January 22, 2012

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

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 11:35 a.m. on Sunday, January 22nd, 2012.) 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 – an important event that comes to mind is the upcoming National Event of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The TRC is already in Saskatchewan right now, conducting hearings in a variety of communities, giving opportunities for the survivors of residential schools and others impacted by the school system to tell their stories and be heard.

In June of this year, the TRC will hold a National Event here in Saskatoon at Prairieland Park. The event will include statement gathering, witnessing survivor statements, survivor gatherings, traditional ceremonies, cultural performances, and education. And all Canadians, whether Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal, are being encouraged to participate.

Today, our churches (our denominational bodies) are encouraging local Christians to participate in the TRC process. We have church representatives on the planning committee for the event in Saskatoon, and representatives from our national churches will come and participate by witnessing survivor statements and offering apologies. In Prince Albert, the Presbyterian Church is organizing to have church representatives present for each day and hour of the hearings that will be held there next week.

It is time for us to be present, to listen, and to provide opportunities to share the truth of our history as a country so that healing and reconciliation may become a real possibility.

Many people would say that something like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission should have happened years ago. After failing to act for so long, maybe it’s simply too late to make a difference in the lives of the residential school students or their children and grandchildren whose lives have also been scarred by the damage done to previous generations. But I would argue that it’s never too late to respond to God’s call and do what is right.

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 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 stop, to listen, and to seek to understand our Aboriginal sisters and brothers who were affected by the legacy of the residential schools. This is a KAIROS moment, and one not to be missed. It is time.