What Time is It?
ECCLESIASTES 3:1-8; MARK 1:14-15; 2 CORINTHIANS 6:2
What time is it? Most of us would answer, “10:30”. But in Bible times, time was not a matter of knowing the time of day. They didn’t have clocks! Time for them was a matter of knowing what kind of time it might be. As we read in Ecclesiastes, is it a time for tears or a time for laughter? A time to mourn or a time to dance?
On this first Sunday of a new year (also Epiphany, the twelfth day of Christmas), what time is it? When I was in Japan, I observed that New Year’s was a time to get drunk. At least, the men; I suppose the women were busily serving the men their drinks. New Year’s in Japan was not a time to drive on the streets, nor take a bus, nor fly. Who knew the condition of the pilot!
It is important to know what time it is, so we can act appropriately. We know that a worship service is not a time for popcorn, but popcorn is appropriate in move theaters. Most of us know that a wedding is not the time to point out the groom’s shortcomings and mistakes! I recall how shocked an elderly, proper gentleman was when he saw the casual clothes I wore on an airplane. He still thought men should dress in a suit and tie on an airplane. Isn’t it fun to see photos of old baseball games where the fans are wearing suits and ties. I remember the time when men dressed up for church! Times change. It is important to know what time it is.
Wise parents wait for the right time to teach children. It is unproductive to teach children in the heat of the moment when anger is raging, tempers are flying, and the power struggle is at its height! Wise parents withdraw from the conflict, and wait for the right time to discipline. When Philip came home an hour late, his mother was stewing inside. But rather than losing her temper, reprimanding, scolding, and lecturing, she said nothing. However, the next day when Philip asked if he could go visit his friends again, she calmly replied, “No, you did not act responsibly yesterday. You may try again tomorrow.” Wise couples wait for the right time to discuss disagreements, knowing that the wrong time is in the heat of the moment when they are dodging frying pans, dinner plates and chop sticks.
Sometimes the right time is not recognized. Do you know when the fax was invented? An Italian priest, Giovanni Caselli, sent a fax between Paris and Lyons on a telegraph line in 1865, 143 years ago! No one paid any attention. No one used it. No one understood it. They didn’t know what time it was. They didn’t know it was the time of the fax, and they missed it!
What a year 2008 might be! Is it the time for our first African American president? Is it the time for our first woman president? Is it the time for our first Mormon president? Is it the time to withdraw our military from Iraq.
There is often disagreement over what time it is. In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees said it was the time to negotiate and coexist with Rome. The Zealots said it was the time to revolt against Rome. John the Baptizer and Jesus disagreed with each other. I say “Baptizer”. A member of the Manteca Church, recalling his Southern Baptist heritage, liked to tease, “He wasn’t John the Methodist, he was John the Baptist.” So, just to make it clear, I referred to John as John the Baptizer!
John the Baptizer and Jesus both saw a disaster, a catastrophe coming. Jesus issued strong words of warning, Mark 13.14-17, “Those in Judea must flee to the mountains, the one on the housetop must not go down or enter the house to take anything away; the one in the field must not turn back to get a coat. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days.” Jesus and John the Baptizer realized that the constant terrorist attacks by the Zealots would lead to a major confrontation with Rome. Eventually, Rome grew weary of the uprising and sent a huge army, commanded by Titus. In 70 AD the army descended on Judea, destroyed the beloved temple, laid waste the city of Jerusalem, and dispersed much of the population throughout the Roman Empire. Conservative Christians today, as evidenced by all the books in Christian bookstores about the end times, believe the catastrophe is still coming. History says it already happened in 70 AD.
But John the Baptizer and Jesus differed on what time it was. John believed the catastrophe was God’s judgment and punishment. John said it was a time for repentance, mourning, weeping, fasting and abstinence. Jesus, however, said it was not only the time for repentance, but also the time for rejoicing, celebrating, feasting and partying. Jesus liked to party. He partied with the Pharisees, and much to the consternation of the Pharisees, partied with the poor, the outcasts, and the sinners.
Why? Because it was the time of God’s reign, the kingdom of God. We heard in the Scripture lesson that Jesus began his ministry by proclaiming, “The kingdom of God is near.” It’s time had come. Jesus lived in tumultuous, uncertain times, but he saw signs that God was breaking in. Therefore, Jesus said, repent, turn from the old, reorient your thinking, and follow me into God's kingdom where you will rejoice, celebrate, party!
Today we live in tumultuous, uncertain times, but with the eyes of faith, we can see signs that this is God’s time, and God is breaking in. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Now is the time. Now is the day of salvation.”
When John the Baptizer sent a delegation to ask Jesus if he were the Messiah, if indeed he was inaugurating the kingdom of God, Jesus replied, Matthew 11.4-5, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”
Today also, now is the time. Look at what God is doing. Barriers are crumbling. Women are beginning to receive equal opportunity for positions of power and leadership, and equal pay with men. Gays and lesbians are increasingly treated with respect and given equal rights and opportunities, but the struggle is far from over. We pray that peace throughout the world may become a reality. Isn't it time for peace?
Barriers between people are crumbling, but there is still much to be done. Bishop Elias Galvan recently issued the following statement: “Millions of Latinos and Latinas live in fear, threat and intimidation due to the hostile climate generated by the political and social attitudes toward immigrants and Latinos in particular. Latinos face daily suspicion of their citizenship and rights as residents of our communities. They are subjected to racial profiling and suspicion as they seek employment, housing or simply driving down the street.” And, American Muslims are also unfairly treated with suspicion.
Jesus says, “Repent for the kingdom of God is near.” Repent means to turn. Turn from that which inhibits you moving from spectator to disciple. Turn from bad habits and ineffective patterns that are preventing you from living in the kingdom of God. Repent also means to reorient. Reorient your thinking. Look at people not from a human point of view, but look at people from God's point of view. “Repent,” says Jesus. “Rejoice, party, and follow me. The kingdom of God is near. Follow me.”
What time is it? I know it is not the time for apathy. It is not the time to wring hands, moan and groan. It is not the time to give up. Now is the time to repent. Now is the time for hope. Now is the time for action. Now is the time to move from spectator to disciple. Now is the day of salvation.
© 2008 Douglas I. Norris