St. Mary’s Anglican Church
Epiphany 4 – January 21, 2018
Canon Claude Schroeder
Today we are continuing our theme of Epiphany in which we are given to see God manifesting and showing Himself in the person of Jesus Christ. In Epiphany we come to church to order have God open our eyes that we might see Jesus for who He really is, so that, seeing him more clearly, we might love him more dearly, and follow him more really, which is what we are going to try and do in the season of Lent, which is coming up. You see the wonderful logic in our church calendar.
Last Sunday i talked about the difficulty of living in a secular culture that would have us believe we live in a world from God is absent, making Epiphany impossible. Understanding that heaven and earth, the spiritual and the physical are two aspects of a single reality that overlap and intersect at certain points helps us to see God’s action and presence in this world and will have a profound impact on how we view our bodies, and things like food, sex, spirituality and the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion.
Our readings today have pose the question of just how we understand time, and God‘s relationship to time. Just as the modern secular world has one view of the relationship between God and place, and the Church a rather different view, so it is with time.
In our first reading this morning, Jonah walks into Nineveh, that great and wicked city and cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” Here we have Jonah telling the people that their time is just about up. God is not going to allow things to continue. He is going to act, and He is going to act to destroy them, at the end of a certain period of time.
Then in our Psalm today we instructed our souls to wait in silence upon God. in the face of massive and overwhelming evil, sin, injustice and wickedness in the world, what are we to do? Be patient, says the Psalmist. Wait upon God and in silence. We live in a world where it’s go, go, go. We want things to happen, and we want them to happen now, if not yesterday. Why is that? I’ll explain in a moment. Our world is not only an impatient place, it is also a noisy place. Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk! There is the noise that is out there, but there is also the noise that is in here (points to head). For God alone my soul in silence waits.
Question: “How long are we going to have to wait before God finally does something?” That’s a good question, and a question the Bible raises.
In our reading today from 1 Corinthians Paul writes the “appointed time has grown short.” Maybe we are not going to have to wait as long as we think.
Then we come to today’s Gospel and Jesus’ joyful and urgent announcement that, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. In other words, that which we have been waiting for all this time, God and His Kingdom, has finally come The moment has arrived, and it is now. The time of waiting is over. The time of repenting and believing has come.
Now all of this talk is simply incomprehensible from a secular point of view. How do modern secular people view time? in the modern secular view we have the past, the present, and the future, where what is going on today can be understood as the consequence of something that happened yesterday. And what happens tomorrow will come as a consequence of the actions and decisions we make today. In other words, we live in a world that is governed by cause and effect, locked in an historical process, from which God is absent.
But in the modern view, that doesn’t matter because in the story we tell ourselves we are in charge of history, and are moving forward and making the world a better place. Things are getting better, aren’t they? We are making a difference, aren’t we? Obviously we are not quite there yet, but with a little bit of ￼time, and a little bit of re-education, and the right funding, and technological development and innovation, and political action we will have achieved our goal and rid the world of injustice.
This is what is called the social Gospel, and it is a delusion. As we discover, much to our dismay, no matter how hard we try to find solutions to our problems, the problems just don’t seem to want to go away. What we thought was the solution to this problem ends up having unintended consequences that created more problems! Just like when you take a medication, you end up taking other pills to deal with the side effects. And so on and on it goes.
The modern view of time has two death-dealing spiritual consequences. The one consequence is sadness or despair. The other consequence is anger. We want solutions. We want to be able to fix things. When the solutions fail to bring results, what happens? We get sad or mad, or a combination of the two.
The Gospel declares that God who is outside of time, has entered into time, has interrupted time, when He became flesh and lived among us in the person of Jesus Christ. This event, which we call the Incarnation, has changed forever how we reckon time. There is the time before Jesus, which we call B.C. – Before Christ. There is the time after lesus, which we call A.D. which stands for Anno Domini, the year of our Lord. It’s a sign of our secular age that we no longer speak of 2018 in terms ofA.D., the year of our Lord, but as C.E. the Common Era. Once again we have shown God the door, and kicked Him out of our world.
In saying that God entered into human history at a certain point in time can be misinterpreted. Are we to say that God was not involved in human history in speaking and acting before that point in time? We know that is not true because of the story of Israel. We know that isn’t true because the Word which became flesh in Jesus, is the Word through whom all things were made. So for us time is an Epiphany, it is something that God fills with His Presence. It is a means by which God manifests Himself.
Well, I remember as a kid growing up in the 19705 being somewhat affected by the evangelical Christian fascination and obsession with the End of the World. I thank God that I being raised in an Anglican church that protected me from all that nonsense. His name was Hal Lindsay, and his book was called “The Late Great Planet Earth” which provided readers with timetable and maps that would show us when the world was coming to an end. Of course, the world didn’t come to an end, but that hasn’t stopped preachers from enthralling their congregations with new predictions.
What exactly was the mistake which Hal Lindsay made?
His mistake was to take the Christian story and try and make it fit the modern story where the end of time is to be understood to be a point in time, and the conclusion and product of what happened before.
But for us the end of time, the end of the world is not a moment in time. For us the end of all things is a person, Jesus Christ. As the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews puts it, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” ( Hebrews 13.8)
So the division of time into past, present, and future is really a mistake. There is no such thing as the past except as an experience in the present. So it is with the future. The future does not exist except as an experience in the present.
How do we typically experience the past in the present? We experience it in one of two ways. The one is nostalgia. We look at the past and say, “Oh, it was all so much better then! 0h how I would like to turn back the clock!” Remember the Beatles? “Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away. Now they look as though they’re here to stay. 0h I believe in yesterday…”
The other way we experience the past in the present is as regret. As we take a closer look at the past what do we in fact see? We see the landscape littered with the wreckage of broken and frustrated relationships. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done. And we have done those things that we ought not to have done. As we like to say, “mistakes were made.” Turns out we do not long for yesterday. Rather we are trying to escape yesterday. Get away from what happened. So our experience of the past in the present is of one of overwhelming regret.
As to our experience of the future in the present: Given the fact that we have so little control over what in fact is going to happen tomorrow, our experience of the future in the present is typically one of fear, anxiety or dread on the one hand, or kind of wishing upon a star, fantasizing about the future.
What that is the Christian experience of the past in the present, and the future in the present? Our experience can be summed up in one word: salvation. 0 God make speed to save us. 0 Lord make haste to help us. So begins the Morning and the Evening Prayer. God is present with us moment by moment to save us. With respect to the past this gives birth to the experience of gratitude, gratitude for all his mercy,
His providence, and forgiveness, and with respect to the future this gives birth to the experience of hope, not that things are necessarily going to get better, because they may not, but the hope that God will be there for me.
In our service of Holy Communion our remembrance of the death of Jesus Christ on the Cross is not our thinking about something that happened a long time ago. Our remembrance of Jesus’ death on the Cross is the bringing of a past event into the present where we experience its ongoing blessing and impact on our lives: the forgiveness of sins, and reassurance of His love, the preservation of our bodies and souls to eternal life.
So when it comes to understanding how and when God acts to save us, that time is always now. That which we read about in the Gospels as having happened at the time of Jesus through our remembrance becomes a present experience.
When John the Baptist heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.
God who is outside of time, enters into and fills the present time with gracious Presence. Jesus is the sign.
Today as we discover God is present and active in the present time in calling men and women to be his disciples. Jesus said to Peter and Andrew, the two brothers who were fishermen, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people!” Just think about all the time people spend trolling the internet when they could be engaging with flesh and blood people loving them into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.
Will you come and follow me if I but call your name? That’s the title of our offertory hymn today, and with that question comes a promise, the promise of personal transformation. We will never be the same. The Church at your baptism already marked you out as a disciple of Jesus. Our communion this morning is our way of saying yes to Him., “I will follow you, if you lead me, and if you feed me.”