Sunday 11 August 2019
Seize the moment!
By Christopher Burkett
Diocesan Director of Ministry, Chester and Editor of The Preacher
Context: a morning service for a regular congregation in a large village
Aim: to reinforce the notion that every moment is a moment to serve God’s purposes
An unexpected encounter
There I was walking along New Street in Birmingham. Perhaps you don’t know it. Not just the location of the railway station, it’s right in the middle of the retail area of the city centre. This day, the street is its usual busy self, the shops ablaze with light. I can’t remember what I was there for- probably on my way to a bookshop, or maybe a committee meeting. Anyway, there I am, preoccupied as usual, making my way slowly through the pressing throng.
All at once I’m stopped by an attractive young woman in a suit. I’d never seen her before in my life. She asks me if I can spare an hour to go with her to a room in one of the large international hotels just there. I had never seen her before in my life, what was I to say? This was years ago; I couldn’t believe it. Was it real? What was I to say?
Well, I said yes, and I did indeed spend an hour with her in a room on the tenth floor. I spent an hour giving my instant reactions to the colours of oil cans! She was a market researcher, and a major oil company was planning to relaunch its motor oil for the retail trade.
Finding patterns in life
Unexpected – it certainly had never crossed my mind that my time would be occupied in such a way. I wonder what you thought I was going to say. We are a people much given to making patterns out of what happens in our lives – planning, anticipating, ordering, striving, securing preserving, and on and on. It’s good to know where you’re going, as it were. But sometimes things don’t turn out as expected.
The Birmingham incident came to mind as I thought about Our Lord’s words in today’s Gospel: ‘You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour’ (Luke 12.40). Jesus makes much of being ready at every and any moment because it’s impossible to predict when the critical moment will be – be ready for action, have your lamps lit. It may be in the middle of the night or it may be at dawn ... Live as if the critical moment is imminent.
Our experiences should surely alert us to the truth of Jesus’ words. We know things come on us all unawares: a sudden broken relationship; a sudden illness; a road traffic incident; a lottery win; the consequence of unthinking folly; unsought promotion; or someone wants to buy that picture you painted! I know of two instances when young men have turned up at their parental home to give news of an impending wedding when the parents didn’t know anyone was being courted! What comes to us unawares isn’t always a disaster.
What Jesus is saying about the life of faith is that it is always in that ‘unawares’ frame of activity and being. ALWAYS. This we find so hard to take on board. We fool ourselves into thinking that God is just sort of knocking about, available anytime we like; and anyway, God shouldn’t interfere in our busy schedules – when we’ve got a moment, when it’s convenient, then God is okay. Rather like dial-a-pizza if you think about it – comes when you want it, but you needn’t give it a second thought when you don’t. But that is as wrong as you can be about God – there are only two options, all or nothing. ‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be.’
The distinction we have to be clear about is the difference between two Greek words for time – Chronos and Kairos. Chronos is easy enough isn’t it? You know chronology, chronometer – the linear measurement of time, the time that stretches before us. Just one thing after another, as Henry Ford almost said! Kairos is more urgent and immediate and is not predictable – it is the time of the Lord God’s challenge to his people; the time when the world to come breaks into the world as it is – the decisive time, the significant moment. There is no avoiding it and no way around it. The saving power that lasts forever breaks into our experiences. If we miss the kairos, there is no second chance. ‘Be dressed for action,’ says Jesus.
How do we translate this urgency, this decisiveness into our lives? What I take from Jesus’ words is this: that every moment of living is of ultimate significance – every moment. And it is what you make of every moment that is absolutely crucial. If you are casual about God, casual about life, in the sense of just ambling along, never putting yourself out too much, never making conscious decisions about what God wants of the living you’re doing, all of it, then one day you’ll realise you’ve missed out. Every moment is a moment to let God touch your life, your living and your destiny. The moment is critical – never again will you have this opportunity; every moment an ultimate moment. How else can we expect to survive those ‘unawares’ that come upon us? ‘You also must be ready’ (v 12:40a) – now is the critical moment.
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