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United Church of Jaffrey
If you find yourself driving in a northeasterly direction on Route 119 you will encounter two long stretches where you gain a lot of elevation.
If you are on your way to church, say, and you are thinking you might want a couple of minutes to clean up your sermon – say, just say, — and you happen, just say, to be stuck behind someone who is really taking their time, these straightaways – one after the other – are your opportunity to get past them and leave them in the dust.
At the end of the second straightaway, the road shrugs decidedly to the left as it tops the hill, and it is here – if the day is clear – that you get your first glimpse of Monadnock’s rocky outcrop, rising in the distance.
When you are late, time seems to zoom.
If you have a bunch of papers to grade, there is never enough time.
I once saw a sign that read: “If time is infinite, how come we’re always running out of it?”
It’s a good question.
Time leans on us.
Religion, in all its forms, must concern itself with time – what was, what is, and what will be.
But when religion enters the discussion…
When we begin to hypothesize about time in relation to the divine…
We find ourselves confronted with a problem that we humans are ill equipped to deal with…
Consider, for a moment, the Gloria Patri that we sing each week:
Glory be to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning
is now and ever shall be, world without end.
As biological creatures: we are born, we live, we die. Our understanding is necessarily framed by the constraints of time.
But the God who we praise in the Gloria Patri, is a God who was in the beginning, A God who is now and A God who ever shall be…
God in other words, is not like us. God is eternal.
God exists, somehow, beyond, or outside of the influence of time.
So when our speculations about time intersect with our speculations about God, we move into a territory that is difficult to discuss using human language.
But does that stop us?
It never has…
Let us turn to the scripture passages that Bob read for us this morning.
Both passages concern a time that is to come.
The lesson from the Old Testament – or, as I prefer to call it, the Hebrew Bible — was from the 65th chapter of the Book Isaiah
In this passage Isaiah informs us that God is…
about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.
rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress.
This sounds pretty good!\
No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth…
That sound good too…
… it also sounds kind of unlikely.
Even with help of modern medical science living a hundred years is not exactly commonplace.
But if you think the idea of everyone living to be over 100 years old is unlikely, what about this? In the most famous part of this passage, Isaiah predicts that:
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
When I hear these words from the Bible, I cannot help remembering folks who would come door to door with colorful booklets that showed pictures of beautiful grassy expanses bathed in sunlight and flowers. In the foreground a sweet looking giant lion with a full mane was shown with its arms gently embracing a smiling lamb.
This was a depiction of the Kingdom of God. A paradise where there was no hint of carnivorous intent anywhere in sight.
As a youngster, I looked at such images and, quite naturally I think… expressed some skepticism,
The ready reply, from the earnest witness was
“Anything is possible with God.”
To this, the trouble-maker in me, would reply:
“OK, but if that is so, how come you don’t see any lions lying down with lambs?”
But they were ready for that.
“You don’t see it yet,” they said. “But there will be a time when the Kingdom of God will happen, and that will be when the lions and lambs will lie down with each other.”
In the future.
In the gospel lesson from the 21st chapter of Luke, Jesus tells of things that are to come.
His vision is not as rosy.
When his disciples admire the beauty and majesty of the temple in Jerusalem, Jesus rains on their parade, saying:
“As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”
That sounds pretty awful.
“Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.”
That sounds pretty terrible.
It also sounds quite… likely…
Wildfires out of control in California
High tides destroying Venice…
Famine in South Sudan
War in Syria, Yemen, and Ukraine
It doesn’t just sound like what is happening… it is what is happening in the world…
When I hear these words from the Gospel, I can’t help thinking about all the people out there who have decided that the Bible not just a holy book – it is also a kind of cryptic encoded message from God – and all you have to do is find the right encryption key and you will suddenly unlock all the eternal secrets, and find out exactly what signs will appear to show us precisely when everything will fall apart, and when, at last Christ will finally return.
For these folks, the Bible is like a big Rubik’s Cube.
All you have to do is figure out the correct combination of twists, and all the mysteries of the universe will be revealed.
In case you haven’t guessed, I don’t buy either of these ways of thinking about the God and time.
I don’t find the Polly-Anna-ish picture of vegetarian lions very compelling.
Religion that simply depends on God to give us paradise sometime in the future, seems less like religion and more like a pie-in-the-sky.
We don’t have to work to realize this paradise, we just have to wait for it.
Really? I don’t think so.
Religion insists on justice as the medium for peace.
This takes hard work.
The work of feeding the hungry
The work of sheltering the homeless.
Neither do I buy the idea that this or that combination of wildfires and earthquakes will usher in the end of times, and bring Christ sailing in on the clouds, to separate the sheep and the goats.
This is another waiting game.
That scenario also absolves us of our responsibility to justice.
I think religion should speak to us, the way we live now.
Is this really how eternity moves into human time?
It sounds like the dramatic finale of year’s superhero movie.
Is that the best our religion can offer us?
When I was a child – about 5 years-old — my family spent a few months visiting my father’s family in Japan.
As part of this time, we spent a week in a resort town called Hakone – a town near the base of Mt Fuji.
But, to my great disappointment, you would never know that Mt. Fuji was there.
Mt. Fuji spent that whole week in the clouds.
“Maybe it will come out today…” my mother would say.
As a five-year-old, I didn’t have much patience to begin with.
My sister, who was 4 years older, and so much more mature, also showed some signs of strain.
My brother, who was the oldest, pretended not to care.
We spent our days down beside the lake, looking at carp swimming around.
Finally, on the final day that we were there, I heard a cry of delight, followed by an urgent call…
It was my sister, Mimi. I ran out to the edge of the lake to where Mimi stood, pointing up into the clouds.
But I didn’t see anything.
Familiar tears started to burn in my eyes, but she said…
And then, suddenly, the clouds broke for a passing instant, and in that moment, Mt Fuji’s famous elegant peak shimmered in the sky above us.
And it was gone.
Since God is beyond time, God is now and not yet.
The Kingdom of God is peeks out from within the fabric of the now
It peeks out, and we recognize it, with a trembling in our hearts, as a part of that great mysterious concentration of good, that wants to gather…
This is the essence of Christian life –
A hope, within the real, that each small piece of justice creates more justice.
God, in time is not a goal.
God, in time is a process.
Our job is to recognize the providential glimpses of God’s love that appear in our lives.
Recognize the view of the landscape that these glimpses give us – so that we can know, see, and understand the demands of justice.
This will bring the not yet into the now.
A now that reaches, not toward eternal bliss…
A now that reaches toward human dignity.