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Of Wristwatches and Other Lenten Timepieces

Of Wristwatches and Other Lenten Timepieces

Sermon at St John the Baptist Felixstowe – Sunday 18 February 2018  

Text: Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’ (Mark 1.14-15)

 God give you peace my sisters and brothers.

Personally, I blame Mark Murphy and Radio Suffolk for the latest Lenten pickle in which I find myself. After all why ever else would I have made a silly commitment when sent a text message at 06h08 on the morning of Shrove Tuesday? Initially asked if I could talk about my favourite radio programme – a no brainer, always and forever The Goon Show – it was ‘what will you be giving up for Lent question’ that floored me.

Lent? Give up something for Lent? Something that, in the busy-ness of producing two Lent Courses and the aftermath of General Synod, I had neglected to decide upon. Time for some quick thinking, especially as I was expected to be ‘live’ on air to the good people of Suffolk in an hour or so.

Wristwatch‘I know’, I said to myself, “Let me give up wearing a wristwatch until Easter’. Now this may not sound an onerous discipline but it is one of the things I do on a day-off so that I don’t feel obliged to rush on to the next activity. Perhaps this would be a good habit to have every day until Easter.

So I made a public pledge, Mark Murphy responded with an ‘that’s interesting’ followed by wrapping up the programme and trailing the 10am News. My fate was sealed soon afterwards with a Tweet and a Facebook post picturing my lonely watch and a request as to which ‘safe place’ (you know ‘that’ place in which you forget where you put special things) I should hide it until Easter Day. And that, as they say, is when it all kicked off…

I quickly lost count of the number of responses about just a few other electronic gadgets I keep about my person and questions as to whether I would also be using them less frequently during Lent. It got serious when not one, but two members of the Ministry Team joined in the comments and suggested that perhaps I might go a few steps further and as a discipline dispense not only with my watch, but also my iPod, my iPhone and my iPad as well – they were careful enough not too suggest my MacBook also. Who needs critics when you have colleagues J

However my addiction to technology has been a useful lesson in learning, iPod iPhone iPadas Jean Pierre de Caussade reminds us, to live in the present moment. My hope is that by not forever looking at my watch, to ensure that I am not late for the next event in my calendar, I will be more able to be attentive to what I am doing in the here and now.

This is what Jesus does in our Gospel reading this morning. The long apprenticeship in the Carpenter shop in Nazareth is over. He has gone off to the river to ‘find religion’ at the hands of his cousin John the Baptist. He has spent time in the desert wrestling with Satan and discovering that He has the angels at His side. Now He can begin.

‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; 
repent, and believe in the good news.’  (Mark 1.15)

 Those of us who know a little Greek will understand that when Jesus uses the phrase ‘The time is fulfilled’ He does not mean ‘Its 9am on a Monday morning time to get to work’. That is the very Western concept of time described by the word ‘Chronos’, after whom the Greeks named a deity and from which we get words like ‘chronometer’ and hence my humble wristwatch brought whilst on a wonderful holiday on Malta from a shop in Mellieha.

When Jesus says, ‘The time is fulfilled’, He means the ‘moment’ has arrived and ‘now’ is the ‘time’ to do something very important. Mark uses a different word for ‘time’, he writes of a ‘Kairos’, a crossroads if you will around which history pivots. This is what it means to be ‘in the present moment’, understanding that every moment is a time of grace in which ‘the kingdom of God has come near’ and we are given another wonderful opportunity to ‘repent, and believe in the good news.’ 

 I always find Lent difficult when it is over-shadowed with the purple of penitence without any sight of its partner, the gold of the gospel of Good News.

I do not know how many of us, nor would I speak of it if I did, have ever ‘made their confession’ to a priest or a member of a religious community. My own experience of telling another of the darkness within me and of the privilege of pronouncing absolution to a penitent is shot through with joy. The first time I made my confession was in a church on the slopes of Table Mountain I was so filled with joy that as I stepped outside into Kloof Nek Road and looked to the skies I felt as if I could fly unaided straight to the mountaintop.

We may be called to ‘leave the past in dust and ashes’ but we are also to hold on to the present with the joy of knowing that ‘the kingdom of God has come near’. If we do not find God in the ‘here and now’ how will we recognise God in the future where the best is yet to be?

 My spur-of-the-moment decision to give up my wristwatch for Lent is not so much a denial of time-telling as a proclamation of the present Reign of our loving God. Spend too much time about worrying what will happen next and you and I will miss what is happening now.

The aphorism is true, there is indeed ‘no time like the present’, this Kairos, this moment of God’s choosing when Jesus proclaims to all who will listen ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near ’.

So, whatever you have decided to do (or refrain from doing for Lent) do it ItsTime_solidBGnow!

Whatever you have wished would always be different in our society and our church, change it now!

Whatever has stopped you from being reconciled with family member or friend, churchgoer or neighbour, do it now!

Lent is not (Samuel Beckett like) about waiting for God to change things but about us announcing God’s reign now!

‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; 
repent, and believe in the good news.’  (Mark 1.15)

 So, what will each of us do differently today, tomorrow, and on our journey Easter-ward, to live fully this Kairos, this present Reign of God’s love, and so prevent us from forever falling and failing and continually living in the past?

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