This is the message I presented on the Epiphany of the Lord (4 January 2004) at Tompkins Corners UMC. I used the Scriptures for the New Year instead of the lectionary for the Epiphany of the Lord (Ecclesiastes 3: 1 – 13, Revelation 21: 1 – 6, and Matthew 25: 31 – 46).
This is the time of year when we look at things past and things yet to come. But time is a fleeting thing, and looking forward is difficult to do. There are many shows that will speak of things yet to come during the coming year but very few of these shows will come back next year and talk about how their predictions came out.
There are those who would say that John the Evangelist saw the future in his writing of the Book of Revelation. But John was writing to a group of Christians in seven different churches, each with their own problems, each with their own cares. His was not a prediction of the future but a warning of what was to come unless changes were made.
John didn’t see an end to time but rather the cause of time. “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end” was not a statement coming at the end of time but rather a statement of continuation. John recognized that God’s time and presence were continual while ours was not. We may not see much in the future to come but God is the future and in that future we have hope.
At the time that John wrote the Book of Revelations, Christians were experiencing the first of many persecution. To the readers, especially in the seven churches to whom the Book was directed, it was necessary to give them hope and show that there was a promise for the future.
And that is why the Preacher writes about time. The Preacher, as the author of Ecclesiastes is commonly known, saw time in passages and seasons, in moments when one should think, pause, and consider. Life was not simply a collection of bits and pieces of things done and yet to be done. Rather, life was a balance of actions and tasks.
The Preacher knew that life was futile when it was seen as a collection of things solely measured by time. Life was more than chasing after things that would not exist beyond the moment of the chase; life was more than a measure of the time we are on this planet. The Preacher knew and wrote that if we see life only in terms of what we have done, we can never even begin to see beyond today. Putting things into categories does keep things in order but it does little to help us see or understand God’s purpose.
Though we would like to even begin understanding God’s purpose, we cannot even begin to comprehend what it might be. But that should not stop us from trying. That is the very essence of the difference between our souls and us. We have been made in God’s image so we have an inborn inquisitiveness to find out about external realities. By coming to know our Creator, we can find our peace. The whole prelude to the reading of Ecclesiastes for today shows that without that purpose, all is folly.
All we can see are the micro-moments of our own existence in the grand span of eternity. But those moments give us a glimpse of what is to come. The Scriptures call us to live a life in robust faith, even during times of trial and pain. For we know that in the grand scheme of things God will make everything beautiful.
But therein lies the problem. We don’t like the idea that our time is limited. We don’t like the notion that in the grand scheme of things we are simply a blip in the passage of time. We are so caught up in our battles with time, we forget about others. Jesus spoke of the people missing Him when He was tired, poor, hungry, and homeless. But the people didn’t even know what he was talking about. “When did we see you hungry, or tired, or poor, or homeless?” they asked.
The Gospel message for today is interesting. It speaks of the Second Coming of Christ but it does not give a time when one might expect it to happen. And that is the point.
Jesus said we would never know the day, the hour, the time or the place of His coming. But our preparations should not be limited because we do not know; rather, our preparations should increase. It is easy to say that we are prepared but are we?
What would happen if someone came up to you and asked for help getting a bit to eat? What would happen if someone came up to you and asked you for a ride someplace down the road? Would you help them get the food they needed? Would you give them the ride?
It isn’t likely that such things are going to happen to you every day but it begs the question as to how you treat people you meet every day? How do you treat the people around you? Do you treat them the way you wish to be treated? Or is your treatment conditional? Do you treat them well when they do things for you?
It is very simple; our preparation of Christ is not based on apocalyptic visions or our random acts of kindness to strangers. It is based on what we do each day to those people whom we are in contact with every day.
That is why I make such a big deal about reaching out to those who are members of this church but are not here on a regular basis. But it has to be more than simply my sending letters to them. Because the letters that I send are the letters of a pastor, warning members of what will happen if they do not take action. But the words that come from the membership tell those individuals that they are in fact missed and that they are still considered a part of the community.
There really is no way that we can determine what will happen if we ignore these inactive members. But a church that does not care for its own will slowly die. A church that does not show care or concern for its own cannot show care or concern for others.
And if there is to be a Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church in 2005, it will be because there was an effort made to reach out to those in the community and try and bring them back in. Like those who heard the words of Jesus but did not know when they had missed their opportunity, so too will the opportunities for the growth of this church be fleeting and quickly gone if one is not careful.
We begin each year with resolutions, actions that we want to take that will make us better. I hope that the members of this church will resolve to reach out to the other members of this church who are not here and say to them, “You are still a part of this community and you are missed.”
John was writing at a time when the future was bleak, when the whole idea of Christianity was in doubt. But he saw hope for the future; he saw knew that God would be there. The Preacher wrote at a time when he thought his future was bleak; when he could see no purpose for living. But he saw hope; he saw that in all there was and would be God would be there. He gave him hope.
Jesus pointed out that He was here around and among us. Our hope and future lie in our ability to bring His presence into our lives and into the lives of others. I would hope and pray that we resolved to carry that mission into the future as well.