Date: January 15, 2012
Title: “The Time Has Come!”
Preaching: The Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard
Scripture: Psalm 62:5-12; Mark 1:14-20
Note this Introduction to the Gospel Lesson informs this week’s sermon:
Here Mark writes that Jesus dares to announce the “Gospel of God”, in direct contrast to the Gospel of Caesar, or of the Roman empire. Mark is making the claim here that Jesus’ story is the real Gospel, the real good news.
But Mark does not leave it at that in this text. He goes on to give Jesus a basic “keynote” speech, with four specific messages: (1), the time is fulfilled; (2), the Kingdom of God is at hand; (3), repent; and (4), believe in this Gospel.
As you probably know, the New Testament was written in Greek. In it we find two different words for “time”. There is the word chronos – which means “chronological time”, the everyday kind of time. And then there is the word kairos – which means the “urgent, present moment, the time beyond time, God’s time.”
In the Gospels, Jesus always refers to that second kind of time – the kairos time, when God’s Kin-dom is fulfilled here on earth; when God is at the center of all life; and when we are filled with God’s love.
When my oldest daughter was trying to decide where she would go to college, I encouraged her to think big, to look at all her options and then go where she felt called to go. We traveled all around the United States in her junior year of high school, visiting all kinds of universities until she finally settled on Mt. Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts.
The year she was to enter Mt. Holyoke her sister and I traveled with Sarah to the east coast. We came early so we could do a little sight seeing and have a bit of a family vacation since none of us had ever seen much of New England before.
The first morning of our trip, Sarah and I were up and ready to go, but Kate was having a hard time getting out of bed. We had taken a late flight in from Portland to Hartford, Connecticut, and Kate was getting increasingly grumpy with every attempt Sarah or I made to jolly her out of bed. Finally, in exasperation, she cried out, “It’s not so bad for the two of you – you have been here before, so you’re used to the time change!”
Of course we have yet to let her live that down! It seems that sometimes “time” is a relative term. And what I may understand to the time may not be at all what you understand or experience.
Let me take you back now to another time. It was the night of April 3, 1968, and there were tornado warnings and torrential rains were falling in Memphis, Tennessee that night. Because of the bad weather, only a handful of folks had turned out to support Martin Luther King, Jr in his call for the city’s sanitation workers to go out on strike. Just three weeks earlier, 14,000 people had come to hear King speak in the same place. Nonetheless, when Dr. King took the podium that night, he didn’t seem concerned about the size of the crowd. And he began by talking a little bit about timing.
King spoke about some of the close calls he had already endured, and then went on to say:
“When I got into Memphis, some began to say – given the talk about the threats against me – what might happen to me here? Well… I don’t know what will happen now; we’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now, because I have been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind.
Like anybody I would like to live a long life – longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now; I just want to do God’s will… So I’m happy tonight! I’m not worried about anything! I’m not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the coming of the Lord!”
We all know what happened next. At 6:01 the following evening, Dr. King was assassinated right there in Memphis. He was 39 years old.
Today, we remember Martin Luther King, Jr. as a prophet, a social activist, a reformer, and a change agent. We also remember him as a disciple of Christ and a child of God, just like us. Dan Clenedenin, in his essay, “the Time Has Come” makes this observation:
“Part of King’s many-faceted genius was his recognition that chronos – mere “clock time” -ordinary time, if you will – the passage of days nad weeks and years… no matter how long or short, no matter how trivial or important… that kind of time is no match for kairos time – the unique and opportune moment of God’s visitation.”
I believe that is why King could say that longevity – the length of life – is not the first priority for his life, or for ours. Indeed, longevity alone can be a sad substitute for a decisive choice made at a critical moment, however short or long the time.
In the Gospel text we read this morning, Mark has Jesus lifting up the kairos moment when he says “the time has come… the Kingdom of God is near”. Jesus announces the good news of God by inviting Simon and his brother Andrew into ministry – into the recognition that the clock had ticked over from chronos into kairos time. Jesus tells them that they are at a critical juncture, that they have been offered a divine appointment. And that while we might yet yawn at chronos, forgetting what day of the week it is, we can hardly ignore kairos and its urgent call to a fundamental reorientation in each of our lives.
It always amazes me, to see the response of Simon, his brother Andrew, James and John. There is little evidence to suggest that any of these four were extraordinarily good or righteous men. There is no overtly obvious reason why Jesus chooses them as disciples.
Indeed, there is little to distinguish first four disciples from their neighbors and friends, except perhaps for their ability to let go. They had the ability to let go of preconceived notions, and agendas and lifelong expectations; the ability to let go of their preoccupation with the everyday – with the chronos time we all know so very well.
And in letting go, they had the ability to hear God calling, to recognize when the time has come to respond to that insistent whisper or that nagging suggestion that there is room in this life for something more. Someone else put it this way:
“Letting go can be said to be the essence of the spiritual life, the heart of spiritual practice. It is when we are no longer full of opinions and expectations that we are truly receptive; able to hear God’s voice crying in our wilderness, able to see God’s light shining in our darkness.”
If you were in a Roman Catholic church this morning, and looked at the front of your bulletin, just under today’s date, you might find these words…”Second Sunday in Ordinary Time”. Ordinary time … in the Catholic tradition, it is these weeks between Christmas and Lent, when there are no major feast days or festivals, when the glitter and glitz has died down and the celebrations have been put away for another year. This is “ordinary time”… or is it?
Going to get the baby out of the manger, we suddenly realize it is no longer a cute little baby we have on our hands. Now we have the full implications of the adult Jesus, asking us to take what love we received in Bethlehem and use it to make life-altering decisions. Because the time has come.
And isn’t that just the way it goes with God? As Barbara Brown Taylor writes:
“Over and over, God’s call to us means pushing aside old boundaries, embracing outsiders, giving up the notion that there is not enough of us to go around. We may resist; we may even lose our tempers, but the call of God is insistent…
God’s calling keeps after us, keeps calling us by name, until finally we step over the lines we have drawn for ourselves and discover a whole new world on the other side.”
So what is it that will move us today from chronos to kairos? What is it that will create greatness in our midst? You may say, “I am no Martin Luther King, Jr”… and the world is so vast, its problems so huge. Injustice and racism are still so prevalent, even right here in Portland. And I am so small in comparison.
And yet, I ask you – whoever decides at an early age to become an icon of social justice, a prophet of world-class change, a martyr for love? I think when Simon, Andrew, James and John leave their nets to fish with Jesus, they have no idea just what God is inviting them into. They simply know the time has come to follow. Again, in Taylor’s words:
“The call of God is insistent, and whenever we limit who we will be to other people, or who we will let them be for us, God gets to work, rubbing out the lines we have drawn around ourselves, and calling us into the limitless country of God’s love.
We may well formulate new limits and draw new lines, but none of them last very long… Because once God has called us out there is no going back… God never calls us back behind our lines.”
Dr. King once commented that “Evil will not be driven out; it can only be crowded out…through the explosive power of something good.” When together we notice the atmospheric shift from chronos to kairos; when we hear God calling us to leave whatever nets contain our everyday, ordinary lives, we embrace the power of something good. Something good like God’s reign of justice and peace, or God’s promise of wholeness, or God’s presence of grace. And in so doing, we become a part of that which crowds out evil in favor of good.
It was an ordinary day just like any other when Rosa Lee Parks discovered a moment of God’s kairos – an opportunity she had to choose risk over regret, and urgency over complacency. In her autobiography she writes:
“I was not old then, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was only 42. And the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”
Sometimes the kairos moment is not all that different from a thousand moments of chronos before, when all of a sudden, we find ourselves too tired of giving into the status quo. We find ourselves too tired of giving in to our resignation that the world is not as it should be; too tired of giving in to hopelessness or despair; too tired of giving in to apathy or complacency. And all of a sudden, chronos becomes kairos just like that.
The time has come, my friends, to let go. Because you have nothing to lose but your life the way it has been. And let me tell you… there is lots more life where that came from! Thanks be to God! Amen.