The Time is Fulfilled

Will you please pray with me?

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to You, O God, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

There’s a New Yorker cartoon that sticks with me that shows a man – who frankly looks almost exactly like I do right now – holding a sign. And the sign reads, “The End Is Nigh!” And there’s this second man looking up at the sign asking, “Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”

There’s something about this cartoon that seems particularly relevant to our circumstances of late. For instance, I think most of us here long for this particular political moment to be over. We don’t like our president, we’re disappointed by Congress, we’re disgruntled with our own parties and affiliations and we’re looking forward to the end – it can’t come soon enough!

And then, as happened to folks in Hawaii a week ago when they got a false alarm about an incoming ballistic missile strike, we remember just how bad the end can be! Right? The end of the Trump presidency could end with dancing in the streets or it could end with a cold can of baked beans in a fallout shelter.

 We don’t like change. We certainly don’t want things to go on like this! And we really don’t want things to get any worse! And it can be a little paralyzing. When things are looking down, most of us seek out some sort of comfort, some familiarity or stability. And we hold on tight and hope for the best. We hope for slow and gradual improvement. Revolutions are risky, messy, and relatively rare.

When Jesus shows up to the Sea of Galilee in our reading this morning he’s not shouting, “Repent! The end is near!” But he is shouting, “Repent! The time is fulfilled!” (which sounds like ‘the end’) and, “The Kingdom of God has come near” (which sounds like ‘the end is near’). And then Jesus adds, “Trust me! It’s good news!” But we’re not so sure, right? I mean, really, we doubt it quite a lot.

Think about it, when we hear the story of Simon and Andrew, James and John, who were in their boats just making a living – probably not a good living, but the best living they could – and Jesus comes along and says what? “Follow me and I will make you fish for people?”

When we were discussing these texts in our staff meeting this past week, Rev. Tessa commented on what a disorienting line this is. It is disorienting, isn’t it? I hear this line and I’m not sure what’s coming next, not sure how something like that will turn out, not sure if I’m having my leg pulled. And we can’t believe that right there, on the spot, Simon, Andrew, James, and John, they’re just in. “Yeah, sign me up for that.” No miracles, not even a sermon, just this one weird pickup line, and they turn their lives absolutely upside down. Can one little line do all that?

 When I was sixteen-years old, I first heard the call to ministry. I was at summer camp – a special place for me. I’d had a lot of counselors and mentors at this camp over the years. And when I was 16, there was a man working at the camp who was in seminary at the time. I was out for a walk and just thinking to myself about that. And it dawned on me that ministers don’t just fall out of the sky fully formed. They’re actual people who go to school and pursue a career in ministry.

And then I heard this line in my head – just this one line: “Maybe one day I’ll be a minister?” And as soon as I heard that one line, I knew I was doomed. I was going to be a minister. I didn’t want to be a minister. I wanted to be something cool. But the knowledge overtook me. I was called. It was just one line! And it wasn’t even a very bold statement! It was just a disorienting “maybe one day.” But sometimes that’s all it takes.

How is it that God can just show up and suddenly create a calling where just moments before there was none at all? Well, when I look back at my own experience, that one line I heard didn’t just come out of nowhere, it grew up out of my personal history – my experience being raised up in church and attending that camp, my experience of good people guiding me along the way, and even my experience of a childhood illness I had recently recovered from and the way it changed the how I looked at the world and the meaning of life. All of it came together in that one moment, in that one line.

As our Music Director Douglas Drake pointed in our Staff Meeting, if you just read the Gospel text for this week, it looks like the calling happens on the spot, but when you read it alongside our Psalm, you get this other sense of always having been called. The Psalmist says, “God you have searched me and known me. Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely. For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.”

God’s call may seem at times like it comes unexpectedly, comes right out of thin air, comes in a disorienting one-liner that nails you right between the eyes. And it’s true. When Jesus shows up on the Sea of Galilee that’s exactly what happens. And God is able to call us so powerfully, so immediately, through what the Psalmist describes as this deep, creator’s intimacy with all our ways, all our words, all our dreams, all our days.

If I were to sneak up behind you at coffee hour and whisper in your ear, “Maybe one day you’ll be a minister,” I wouldn’t expect much. That was my line. I don’t think that’s your line. Same with, “I’ll make you fish for people.” That’s admittedly a better line – more poetry, more imagery, and more fun. It was Simon and Peter and James and John’s line that day, but even it might not exactly be any of our lines. But we’ve all got a line, I think. Or a feeling. Or an event. Some moment that’s all yours. And God knows what it is. God knows by knowing exactly where you came from and by knowing exactly where you’re going.

What do you think that line of yours might be? Have you already heard it? Or do you think it’s still arriving? If it’s God’s call in your life, and if God knows you thoroughly, I imagine that line, that call can’t ever be too far away. It’s around here somewhere – close by. What might it be? The line that runs through your life from beginning to end, the line that calls you from your life into the life that truly is life...

Jesus would never say, “The end is near,” I don’t think. Jesus isn’t talking about an ending when he starts proclaiming the good news. He’s talking about a fulfillment. And he’s not really talking about time as we know it when he says, “The time is fulfilled.” Ancient Greek had two words that we translate into English as time. The first, chronos, is the kind of time we’re most familiar with today. It’s the source of our word chronological – it’s the tick, tick, tick of a mechanical clock – it’s days, hours, and years. When you ask, “How much longer before this sermon ends?” you’re asking about chronos time.

The other kind of time the Ancient Greeks had was kairos. It’s a very different kind of time. Kairos time is the opportune moment when everything comes together and one must act. Kairos time is the sacred moment when chronos seems to stop and everything that comes before flows into everything that is about to be. Kairos is the appointed time. Kairos is the moment we realize who we are and what we are becoming. You won’t find it measured out on the clock dial or in your calendar, but kairos can come and get you whenever. And that’s the kind of time Jesus was talking about when he said, “The time is fulfilled.” The fishermen Simon, Andrew, James, and John were all on the clock – casting and mending their nets. And then – just like that – they were off the clock and living into another kind of moment.

We don’t always get to choose these kinds of moments or these callings. Usually they choose us. We can say no for a while sometimes. I promise you, I did not hop outta my boat and fully embrace my fate when I first heard my call to ministry. “I have options,” I thought. “I’m sure I’m going to be able to get out of this thing somehow.” You can see how that worked out. But I fought the sea for ten years before finally deciding to leave my old nets behinds and to dedicate myself fully to the call to ministry. I needed to say no for a little bit of chronological time before I gave myself to the call and embraced my future. That was my path.

From what I’m learning of the history of Broadway church, this congregation, in the 1960s heard God’s radical call, and embraced the fulfillment of your calling at the time by deciding to sell your church building and to become – talk about disorienting – a  church without walls. Because a church without a building would be a church that looked more like Jesus – really giving yourselves to the world, being with your neighbors, and financially prioritizing mission and social justice work.

I wish I could have been a fly on the wall for the board meetings and the congregational meetings leading up to that big decision. I imagine a lot of conflict, a lot of prayer, a good deal of excitement, and finally that disorienting leap of faith into the future. Answering that call led you all to decades of good and faithful ministry. And the kairos moment in which that call was heard happened – chronologically speaking – 50 years ago now.

And here we are. You’ve been casting the nets for fifty years. And your arms are tired. Your backs are sore. And you don’t know how much more fishing you can stand. And there’s this new guy here and he’s talking about the “interim period” and that other dreaded word we all know is just a euphemism for “more change” – transition. And we’re worried that we don’t have the time or the strength for all that. We know that the interim period between lead pastors is a time to listen for how God is calling us as a congregation into our future. But we’re tired of fishing, and we’re afraid – maybe we don’t have what it takes to answer the next big call.

You know, I bet Simon and Andrew, James and John, I bet they were sick of fishing too. Seriously. Just like I bet this congregation, in the 1960s, was sick of sinking all their money into their leaky old building and calling it ministry. Maybe it’s OK to be a little worn out with the good work of the last 50 years.

Now, does the interim period between pastors take a certain amount of work? Yes. Absolutely it does. There are a number of things that will have to be accomplished before your new pastor is called. And there are also a number of things it would be ideal to accomplish before you make that big decision. But before any of that can happen, we need to wait for the kairos time to be fulfilled. Remember, the kairos moment is the time when everything comes together. It’s the opportune moment to act. It’s when everything aligns. Do you feel like everything is aligning just yet?

Maybe now is the time to be sick of the same old fish and to take comfort in God who knows when it’s time for us to rise up, and when it’s time for us to sit down. Maybe it’s time to rest in our God who searches out our whole path and sees the places where we should lie down. Maybe now is a time to let ourselves be hemmed in, before and behind, not by worry, not by stress, not by responsibility, but by the hand of God resting upon us. As the Psalmist sings to God, “When I come to the end – I am still with you.”

Maybe now is the time to come to an end of sorts, to let go of the nets, and to sit idle on the beach for a little while. Start a fire, cook some fish, call your friends over and share a meal. Rest. I’m not worried about you, beloved, faithful Broadway. Things won’t fall apart if you rest together in God for a time.

And maybe one day you’ll wake up with the rising sun, throw a log on the coals of last night’s fire, and decide to go for a walk along the shore. And you’ll begin to think about everything you’ve done as a church, everyone who’s walked along the way, and then there in front of you, you might see Jesus leaning casually up against the side of a brand new fishing boat. He’ll smile at you and nod his head off to the horizon across the sea. “It’s time,” he’ll say shoving the boat out into the surf. And you’ll say, “Is that a good thing or a bad thing?” And he’ll laugh, and hold his hand out to you and say, “Good and faithful servant, it’s finally time, follow me!”