by Rev. Joan Kessler
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Today’s message is brought to you by the 168 hours of this past week, that’s 10,080 minutes, or 604,800 seconds… that is how much time has passed since we were last together. I won’t bore you the second by second account of my week but needless to say, it was a very full time. There is a saying in ministry that is constantly before me and that is, Sunday is always seven days away. As soon as one Sunday is complete, we begin working towards the next one. This reality shapes my days and brings a considerable serving of meaning and purpose to my life. Deadlines are set, challenged, even manipulated and generally met in order to get the most and best results in the time that is available. Part of what occupied my thoughts and reflection this past week is what is the concept of Time that we currently subscribe to? So I wanted to use these minutes before us to do a bit of drive by of time, what it is, how we understand it as people of faith.
The concept of time that we organize our lives around is chronological. The Greek root word, Chronos, refers to the forward, propelling time that we measure with clocks, on watches, and by the evolutionary phases of the moon. Greek mythology portrays Chronos as a wise figure with a long white beard yielding a harvesting scythe, similar to the popularized image of Father Time. We humans have been keeping track of time for the past millennia using a variety of means of devices. For much of history, the chosen periodic phenomenon was the motion of the Sun and stars across the sky, caused by the Earth spinning about its own axis. One of the earliest known timekeeping methods – dating back thousands of years – involved placing a stick upright in the ground and keeping track of its moving shadow as the day progressed.
Timekeeping has evolved over the centuries and has become increasingly sophisticated. But there is another concept of time that was also important to Greek antiquity and that was the idea of Kairos. This notion of time is very different. I would describe it as the moment that gives us pause… that which is behind the time that we incessantly measure and keep track of. Many philosophers and mystics, including Richard Rohr, describes Kairos as a deep time… it refers to those light bulb moments when you say out loud or think to yourself, “Oh I get it now.” Or, “This is perfect”, and “It doesn’t get any better than this.” Kairological time is a heightened state of raised consciousness and awareness of a present experience. Chronological time ceases if even momentarily… we stop measuring and counting and just be in the present moment of that which brings awe and wonder.
In our reading from today, Paul is calling the Corinthians to a change… to consider their time… the things that cause worry and hardship and let them go. He isn’t suggesting that we don’t marry or grieve the loss of a loved one or a special pet… but rather to know that our time of sadness is but temporary. This is the world that Paul is renouncing. He isn’t saying we should divorce ourselves from our daily living but to have a consciousness about it so that we don’t fall into complacency. This is Kairos time… it’s God’s time and fulfillment…
I share a story with you that will perhaps be a helpful illustration from the Buddhist tradition. One evening, Zen master, Shichiri Kojun was reciting sutras when a thief entered his house with a sharp sword, demanding “Monday or life.”
Without any fear, Shichiri said, “Don’t disturb me! Help yourself with the money, it’s in the drawer.” And he resumed his recitation. The thief was startled by this unexpected reaction, but he proceeded with his business anyway. While he was helping himself to the money, the master stopped and called, “Don’t take all of it. Leave some for me to pay my taxes tomorrow.”
The thief obliged, left some money behind and prepared to leave. Just before he left, the master suddenly shouted at him, “You took my money and you didn’t even thank me?! That’s not polite!” This time, the thief was really shocked at such fearlessness. He thanked the master and ran away. The thief later told his friends that he had never been so frightened in all his life.
A few days later, the thief was caught and confessed, among many others, his theft at Shichiri’s house. When the master was called as a witness, he said, “No, this man di not steal anything from me. I gave him the money. He even thanked me for it.” The thief was so touched he decided to repent. Upon his release from prison, he became a disciple of the master and many years later, he attained enlightenment.
We still very much live in this world. We live in a world that saw a new President inaugurated while his country is deeply divided over race, COVID and democratic freedom… we live in a world that waits for a fair and timely distribution of a vaccine. We live in a world where climate patterns continue to change and the impacts this has on our human geography and natural order. We live in a world where we say goodbye to loved ones and let them slip from our midst with thanksgiving for lives well-lived. The world isn’t falling away but we are called to be aware of our presence and actions within it… when we do this we find the fullness of Kairos time.
Change is about us. Nothing stays the same. Decisions are made not as a means of adding or subtracting but to lean into the fullness of a divine time. And we keep looking ahead… Jesus said no one puts their hand to the plough and keeps looking back. Letting go of sure things is never easy. It doesn’t happen until something has served its full purpose. Only then can they be relinquished with our thanksgiving.
May time be on our side, whether it is Chronos or Kairos… all we are guaranteed is this moment… shaping our experiences, enriching our relationships, challenging our belief systems, reminding us that there is a Spirit at work.
Amen and Amen.
But BEing time is never wasted time. When we are BEing not only are we collaborating with chronological time but we are touching on kairos, and we are freed from the normal restrictions of time. – Madeleine L’Engle