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What Time Is It?

By William H. Willimon
Who are we kidding? We who smile and go about our business, raise our children, build our houses, go to football games, take afternoon naps -- all under the shadow of the great, dark, mushroom cloud. The flash, the roar, the rush of wind and rubble and, for the whole race, there is no tomorrow.

Is that why not everyone thinks it's such a grand idea to return for Homecoming? These occasions make time seem so linear, life so finite, the bitter-sweet realization that the ever-rolling stream of time bears all our dreams away?

It was at the funeral of her beloved husband when she asked if she could say a word to the gathered congregation: If you are going to love somebody, she said with tears in her eyes, do it today. If you are going to tell someone they are special, that their life has touched yours, do it today. She had become wise the hard way.

Jesus says you and I can live any way we want. We can put off life as if there were always a tomorrow. We can make it all look so secure and solid and eternal. Yet, for me, for you, for us all, there will be one day when there is no tomorrow. The invitation comes, the door opens and light shines through, the word is spoken, the waters rise, the bell tolls, and it is time, for good or ill, it is time.

"Of that day and hour no one knows,...Watch." When I was serving a little church in rural Georgia, one of my members had a relative who died and Patsy and I went to the funeral as a show of support for the family. The funeral was in a little hot, crowded off-brand Baptist country church. Well, I had never seen anything like it. They wheeled the coffin in, the preacher began to preach. He shouted, fumed, flayed his arms.

"It's too late for Joe," he screamed. "He might have wanted to do this or that in life, but it's too late for him now. He's dead. It's all over for him. He might have wanted to straighten his life out, but he can't now. It's over."

What a comfort this must be to the family, I thought.

"But it ain't too late for you! People drop dead every day. So why wait? Now is the day for decision. Now is the time to make your life count for something. Give your life to Jesus!"

Well, it was the worst thing I ever heard. "Can you imagine a preacher doing that kind of thing to a grieving family?" I asked Patsy on the way home. "I've never heard anything so manipulative, cheap and inappropriate. I would never preach a sermon like that," I said. She agreed. She agreed it was tacky, manipulative, calloused. "Of course," she added, "The worst part of all is that what he said was true."

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