Church of England · Felixstowe · Growing in God · poem · Sermon

What’s the Time Mr Wolf?

What's the Time Mr Wolf?

What’s the Time Mr Wolf?

(Sermon at St John the Baptist, Felixstowe – 26 November 2022 – Advent Sunday)

 Text:  44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour. (Matthew 24.36–44)

God give you peace my Sisters and Brothers

Close your eyes and cast your mind back to Play Time at your Primary School.
Can you see all your school friends running around?
Some impeccable in their uniforms, some perpetually scruffy.
The clumps of inseparable friends and those (me amongst them) who always spent playtime alone with their nose in a book.

And then someone starts a game.  A whole group line up about 50 yards away from the wall of the dining room which is the ‘Den’.
One child stands in front, facing the wall, back turned to the group silently and the group cries out, ‘What’s the time Mr Wolf?’
…and the wolf dictates how many steps the group may take towards the Den by saying how much O’Clock it is.  Everyone approaches closer until the Wolf proclaims the time is ‘Dinner Time’ and then runs to tag anyone too slow to avoid becoming the Wolf for the next round of the game.

Who needs Tik-Tok?

The game is, as are so many parts of our lives, all about the timing.
Advent is all about the timing.
Confusingly, however, Advent is about many different times and sorts of timing.

This is unsurprising as New Testament Greek, something trainee vicars are warned to not use from the pulpit, has two different words[1] and a third concept[2] for time.

So, with apologies to those who are not fascinated by etymology, here they are: 

Chronos (xρόνος):
Chronological time, Hours, Minutes, and Seconds
Kairos (καιρός):
A moment in time when the right ‘time’ for something, such as the end of this sermon, has arrived.
Eschaton (σχατον):
The end time. The time that comes for there to be no more time. An example of which is one of the final lines of the novella Billy Budd when Budd says, ‘Time has run out’.

Sadly, especially for those who like to mine Matthew chapters 24 and 25 (often called the little apocalypse) for theories as to how God is going to see off evildoers and rescue the righteous, none of these words for time are used there.

Instead we find a fourth Greek word Parousia[3] (παρουσία) which literally means presence.  Later in the New Testament the authors will speak about joy and comfort brought by the parousia of fellow disciples such as Stephanas, Fortunatus, Achaicus, Titus and even the apostle Paul.

Sometimes, in our rush to divide the world into evildoers and righteous, we want to see the return of Christ, or more correctly the ‘presence’ of Christ as a moment of judgement.  However we need to be careful in how we read these words about the end times, the eschaton.

The Wailing WallBiblical Scholars tell us that Matthew’s gospel was written (80 to 90 CE) at least 10 years after the sacking of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple (70 CE).   The Romans leaving in place only the Western or Wailing Wall as it is now known.

This leads us to question whether Jesus was predicting the destruction of Jerusalem in the Gospel reading or whether Matthew was writing into it something that had already happened?

So, and I know the thinking may be a little bit torturous here, when Jesus speaks about his coming presence (parousia) is Jesus talking about some time in an unspecified future or is Matthew reminding the Christians of Jerusalem, who fled to Pella[4] before the city’s destruction, that Jesus was with them as they left their homes?

As with our playground game, life itself, and this season of Advent,
it really is all a question of timing.

Is Jesus returning sometime in the future – an eschaton?
Did Jesus return some time ago – a chronos?
Or is Jesus present now – a kairos?

Has Judgement Day been and gone in the First Century CE?
Is Judgement Day, the heavenly Armageddon, yet to come?
Or are we living in the middle of it now – have a quick look at today’s newspapers and we could be forgiven for thinking that God is already in the process of calling time on our poor stewardship of the gift of Creation!

If we were to ask the Gospel Writers ‘What’s the time Mr Wolf?’ we may well receive a mix of answers.  Way back whensome, sometime thenish, perhaps already hereabouts.  Who knows?

Jesus is coming look busyAnd why are some of the faithful so obsessed with the timing of our Lord’s Parousia, be it then, now or in the future.  Surely the challenge for Christians is not to waste time guessing about God’s timing but to get on and spend ourselves in God’s ‘doing’?  As the note in the pewsheet says, ‘Jesus is coming, look busy!’

But it’s more than ‘looking busy’ isn’t it?  To be a faithful follower of Jesus is not to wait until some sort of Judgement day to live righteous lives but to be righteous now!  Reading just a few verses further from today’s Gospel we see Jesus’ answer to God’s timing;

45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46 It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. 47 Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 

We need to learn that the answer to the question, ‘What’s the time Mr Wolf?’ is whenever Christ is present, whenever the Parousia occurs.  For us the Body of Christ it is always ‘Dinner time!’

When we gather together week by week at the Lord’s Table we call to mind the memory of the great acts of God in history, we ask for the Holy Spirit to be present on the gifts and within our hearts, we repeat our Lord’s words at the Last Supper and eat and drink with the Universal Church.  This we ‘do this in memory of Him’.

All added together theologians describe this as celebrating the Real Presence of Christ.  This is why when we eat the bread and drink the wine, with confidence we call it the Body and the Blood of Christ and we are assured that Jesus is with us.

After all did He not say;

‘where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them. (Matthew 18v20)?

Every Eucharist is, in Mr Wolf parlance, ‘Dinner time!’

Every time we break bread together is a parousia, a moment when Christ is present among us looking around for faithful followers who are in the business of caring for the servants in his household giv[ing] them their food at the proper time? 

Advent Sunday is every Sunday
The Parousia is here and now.
Christ is not waiting to return to us;
(He never left us without His presence.)
Judgement Day is every day.
Judgement Day is today.

Every time we hold out our empty hands Jesus, in the form of bread and wine, longs for us to recognise Him amongst the hungry and the thirsty and the foreigner, the naked and the sick and the prisoner (Matthew 25.31-46).

This food is given to restore and heal us but it is also given that we may not only eat the ‘Body of Christ’ but also ‘be’ the Body of Christ to a sad lonely world which is hungry and thirsty, sick and naked, crying out for us to bring Christ to them.

It’s a big task, and one from which we might be tempted to draw back for fear we are not worthy, or because we are ashamed at past failures, or suspect we are not able to be, as Teresa of Ávila says, the hands and feet of Christ.

Unsurprisingly Vicars are not immune from these feelings of inability and failure and embarrassment so I would like to end with a poem by George Herbert that calls me day by day towards this banquet of Bread and Wine and then sends me out knowing that I am loved and cherished and able to share that same generous love with others.

LOVE bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack’d anything.

‘A guest,’ I answer’d, ‘worthy to be here:’
Love said, ‘You shall be he.’
‘I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on Thee.’
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
‘Who made the eyes but I?’

‘Truth, Lord; but I have marr’d them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.’
‘And know you not,’ says Love, ‘Who bore the blame?’
‘My dear, then I will serve.’
‘You must sit down, says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’
So I did sit and eat.

(George Herbert)

Love bade me welcome

Note: This blog ‘What’s the Time Mr Wolf?’ is copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2022.  It may be reproduced free of charge on condition that the source is acknowledged.


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