January 21, 2024

Jonah 3:1-5, 10
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Mark 1:14-20

“It is Time to Live Differently”

As we journey through the seasons of the church year and explore the texts of scripture each Sunday that are assigned by the lectionary cycle, we have the opportunity to focus on different parts of the Christian story.

During Advent, we enter into the experience of waiting. Longing, hoping, waiting for a Messiah to come… waiting for his return, waiting for our world to be put right. When Christmas finally arrives, we enter into the experience of the Holy Family, of the shepherds, and of the angels. We celebrate the gift of God in sending Jesus into our world, almost as if he has just arrived.

And then, at Epiphany, we walk with the wise men to greet him. We experience the “aha moment” – the knowledge that Emmanuel has come – “God with us” for the whole world.

Today is the third Sunday after the Epiphany in our church year. We’re in what we call the “Season of Epiphany,” and our scripture texts contain some wonderful epiphanies of their own. But I can’t help summing them up with one message from God: “It is time to live differently.”

The Greek word that is translated as “time” in each of our New Testament readings today is kairos. You might recognize that word from the name of our Canadian ecumenical social justice organization.

Kairos doesn’t have to do with what time it is on the clock. That’s chronos – chronological time. Chronos deals with time in the sense of calendars and clocks. Kairos refers to an opportune time, an appropriate moment. Kairos declares that the right time has come – God’s time. And it calls us to act.

Our social justice organization calls itself KAIROS as a way of saying, “The time has come.” We are called to act on behalf of the poor, on behalf of the oppressed, on behalf of all those who are denied justice by our society’s structures and decisions.

When we read the word kairos in our Greek New Testament, it will not be a comment about the time of day or the season of the year. When we see the word kairos, we know that something important is happening. Something long-awaited is taking place. It is time.

In the Gospel reading from Mark, we hear Jesus’ declaration that “it is time.” Jesus proclaims what Mark’s Gospel describes as “the good news of God” saying: “The time (the kairos) is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near;”

What made it the right time? It’s hard to say. Jesus had been born, and grown up, and been baptized by John, and been through the temptations in the wilderness. Perhaps he was ready now – to do the work of ministry for which he had been born. Jesus says, “It is time.” I’m ready. This is the right moment.

But it’s not only the right moment for Jesus. It’s also the right moment for the people to whom he preaches. He says, “The kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” It is time. Time to believe in God and God’s good news of love in Jesus Christ. Time to repent. Time to turn from selfish and sinful ways. Time to turn towards God’s ways.

We watch as Jesus approaches Simon and Andrew, James and John. We listen as Jesus says, “Follow me,” and they turn from their occupations and their families and everything that had been a part of their normal lives. We watch them get up and follow Jesus – to learn his teachings, to travel with him, and to help him proclaim his message – to let everyone know that “It is time.”

Those first disciples of Jesus, who left their nets to follow a wandering preacher, made a radical response to the message “It is time to live differently.” Others who came after them would not necessarily make such dramatic changes in lifestyle when they became followers of Jesus, we might assume.

And yet, in the early church, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, leaders like the Apostle Paul had the expectation that becoming a Christian would dramatically alter the course of each person’s life. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian Christians, he tries to help them to sort out what their lives are to be like as followers of Jesus, post-resurrection. It’s one thing to drop your nets and follow a real, live person who will guide you and teach you and give direction and shape to your life. It’s quite another to respond to the call to follow when Jesus is not on earth to show the way.

So Paul teaches the Corinthians about worship, about sharing resources, about sharing gifts, about loving one another, and about how to interact with people of other religions within their multi-cultural city. But essentially, what Paul teaches them is that “it is time to live differently.”

Paul had the hope and the expectation that Jesus would be coming back very soon and that the present form of the world would be passing away. He told them not to concern themselves with buying things or with possessions. He told them not to focus on marriages or mourning rituals.

I think he was saying that the things that caused them so much worry and anxiety at that time would not be very important in the long term. I think he was saying that they should focus on God and on what God was calling them to do right there and then. He was saying, “It is time to live differently.”

Today, in this time, we are invited to consider what time it is now. (In terms of chronos, it’s 11:15 a.m. on Sunday, January 21st, 2024.) But in terms of kairos, is it time for you to respond to a particular calling from God?

Are you being asked to leave some part of your life, some priority, some activity behind, and to do something different with your life? Are you being asked to take a risk, to give of yourself to proclaim the Gospel, or to create justice, or to make peace? What mission or calling or change is God calling you to make in your life today? Or what has God been calling you to do for some time now that you’ve been avoiding?

When I think about the question of Kairos – what time it is right now, what we as Christians and Churches are being called to do at this time – I think of so many issues of justice and peace that require our attention, our generosity, and very often our advocacy.

Two weeks ago, I told you about my experience of seeing a man curled up at the side of the road as I was walking home along Albert Street. Although fear made me hesitate to stop at first, God’s voice directed me to turn around and do something to help. On a cold, snowy night, the man had an urgent need that required an immediate response.

But last weekend we heard in the news about another man who needed help in Regina, and how no one stopped for him. He fell as he exited the back door of a city bus, and landed on the sidewalk from which he couldn’t get up. Many hours passed by with cars and busses going along the road, but he was still there in the morning when a person on a bicycle finally stopped and called for help. Unfortunately, it was too late.

Of course, these are specific examples of a much bigger problem, and one that we are collectively struggling to respond to in a timely and adequate way. Our community, like so many others, includes many people who are slipping through the cracks in our social safety net. In fact, it would be more accurate to say that there are great gaping holes in our net through which hundreds of people are falling.

We are experiencing a serious crisis of homelessness in our city. It’s a systemic issue that affects people on social assistance or disability who cannot afford rent, food, and other basic expenses, as well as working people who receive minimum wage or just above, who don’t earn nearly enough to feed their families and pay all the bills.

Aware of the number of people literally living on the streets and the reality that Regina shelter beds fill up quickly every night, a group of Churches, helping agencies, and other community members came together in November to form the “Warm Welcome Coalition.” We brain-stormed possible short-term solutions and began advocating with various levels of government to fund an emergency warming centre for this winter.

Finally, last week, just after temperatures were dropping down to minus 50 with the wind chill, funding from the city and province was confirmed and an overnight warming bus was set up outside Carmichael Outreach. Starting next week, Carmichael will begin operating a warming centre in their building, and the risk of more people freezing to death will be somewhat reduced. Reports indicate that the warming bus is already filling up each night (with about 60 people) by about 1 am.

Faith communities, other groups, and individuals are being invited to support the warming centre by providing sandwiches and snacks to feed folks who are not only cold, but also hungry during the night. And there will be opportunities for people to volunteer at the centre as well, offering hospitality and care to people in desperate circumstances.

Of course, we know that this is just one more stop-gap measure. It’s like we’re trying to sew up the gaping holes in the safety net when a new net is actually required. That’s why after cheering at the good news of the funding for the warming centre at Carmichael, the “Warm Welcome Coalition” turned the conversation towards advocacy for a homelessness strategy, for living-wage policies, and programs by our various levels of government that would actually support people to thrive, rather than just stop them from freezing to death on the streets.

It is time for us to respond to the urgent needs of our community members. It is also time for us to make the systemic changes that will actually end homelessness and make shelters and warming centres unnecessary.

I would like to report that when God calls me to action, or to repentance, or to generosity, or to a new way of life, that I always respond immediately – that I drop what I’m doing and follow. But that’s not really true.

I’m sure that I’m not the only one here who has a tendency to procrastinate. Especially when it comes to tasks that are particularly challenging, or unpleasant, or scary, it’s easy to put them off and to avoid doing the things that God is calling us to do immediately.

In fact, we may be wracked with guilt over the things that we should have done, that we should have done immediately, and we still haven’t done them – whether it’s having a difficult conversation to make peace in a relationship, or picking up the phone or going to visit someone who is sick, or making the time to finish a project or task that no longer seems interesting to us.

But today, I invite you to remember the story of Jonah. When God told Jonah that it was time to go to Ninevah, Jonah didn’t just procrastinate about the journey, he actually ran in the other direction to avoid the trip. God sent Jonah to go to Ninevah and call that great city to repentance – to call them to return to the ways of God. It wasn’t the kind of mission that most people would get excited about, and I think it scared Jonah to death!

It was time for him to go to Ninevah, and Jonah ran away. But after a bit of back-peddling and a time-out in the belly of a fish, Jonah eventually went. He went to Ninevah and he marched around the city and he called the people to repentance, as God had told him to do.

And they did repent. Right away. All the people “great and small” proclaimed a fast and put on sack cloth – signs of repentance. Even the king repented, and he made a decree that everyone in the city should do the same – repent of their evil ways and cry mightily to God. “Who knows?” he said, “God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.” And that, indeed, is what God did.

It is time, Jesus proclaimed. The Kingdom of God is near. Repent, and believe in the good news. It is time, Jesus called. Come and follow me and be my disciples.

It is time, Jesus continues to call. It is time to live differently, to make your lives about following my way, to respond to my invitations, to do my work in the world. It is time to take action for the well-being of all our community members by giving, and serving, and advocating . This is a kairos moment. It is time.