The Ultimate Word

"The ultimate Word is not a paragraph but a person. If Jesus is the Word of God incarnate, then the heart of proclamation is personal and relational, not propositional."

Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki * God, Christ, Church, page 135

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Interpretting the Present Time


Pentecost 13, Proper 15C


Almighty God who gave us life, Gracious Christ who showed us the way, Present Spirit who inspires us, still, help us to see.  Amen.

I am a news junkie.  Every day I’m amazed at all that I can see: right now there are flood waters raging in my native home of Louisiana, there are political fires burning across the country as we discern together just how we’ll understand our nation’s soul in the coming months and years, there are African American women breaking records and breaking new ground through their physical achievements in the Olympic games in Brazil.

And you know that I am a travel junkie.  Throughout my life I’ve seen more than I might have imagined possible.  I’ve watched Big Ben strike the hours at noon on the banks of the Thames.  I’ve sat on an airplane hurtling across the equator in the middle of the night, discussing theology with a stranger.  I’ve watched cheetahs stalk their prey on the African savannah.  I’ve touched the wall that separate Israelis from Palestinians.

There is so much to see in the world.  There are so many ways to understand the world and to take it all in.  And the things that we see, teach us.  They broaden our expansive understandings of the world and help us to know and understand.

But even so, there is so much that we miss.  There is so much that we’re blind to.

No matter how much we expand our vision of the world, no matter how hard we try to take it all in, or how much we broaden our experience, there is still so much more.  We still fall short.

And too often, we even miss what is right in front of our faces.

We walk down streets and miss the suffering that is all around us.  We go about our daily lives, blind to the pain of our neighbors.  In our busyness, we miss loneliness.  In our hunger to meet our own best desires, we ignore the hunger of those we meet.  In our lust for security, we make others less secure.

These, and other ways, are all ways that we fail to meet our calling to be Christ in the world, but where we really fall short is when we can’t even see Christ in the world.  We miss the ordinary miracles that make the world and our gift of life within it the extraordinary experience that it is.

There is so much that we see, but so much that we miss.  And that’s the heartbreak that we hear expressed in the words of Jesus this morning: “You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”

The “present time” isn’t just about the things that we can see.  The “present time” is more than what is on the news, or in our travel diaries and photo albums.  The “present time” is about not just hearing the words of Jesus, or of anyone, for that matter; instead, it’s about recognizing Christ in the world.  It’s about recognizing that God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit are in the world, and in our lives, and moving within us and through us.  The “present time” is about the faith we’ve inherited from the past, inspiring us for all that is to come.

The Apostle Paul talks about the “present time” in his letter to the Hebrews: “By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.  And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets-- who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight…  Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith…”

This is our “present time”.  We live in a time when we can see so much, but we can’t seem to see what was put right in front of us.  We are surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses” that testify to the presence of God in our past, our present, and that portend that continued presence into the future.

God is with us.  We are not alone.  That’s our “present time”.

Despite whatever grief or sadness, despite whatever worries or fears weigh us down, despite whatever uncertainties we face, we can be certain of the continued presence of all that is Holy to guide us and to comfort us.  We can be certain that God will keep creating newly within us, because that is what God does.  That is God’s nature.  We can be certain that Christ will keep teaching us and showing us clearer pathways to God, but that is who Christ is.  We can be certain that the Holy Spirit between them and among us will continue to guide and strengthen us through this life, because that is, by definition and experience, the way of the Holy Spirit.

That is our “present time”.

We live in an age when can see anything.  We can see anything that exists on this earth at just about any moment’s notice, and quite a bit more that doesn’t really exist.  But will we see the truth that we’ve inherited in our faith in this “present time”?  Will we be open in the week ahead and the lifetime that follows it to living in the “present time” of Christ?

We can.  We can see so much already, and through discipline and faith, we can see more.

I know we can.  Amen.

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