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Now Is The Time
Rev. Jeff Crews
Sunday, 22 January 2012
Rev. Jeff Crews
Text: 1 Cor 7:29-31 & Mark 1:14-20
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In our passage from First Corinthians, Paul says the appointed time is short, and our Gospel from Mark says the time is now fulfilled. Certainly our passages today have something to say about time. Time is an interesting and untouchable thing. Yesterday is but a memory. Tomorrow is a dream. All that we really have is right now. Time cannot be bought or sold, and yet it is the fundamental unchanging building block of our lives. We cannot retrieve lost time, or create more time. But in regretting our yesterdays and worrying about our tomorrows, we often neglect the precious eternity of right now. What do our passages today teach us about time?
Will you pray with me? “God of time, and God beyond time, help us understand time and your Kingdom of Eternal Now. Amen.”
Paul tells the church at Corinth that the appointed time is now short. So short, in fact, Paul says we need to live our lives in fundamentally different ways; if married, act as if you are not, if mourning, stop, if rejoicing, stop, and if you are a merchant, stop buying and selling because the world as we know it is soon changing and passing away. And then, in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus says the time is fulfilled; the time is near. Both of these passages were written two thousand years ago, and clock time and calendar time have still marched on. Were Paul and Jesus wrong when they said the time was near and now? Are Jesus and Paul talking about clock time or God’s time? And what is the difference?
Let’s investigate Paul first. The context of chapter 7 of First Corinthians is about marital relationships, specifically whether one should start a new relationship. Paul thought, No, don’t start anything new because Christ is coming back very soon. I encourage you to go home today and read all of First Corinthians 7. Paul thought, as virtually all Jews of his time did, that there were two epochs or ages of history. The first was human history, and the second epoch was the Kingdom of God. Paul was further convinced that the cross had ended the first epoch, and the second epoch was beginning even as he wrote. He was convinced that Christ was going to return very soon and inaugurate the second epoch. The evidence we have here is Paul said don’t worry about anything that would take awhile: marriage, mourning, rejoicing or worldly goods, for the present time is passing away. Now, I think Paul was correct about when God’s Kingdom would come—right now!-- but history shows us that Paul misinterpreted how the Kingdom would enter our world. Paul thought the political and economic world would be changed on the outside through the return of the military-political messiah figure. 2000 years later, we now realize that Jesus inaugurated a different kind of epoch—Jesus came to be the spiritual leader of the church marked by our inner personal relationship with God.
In our passage, Paul clearly says the present outward form of the world is passing away, and that we must behave differently because the new epoch is beginning. But we know now that God’s plan through Jesus was reforming the inner Kingdom of our relationship with God. So the time is now—right now—for each and every one of us to change our relationship with God. Now is the time, just as it was with Paul and Jesus. And the change within us is to walk with Christ as we learn to love God and our neighbor.
Now, let’s reflect on what the Gospel of Mark says about this same subject through Jesus’ teaching. The Gospel of Mark is a breathless telling of Jesus’ ministry. It starts with a fast-paced style, and never slows down. Our passage today is only 14 verses into the first chapter, and already the background of the Gospel, the story of John the Baptist, Jesus’ baptism, and Jesus’ temptation have come and gone quickly. And then, in Mark 1 verse 15, we have Jesus’ first preaching! Let’s look carefully at what Jesus says, because in ancient literature, the first words of any character give us the outline of their message and tell us clearly who and what they are. So, in Mark, Jesus’ first words are, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is near; repent, and believe in the good news.” That’s it. As we would say, that is Jesus’ message in a nut-shell. One. The time is fulfilled. Two. The Kingdom of God is near. Three. Repent. And Four. Believe in the good news. That’s Jesus’ message. Now Mark spends the rest of his gospel telling us what this means.
The first thing we notice is that each of these passages, both in First Corinthians and in Mark, uses the same word for time. But they do not use the normal Greek word for time, which is chronos. Instead, they both use the word kairos. Chronos means clock time; calendar time. Time measured by quantity. But our word in both passages is kairos, a different kind of time. Kairos is usually best translated season, or epoch or age. Kairos is a quality of time. So both passages are saying a new quality of time has arrived. The old quality of time has passed away, behold, a new quality of time is come. Paul says the old quality of time is ended, Time’s Up! Mark’s Jesus says, the Season or epoch is now near to us—the new epoch is right here. We are now in a new quality of time, a time where we each have individual personal relationships with the living God. The time of the Temple is passed. In this new time, we are each living temples. Now.
And this leads us into Jesus’ next important teaching. The Kingdom of God is near, Jesus says. The new quality of time of the Kingdom of God is as near as our soul. It is right now. It is right here, within us, as close as our beating heart. Then Jesus says the third teaching: repent. The Greek word here is metanioa, which means literally become new! Change your mind and heart. Be changed by this message of the immediate nearness of the Kingdom of God. Finally, Jesus adds; believe in the gospel, the good news. Now this early in Mark, we do not yet fully know what the good news is, but the entire rest of the Gospel of Mark is centered around defining this good news: God loves us and wants to be in personal relationship with us.
So let’s put this all together: here are Jesus’ opening words in the Gospel of Mark-- One. The old is done, the quality of time has changed. Two. This new quality of time means the Kingdom of God is now within us—right here and now. Three. Because God is so near to us, change your minds and hearts right now! And Four. Believe in the good news that God loves us and wants to be in relationship with us.
So now, back in Mark’s Gospel, what would someone listening to Jesus and acting on Jesus’ first words look like? We don’t have to read far to find out. This is exactly what Simon and Andrew did. They responded by recognizing the new quality of God time as represented by Jesus. They dropped their nets and made a huge passionate transformation in their lives. They heard this simple message of Jesus, they recognized the new God-time, they recognized Jesus as an embodiment of the Kingdom of God right now. They changed their minds about the immediacy of God in their lives and responded to the new quality of time lived by Jesus. They saw God’s plan come alive in Jesus, and they left everything to follow him. Several verses later, James and John left their boats and nets and father and hired hands and responded to the eternal now as Jesus said to them “Follow me.” And the story of Mark’s gospel is the story of the disciples struggling to live faithfully in this God quality time as they followed Jesus on the Way. And just like us, sometimes they followed well, and sometimes they could not.
These passages invite us to consider this new quality of time in our lives. When we hear Jesus’ message, how do we respond to the new quality and nearness of God-time in our lives? The creator of the universe reaches out to us in each moment and says “Follow me!” In each and every decision of our lives we have the opportunity to choose to follow God’s new quality time, living out our love of God and one another. Just as Paul invited the Corinthians and Jesus invited the fishermen-disciples, so we are invited to choose God’s quality time. Starting now, choose God’s quality of time in each miraculous now. Jesus said, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news." The time is right now, the Kingdom of God is right here, change your minds and follow Jesus, believing that God loves us and wants to be in relationship with us forever. Now is the time! And that’s Good News!