bell of USS Arizona, recovered from the sunken vessel and now on display at the entrance to the National Park Service pavilion across the channel from the memorial.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

The coming Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference

The final organizational meeting of the not-quite-achieved Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference was held Dec. 4 via Zoom teleconferencing. The Tennessee and Memphis Conferences will be officially merged in January 2022 into the new Conference. 

The entire video record of the Dec. 4 meeting is here and embedded below. Bishop Bill McAllily's message for the day begins at the 33.05 mark. I highly recommend it! 

(For those who may not know, Bishop McAllily is bishop of both present conferences, a practice that began decades before his assignment here.)

Saturday, December 4, 2021

The Time of Your Life

As delivered Nov. 28, 2021; video of it is here.

 One summer Saturday some years ago, my wife and daughter and I were returning from Durham, North Carolina. They wanted to stop at Black Mountain, a small town just north of I-40 to the west of Asheville. They wanted to shop at the Doncaster outlet store there. I argued not. I wanted to go to the town also. I did not want to buy clothing. I wanted to buy some more time. 

There is a place there called Pellom's Time Shop. My friend Gerard Vanderleun wrote about it a few years ago on his web site.
It's the oldest shop in Black Mountain, North Carolina. None of the other shop keepers can remember a time when it wasn't here. Nobody in town can remember a time when Pellom himself wasn't here. The Time Shop and Pellom may well have been here before the town was here; before even the Cherokee were here. Nobody can say. ...
Most people look into the cluttered and dust-layered window of the Time Shop and walk on by. After all, most are retired and have, they think, all the time in the world.
Pellom doesn't mind. He knows what time it is. He also knows what can happen to time. How it can come unsprung. How it can run slow and still run fast. How time runs down. How time goes by. How time runs out. That's why he's careful, when he can, to save time.
You can, if he decides he likes you, buy some time at the Time Shop. All you have to do is to step through the seldom used door of the Time Shop and say "Good afternoon, Mr. Pellom." Then you need to look around the shop carefully and slowly. You need, most of all, to take your time. 
In time, if the time is right, Pellom will glance up at you from behind his bench, his green eyeshade shadowing his eyes, and say, "What can I get you?" Not "What are you looking for?," or "How can I help you?," but "What can I get you?"
You'd be well advised to take him at his word and say, "I'd like to buy some more time."
Then, if your request is timely, Pellom will nod and fetch a small loud-blue glass-stoppered bottle from the shelf behind him and bring it over to the counter and put it down in front of you with a sharp, satisfying clack on the glass of the counter. Looking into it all you will see is, towards the center, the faintest mist made from the color out of space and inside that, towards the core of the mist, a shovel of stars.
"Very good, sir," Pellom will say. "How much time would you like?"
I'd advise you to buy as much time as you can afford, as often as you can afford it, time after time.
Just because Pellom has some extra time today doesn't mean he won't be out of time tomorrow. Most of the time, time is always in short supply. Tonight, while you sleep, your government will be awake printing more money. Nobody is printing more time.
Which is why you should be careful how you spend time in the first place. Just ask Pellom down at the Time Shop.
"Nobody is printing more time."
One day in seminary we pulled our desks into a circle and took sixteen squares of paper the instructor passed out. She'd been years a chaplain at a large Catholic hospital. On four squares, she said, write the names of the four people you love most. On another four, the names of the four places you enjoy most to go to. The third, your four favorite ways to spend leisure time. The fourth, your four favorite restaurants. We complied.

"Now listen," she said. "You have recently had exploratory surgery and the doctor has the lab tests back. You are in his office. 'It's cancer,' he says. (Pause) Now, select any one of the sixteen pieces of paper, crumple it into a ball and throw it into the middle of the room."

My piece of paper marked "Six Flags" went sailing. I don't get there all that often and anyway, I can’t take the roller coasters any more.

She said, "You will begin chemotherapy this coming Monday. Toss another piece of paper."

This time I crumpled up a restaurant and pitched it into the pile. 

"The chemotherapy did not work. Next is radiation therapy, but the oncologist has already told you that its chances are less than the chemo. Throw one more piece." 

And so it went. You throw away a piece of your life one at a time. At first, it's not hard because for each of the four categories for which you have written four items, there is always one item that does not mean that much to you and so is quickly tossed. 

Until about the ninth or tenth throw when you realize that you have kept every piece of paper with the names of the people you love most. Almost every restaurant is gone and all but one favorite place to go. Before long she says, "The cancer is in stage four and is inoperable. The doctor prescribes hospice care." 

And your papers mock you like a two-high hand with a missing card, because all that are left are the names of the four people you love most - for me they were my wife and three children.

"Throw away a piece of paper," she says.

I stare. Who shall I throw away? And the answer is no one. Game over. I fold my hand by laying the papers down and leaning back in my chair.

"Does anybody really know what time it is?
Does anybody really care about time?"

So, I went to find Pellom's Time Shop, not really believing that Pellom would fetch a small, cloud-blue, glass-stoppered bottle from the shelf behind him and bring it over to the counter and put it down in front of me with a sharp clack on the glass on the counter. And even if he did such a thing, I did not think that looking into it that all I would see is, towards the center, the faintest mist made from the color out of space and inside that, towards the core of the mist, a shovel of stars.

It was not easy to find the Time Shop because it is so small. I almost went into the shop next door but corrected myself. A gray-headed man was standing near the door facing the right wall, passing time when I walked in. He turned slightly toward me and said hello. 

"Hello," I answered. I awaited the question I knew had to come: "What can I get you?" Not "What are you looking for?," or "How can I help you?," but "What can I get you?"

"Pretty cool day today," he said. 

"Yes," I answered, "it is." Chit chat was not what I expected. I asked, "Are you Mr. Pellom?" It 
seemed a foolish question, for who else would be in here?

"John Pellom," he said. "Indeed." He put his right hand out. 

I took at and shook it gently. "My name is Don Sensing." 

There were clocks scattered around the whole shop, some in pieces. One thing John Pellom has plenty of is time. Time is everywhere in the Time Shop. (It is a real place, you know.) 

"Ah, well, Mr. Don Sensing, I am glad to meet you,” John said. “What brings you here today?" 

"My wife and daughter are presently bankrupting me over at Doncasters, and I don't want to be there for that bloodletting. So I searched for your Time Shop."

"How did you know I was here?"

"I read about your shop on the Internet." I pulled out my smartphone and opened Gerard's essay and showed it to him. He scanned it quietly. He read about the small, cloud-blue, glass-stoppered bottle and the mist of stars. 

"Well," he said, "that would really be something." 

We made small talk for a few moments. I gave him my card and briefly explained what we had done on vacation. He told me that he kept busy repairing globe clocks and putting antique wristwatches back into service. His father opened the Time Shop in 1929. "Not before the Cherokee?" I quizzed.

John chuckled. "Well, I don't think so."

My phone buzzed. I knew it was the deadly shopping duo texting me that the MasterCard was now maxed out and would I please go to a bank and bring them a wheelbarrow full of ben franklins. A look at my phone showed I was right. I nodded at Mr. Pellom. "John, it was a pleasure meeting you. I hope you are open for a long time." I turned toward the door.

"Reverend Sensing," John said. I glanced back. He peered kindly at me a moment. "One more thing I have to ask you." I felt his pale blue eyes looking right through mine to the infinity beyond the Time Shop. 

"What can I get you?" 

I said nothing for two heartbeats, then spoke slowly. "I'd like to buy some more time."

There was no shelf behind him. He reached into his pocket and produced a small, cloud-blue, glass-stoppered bottle. "Take this," he said, "and look inside." 

There was, just as Gerard had written, a faint mist of a color out of space and inside that, towards the core of the mist, a shovel of stars. 

At that time, time stood still. Traffic outside ceased, birdsongs stopped, the dust mites in the sunbeam froze in the air. The ticking of the clocks in the Time Shop stopped. 

The bottle drew me in so that I barely had time to think, then I was surrounded by timelessness. There were scenes. Sometimes just still shots and sometimes short clips of short seconds - except there were no seconds, or minutes, or hours, because those things are all time. Inside the cloud-blue bottle there was no time.

There I was as a small boy learning to ride a bike. There I was with neighborhood kids playing kick the can after dark. My first-grade teacher, Mrs. Jarvis, unjustly punishing me for another kid's spill of paint, but I didn't fink. A home run in a backyard game. Walking Valerie home from school. My first job at Woodlawn Market and owner Pappy's fondness for the bottle, but he was always a jolly drunk.

My grandfather teaching me to milk cows and my grandmother rocking me when I was small. Creeks I stomped in, Boy Scout hikes and merit badges. First girl I kissed. Hunting and golfing with my dad. First day of college. First parachute jump. A pretty girl who told me she liked my beard. Commissioned an Army officer. Learning to fly. Wedding day. Births of children. Honors and awards. Ordination service. This was the highlight reel and it felt good. 

The blue bottle wasn't finished.

The lies I told. The kids I treated badly because they were different. The lessons I would not learn. The defiance to my parents. The anger at my brothers. The blows I landed. The push I gave a child when I got home and all he wanted to do was hug me. The prideful stands and the cruel words said. The barriers I put up. The books I didn't read to my children. Contemptuous words uttered. Affections neither accepted nor given. Arguments started. The cursory treatments. The tantrums. The self-centeredness, the caring never rendered, the people dismissed, the love-worthy ignored. This was the low-light reel. It burned white hot.

The blue bottle wasn't finished.

The kindnesses given. Taking Mrs. Adams’ paper to her in the winter because she couldn’t walk in the snow. The elderly befriended. The mother's hand held at her son's last breath. The prayers for the grieving, the bereaved consoled. My shoulder to cry on. The blessings invoked. The needy assisted. The children cared for. The life I saved. The new believers and infants baptized, the celebrations blessed, the dying anointed. The Word spoken truly, the sacraments offered duly. The friendships offered and the hands extended. The prisoners visited, the hungry fed, the naked clothed, the strangers welcomed, the sick cared for. The counsels offered. The listening ear.

The scenes ended. Time returned. I looked up. John Pellom was there as before. I dared to ask, "Did I get more time?"

He shook his head. "Son, no mortal can give you more time."

"But the blue bottle ..."

He raised his hand. "All it can do is show you the time of your life, so far."

My phone buzzed. I ignored it. "Is there a lesson here?"

John glanced at my card. "Reverend, you know the lesson."

I did, but I needed to hear it. "Tell me."

He locked his eyes on mine. "There is only one question you will have to answer before the Lord when that time comes: ‘How did you spend the time of your life?’."

A gentle smile crossed John's face. "Now what do you think the right answer is?"

My phone buzzed again. "It's time for you to go," John said.

"Thank you for your time, John," I answered. We shook hands. "Anytime," he said.

I left the Time Shop and walked back to the car where waited my wife and daughter. We sat in the car for a short time. "Where did you go?" Cathy asked.

I told her of the Time Shop and showed her the two photos I had taken. I tried to read her Gerard's explanation of the Time Shop but could not make it to the end. Time was out of joint. The fabric of time had been ripped and had not yet been woven back together. Rain was falling, closing the world off from us. We were silent for a time, then she said, "It's time to go." 

I started the car and we drove home.

This is the season of Advent. It is always Advent, for always we prepare for Christ’s coming. It is the season of Christmas, for we always rejoice that Christ was born. It is Lent. It is always Lent, for we always repent. It is always Pentecost, for we always receive the Holy Spirit. It is always Ordinary Time, for we live always in this broken  and fallen world. Best of all, it is always Easter, for in our baptism we have died as Christ did and have been raised to and born again in new life. 

Christ will come again. When he does, no matter how it is phrased, our Lord will really want to know one thing: How did you spend the time of your life?

What do you think the right answer is?


...When the Lord returns in his glory, he will say to those at his right hand, 
...“Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
 ...“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another” 
...Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 
...This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’"
No one is printing more time. The time of our lives is measured only by the love we give away, so we must make sure we always have time enough for love.

To endorse green energy is to be pro-slavery

 Anyone who demands we transition to green energy is endorsing slavery . Period.  China is the largest single provider of most of the critic...