Proper 18a.08.St. Paul, Sparks
Lyrics of the classic rock group Chicago, asked:
“Does anybody really know what time it is?”
Time is the context of everything that happens.
So how we relate to time, how we experience time itself,
colors our view of life.
Chicago said we are disconnected
from time and that’s why we run
from place to place not knowing where we are going.
In 1994, Hootie and the Blowfish
revisited the subject.
They regarded time as a corrosive, corrupting
agent of death and loss, something to be defied,
so they sang, “I don’t believe in time.”
Angst over time appears in pop culture
from Paul Simon to rapper Flava Flave;
and literary masters from Shakespeare to T. S. Eliot
have shared their struggle.
People are not at ease with time.
That is why they spend so much energy and money killing it.
You can witness the brutal murder of time
at video poker machines,
in front of televisions,
or with a little chemical help at bars.
Nothing wrong with any of that in itself.
The problem is that time is making people nervous,
so they are killing it – even though their lives
are made out of time,
so to kill time is a form of slow suicide.
Back in my Buddhist days, I made a careful study of time.
I watched it pass with as much precision as I could muster,
watched each moment, breath by breath.
I got to know what a moment looks like.
And that is why I find Paul so fascinating.
Paul had a unique perspective on time.
He believed we live in a kind of temporal paradox
called “the already, not yet.”
In today’s lesson, he says to the Romans,
“you know what time it is;
it is the time for you to wake from sleep.”
Paul sensed in the “already/not yet” paradox of each moment
a spiritual urgency that rang like an alarm clock.
If we can get Paul’s sense of time,
it may help us wake up.
So please bear with me
as we go through a little course in Time 101.
The Greek word for ordinary time is chronos.
Ordinary time consists of moments set between past and future.
There are really only present moments.
As Jack Kornfield said,
“Everything that ever happened to me,
happened in present moment.”
The only thing truly real is the actual situation at hand, the now.
The past is an idea in our memory.
The future is an idea in our fantasy.
But the present moment is crisply and precisely real.
We can see it, touch it, taste it. It is and it is here, now.
There is only the relentless now, then now, then now again.
But each moment contains within it memory.
The remembrance of things past is part of the present experience.
Likewise the future we anticipate is part of the present experience.
Each moment is exquisitely real in itself,
but it is always on the brink between past and future.
Each moment is like that point in the river
at the precise top of the cataract,
where the water first plunges downward.
Paul found each moment to be fraught
with the grace already accomplished.
Grace creates each moment, and allows us to live in it.
Each moment is an accomplished miracle.
That is the “already” part.
But the grace is incomplete.
We are on the brink of hope’s fulfillment.
We live in the light of God’s promise
to redeem us, complete us, and perfect us,
to unite us fully and finally to himself in light.
That is the “not yet” part.
So ordinary time, chronos, is flowing along horizontally
in the “already” of remembered grace
and the “not yet” hope for grace to be fulfilled.
It is flowing along horizontally, when God’s time breaks in.
God’s time is a vertical shaft, a lightning bolt from above,
a mountain thrust up by seismic shifts from below.
God’s time is called kairos in the Greek.
It means eternity.
But eterinty isn’t just extending ordinary time indefinitely.
It is a whole different order of reality
from our mundane experience.
It is the depth and wonder of things.
Lutheran theologian Paul Tillich called the intersection
of ordinary time and eternity “the eternal now.”
The Kingdom comes in each and every moment.
God happens in each and every moment.
The 17th Century Jesuit Spiritual Master, Jean-Pierre de Causade
wrote about “the sacrament of the present moment.”
He meant God is in such moments.
Ram Das wrote a modern spiritual classic in the 60’s.
It was called “Be Here Now.”
Maybe God read it because that’s what God does.
God is here now.
The point is for us to wake up and notice.
That’s what Paul invites us to do.
A moment is a point defined as the intersection
of ordinary time and God’s time.
That is one of the often forgotten meanings of our Christian symbol,
the cross, the cruciform nature of time – history and eternity
crossing paths at a 90 degree angle.
It happens now and now and now again.
So Paul keeps shouting “wake up and notice.”
But how? How shall we stop killing time and
start living time by encountering God in each moment.
There is a general answer and there is a specific answer.
The general answer is agape – that amazing form of love
uniquely prescribed, praised, and proclaimed
in the New Testament.
Agape is the unconditional love
that delights in reality just for being real.
Agape is an equal opportunity enjoyer.
It doesn’t discriminate. It just savors.
But you may fairly ask how we got to that point?
Or as another popular song asked,
“What’s love got to do with it?”
The key is in the 1st Epistle of John,
which says “God is agape.”
This remarkable kind of joy and wonder
is the very soul of God.
It is the impetus that keeps God
generating these moments.
When we practice agape too, we join God.
We share the sacrament of the present moment with God.
But that general answer is way too abstract.
Moments are not abstractions.
They are absolutely real.
Abstractions like love can actually separate us
from the concrete situation.
So a general answer to the question “how do we wake up to God
will not serve.
We need the specific answer.
The bad news is: I don’t know what it is.
The good news is that you do.
My part is to give you a clue.
The way to encounter God
is not by thinking about the idea of God.
It is by looking at the reality at hand,
the reality of your own life,
in a spirit of compassionate, joyful, appreciation
-- then do the right thing.
It doesn’t take a rule book of abstractions.
Paul says, “one who has loved another has fulfilled the law.”
He calls that “putting on Jesus.”
That isn’t exactly imitating Jesus except in one respect.
Just look at your reality the way Jesus looked at his reality,
with compassionate joy, then do the right thing.
We are each invited to practice this awakened life
in our individual situations.
And we are called to practice this awakened life
together as the body of Christ in the world.
So have to ask: what time is it at St. Pauls?
You have a new rector.
The polar ice caps are melting.
There is an epidemic of meth addiction.
Half the world has given up on Jesus
and the other half has built a warmongering, bigoted
idol, named it Jesus, and is worshiping him.
In the midst of this mess, grace abounds.
God persists in happening over and over,
in moment after moment.
You know your situation better than I do.
You will know it even better if you look at it
with agape’s eyes.
Then you will know what to do.
“You know what time it is.
It is time to wake up” to God.