Now and Next
Carla J. Bailey, Senior Pastor
Some years ago, Warren and I visited dear friends who lived on Madeline Island in Lake Superior. It was winter and we drove from Bayfield, Wisconsin across the frozen bay of Lake Superior to the island. During the few days we were there, the weather warmed up some and the ice road grew a little, well, uncertain. Our friends enlisted a few intrepid souls to lead us across the thickest parts of the ice so we could return to our home. Our expedition party was to meet at the little grocery store at 2. Warren and I were early, anxious as we were about making the drive back across the hopefully frozen bay. Our guides soon arrived. They all leaned here and there against counters and doorframes in the store, lounging, boots untied, blaze orange caps pushed back, drinking coffee, sort of talking in partial sentences with long silences between words, looking at us out of the corners of their eyes. Have you ever heard of island time? It’s that mysterious movement that isn’t quite prompt or punctual and it’s certainly not hasty. Island time can’t be measured by the sweep of hands on a clock or the changing of digital numbers. Island time is the exact opposite of the kind of time summed up in the phrase “in a New York minute”. It’s just, well it has more to do with some mysterious, invisible movement of air that tells everyone in the room that yes, we can go. No one says it out loud and no one looks at a watch. It’s air current, I tell you.
Sometimes I think God lives according to island time, or Delta time, or Indian time, or whatever kind of time you can name that isn’t linear. It isn’t predictable. It can’t be measured. That doesn’t work well for most of us who bustle along on New York minute time. God’s time can only be measured in retrospect. God’s time is about fulfillment, the sweep of history, the moment of comprehension, air currents which some have defined as the Holy Spirit. I’m pretty sure Jesus operated more on island time than sequential time.
I’ve always wondered why Jesus, according to today’s story, told his disciples to keep quiet about him, to keep his identity secret. When Peter actually said to him, “You are the Messiah,” Jesus went on to describe what lay ahead - that the Messiah would be rejected, would suffer, would be killed and would rise again. Peter, who had identified him as the Messiah, told him not to be so open about all that. Jesus then rebuked Peter and went on to describe the cost of discipleship. If you’re going to follow me, if you’re going to know who and what I am, you will need to know what is ahead for you. You’re going to have to pick up your cross. You’re going to have to understand that if it’s your life you want to save, you will lose the life the gospel has given you. If you are ashamed to stand with me against the sins of this time, then you will not be with me in glory. Did he mean, knowing me is not the most important thing, not the last thing you are called to do. Do not proclaim me as your Messiah unless you are willing to live with me as your Messiah. And if you are going to live with me as your Messiah, then you will be rejected and you will suffer and you may even be executed.
I’m guessing Peter was a little stunned. It couldn’t have been easy to get all that from Jesus, especially when he had just done so well, responding to Jesus’ question with the right answer. Wait a minute. Wait A Minute! You’re the Messiah! David’s son! Stop talking about all that suffering and crucifixion and resurrection stuff. Stop sticking it to the elders and the chief priests and the scribes! You know they don’t have a sense of humor about these things!
I can’t imagine how I would have responded to Jesus had I been one of those Jews who heard him preach. It’s just about impossible to put ourselves into that 1st century mindset. I’m certain I would have been skeptical about his message. If I liked Jesus, identified him as, you know, Mary’s boy, I might have joined Peter in his concern that Jesus was just trying to poke a hornet’s nest. If I was busy protecting my own life, my family, my resources, my routine, my under-the-radar comings and goings, I would have been afraid of Jesus. I might have tried to avoid him. I might have stood back, at the edge of the crowd surrounding him. But if I was tired of being subservient, if I was bone-weary of trying to get along with the Romans, if I thought there was a glimmer of hope in his words, an unclear but compelling possibility that this hierarchical, stratified, demeaning to some while glorifying others, dirt scratching, women hating, children dismissing, racist, classist, homophobic, xenophobic, militaristic, nihilistic, culture was not pleasing to the heart and mind of God, well, I’d be there at the center. I’d be pushing Jesus myself. I’d be saying, now, let’s get things going right now.
Of course, that wasn’t what Jesus wanted from his disciples, then or now. He wasn’t trying to whip up the masses like at a political convention. He wasn’t circulating a petition, organizing a parade, or a march on Jerusalem. I think he had a fairly keen understanding of crowd psychology and its ephemeral nature. I’m fairly certain, now that I’ve been working on this Christian discipleship way of living for 55 years, that Jesus was pressing for a longer-term commitment, a commitment to a way of life, a world perspective that would threaten powers and principalities not by the adrenalin of an exciting moment but by the daily steps, the consistent resistance, the quiet witness.
Today is Recovenanting Sunday. Through our church year, we create quite a few Sundays like today – big Sundays with lots of activity, announcements, and carefully planned events. We’re an active community of people who enjoy and have come to expect significant moments in our life together. That’s a good and fortunate state of health for a church and I’m glad you’re all here with me to celebrate and relish these high, holy days. But, and I’m a little reluctant to admit this publicly, my favorite Sundays of the church year are the more ordinary ones, the ones that have a sermon, three hymns, two anthems, a pastoral prayer, and a nap in the afternoon. They are the times when we get together because we just need to worship, or we need a little quiet prayer-time or we need to sing the words of our faith or we need to remember, every seven days if not more often, that the life of faith is how we live the other six days of the week. It’s how we speak to one another, the content of our emails, the quality of our listening. The life of faith is biting back words, giving freely and without reserve, working for justice and peace, withholding judgment, tamping down egos, offering encouragement, expecting no more of others than we are willing to offer ourselves. The life of faith is seeking reconciliation, walking in the shoes of those we judge. The life of faith is living with so much integrity, so much love, so much generosity of spirit and kindness and humility that of course it will be intolerable to powers and principalities. Hate and arrogance and just plain mean old snottiness is flummoxed when confronted by selfless love. And selfless love is a daily, minute by minute, person by person, discipline.
Well, I began this sermon talking about island time, God’s time, that mysterious movement of air that signals that the time is right for whatever it is that should happen. Of course we live in the world of chronological time, of the passing of days and turning of seasons, of hours and deadlines and schedules. That’s ok. A lot gets done that way. But if we allow our sense of urgency about hours and deadlines and schedules to run right over God’s time, then we, like Peter, better get behind Jesus for our minds are on human things and not on the things of God. I would prefer we make our time fit itself to God’s time than the other way around, wouldn’t you? Amen.