View Points – Time after Time: knowing when to stop


When someone asked baseball philosopher Yogi Berra what time it was, he replied What? You mean right now?

Well yes, there is something very immediate about the need to know the correct time. There was a pastor who was famous for his 16 minute sermons. It was like clock work every Sunday, every time, precisely 16 minutes and no more. He would stop in mid-syllable if necessary. A parishioner asked him about it once, and he gave away his secret.  Just before climbing into the pulpit I reach into my pocket and pull out a mint and put it into the corner of my mouth. I know that it takes exactly 16 minutes for it to dissolve, and when it is gone, I quit.

A few weeks later the preacher began in the usual way but at the usual moment to end his message he kept right on going. Eighteen minutes, then 25, he showed no signs of stopping. The crowd began to grow restless, and at 40 minutes some were beginning to leave.

The minister noticed this and turned away to cough into his hand. He discovered, not a mint but a button.

I have been obsessively punctual all of my life. As a 10-yr.-old child I would pace the floor on Sunday mornings, waiting for the rest of my family to get dressed and ready for church or anywhere else I was dependent on them to take me. Time may be relative (Einstein), but I have always had a watch in my brain if not always on my wrist with a pretty accurate idea of what time it is.

Last mid-week my watch suddenly quit working. It needed a battery, I suppose. But for a day or two I was adrift, constantly afraid Id be late for something or miss an important appointment.

We were going to New York City on the week-end, so my plan was to slip into Chinatown and buy a Rolex out on the street (only the best, you know). But we never made it to Chinatown on our brief 24 hours in the city, so I came back home still without a time piece.

Sunday morning there was a plastic bag hanging on my office door when I arrived early for church.  In the bag was a box, and in the box was a brand new wrist watch. This anonymous note was scribbled on the box Pastor, I bought this watch for my wrist and its too big.  I had a dream that your watch did not work correctly (?) Please accept this and if you dont like it … pass it on. 

With brotherly love …

Like it? I love it. And its face is big enough to read at a glance with or without my glasses. I put it on quickly and was ready to preach that morning in a timely way.

Only a small handful of people knew about my watch dying on me last week, and they all disclaim responsibility for the gift. Maybe God did inspire one of our folks with a dream (I dont doubt it), but I sure would like to know who it was, so that I could thank him personally.

Maybe the thought came to that person, though, while sitting through one of my sermons that was less than riveting. Time was moving so slowly, he thought I must not be aware of how long I was running on. I frequently see people glancing discreetly at their watches, but one Sunday I saw someone look at his twice, then hold it up to his ear and shake it.

I appreciate my anonymous friends gift and am thankful to the God who planted the idea in his nocturnal imagination. Just a little miracle but more evidence of a God who loves His children and provides for them. A reminder, early on Sunday morning, that He was here and that it was going to be a special day.

Well, Ive got to go. I have a 9:30 am appointment and it is already, let me see here … 9:22.50.

Don Davidson is pastor of First Baptist Church of Alexandria.