Sunday, December 18, 2016

Remembering the Future

Revelation 1:4; Luke 4:18-19; Romans 8:4b-17
December 18, 2016
First Presbyterian Church Sterling, IL
Christina Berry

We have three brief readings today, all from the New Testament. Fittingly for the theme of worship today, we begin with the end, a single verse from the first chapter of the last book of the Bible, Revelation. As you know, we Presbyterians understand this book not as a prediction of rapture and the end times, but as a prophecy and promise of the return of Christ, bringing not tribulation and Armageddon but a new heaven and a new earth. This particular verse calls to our attention the eternal past, present and future of Christ. Now that you’ve heard an introduction five times longer than the actual scripture, listen for the word of the Lord in

Revelation 1:4:
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come.

The second reading is from Luke’s gospel, a brief excerpt from a sermon Jesus preached in his hometown synagogue. The sermon was well received until Jesus added that the scripture, which quotes the prophet Isaiah, was fulfilled in him. Listen for the past fulfilled and future hope in

Luke 4:18-19
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Our third reading lifts up the role of the Spirit in creating a Christian life that is based in joyful obedience – a life without fear.

Romans 8: 4b-17
So then, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation, but it isn’t an obligation to ourselves to live our lives on the basis of selfishness. If you live on the basis of selfishness, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the actions of the body, you will live. All who are led by God’s Spirit are God’s [offspring.] You didn’t receive a spirit of slavery to lead you back again into fear, but you received a Spirit that shows you are adopted as God’s children.

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

While the other spirits who visited Scrooge were somehow appealing, this spirit of the future is grim and dark – indistinguishable from the night around it. Dickens writes:
“When it came, Scrooge bent down upon his knee; for in the very air through which this Spirit moved it seemed to scatter gloom and mystery. It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand. But for this it would have been difficult to detach its figure from the night, and separate it from the darkness by which it was surrounded. He felt that it was tall and stately when it came beside him, and that its mysterious presence filled him with a solemn dread. He knew no more, for the Spirit neither spoke nor moved.
‘I am in the presence of the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come?’ said Scrooge.
The Spirit answered not, but pointed downward with its hand.
Scrooge was terrified, but he understood that his fear could teach him something.
‘Ghost of the Future!’ he exclaimed, ‘I fear you more than any spectre I have seen.
But as I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from what I was, I am prepared to bear you company, and do it with a thankful heart. Will you not speak to me?’

The spirit does not speak, but takes Scrooge to see the future.
What Scrooge sees is a series of very sad scenes:
He sees the aftermath of his own death, and the indifference of others to it.
He sees the Cratchit household, in grief over the death of Tiny Tim.
His fear turns to sorrow, and then to hope. Perhaps the fear that Scrooge feels has been with him all along- not a reaction to the visit of the spirits, but a lifelong fear that he has nursed with anger and fed with resentment. That fear had become his abiding friend, sheltering him from further pain, steadfast, always with him. His fear has kept him safe.

Aristotle said that “Fear is pain arising from the anticipation of evil.”[1] 
We’ve all been afraid, haven’t we? We’ve all had those moments when fear blocks us from seeing, when it casts a dark shadow over all our hopes. Like the ghost of Christmas yet to come, our fear becomes indistinguishable from the night that surrounds it.

Fear brings past and future into the present, and not in a good way. Fear collapses time – every related bad memory comes to mind, and every potential future evil becomes real in the here and now. That’s why scripture is so full of injunctions to fear not. That’s why the perfect love of Christ casts out fear. But simply telling us not to be afraid is not likely to dispel all fear. Courage requires something more than mere reassurance.

When the past haunts us and the future terrifies us, the present becomes a very, very uncomfortable place to be. Fortunately, God’s view of time is not the same as ours. One of the most wonderfully compelling ideas of theology is that God is sovereign over all creation, including over time. The late Dr. Lonnie Kliever, professor of philosophy and religion, offers this explanation of the distinction between human time – kronos – and God’s time - kairos.

“Kronos … from which we take our word chronology… is sequential time.
Kronos is the time of clocks and calendars; it can be quantified and measured.
Kronos is linear, moving .. out of the determinate past
toward the determined future, and has no freedom. …
Kairos is circular, dancing back and forth, here and there,
without beginning or ending, and knows no boundaries.
Kronos is mechanistic and deterministic,
time that is ruled by the dead hand of the past.
Kronos devours us with remorseless certainty.
Kronos turns life into stone.
Kairos is creative and serendipitous.
Kairos is time that is energized by the living dream of the future
and presents us with unlimited possibility.
Kairos turns fate into destiny.” [2]

The ghosts that Scrooge encounters in A Christmas Carol challenge his view of time – the determinate chronology – with a more divine perspective of time – God’s creative inbreaking. This is the miracle of Christmas. In Christ, the God who was and is and is to come becomes real to us. In the birth of Jesus, Immanuel, God with us, the past of the entire world is changed as powerfully as the present. And because of that birth, the future is changed forever. The coming of Jesus happens in kairos, in the fullness of time.

Ephesians 1 says that in Christ, the mystery of God’s will is made known to us:
“in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him,
things in heaven and things on earth.”

We can experience this most powerfully at the communion table, where we meet Christ in the present and the past and future. In the divine liturgy of the Orthodox Church, there is a moment prior to the celebration of the eucharist when the deacon says: “It is kairos – time – to begin the service of the Lord.”

In our remembrance, in that kairos moment, we transcend the chronology of past, present and future. Kairos is sacred time, circular time, holy time, when God breaks into our linear sequence of events. We relive the present; we change the past; we remember the future.

Kliever says it well: “We are not helpless to tip the balance in the direction of kairos over kronos. We can temper our fear and our fixation on sequential time. We can deepen our quest and our experiences of numinous time. In such synchronicity of kronos and kairos lies our deepest consolation and our steepest aspiration.”[3]

Where God’s presence is felt and recognized,
God’s kairos can break through our fear and surprise us with joy.

The final ghost’s visit in A Christmas Carol begins with fear, as Scrooge comes to term with his own eventual death.
‘Spirit!’ [Scrooge] cried, tight clutching at its robe,‘Hear me. I am not the man I was.
I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse.
Why show me this, if I am past all hope?’”

By the time Scrooge learns what the spirit has to teach him, he is changed – his fear has turned to anticipation, even to joy! His fear – of death, of loss, of pain – has been transformed to joy for he recognizes that his future can change! He is not beyond redemption! He can live a life of joyful purpose!

Scrooge joyfully, exuberantly promises:
“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.
I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future.
The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me.
I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.”

True to his word, when Scrooge awakens on Christmas morning, he is positively giddy with joy. His delight is no temporary state, Dickens takes pain to tell us, but he is a completely changed man. The miracle of God’s inbreaking with the numinous – with kairos into our linear and practical chronos is that in Christ, God is truly with us, truly present.

In the presence of Christ, time collapses; fear is banished; selfishness evaporates ; love becomes a verb. In the presence of Christ we remember our future, and we become co-workers with Jesus to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

In the presence of Christ, we know true and unending joy.
The miracle has just begun in YOU!
God Bless us Every One!


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