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What time is it?
What time is it? Its late! Its time to wake up! Paul said to the Romans ... you know what time it is. Well, do we know `the time'; do we really know what time it is? And do you know what sort of time he was talking about? There is a simple answer given directly by Paul: It is time to wake up! Was it only a special time for the Roman Christians he was writing to in the middle of the first century, or is the question addressed to all Christians, always? Is it always time for all people to wake up? Is it a special word for us here today? Do we, especially we here in this congregation now, need to wake from sleep? The answer for the Romans, and for all Christians, and for us here today, is the same, "Yes, now is a special time; and it is time for us to wake up because it is a special time." How is it special?
Special times are God's times
When we speak of this present time as a special time, we are talking of how it is a time of opportunities, an occasion when we should expect things to happen. That is different from saying, "Wake up! You have been asleep when you should have been about the Lord's work. Its time to get moving!" That is not quite the point, though as a congregation we do need to wake up because it is later than we think, in the sense that there is a lot to be done. A preacher bringing the message of scripture is not merely trying to motivate you, though he or she would often be justified in saying, "Wake up, good people, things need to change, it is time to get moving." That's true, and I am hoping that a sense of urgency will develop, along with faith and confidence in what God is doing amongst us and in the wider community, but there is something more important than our getting up the energy to do what needs to be done.
The more important thing is to see that, first, everything depends on what God has already done and what he has promised that he will do. That is, what God has done and what he will do, not what we have not done and should do, is what must be the motivation for us to change. Indeed a great deal of good work has been done in the past with little result, precisely because attention has been focussed on human activity rather than on the acts of God.
[A special word to a local group:- That same thing applies to you young people who are more active than most members of most congregations. It is great to see you committed to witness for Christ, and to your being willing to put time into training and personal preparation for your part in the mission of the church. We can only wish you well and pray that God will richly bless all that you offer to him in service and evangelism. But, whether with Scripture Union you are going to conduct a mission at a beach resort, or you are going to lead a group at a Uniting Church youth camp or you going overseas on the UC Assembly Commission for Mission "About Face" program to extend Christian understanding across cultural barriers, it is not how well prepared you are or how hard you working, or even how dedicated and committed you are, that will make the difference, but what will matter is how you are related to what God is already doing, with and without you. It does not all depend on us.]
Another way to put this is that unless the Holy Spirit is at work within, amongst, before and behind you in what you do, it will not be the work of God that you do. We need to be receptive, so that we may be led -- led especially to see how God is at work, so that it does not all depend on us. There is danger here! The more we think that we can of our own efforts make it happen, the more we are likely to advance human interests, perhaps of some sect, or political ideology or social agenda, rather than co-operate with what God is already doing.
Paul did not simply exhort people to action. He pointed to how their situation was different and special because of the acts of God. In the end it all depends on him, and he will bring things to fulfilment in his own way and his own time.
Clock time and dramatic time
To understand how the times we live in can be special times it is helpful to know little of how the Bible deals with different ideas of time, particularly in regard to the way we can take part in the coming of the Kingdom. One illustration comes from the gospel reading for last Sunday. I preached on the words of the criminal who died on another cross along side of Jesus, when he took his side against those who taunted him about the Messiah, and he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." Did you notice the reply that Jesus gave:
Jesus said he would be with him in Paradise today. How could
he enter today, immediately, into the inheritance of new life with Christ, when
we read elsewhere [1 Thess 4 and 1 Cor 15] about people being raised up on the
great Day of the Resurrection with the coming of the Kingdom at some future
unknown time? We have been thinking about what that means in recent weeks, and
even today in the gospel reading we have that stern warning from Christ, that
while we cannot know when it will happen, we should be ready for a sudden dramatic
Yet he said to the man dying with him, Today you will be with me in Paradise. How then can things be going to happen in the future and yet already be happening today? The trouble is that God's time is not our time. Even in modern physics, cosmological theories hold that outside of the physical universe of space and matter/energy you are outside of time. Time that we measure with a clock does not exist apart from the physical world. The Greeks called that sort of time 'chronos' from which we have words like chronicle and chronological; but they had another word for time of a different kind, 'kairos', and that is a kind of time that is not measured by clocks. It is more like the sense of timing in a drama, when things reach a crisis point and could go either way, or when the point of the story is revealed. It is this dramatic sense of time, the sense of occasion or opportunity, that is referred to in what Paul said to the Romans, where the word in Romans 13:11 is kairon, from 'kairos' not 'chronos'. So when Paul said ... you know what time it is, he was not talking about clock time, but about dramatic events. He was not talking about the time of day, but about the Day of the Lord.
The time of opportunity
There are various translations of this verse which bring out different facets of meaning. The version I quoted, the NRSV, is probably the most authoritative straight forward literal translation: you know what time it is. The NIV, another American publication, is much the same when it refers to understanding the present time, though perhaps 'understanding' invites a little more thought. The Revised English Bible, which was produced for all the main churches in Britain a few years ago, put it more strongly: Always remember that this is the hour of crisis. The Jerusalem Bible, which has been widely used in Roman Catholic churches, has .. you know 'the time' has come. The old Authorized or King James version portrays something of the dramatic sense when it goes on after know the time, to say now it is high time to wake out of sleep. Indeed the NRSV also conveys 'a sense of the moment' by actually using the word 'moment' in what follows: it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers.
That sense of the moment, of the moment of opportunity or realization, comes from a sense of what God is doing and has already done for us: when Paul spoke of Christ
It is a time of change. The old age is passing away. A new age is to come. Christ has made a dramatic difference:
Living as children of light
There are implications for us in everyday living as well as evangelism. Paul had just been writing of the way people should live as Christians in society:- be subject to the governing authorities, pay taxes, keep the commandments like "do not steal", "do not commit adultery", "do not murder", "do not covert", which he saw all summed up in "Love your neighbour as yourself", saying ... love is the fulfilling of the law. He went on to say that believers should lead good moral lives, as children of the light who are not afraid to have their lives exposed to public view, as people who have left behind the ways of darkness. This change from darkness to light is possible for us because the times have changed. Things are different now that Christ has come and done his work of salvation, saving us and setting us free. We are now able to become what God has called us to be.
That is just as true of us here today as it was of the Romans or the Galatians or the Colossians to whom Paul wrote those things about the 'kairos' the dramatic time, the occasion, of opportunity for salvation. The drama is God's drama, with his sense of timing. If we are in tune with it and with him we will grasp the opportunity and begin to share now in the age of light which he is bringing in to replace the age of darkness. How much more exciting and how much more satisfying it is take part in God's drama -- how much better than to strive anxiously to fulfil our own plans!
So what time is it? It is time to wake up, time for action, because God has already acted to make things different for us by his saving acts in Christ, and he continues to act so that if we can discern what he is calling us to do we can be confident that he will be with us to fulfil what he has promised in his special time. Glory to him who is able to accomplish far more than we can ask or imagine by the power at work among us! Amen.
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