s031g02 12/5/02 Easter 7a (Wednesday 15/5/02)
"Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" Acts 1.6
"Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time." 1 Peter 5.6
"Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son ..." John 17.1
The theme for each of today's readings is time. The question that the disciples ask the risen Jesus is curious to say the least. They address him as Lord, as well they might. Yet one wonders how the privileged information that Jesus may have imparted might have been used. Even the knowledge of one of his favourite places for meditation - the garden of Gethsemane - had been used ever so recently to betray him. However having a friend in such "high places" might prove to be a very useful contact in our dealings in this world. It was well they called him: "Lord".
I am reminded of the joke I heard recently about the Pope visiting America and being picked up in a white limousine. The Pope asks to have a drive, but goes through a red light and is waved down by a policeman. Dumfounded at who he has to "book", the officer phones his boss, wondering what he should do - he has to book someone so important that his chauffeur is the Pope!
The trouble is that if we know when things might happen, then we can use that knowledge for good ends or for evil. For instance, if we knew that there would be a severe downturn in stock prices tomorrow, we could, if we had shares, sell them today before their value fell. But going further if we knew about the downturn tomorrow and we announced it to the world today and it happened, we could soon be making a lucrative business as an investment advisor.
This begs the question, if we came to believe the world would end tomorrow what actual difference would that make to how we live our life today? If it actually did make a difference to how we lived our life today, then perhaps we ought to make those changes anyway.
We want to know the time. But knowing the time is the ultimate deception. The desire to know when things might take place really only serves to satisfy our curiosity, and to feed our procrastination, to put off doing what God wants. We wait until we get a definitive answer.
"Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" They wanted to know when God was going to do something. How blind they were! God had already done something - God had raised Jesus from the dead. Now they wanted God to do something more!
And perhaps this bids us too to look not so much for God to do more, but to look around and see what God has already done and continues to do around us. There is much beauty in the world and much beauty in people.
And like every request for God to do something, perhaps it is more likely to be profitable for us to be asking if it is now the time for us to do something.
For both of the other quotations about time speak about us doing something. The second said: "Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time." We have a part to play and that part is being ourselves and allowing others to be themselves.
It is quite possible for us to be humble, to be ourselves. It doesn't require us to do anything extraordinary. God invites us to be comfortable with ourselves. And this same invitation is directed to others too. No one else is expected to make extraordinary changes in their lives either. No one is expected to change the colour of their skin, to please God or others - if this were indeed possible. No one is expected to change the culture in which they were brought up, to please God or others - if indeed this were possible. No one is expected to change their gender in order to become more acceptable to God or others - if indeed this were at all possible. No one is expected to change the person with whom they relate with mutual intimacy - to please God or others - if this were in fact possible. We cannot be acceptable to God as we are but expect God to treat others less leniently.
The third of my quotations again points us to our part to play. Jesus says: "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son ..." Of course it might be thought that this is similarly asking God to do something for Jesus. In reality it is Jesus saying to God, "I am now ready - ready for the cross." Jesus was saying "I am ready to do something, and may it be to your glory and not my own."
We live in a world of instant coffee and computers that do calculations at the rate of 120 million a second. I was interested to see in the Advertiser a long time ago, a report by Marty Smith in his column "Thoughts". From the quote book (the "Popular Mechanics" magazine in 1949): "Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons" My iBook weighs about 3 kgs and the work I have done for the last 5 years and more is engraved on a single CD weighing perhaps 10 grams. Most of that 10 grams is actually plastic supporting microscopic engraving, weighing next to nothing. Every thought, sentence, paragraph and sermon I've prepared in recent times, fits on one single CD, permanent yet infinitesimal.
Time can be a gift. I am reminded of the words of absolution given by the priest at Compline in the 1928 Prayer Book: "May the Almighty and merciful Lord grant unto you pardon and remission of all your sins, time for amendment of life, and the grace and comfort of the Holy Spirit." (p 661)
But time can also be a curse. I find it interesting that in the parable of the unmerciful servant, both those who are in debt ask not for the debt to be forgiven but for time to pay. In this case time is but a long and drawn out torture, as we try to live a life forever indebted to another and with little or no hope of ever clearing the debt. God does not want anyone to live like that! We are not just given time and we are bidden to not just give others time. We are forgiven and we are bidden to forgive.
There are, of course, times and situations when people's illness means they long for the end. None of us, looking on, are competent to judge whether such longings are justified or not. Who can know the depths of despair that some young people face and are driven to commit suicide? We can but pray that we can do something to relieve their suffering. In the words of the "Desiderata" which begins: "Go placidly amid the noise and haste ...", the author says: "Do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness."
But even such wise counsel is not easy to observe - I know this in my own life and to my own detriment.
I recall many years ago taking the sacrament to someone in the last stages of their earthy life. For here palliative care was not effective, and she invariably asked me how long God wanted her to suffer like she was. One time I gently suggested (I hope it was gentle) that perhaps the time was in her hands more than God's, and she seemed to relax to and find some comfort in these words. And indeed as I have ministered among people I have seen the truth of this more and more, that people choose the time of their death far more frequently than external influences, human or divine. It makes me wonder what the "euthanasia" debate is all about.
The thing that God does want us to do is not to lament the past, with weeping and gnashing of teeth or to speculate what might be in the future and how we might use that to our advantage, but to treat others with respect, and we can do this whether we have just a day or fifty more years to live.
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