I Corinthians 7:29-31
& Matthew 2:1-12
Year B, 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany
Paul says, “For the present form of this world is passing away” and yet, here we are, 2000 years later. Was he wrong? If he was not just wrong, what does he mean? Jesus says, “the time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God has drawn near,” but how do we know? How do we experience this Kingdom?
Here is the key to understanding today’s readings: When we experience God our experience of time is altered. When we touch upon the sacred, in that moment, time changes. Time stops being linear and becomes more of a feeling or awareness.
You have probably experienced this yourself. Perhaps you can recall the experience of great beauty – like a magnificent sunset – and for just a moment you were transported. Or maybe you have experienced peace and tranquility in prayer or meditation. When we open our hearts to God in prayer and sit silently, patiently, time seems to slow down and then just go away, and we know peace.
In the Gospel reading, time seems to stop behaving normally. We start with ordinary time. “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.” So far time is behaving itself. Time is what allows us to put things in order and tell a coherent story. First, this happened and then this other thing happened. But then time goes all strange. First Jesus talks about time being fulfilled: “The time is fulfilled.” And then even the ordinary references to time become a little strange. Simon, Andrew, James and John immediately abandon their livelihoods and even their families to follow Jesus.
Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. (Mark 1:17-18)
Immediately? Time has gone strange. Who would immediately drop their life and livelihood and follow a stranger who called to them like this? How are we supposed to understand this? Are we meant to drop everything like these disciples?
Mark is not trying to convey the order of events. He is not relating a history. Mark is giving us access to the experience of these early disciples as they encountered the divine, the sacred, in Jesus of Nazareth.
Mark says, “immediately,” because after experiencing Jesus the disciples’ entire focus, their full attention, is on God. It is like what Paul means when he says, “the present form of this world is passing away.” Normal considerations no longer seem to apply.
Paul’s letter to the Corinthians and Mark’s Gospel are both evoking the time and reality altering experience of encountering God. I say evoking, not describing, because both Paul and Mark know that we, the readers, can experience God now, in our own time.
The Christian faith is not a concept or an ideal or something that used to be. You and I can encounter the sacred here and now, each day of our lives. “The Kingdom of God has drawn near,” and is available to all of us. We encounter God in worship, prayer, meditation, nature (that sunset), and beauty (like music).
But we all know that we have worshiped without an experience of God. We have prayed and meditated without experiencing God. We have experienced beauty and love and relationships without sensing the presence of God at all.
Fortunately, we can improve our chances of encountering God simply by expecting the encounter, by looking for the encounter. You could say that we need to be mindful in our worship, present and attentive to whatever we are doing with the expectation that God is there. The more we practice this mindful expectation, the more we are rewarded.
I want to give you a homework assignment this week. I want you to set aside ten minutes for prayer each day. Find a comfortable and quiet spot and sit in prayer for five or ten minutes. Begin your time by thanking God. “Thank you God for the gift of peace.” Then breath slowly and deeply, counting your breaths. Notice how you feel. Notice the chair you are sitting in. Notice your breaths. One, two, three… When you reach ten, you are done. Thank God again and go on with your day.
If you can’t sit still for that long, you could simply take moments to thank God throughout your day. When you notice the sky, when you eat your lunch, or when you see a friend, take a moment to give thanks.
Or perhaps you could set out to do at least one act of kindness each day.
Each of these things brings us closer to God. Try them and see if you do not know the truth of Paul’s words, “The present form of this world is passing away.” Try one of these or all of them and see if you do not know exactly what Jesus means when he says, “The time is fulfilled, the Kingdom of God has drawn near.”
The Rev. David Marshall
St. Dunstan’s Church, Shoreline WA
January 25th, 2015