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I have heard from different folks and different…camps of thought, shall we say, the phrases “for such a time as this” and “the wrong side of history” which has me wondering a lot about time.
Timing is everything! So it is said, in the telling of a joke and the delivery of comedic lines. Not just there. Incredibly relevant in the preparation of food: the cookies come out of the oven too soon, they’re dense and gooey, stay in too long, they’re hard and burnt. To get medium-well or medium-rare on the grill requires the right combination of heat and timing. Timing is everything. Apropos of the theater stage and the theater of war as well as the surgical theater, timing is a major player. So it should not come as a surprise how exceedingly important the role of time is in faith and ministry.
Here is the space I should insert some erudite explanation of chronos and kairos, the difference between sequential and opportune time, distinctions of the quantitative and the qualitative. I suppose that’s all true and pertinent. Still, I wonder if those two aspects of time, those two ways of understanding and discerning time are too exclusive, trying too hard to distinguish between different kinds of time that the categories become limiting. I wonder…
For everything there is a season, a time to plant and a time to reap. But in much of life it seems to overlap a lot. Where does the planting end and the harvesting begin? With wheat it’s clear. With rhubarb and asparagus, there’s more overlap. You plant then you wait. You tend those plants. You wait some more. Eventually you may harvest, but not too much as you still want the plant to get established. People and communities are oftentimes so much more like rhubarb. Maybe that’s a lot like discipleship.
I’ve been pondering Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the way he spoke of time and the way it played out in his life, and ultimately, his death. The quote is often attributed to him, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” He most likely didn’t first say that but in any event, it’s something to consider what he meant by it. I think it’s very much connected to his final speech, about a promise land. Rev. Dr. Barbara Lundblad has said, “what he was saying is the kingdom of God has come near.” Dr. King had a glimpse of the kingdom.
Leading up to his final days in Memphis, threats upon his life had become more common. His words seem so prophetic in “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” his final speech, yet at the same time they simply and profoundly express his life experiences, a kind of day-in and day-out reality. Before he got to his bring-it-home closing he shared that matter-of-fact reality, that death was always a very real possibility. He relates the story of when he was stabbed at a book signing in New York, and how the doctor had said and it was reported that if he had sneezed he could have died:
I’m so happy that I didn’t sneeze.
And they were telling me –. Now, it doesn’t matter, now. It really doesn’t matter what happens now. I left Atlanta this morning, and as we got started on the plane, there were six of us. The pilot said over the public address system, “We are sorry for the delay, but we have Dr. Martin Luther King on the plane. And to be sure that all of the bags were checked, and to be sure that nothing would be wrong with on the plane, we had to check out everything carefully. And we’ve had the plane protected and guarded all night.”
And then I got into Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?
King went to Memphis fully aware that his time may well be drawing to a close.
Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.
And I don’t mind.
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!
And so I’m happy, tonight.
I’m not worried about anything.
I’m not fearing any man!
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!
The following morning shots will ring out in that Memphis sky and Dr. King’s life will be taken.
For such a time as this… To be sure, Rev. Dr. King lived in such a time. Queen Esther—to whom those words were first addressed—lived in such a time. In so many ways we all live in such times. The harvest is plentiful. As “Kairos-y” as such times may be, it seems that most of us are nevertheless needing to tend to the rhubarb in our own lives and in the lives around us, picking some of it while still tending to the plants.
My congregation concluded a week of Vacation Bible School last week. I have been here in this parish long enough to have seen various kids grow up and now volunteer as leaders themselves. In so many ways it is incredible to see them share and love and grow. I’ve been thinking a lot about those young people and the world they live in and will live in, the history that they are and will be a part of. They are growing in the light of that long arc of the moral universe—not because they are more right than those who came before, whatever right means. But this time for each of them is part of a movement of God. This time. Perhaps they won’t even see it until they look back after much time has past. For such a time as this, but this we only know after the fact. May we all have a vision to see into that ultimate fulfillment of time, into the kingdom.