One of my former pastors used to make a joke about how he would keep his sermon short and sweet, so we could "beat the Methodists to Wendy's." It's funny, sure, but humor always contains a bit of truth.
You'd think this is a new problem, in a newly hectic world - that Christians today are so time-obsessed that we're the first ones to sit around watching the second hand click away on the clock, thinking about all of the rest of the things we need to do...and what we're going to do next.
It seems like this would be a fairly new phenomenon. After all, the world was shut down on Sundays until just a generation or so ago. You didn't have to worry about all the things you had to do after church - or beating the Methodists to Wendy's - because there wasn't anything to do on a Sunday and Wendy's wasn't open. Sundays were for church and family dinner and hanging around the house talking with one another. Although I suppose an argument might be made for whoever does the cooking thinking during the sermon about getting that pot on the stove in time, but probably not - we just weren't a people driven by time. No one was looking at their watching thinking, "Gosh, the pot roast better be ready on time." We just weren't like that.
Except...we've always kind of been like that.
This struck me last week as my pastor was reading from the Gospel of Luke. At the beginning of the book, Luke tells the story of Zechariah, who was the priest chosen to enter the Most Holy Places that year. You know the story. He goes in to burn the incense, and Gabriel appears to him and tells him all about the baby that is coming for his barren wife, Elizabeth. Gabriel goes into how all of this will happen and Zechariah can hardly believe it all, to the point that he is struck mute until these things come to pass.
Meanwhile, Luke tells us, the people outside were growing restless because they knew it was taking too long.
To put that in modern language, church should have been over by now.
Zechariah is in the temple, in the Most Holy Place, burning incense, praying, and talking with the angel of the Lord himself, and the people are outside watching the second hand tick away on their watches, tapping their feet, beginning to pace and to worry. The women are starting to put things into their purse; the men are straightening their jackets. They're gonna walk out of this place, even if nobody comes to dismiss them properly. Church is supposed to be over by now.
There were no Methodists. There was no Wendy's. This was a Sabbath proper in the synagogue - the most sacred of all days. No work was being done. There was nothing to do. There was nowhere to go. And still the people right on the edge of Jesus's day were clock-watching. Still, they knew when church was supposed to be over. Still, they were impatient for the service to end.
There just seems to be something about us that wants to keep God on a schedule. That wants to keep God on our schedule. There's something about us that always seems to have in the back of our minds all the other things we want to do and all the plans that we have for ourselves.
How funny it is that the very next thing we always seem to have to do is also to be impatient - we have to beat the Methodists to Wendy's because we don't have time to wait in line. Because we don't want to wait in line.
And maybe you're thinking to yourself right now what a silly post this is. And it is. Kinda. But we're going somewhere with this, somewhere important. So just keep this in the back of your mind as we move forward.