February 17, 2013  — Lent 1

Rev. David Boyd


Wasn't it that we were just observing Advent? We had the blue cloths out and the banners and were doing candles—lighting them instead of extinguishing them. Wasn't it just Christmas and Epiphany? The days were short and now they are longer?

"That's called the ticking of the clock," my kids would say. While time in Einstein's way of thinking isn't constant—it does bend and change—time is time in our lives. It neither goes more quickly nor more slowly. A second is a second and a minute a minute. An hour, a day, a week... well, you get the picture.

But we do experience time moving at different rates of speed. If time is relative as Einstein postulated, we are living proof. Time can go by quickly or it can drag by ever so slowly. Maybe this sermon feels like it will never end and it's only just started! The older we get, and I get this now, and I hear it from others, is that time goes by much more quickly. Even young families these days, because everyone is so busy, talks about time flying by. Perhaps this time relativity is why Henry Van Dyke wrote those words that I and others have used at funerals because they are so poignant: "Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love — time is eternity." (Public Domain)

This is just chronos time related to the clock and the seasons, but there is another way to think of time and that is called kairos time: "Time out of time" is a poetic way to think of kairos time. Or "the fullness of time" as it is expressed in Christian worship. We often speak of Jesus coming in "the fullness of time." It was the "right time." It was the "eternal moment."

The literal Greek translation is "the right, proper and favourable time." One of the Greek dictionaries that I have it points to the time when the trees bear fruit. I like that definition as it has the hint of abundance attached to it and the hint of generosity. This is more like the eternal time about which Henry Van Dyke was writing. This kind of time has a spiritual dimension to it.

Part of the challenge of kairos time is that by the time you know you are in it, it is gone. It is like humility; by the time you recognize that you are humble, the very act of recognition makes it more about conceit than humility. If we recognize that we are in the midst of "the fullness of time," the moment is lost. The challenge, then, becomes a question of just living in the moment and accepting what is as what is.

Some modern thinkers about the church have suggested that we are in kairos time right now. The Church is undergoing a shift of immense proportions. That would be true of the Roman Catholic Church as they begin the process of electing a new pope. But we liberal Protestant denominations are going through big changes. Would we recognize "the fullness of time" today if we could? Did people in Jesus' day recognize "the fullness of time" then?

A kairos moment is the culmination of something exciting. The Reformation was the culmination of a number of factors that prompted a new revolution. Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and others caught the moment and were inspired to plot a change in course and a change in attitude. Are we at that moment now? Is this "the fullness of time" when the tree is ripe and ready for picking?

I can't answer that question, but I want to suggest that we—Nelson United Church—are at a moment of culmination. The mystery of kairos time is that we are always at that moment of culmination leading to a new course, but some moments are more subject to a new direction than others!

The Board has asked me during Lent to reflect on the new directions that we are exploring. I begin this today with some thoughts about time and with the backdrop of Paul writing to the early Roman Church to create a launch pad for taking the Gospel into Spain and further north into Europe; alas, Paul was imprisoned in Rome and never made it to Spain. We also begin rolling out our intentions with respect to new directions with the backdrop of Jesus' temptation in the desert.

Paul wrote about lips reflecting what is in our hearts, or the idea that we need to walk the talk. We need to be consistent in what we believe and in the end, in the God of all, there is no separation.

But what both Jesus experienced and Paul proclaimed is that we are called to live by an ethic of love. Love is to govern our lives and it is actualized in proclaiming the importance of Sabbath rest. Love is actualized in an ethic of gratitude. Love is actualized in the appreciation of the arts and of beauty. Love is actualized in an ethic of radical justice and the reversal of the fortunes of the poor. In different words, these are the directions that the Board has embraced.

In this age of instant communication and the immediacy of now and a response now, Sabbath becomes even more important. I had so many emails waiting for me when I returned from holidays that it took me almost a week to catch up. And most of those emails wanted a response three weeks ago! We are all so busy and even our children are busy. We've lost the sense of Sabbath. But that is part of our ethic as a sister religion to Judaism. It is an ethic of wholeness. But Sabbath isn't just about rest; it is more than that. It is about resisting the temptation to consume. It is about resisting the temptation for power and material gain. It is about resisting the almost overwhelming compulsion to be busy! More on this strategic direction throughout Lent.

And secondly, gratitude. I suspect what helped Jesus resist temptation in the desert was gratitude; and Paul, grateful for a community in which to combine efforts in launching the Gospel into Spain. Gratitude leads us into celebrating community, a radical welcome where all can experience the fullness of what it means to be human—where we can all be human in our own unique ways! That leads us to reach out in partnerships to other agencies locally and to celebrate and enhance our partnerships globally, like we're beginning to do again with Nyadnyadze Methodist Church, to live the Way of Jesus, which is the way of a preferential option for the poor, the landless, and the oppressed. More on this strategy later in Lent, too.

Thirdly, the Board is seeking to celebrate the beauty of life through the arts, through an appreciation of the moment. It is a direction that appeals to our senses as we are whole beings. We hope to explore with visual artists some new images for us to experience God's love, to celebrate in music and the spoken word, through drama and hearing, through dance perhaps and movement. Again, more on this through Lent.

And finally, what undergirds us in all of this is the deep spiritual calling we have as individuals and as a community. I am not one to separate spirituality from religion; for me, religion is about being a community of spiritual people. The Board wants to help us celebrate the spiritual gifts we possess and to share disciplines across traditions, religious and denominational, that can help us deepen our sense of being human. Being intentional about our spiritual life together, perhaps becoming a spiritual centre of hope and promise, is a new direction.

Well, that's a little foretaste of our directions: centred around community, spirituality, the arts and wholeness. We'll explore these directions in the coming weeks of Lent and throughout this year. For...
               I am the church.
               You are the church.
               We are the church together.

In this moment, in the fullness of time, the tree is ripe and its fruit ready to be picked. Blessings on our engagement of new directions.