Back in 1996 the musical “Rent” opened on Broadway. It turned out to be a monster hit that stayed on Broadway for 12 years. It opens with what became the biggest hit song to come out of that musical called “Seasons of Love”, where the composer of that song finds out how many minutes there are in a year and incorporates that into the song, and then asks the question “How do you measure a year?”, which translates into my mind as “How do you know when you have lived those minutes well?” The song proposes various ideas and then the playwright and composer, Jonathan Larson, who grew up in a Jewish home, lands on the very Jewish idea that the best use of those minutes is to love. As you know, it’s also a very Christian idea. I bet you know the song. It starts like this:
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes. Five hundred twenty five thousand moments so dear. five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes. How do you measure, Measure a year?
The great tragedy of the musical “Rent” was that Jonathan Larson died before he could see his own play open on Broadway. He saw the dress rehearsal the night before and then died shortly thereafter of a ruptured aorta. His premature death illustrates the point he was making in the song, which is that we have limited time on earth and that we would do well to spend that time in love before its too late and we don’t have another chance.
I remember hearing the song sung for the first time, and what struck me was that there, in the public square, at the heart of Broadway, the center of the American art world, they were dealing publicly with what I regard as a deeply religious issue and a deeply human issue: the stewardship of time, how best to manage the limited time we have been given. Psalm 90 teaches us to count our days, while Jonathan Larson helps us count the minutes
Today we look at God’s gift of time: the minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years we receive from God. The amount of time we receive varies greatly between us. God never says how much time each of us will receive, and the challenge for us as Christian stewards of our time is to be the best stewards of our time, not knowing exactly how much time we have.
There are two scriptures that give us major guidance about the stewardship of time. The most important one is from the Hebrew law, “Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy” and one from the apostle Paul, where he says in Ephesians “make the most of the time.”
First, the Sabbath. Sabbath is the English translation of the Hebrew word “Shabbat”, meaning stop or cease or desist. In my active imagination I like to think of Sabbath as God once a week lowering down from heaven a stop sign in front of each of our faces.
The fourth commandment is God saying to the Israelites, and now to us by the Spirit: one day a week stop, stop working, stop what you usually do the other six days a week, and make sure that not just you but your whole family has a Sabbath, and all of your animals, and all your employees, and even the non-Israelites among you, the immigrants and the refugees. Make sure everyone has a Sabbath, not just you. Sabbath is God’s gift for everyone in the world.
The reason given for the Sabbath in the first presentation of the ten commandments in Exodus 20 is the Genesis creation story that tells us God created all that there is over six days and rested the seventh day. If God, our creator, takes a Sabbath, so should we, since we are all made in the image of God.
In the second presentation of the ten commandments in Deuteronomy 5, the reason given for the Sabbath was the Exodus story that says the Israelites spent 400 years in Egyptian slavery without a day off, and that was no kind of life. Taking a Sabbath reminds us that we are not slaves to anyone or anything on earth, but people who have been liberated by God for a new kind of life.