Siblings in Christ, “The time has come.” “What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short.” The reign of God has come near; it is time to repent. It is time to confess the truth about yourself and turn your heart from worldly possessions and power to the purposes of God.
Now is the time to listen for God’s call, to discern in prayer what God’s will is for the world, for Dallas. Now is the time to follow Jesus. Now is the time to proclaim the Gospel.
All of this talk of time can be a bit confusing. It’s not like an alarm went off at 10:30 and suddenly it was time to talk about God’s will. We aren’t talking about chronological time. Instead of chronos, Jesus calls to awareness of the kairos, the right time, those moments when the time is ripe for taking a chance, for changing your life, for transforming society.
Have you ever looked at your phone to check the time, gotten lost in a Facebook hole and then couldn’t remember what time it was? That’s chronos time. Kairos calls you into a moment where you put your phone away and pay attention to everything that’s happening around you so you can participate fully in what is going to happen next.
Jesus decided to leave town when Herod—the Romans’ hand-selected Jewish governor of Jerusalem—had put John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, in prison. He went back north, to his home region of the Galilee, “proclaiming the good news of God.” “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
Just what is the Good News Jesus proclaimed throughout the Galilee? What is the Good News he wants us to receive today?
Christians have been fighting for centuries about what the good news, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, truly is. We’ve done our very best to make it grand and complicated. And we’ve succeeded in hiding the good news under the bushel baskets of doctrine and philosophy and metaphysics.
Specifically, our churches and their leaders have too often allowed their understanding of Jesus’ message to get so complicated that it can seem like a person needs years of study in ancient languages and law to understand it. But it really isn’t that complicated.
The Gospel, the good news Jesus came to proclaim is this: God is with us. The very name of this congregation, Emanuel, proclaims this same news for all in our community.
The good news of Emanuel is that God has come near. The God of the Universe, the One who separated the light from the darkness, who placed each star and planet in the sky, has chosen to come be by your side. Jesus’ proclamation was so simple and clear that young fishermen grasped it immediately. Once they heard it, they dropped their nets to follow Jesus.
We must be careful not to wrap the good news of Jesus in weighty doctrines, cultural norms, and societal restrictions. When we uncritically reproduce those habits in the church, we elevate structures of human sinfulness above the good news of Jesus and exclude the very people Jesus would enthusiastically welcome. Instead, we are called to open ourselves and our church to radical equality and radical hospitality. Our psalm today speaks about fundamental human equality, including our common need to find refuge in God: “Trust in him at all times, you people,” the psalmist sings. “Pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. Surely the lowborn are but a breath, the highborn are but a lie.”
The implications of Jesus’ proclamation of the good news are clear. This is good news for the poor. This is good news for the refugee, the outcast, the imperfect, the despised.
The Gospel of Jesus makes an immediate claim on those who hear it. “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4.21). This is the time. It is the right time. Something is different than it was before. Something has changed because God has broken into our lives to establish God’s reign of justice and truth. This proclaimed word reorders our priorities and our relationships. As Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, the good news that God has come to be with us reorders our entire lives: “What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short,” Paul wrote. “From now on … those who buy something [should live] as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.”
This past week, the US went through a political transition. This country has a new President and Vice President, but that doesn’t solve the problems we face. New folks at the top don’t have the ability to reorder our lives. Gaining power has itself become the purpose of political systems throughout the world. The good news of Jesus, however, asks us what we will do with the authority and power we possess.
That challenge is as true for each of us as it is for governmental leaders. You may not have the power of a president or king, but you have authority in your community, in your family. The question is how we use that authority or privilege or power we can exercise or organize for the good not of ourselves, but for the good of our neighbor.
The message of God’s presence with us has different implications for you, depending on your circumstances. If you are a woman, the good news that God has chosen to be by your side affirms your capacities as a leader of communities and a co-creator of worlds. God’s Word and will assures that your experiences will be valued and that your voice cannot be silenced.
If you are descended from people who have been enslaved or colonized or targeted for genocide, people who were told that they were not quite human or only counted as three-fifths of a person, the presence of God Almighty by your side affirms your dignity and strength, carrying you forward in struggles for liberation.
If, according to the dictates and strictures of society, you are queer or just don’t fit in, God’s presence calls you to an already crowded table, where you will be welcomed, fed and nurtured, never again persecuted for who you are.
The good news of God’s presence, however, can feel a bit less like good news for those who already move within spheres of privilege and power. If you are a person who benefits from the structural privileges our society affords to straight, white men, the liberating presence of God can feel like an indictment. Indeed, if you are even passively invested in protecting the materialism, militarism, sexism, and racism of our present society, Jesus would like to have a word with you.
“The time has come.” “What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short.” Now is the time to follow Jesus. Now is the time to proclaim the Gospel. Now is the time to grasp the treasure of the Gospel as the good news it is for each and every person, for the entire world God loves.
Rev. Robert O. Smith, PhD