This is the text of the sermon preached by Rev. Harrell Davis of First Presbyterian Church of Sun City on Sunday, January 25, 2015. To hear the recording of this service, click here.
Mark 1: 12-15
What time is it? Have you ever asked that question? When you ask that question, what are you really asking? I think that's the more important question. Not so much what time is it, what does it mean when you ask?
If we say, for instance, that time is a way of measuring the sequence of events from the past to the present into the future, we create a context, the so-called Arrow of Time, that gives rise to structures like clocks, calendars, and file cabinets. But is that time really? Is the ticking clock a measure of some "thing?" Is there a thing called time?
When I was reading about time, preparing for this sermon, I learned that physicists can split the measurement we call a second into a million, billion, quadrillion smaller units. By using laser light to illuminate chemical reactions, it's possible to split time like one splits atoms. In fact, it seems that we are limited only by our current technologies in our ability to measure shorter and shorter intervals.
Here's another one that always blows my mind: astrophysicists use the amount of time it takes for light to travel from one place to another to measure distance. As in the amount of time it takes for light to travel from one galaxy to another. The Hubble Space Telescope gathers light from distant sources. You can measure time and distance because we know that light travels at a constant velocity, roughly 187,000 miles per second.
A light year is the distance light travels in the span of a year at the rate of 187,000 miles per second. That's not only a long distance, that's a long time. In fact, when we say that a certain galaxy is 20 light years away, we're saying that galaxy is not only a long distance away, we're saying that it took the light from that galaxy, traveling at 187,000 miles per second, 20 years to reach us. And that's a long time.
Light, in other words, left that galaxy a long time ago. When we look at points of light in our universe, depending upon how far away they are, we are looking backward in time. It takes the light from our sun roughly eight minutes to travel the distance from the sun to the earth. For light to travel 20 years is an enormous distance and a very long time. When we look at a galaxy 20 light years away, we're looking at history.
Some theorists say that the farthest stars and galaxies we can presently see take us backward in time, closer and closer to the moment of creation, to the so-called Big Bang.
The Big Bang itself boggles the mind. The theory is that heat, and gravity, all organic and inorganic molecules, everything, the building blocks of the entire universe, the universe itself, came into being in a cataclysmic moment. Boom! The Big Bang. In the first nanoseconds of creation, was time also created? Did a cosmic clock start ticking? Is the arrow of time a concept, or an actuality?
What time is it? Most of us seek a more domestic answer to that question. We ask because we want or need to know where we stand on the scale of measurement for a particular day or hour. Are we on time or are we late for a meeting or program? Is it time for our favorite TV program, or did we correctly set the DVR?
And then there are the various culturally relevant times. In Sun City, when something starts at 5:00, you'd better get there by 4:30 or you'll be late. When I worked for the denomination as the staff person responsible for the church's ministry to Native American people I learned all about Indian Time. Indian Time doesn't have anything to do with the clock or schedules or deadlines. Indian Time is when the time is right for something to begin: a program, a meeting, a presentation. As long as you didn't have a plane to catch, Indian Time seemed to work.
Actually, Indian Time was not a unique idea. Carol and I lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for several years and everyone there talks about living on Tulsa time. There's a Country-Western song about living on Tulsa time.
I hope you're getting the sense that time, as Einstein said, is relative. It's something we all deal with like weather and life and love. Someone asked him once to describe in simple terms his very complex theory of relativity. He said: when you put your hand to a hot stove, it can seem an eternity until you take it away. When you hold the hand of your sweetheart, it can seem an instant before you have to let her go. That's relativity. And that's also a definition of time. Time is relative. It may be fixed as in the number of seconds in a minute or as the speed of light, but it is not static.
Culturally, we know that time changes all the time. Carol sent me to the store to buy a box of Borax because she has a cleaning job and she believes that Borax is best. I set the box on the edge of the table so she'd be sure to see when she got home.
I keep looking at the box and across the top you read these words: "All Natural Since 1891." What's hilarious about that is not, what's in the box has been the same for 125 years. It's, what was it before 1891? What has it been for the centuries of time before it became a commercial product?
Presumably nothing has changed in the 125 years the stuff has been going into boxes and into people's homes. But it's still the same stuff that cam into being countless years before in the process of creation. What makes it different is what we think about it.
Here's what Jesus said: "The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the Good News."
Here's what centuries of time and experience and change has taught us. Time is relative. Time is not stuck. Time is not static. When Jesus says that time is fulfilled it is possible for us to believe that the present moment holds possibility and opportunity right now. We don't have to wait for change. Change is possible right now.
When Jesus says that the Kingdom of God has come near, he's not talking about some future event. The Kingdom of God is not a future, far-off thing. The Kingdom of God is right here, right now.
The reason why both statements, "change is possible" and "the Kingdom of God is right now," are true is what he said next. What he said next is: "repent and believe in the Good News." This is what he meant: change you mind and accept what's possible.
Repent is a word that's gotten a bad rep from years of religious abuse. What I mean is that religion has reduced that very powerful word to a catalog of vices: drinking, dancing, playing cards, etc. Repent, however, is far more powerful than a temperance movement. Repent means change, as in a complete change of direction. A 180° change of direction is more far-reaching than simply giving up a handful of vices.
Repent means changing your mind. And when you change the way you think, you change everything. I used to think that racism was OK ... at least I was OK with it because for many years I simply went along with the collective unconsciousness of racism. I lived where discrimination was a way of life. I didn't have to look at magazine pictures of white and colored drinking fountains and segregated schools because I saw those things for myself. I didn't think anything about them because nothing or no one - certainly no one in my family - challenged my thinking. I was unconsciously racist until I saw on TV what happened to Martin Luther King and the other freedom marchers.
I was unconscious until TJ and Hattie opened my eyes. TJ and Hattie were young newlyweds who lived on the first floor directly below our student housing apartment. They were the first black couple either of us called friends. When I looked into their beautiful faces, when we shared meals together, when we laughed and cried together, there was no longer any defense for hatred.
You cannot defend the indefensible. As a Christian there is simply no justification for hatred, or bigotry, or intolerance. My mind is completely 180°, no turning back, changed about racism. And guess what? Once my mind changed about that ... all kinds of change was possible. There is no ism, no phobia, no category of bigotry that can stand the test of defense. There is no defense for hatred. There is no justification for violence.
Now I know we live in a violent world. I know there are violent people. It's naive to think that measures to safeguard against violence are irrelevant. Safety is a God-given right. But fear is not. And here is where there's room for change.
Jesus said: believe, accept the Good News. The Good News says there is an alternative to fear. There is an alternative to violence and cynicism and sin. The Good News changes everything. If you want to see an end to violence. to warfare, to hatred, then accept the possibility that there is an alternative.
When you see a movie like American Sniper, which from all indications is a brutally accurate depiction of war, you can leave the theater like one person interviewed on the street, who said seeing that movie makes him want to go and shoot some Arabs. Or, you can see something like that and realize that war is a terrible reality that makes one want to find an alternative.
War is real and war is terrible and it can never be anything but what it is. But it is not the only option. Hatred is not the only option. Not even death can overcome the love of God.
What time is it? Jesus said: Time is fulfilled; the time has come; change your mind; accept possibility; believe in the Good News. The Kingdom of God is near. All things are possible. Thanks be to God. Amen.