December 31, 2017 Sermon

First Sunday after Christmas, December 31, 2017, Lectionary B

ELIZABETH’S OF HUNGARY, RICHMOND HILL, GEORGIA

The Rev. Dr. C. Clark Hubbard, Jr. Rector                                         Scripture: John 1:1-18

 

“Stretch out your hand [Oh, Lord] to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”  Acts 4:30

 

Escaping Time

 

Let us pray.  Heavenly Father, God of time and eternity, send now the Holy Spirit to remind us to trust in you for the time we need, which you have given us through Jesus Christ our Lord who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit one God for ever and ever.  Amen.

 

One of the more intriguing movies released in 2014 was the film, “Interstellar”, starring Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain, Anne Hathaway, Mat Damon, and others.  It is a movie that Albert Einstein would have loved because it is such an apt illustration of his Theory of Relativity.  In fact, the movie’s plot is a grand, dramatic, rendition of a thought experiment he once offered.

 

In the movie, the earth is at an apocalyptic tipping point.  A global crop blight and second Dust Bowl are slowly rendering the earth uninhabitable with a lack of food and dust laden air.  NASA under the leadership of a brilliant physicist, played by Michael Caine, is working on a plan to save humankind by finding a planet to which humans can migrate.  In steps Matthew McDonaughey who will pilot one of the exploratory spacecraft in search of possible habitable planets.  There is, of course, a catch.  These possible planets are some distance away, meaning much time will be required to reach them.

 

McConaughey has a family, a young daughter and an older son.  If he even makes it back to earth, how much time will have elapsed?  His young daughter is understandably quite upset about the coming separation and who knows for how long.  McConaughey assures her that he will be back, but she will not be comforted, refusing even to tell him good bye, as he leaves for the impending launch.

 

The spacecraft rockets towards its destination, exploring possible habitable planets along the way.  One of these planets orbits near a black hole.  Under these extraordinary gravitational circumstances time begins to slow, really slow, as predicted by Einstein.  Proportionally speaking one hour on this planet is equivalent to 10years on earth.   You see the pending dilemma.  By the time McConaughey’s character is able to return he is 120 years old in earth time, though in fact he has only aged to 40.  His daughter, however, who has been waiting for his return, is on her death bed, ironically having reached the age of 120 years old herself.

 

Time! It is ever present. Every perception of ours is time laden, time filled, and timed.  As you look at me, that perception is a function of time.  If we are here in this building, then time brought us here.  Time put us to bed last night, and woke us this morning.  We have neatly parceled time into sections—years, months, weeks, days, hours, minutes and seconds.  We think that we are measuring time, but it is time that is measuring us.

Time is limited.  Our time on earth is limited. Whereas the Rolling Stones once sang, “Time is on my side, yes it is.”  We know that was the arrogance and the myopia of youth.  Yes, we might like to turn time back for an opportunity to correct some misstep in a relationship, some decision, or oversight. Those of you who have experienced the frustration and aggravation of computer failure where no matter what you does not work may have come across this corrective procedure.  The distant techno-priest, probably somewhere in India, tells you that he or she will set your computer back.  In other words, they will return your computer to the time before the problem began.  Sure enough, that does work.  Imagine if the same could be done for us.  Take us back to a time when there was no failure.

 

Time, though has imprisoned us.  There is no turning back. Age hunts us down.  To be young again, we might wish.  There is young time; there is old time; and eventually time will run out for each of us.  We don’t know when—a time question itself.

 

It has been some years ago now, but I remember a Saturday afternoon when I was visiting with my grandfather.  He suddenly turned to me and asked, “Clark, how old are you now?”  I responded, “Thirty.”  Astounded, he replied, “How did you get to be so old?”  We remember when we were a child that time took forever (are we there yet), but as we have gotten older, suddenly ten years is but one year.

 

Today’s gospel reading from St. John is the same, as we heard on Christmas Eve with verses 15 – 18 added.  It is one of my favorite scriptural passages because of its high, divine drama, peering into the very moment of creation.  I in part described the reading as where we hear those symphonic words, “In the beginning” (Beethoven’s Fifth if you like—dun’t, dun’t, duh’t, duuh) to the clash of symbols, the roar of drums, and the blasts of trumpets, yet curiously spoken in a whisper, in the beginning was the Word—the Word, the Word from which the big bang began, the Word which was the source of power, light, and life.  My god this Word, this Word, this Word, this Word, was/is a person.  In astrophysics we are approaching that mysterious event horizon of singularity where time, time comes to a standstill. There is no time and where there is no time there is eternity—the home of light and God.

 

Essential to this creation event, described by John and earlier in the Book of Genesis is the creation of time itself.  We read in Genesis 1:3-5: “Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 And God called the light day, and the darkness He called night.”  God, the eternal had spoken that most basic measure of time, day and night, into being.

 

Incidentally, for those who argue that God could not have created the world, the universe in six days, they might want to be reminded of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity (we saw it played out in the movie, Interstellar) where at that place of gravitational singularity, where there is no time, one second might equate to a million years, a billion years, a trillion years on earth.

 

God in Jesus, who is the Word, as John tells us, created creation.  “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.”   What is life?  It is time.  Life is time.  When our time is up, so too is our life. How we spend our time is how we spend our lives, and by lives we are to understand the functioning of our bodies.   We may wonder how much our DNA or habits contribute to the length of our lives (how much time do we have).  In a sense our bodies are like a watch.  Eventually, they will wind down and stop.

 

We don’t really like to think about that—how much time we have, whether it is in respect to our own mortality or those whom we love.  My dad is now 93 years old, but if you knew the condition he is in, you would not envy the years given to him.  More time is not necessarily desirable.  Sometimes it would be better if time would just run out.  Time does not necessarily heal all wounds.

 

Needless to say, another year has just about run out.  What can we say about the year 2017?  It has not been an easy one, maybe none of them are.  Still, the political tumult, the increased anxiety over North Korea, and the uncertainty over world order has made it perhaps more challenging.  Meanwhile, technology continues at full tilt from self-driving cars, to smarter and smarter phones, to the increased probability of having our own robot.

In ten years, with self-driving technology, the need for truck drivers could be non-existent; physicians could soon find themselves replaced by robotic, computerized medical devices.  Is your smart watch taking your vital signs? While many new movies have considered the possibility of an apocalypse, an Armageddon, we might very well consider with the many changes around us that we are living through the apocalypse right now.  We are just too close to it recognize it.

 

It is, then, with a certain sigh of relief as wells as trepidation that we enter yet another measure of time—the new year, the year 2018.  What can we expect?  There are prognosticators of various sorts—political (ah yes, yet another election year), economic, social, and technological.  What though of the spiritual?  Are there prognosticators for that?  Call them prophets if you will.

 

I subscribe to a number of Christian periodicals—one being the magazine entitled Charisma.  Here is some of what Chuck Pierce is prophesying for 2018. “The year 2018 is summarized by four words: doors, gates, angels, and war!

 

This year a new generosity will release power that will cause the enemy to flee.  This will be a year of firsts, new beginnings and kingdom demonstration.  No matter how established you are, there will be new beginnings in your life, ministry and spheres of authority.  We, the body of Christ, must manifest who we are and whom we represent.  God has a ‘first order’ that will be required of his people this year.

 

Jesus said to seek the kingdom of God first (Matthew 6:33).  This is the year to understand the kingdom of God within us and demonstrate that kingdom within our sphere (of influence).  We must remember Abraham’s covenant and align with Israel, God’s first nation.  We must heed the call to His Word.  There must be a revival of the Word of God (the Bible) in the body of Christ.

 

In the year ahead, we must get used to the weight of His glory.  Just as the Lord lifted the cloud and the fire and put the ark in front of His people, we must watch how the glory moves over the next three years.  This will be a season of new manifestations.

 

The prophetic portion of the body of Christ will come alive with new authority this year.  Just as Elijah legislated the heavens and affected the nations, and Elisha legislated God’s will on earth, we will see an apostolic strength arise in God’s prophets and prophetic people.

 

This year begins the three years of war over the inheritance of the future.  Many times, our warfare is centered around internal issues.  Terror increases this year, but faith is demonstrated and triumphs” (Charisma, January 2018).

 

Granted what I just shared with you might sound like the old joke.  A man boasted that he could read any language but Greek.  So, his friend proceeded to show him text in different languages—German, French, Italian, Chinese, and so on.  To each language, the man who had boasted, said, “No, I don’t know what that says.”  Frustrated and confused the friend exclaimed, “I thought you said you could read any language.”  The boasting friend then replied, “Yeah, but they are all Greek to me.”

 

The prophecy of Chuck Pierce might indeed sound like Greek to us.  It probably did not help that I abbreviated some of what he said.  He does remind us; however, that God does have plans for 2018, for us individually and corporately at St. Elizabeth’s.  Some of those plans we may already sense or know.  We will be sad to see those in the military leave. We need to remember, though that God, who created time, is Lord of time, as well as Lord of eternity.  To that end the last four verses in this week’s gospel of John need to be recalled, specifically verses 16 and 17:  “From his (that is Jesus’) fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ   What is Grace?  It is unmerited favor.

 

No, we cannot turn back the time we have been allotted in this life as with a problematic computer.  We can, though, turn to Jesus for the grace of forgiveness, healing, and redemption promised in Him.  No longer must we be trapped in the law of time.  In Jesus we are offered eternal life, new life, regardless of how we may have misspent the time allotted to us.  Because we believe in Jesus even though our time on earth runs out our lives do not.

 

God in Jesus is the god of second chances.  In that respect, everyday can be a new year for us who believe.  Tomorrow a new calendar year begins.  We bid farewell to 2017, and perhaps gladly so.  What though of 2018? What do we hope to make of it?  Will we make New Year’s resolutions?  If so, what might that entail?  Will we do a better job of watching our diet and exercising?  Will we determine to finally spend some time reading the Bible?  Will we take on a new ministry or renew an old one?  What about spending more time in prayer?

 

Will we reclaim our time?  You know what I mean.  How is that we seem to get busier and busier, leaving us less and less time to rest, to breathe.  I haven’t referenced this in a while.  Maybe, now is a good time.  Whenever Martin Luther and Mother Teresa, both very busy and productive people, faced a day that would be busier than usual, they spent even more time in prayer, more not less.  Contrary to logic, they slowed down to spend more time in prayer before the Lord. When we think about it, spending time before the Lord of time, God Himself, makes all the sense in the world.  The God of grace is not bound by the two plus two of causality.

 

Perhaps, most importantly, as we begin this New Year, remember these words of St. Paul:  “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, that person is a new creation; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Even more, we remember these words of St. Paul:  “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient (meaning they run out of time), but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, ESV).

 

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen