2018 June 24 “The Acceptable Time”

TIME FOR THE WORD        II Corinthians 6:1-13     As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything. 11 We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. 12 There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. 13 In return—I speak as to children—open wide your hearts also.

At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.

See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!

 MESSAGE TIME  “The Acceptable Time”        Rev. James Renfrew

In your experience, does time ever speed up or slow down?  It really doesn’t, but it can feel that way sometimes.

I once experienced time slowing down like this: we were in line for a popular ride at Disney World.  The line stretched out for a quarter mile, and we only moved forward a few steps at a time.  It seemed to take forever, in the hot sun, and nowhere to sit.  And the more you check your watch the longer it takes.

I experience time speeding up like this:  you wait all year to go on vacation, and then finally you are off to some beautiful place in the world, and then it passes too quickly.  It can’t be time to go home, we just got here!  On vacation, the time speeds up!

Another observation I’ve had is that time may seem to flow differently according to how old you are.  When you are 60 years old each birthday comes flying right at you.   Didn’t I just have a birthday just a little bit ago?  I don’t want to get older so fast!  But when you’re five years old it seems to take forever to get to the next birthday party.  When you’re 60, the next birthday is one 60th of your life away, but when you’re five, one 5th of your life must pass before the next one arrives.  And to a five year it seems like it takes forever.  And to a 60 year old, you want to shout out, “Hey, slow down already!”

Let’s have some fun with this.  No fair looking at your watch or your cell phone, please hide them from view.  I’m going to shout start, and then after 60 seconds have passed in your estimation, please raise your hand, and we’ll see how synchronized we really are.  I will be the official time keeper.  Make you r own estimation, don’t rely on others, because they might be totally wrong.  And I will announce who the most accurate people are in the room.  Ready, start!

Although there may be a few bright bulbs in the congregation this morning with intimate knowledge of the Theory of Relativity or the behavior of black holes, and how time may stretch and compress and bend, in our limited slice of the Universe time flows constantly, without variation.  10 seconds takes ten seconds to pass, no matter where you are in the world, and no matter how old you are, no matter how excited or bored you may be.  We’ll sing “time, like an everflowing stream” in our final hymn this morning.
Now the final test.  Does this sermon seem to be taking forever, or do you have lots of time for more?  Maybe I’ll ask you to not raise your hands on this one!

So for the third time this month we are back in Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, a place where many treasures can be found.  This week it’s all about “time”.

I think in Christian faith time is a big factor, but it seems to be all about patience.  Someday, in the sweet by-and-by, when the saints come marching in,  when Gabriel’s trumpet blows,  when heaven and earth finally intersect, we will finally experience all of the things we have been promised, peace, joy, forgiveness, resurrection, and eternity.  It will be a beautiful day, when all history comes to a beautiful culmination.  Aaah!

But there’s a catch, there’s little you can do about it except be patient, because God has a plan, although actually know few details about it.  So it seems like Christian faith is all about waiting.  It hardly seems like something attractive to offer to the world around us.  “Come on friends, join with our incredible Christian faith, it will be an awesome experience, but, here, get in this long line and wait, wait wait, and wait some more, in fact wait for the rest of your lives!”  Who would join a group like that?  It reminds me of 99 year old Mrs. Spice who told me that her long life was due to having bacon every morning for breakfast.  When I told her I was a vegetarian, she looked at me like I was a total idiot.  “Who would marry you?”, she wondered, incredulously.  Join a faith that is all about waiting, who would ever do that?

So I love how Paul puts it.  He doesn’t promise waiting, he tells us that NOW is the acceptable time.  Wow, right here in the present moment.  So it’s not waiting, it’s noticing all of the ways that God has brought you to this moment as a spiritual tipping point.  It’s opening our eyes, our ears, your minds and hearts to what God is doing right now, not eventually, or down the road, or someday.  That’s what it means when Paul writes that of all the moments in human history, “now is the acceptable time”?   Maybe it means that we have reached a tipping point.  Up until this moment, human history leaned in one direction, towards violence and injustice, sickness and fear.  But now at this tipping point, we’re beginning to lean in a different direction, towards justice and peace, healing and hope.

Some of these tipping points are on a grand scale, nearly everybody knows when they happen.  When one of the astronauts in space spoke about seeing the whole earth as a blue ball spinning in space without any of the boundaries that we usually draw on maps, it became a universal appeal for peace.  Some of these tipping points are visible only to a few, but as the significance sinks more and more come to know it.  One day Rosa Parks refused to move out of her seat on that bus in Birmingham, Alabama, hardly anyone knew about it when it happened, but from that moment the American system of apartheid began to crumble like never before, for all to see.  Some of these tipping points will never be known to most people, but they are known to you, and that may be just enough. A moment, an insight, a crisis, an opportunity when you saw the world and your own self in a new way from which there was no going back.  A tipping point.

This acceptable time – we cannot mark it on the calendar, we cannot        set our alarm for it.  When the acceptable time arrives, you just know it.  It could be your acceptable time, this very day, when your heart shifts in a new direction, when you reach that tipping point.  It could be our acceptable time, this very day, when a few hearts shifting, when we reach a tipping point, affects many other hearts, inside this room and beyond.

Most of all, Paul wants you to know that Christian faith is really not about waiting at all, because when you are ready, now is the acceptable time!   Our watches are synchronized, and we are ready.  Amen!

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