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Sun, Jan 05, 2020

We are on the way to Easter

Duration:18 mins 34 secs

Those who are strict observers of the church calendar will probably know that Christmas is not technically over. That is why we still have a Christmas Tree in the sanctuary today. Yes, in the church, Christmas begins on Christmas Day and then it lasts 12 days, just like the song, until Epiphany. Epiphany is tomorrow, January 6th, so today is technically the twelfth day of Christmas. We would do well to watch out for random groups of drummers drumming as we go about today.

But today is also the first Sunday in a new year. 2020 – It seems significant for some reason. So, I want to invite us to consider where we are going in this New Year. Because conscious or not, we are always headed somewhere. Even though the Christmas spirit still lingers, I want to invite us to be On the Way to Easter for the resurrection is THE world transforming event.

As we journey together, our path will be scripture texts from an ancient Christian worship service known as the Easter Vigil. The Easter Vigil is held in the middle of the night beginning on the Saturday before Easter and concluding on Easter morning. The scripture texts read are intended to help us move from the darkness toward the empty tomb. As Pope Benedict XVI once wrote about these scriptures:

The Church wishes to offer us a panoramic view of the whole trajectory of salvation history, starting with creation, passing through the election and the liberation of Israel to the testimony of the prophets by which this entire history is directed ever more clearly towards Jesus Christ. … [These texts] have a prophetic character; they show us the inner foundation and orientation of history. They cause creation and history to become transparent to what is essential. In this way they take us by the hand and lead us towards Christ, they show us the true Light.

My friends, from now until April, sometimes explicitly and sometimes implicitly, we are going to follow this way, to allow these scriptures to take us by the hand and lead us to Christ.

The journey begins at the beginning, with the first chapter of Genesis. You can see the bulletin includes all the verses for all seven days of creation. However, I would like us to focus on days 1, 4, and 7, so let us just hear those verses in this Word of God to us today:

1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3 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 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day….

14And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17 God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day….

2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. 2 And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.
4 These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

I recently finished a wonderful book by New York Times columnist Timothy Egan about a pilgrimage that he made from Canterbury, England to Rome in search of a faith. The book jacket states, “Moved by his mother’s death and his Irish Catholic family’s complicated history with the church, he decided to follow in the footsteps of centuries of seekers to force a reckoning with his own beliefs.” This particular journey is known as the Via Franigena.

One interesting stop that Egan made on his way was the French town Besancon, a city obsessed with time. Living in relative obscurity, the town is known for its watches, clocks, and gongs - all the ticking reminders of quantifiable time. Egan writes:

Besancon could have been another casualty of the grind of multistate capitalism. They make cuckoo clocks! … Who has time to craft a fine timespiece? You think of Geppetto-like laborers working half a year to make one thing by hand.

Yes, who has time to craft things like that? A whole city dedicated to time and timepieces.

I cannot imagine all of those clocks. How would you ever know what time it is? Over the holidays, my dad and I were doing a small electrical project at our house. Unfortunately the particular circuit we needed to turn off was not well marked, so I ended up having to turn off all the circuits in the entire house. The result was not only grumbling because the Wi-Fi had been interrupted, but the need to reset all the clocks. There is a saying that if you want to know what time it is, make sure you only have one clock. Because if you have two or more, they will never agree. That is certainly the case at our house. Even using the satellite technology of my cell phone, I can never seem to get all the clocks set the same.

Well, in Besancon, official time is kept by the Astronomical Clock, which pulses away inside the Cathedral of Saint John. Egan writes:

It’s a massive beast of brass, copper, steel, and gold, about eighteen feet high, with thirty thousand mechanical parts. The main faces are outside, on each of the four sides of the cathedral tower. Inside, over 70 dials and 122 indicators keep track of phases of the moon, sunrises and sunsets, tides in French ports, eclipses, and local time around the world. The calendar, built to take in leap years, is said to register up to ten thousand years. Considering that Europe didn’t even have mechanical clocks until the fourteenth century, this has to rate as one of the supreme triumphs of timekeeping evolution. And yet, the big clock is still just a thing…. Here again is chronos time, measuring seconds, hours, days, months, seasons, and years, with no way to track the quality moments of kairos. It’s lifeless.

Egan introduces two different ways of keeping time at the end of that quote. The first is chronos time. It is the root of the word “chronology.” It measures the ticking of a clock, the relation between this moment and the next, the beginning of a new calendar year. Chronos time is important. In our text from Genesis we hear that on the fourth day of creation, God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years.” Yes, God has given us in the very creation a means of sunrises and sunsets, of days and weeks and months and seasons. This is the time we know and that we try to mark on our clocks and watches and cell phones. It is the time that seems to pass too quickly for we never have enough.

But there is a second understanding of time which cannot be captured or marked on a clock. It is called kairos time. Scholar David Rupert writes: “[Kairos] speaks more to specific, God-ordained times throughout history, sometimes called the "right time" or "appointed season." Kairos is God's dimension—one not marked by the past, the present, or the future.” Kairos moments are those when God shows up, breaking into the seconds, minutes, and hours of our days to give us a glimpse of God’s very self. This is the moment each day of creation when God declares, “It was good.” This is the seventh day when God rested. This is the birth of Jesus; the cross; the resurrection.

And yet, kairos shows up in smaller, more subtle ways too like when a friend calls you out of the blue with just the news you need to hear. A child's innocent joy pierces a long, hard day of struggle. A coworker takes a moment unexpectedly to lend a hand. You cannot mark it on a clock, and yet God is constantly surprising us with perfect kairos timing as we travel on the way.

Timothy Egan says that the church in Besancon attempts to make the astronomical clock something more than just a keeper of chronos time. He writes:

The church says that [the clock] … is really about the Resurrection of Christ…. Every tick of every day … represents fresh time since Jesus rose from the dead. … I wasn’t the only one scratching my head while exiting the cathedral. But I did wonder, not for the first time, how many beats of my own heart have passed while I was doing [worthless things].”

My friends, what would it look like in your life and in mine, in our life together as the church, if we regarded every tick of every day as fresh time since Jesus rose from the dead? If every moment was a resurrection moment? As you think about that, I want you to imagine something with me. Imagine that today you receive a phone call from your bank. The person on the phone tells you that you are the winner of a contest. The bank is going to give you $86,400 every day. That’s right - $86,400 each and every day.

But this is a contest, so there are a few rules. Three in fact:

● Rule number 1 - You cannot move the money into another bank account. You can write as many checks on the account and spend as much of the money as you would like, but you cannot transfer the money to another bank.

● Rule number 2 - Whatever amount of the $86,400 that you do not spend in a single day, you will lose. You must spend it all. Any amount left in the account will not be there in the morning.

● Rule number 3 - The bank will close the account and you will receive no more daily payments at some point without any prior notice. The prize will end at the bank’s discretion and there will be no more money.

So, you will receive $86,400 every day to spend and do with however you like, but you cannot move the money to another bank, any amount you do not spend in a day you will lose, and you never know when the contest will end.

What an amazing gift that would be. What would you do with that kind of money knowing that you had to use it each and every day? I am sure that all of you would tithe every day, right? But after that - what would you buy? Who would you help? What debts would you pay off? What gifts would you make? If you think about it, that amount of money would allow you to make a difference in this world; to change lives; to make things better for your family, your friends, for this community, for those in other parts of the world. So, what would you do with $86,400 dollars a day?

My friends, God has given you and given me, 86,400 seconds every day. Yes, that is the number of seconds in twenty-four hours. It is chronos time that can become kairos time. God has given those seconds to you and to me as a gift. We cannot give our seconds to anyone else; we cannot roll the seconds over to another day; and we never know when our seconds will run out.

Yes, God has given us each of those chronos seconds. They can be a kairos gift. Each second a moment we might meet God. Each second fresh time since Jesus rose from the dead.

At the beginning of creation, God set time in motion. Each second on the way we have an opportunity to live for him. How will you use your seconds today, tomorrow, and in this New Year? Will you make a difference in this world, change lives, and make things better for your family, your friends, for this community, and for those in other parts of the world. Use each of those seconds with thought and intention because, my friends, you are on the way to Easter.

Thanks be to God.

Let us pray:

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