“Sermon Title”About Time” by Pastor Rosanna McFadden
Good morning! This is an exciting Sunday for worship planning — if it seems to you like there’s kind of a lot going on, you are correct. If you have been coasting through the service so far on auto-pilot, let me just highlight some of what has been happening and what you might be able to expect in the sermon. I will leave it to you to decide if I can successfully keep all the balls in the air. I trust that even if they all fall down, that will be interesting in its own way.
This is the Sunday before American Thanksgiving. Canadians have their own Thanksgiving in October, but for most of us in the US, this is the Sunday when we focus on harvest, abundance, gratitude, giving thanks, and Friendsgiving. These colors and the autumnal spread of pumpkins and gourds on the chancel table is a sure sign that it is November. This is not the same everywhere in the world. The Christian year, which is not a biblical construct but a historical one, calls this Eternity Sunday, or Christ the King Sunday. It is the final Sunday of the Christian year, which means that next Sunday is the beginning of the Christian year, or the first Sunday of Advent. As you might imagine, this can be a cause of consternation for Maryann Zerbe and other members of the Worship Team, who are expected to put away all the fall stuff and get out all the Advent/Christmas stuff during the week when we’re all busy cooking and hosting or traveling for Thanksgiving. In addition, I have made the choice to preach on prayer in the month of November, and have been reading a terrific book which I want to share from. So it’s a little bit of mental Jenga today to fit together the pieces of Thanksgiving, Christ the King, and prayer. I know we can do fit it all in.
I know we can fit it all in, because the passage which Tim read for us from 1 Thessalonians puts all these themes together. It may be helpful to know — or to be reminded, if you already knew — that 1 and 2 Thessalonians are the oldest material in the New Testament. They were written before any of the gospels, before any of the other letters, before Revelation. Scholars do not dispute — as they do with some of the other letters — that Thessalonians were written by the Apostle Paul; 1 Thessalonians was written around 50 CE, less than 20 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. This is important to know, because it gives us insight not only into the specifics of what the church at Thessalonica was struggling with, but we know what was on Paul’s mind not long after Jesus left his disciples and was taken up in to heaven.
Unsurprisingly, what is on Paul’s mind is “when is Jesus coming back?” This is a question which Christians have been asking ever since — for more than 1900 years. This question got asked a LOT in 1999, and in 1899 and whenever a new century turns over. Despite poring through predictions and prophesies and prognostications, the best answer we seem to be able to come up with is “Soon.” Jesus is coming back soon. And, as you know if you watch the series The Chosen, or if you have ever been a kid waiting for Christmas, or if you have ever anticipated anything, “soon” can mean almost anything. Do we mean God’s time or our time? Grandparent time or toddler time? How soon something comes which we want, or how soon something comes which we are dreading? Clocks may measure time to the tenth or the hundredth of a second, but how we experience time is much more fluid than that. Let me give you a personal example, and see if anything like this has ever happened to you: I sit down in the office to start up my computer, and instead of taking 3 seconds, like usual, I sit for 7 or 8 seconds, and when it hasn’t started yet, I say (impatiently) “This is taking forever.” Eight seconds.
I’ve been reading this great book called The Liturgy of the Ordinary. I totally bought this book because of the image on the cover — slices of bread with jelly and peanut butter. It’s a great image of joy and praise in everyday life. The author, Tish Harrison Warren, uses everyday occurrences such as brushing teeth, checking email, calling a friend as a way to remind the reader of the sacredness of daily life. I love this concept and she’s a great writer, and I think she nailed it with her chapter on liturgical time, which is titled Sitting in Traffic. Warren has young children and commutes in Pittsburgh, PA, but sitting in traffic is something we have all experienced. We would like to think that time is a commodity which we control, but sitting in traffic reminds us that this is not the case. Here’s how Warren puts it:
The reality is, I do not control time. Every day I wait. I wait for help, for healing, for days to come, for rescue and redemption. And, like all of us, I am waiting to die.
And I wait for glory, for the coming King, for the resurrection of the body. . . We live in liminal time, in the already and the not yet. Christ has come, and he will come again. We dwell in the meantime.
The difference in how we experience sitting in traffic may be less about the experience itself — which is similar for everyone on the freeway — than it is about what we do with the time while we are waiting. We can spend our time snarling or honking or shaking our fist at other drivers, or telling the kids to shut up and stop kicking the back of the driver’s seat. If you are fortunate enough to have a favorite radio station or an audio book along — and maybe snacks for the kids — you may even be able to resign yourself to some time which is out of your control. This is where gratitude and prayer come in. If you are completely focused on being stuck and being late and being frustrated and being unfairly treated — well. That is not going to get you out of traffic a single minute sooner. Sure, it’s frustrating to not be there yet, and to feel stuck and powerless, but we do have the power to choose how we experience waiting. Here is Warren again:
Christians exist in an alternative chronology. The church has its own time. I didn’t make this discovery until college and it left me dazzled. It was like a kid discovering a secret passageway in my own house. Liturgical time — “You mean this has been here all along? Right in my house? Ready to be explored?” . . . Discovering the liturgical calendar felt like discovering real time . . . time had shape and meaning. All of a sudden, time was a story. And I could live in a story.”
I believe we enter the story in three ways — or at least three. I think these can be in any order. The first way we enter the story is by trusting that the story is true. Not just the stories (plural) that we have heard or read or learned from the Bible, but the Big Story, the one which includes the Church, and Creekside congregation and me and you. If this story is going to shape how we see ourselves and the world, it had better be true. It had better end the way Paul was sure it would, and those Old Testament prophets and John the Revelator: the story isn’t over until Jesus Christ comes back again, and is crowed Lord of Eternity — time itself. Knowing that Christ triumphs over evil and death means that sometime, soon, whatever that means, we are going to get out of this traffic jam and make it home. The people we love will be there.
Second, we become part of the story by giving thanks. Thanks for what has been and thanks for what will be, but especially thanks for what is now. I talked about this a bit last week, but if you believe the story of what God did for the love of the world through Jesus Christ, if you believe that Jesus’ death purchased our redemption and guaranteed salvation for those who love and follow Him — how can you believe that and not be thankful? I know traffic can be a hassle, but c’mon, the vehicle was a free gift — the gift of our lives. It seems a little ungrateful to complain because we got held up for 15 minutes, doesn’t it?
And finally, we enter the story of God’s time for the world through prayer. Because if we do not have a relationship or engagement with God or his Son Jesus, it’s pretty hard to trust what God is doing when we can’t see the end of the road. We can see what’s in the rear view mirror — what we know from the Bible, from history, and maybe even from the experience of other people what God has done, but other people having a life-changing experience of God does not change our lives. If prayer is going to change things, it has to begin with us being the ones who are praying. That prayer doesn’t have to be lovely, or even articulated. “God, help me to get out of this traffic jam” is a fine prayer. It acknowledges that we are all subject to God’s time and God’s will. Jesus Christ is coming soon. He is Lord of our past, our present, and our future. Believe, give thanks, and pray. Amen.
 Tish Harrison Warren, Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life. IVP Books: Downer’s Grove 2016, p 104.
 Ibid, p 105, 106.