Time flies and you can’t get it back once it’s gone. It’s fleeting, so don’t waste it. I’m skittish about such adages, because we live in an age of instant gratification. We want results now, and won’t stand for any delay. At the same time, we can have a lack of urgency about important matters. Climate change, for instance, is one of those issues that is hard to get excited about. We hear reports that the sea might rise an inch or so a year, as the earth warms. It doesn’t seem like much, but it doesn’t take long for it to add up. Oh, it may be a few decades, but time flies by quicker than we think.
Many of our churches are living on borrowed time – the members are getting older and frailer. The possibility of passing on the torch to the next generation becomes ever more difficult, as we kick the can down the road.
We are creatures of instant gratification, but do we have a true sense of urgency about what God is up to in the world? Will we get to matters of God’s realm now or will we postpone to a more convenient time? My own inclinations, at times, lead me to embrace the latter option.
As I read this set of lectionary texts, all of which are rather brief in scope, I get a sense of urgency. The time is short. Don’t waste another moment. There isn’t time to have a proper farewell with one’s parents. Get up and go, for the time is here. The realm of God is at the door. This is the message we hear in Jonah, in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, and in the Gospel of Mark (it being the briefest of all the gospels).
Jonah heard the call of God, but he wasn’t interested in heeding it. Going to Nineveh didn’t sound like a very profitable opportunity. They were oppressors of Jonah’s people. They were renowned for the viciousness. What good can come of such a venture? If God wished to judge the city, then let him do it and get it over with. That would benefit everybody. Nuke them! That’s what they deserve, so give it to them. But God was unrelenting. God had a message for the people, a message of some urgency. Get up and go, Yahweh told Jonah. Declare my judgment against this great city, a city so large that it took three days to walk across its expanse. It wasn’t his desire to do so, but Jonah went anyway, and he proclaimed the message: “Just forty days more and Nineveh will be overthrown!” The people heard the message and they responded by proclaiming a fast and by putting on mourning clothes.” Even the king joined with them. There’s a little break between these verses and the closing verse of the lection, where the king gives instructions in response to the word of judgment. The word of judgment had been uttered, and it was heard. Not only did they hear, but the acted with urgency. And God saw what they were doing and God decided to stay the execution. God saw that the evil behavior had ended. And when God saw this, God decided to not destroy the city.
If you read on you discover that Jonah was not at all pleased with this turn of events. There is urgency to get the message out and to respond to it, for repentance and grace are the messages of the day.
Paul’s apocalyptic side gets exposed in this passage. The time is short, so don’t be consumed by worldly things – like marriage and family, joy and even mourning. Be focused. It’s a word that is not easily heard or a way of life that’s easily sustained. There’s little family values focus here – if you have a wife (or a husband), live as if you’re single and celibate. Not because family is bad, but because there’s no time for it. The same goes for those who are sad – there’s no time for mourning. It only distracts you from your calling, but the same is true of those of you who are joyful. Don’t live a normal life. Don’t be preoccupied with the things of this world, “because this world in its present form is passing away.”
This Pauline word has a harshness to it that may be off-putting. It may seem unrealistic as well. But think of the context. Think of the sense of urgency present here. Do we have the same sense of urgency about God’s calling on our lives? Or, are we too distracted with our “things” whether they are our smart phone, our computers, our golf clubs – whatever it is that draws our attention away from the work of God? We all have them, those things that keep us from seeing things as they are.
And so we come to Mark. His is the shortest gospel. He gets to the point. It’s action oriented. John has been arrested, and so it’s time for Jesus to take up the mantle. He’s been baptized and he’s been to the desert. His focus is clear and he sees urgency. “Now is the time! Here comes God’s Kingdom! Change your hearts and lives and trust his good news!” (Mk 1:14-15). Repent, turn around, live a life of trust.
As Jesus goes across Galilee, preaching this “Good News” he encounters two brothers – Andrew and Simon – they’re hard at work casting their nets into the lake. They were, after all, fishermen. It wasn’t as if they were wasting time checking their Facebook pages (as I often find myself doing!) But, Jesus has something else for them to do – something with more urgency – they would join him in his work of spreading the Good News of God’s realm. Instead of trying to catch fish in the lake, they would catch people. And when the call went out, they left their nets “right away.” Not tomorrow or next week, or when they retired, but “right away.” They dropped the nets and followed. The call came with a sense of urgency and they responded with the same sense of urgency.
But Jesus’ wasn’t finished. As Andrew and Simon walk along the lake with Jesus, he sees another set of brothers – James and John. They’re sitting in their boat, busy fixing their nets. Maybe they’d returned from a long day of successful fishing, and now it was time to prepare the nets for the next day. They too were busy, doing “normal work.” But, “at that very moment he called them. They followed him leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired workers.” No long goodbyes, no waiting for replacements. They just get up and follow. Would you? Could you? I don’t know. I did pick up and head off for seminary, with nothing but $500, a broken down car, and no place to live when I finished my nearly eight hundred mile journey from Klamath Falls to Pasadena.
Is there a sense urgency about our faith? Do we concern ourselves with the Reign of God? Are we like Jonah, who goes to Nineveh -- a place of power and prestige, a place that likely would not heed the warning (and if they did, would he like the outcome?) – but does so reluctantly and after running away the first time? Do we find ourselves preoccupied with the things of this world? Are we willing to drop our nets and follow Jesus, fishing for people? Jesus says – Now is the time. Not tomorrow. Not next year. Now, for there is no time to waste!