The Time and the Place


This was my Ash Wednesday Meditation for March 5, 2003, at Tompkins Corners UMC.  The Scriptures are Joel 2: 1 – 2, 12 – 17; 2 Corinthians 5: 20 – 6: 10; and Matthew 6: 1 – 6, 16 – 21

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There are countless quotes involving time and perhaps an equal number that involve place as the subject. Thomas Paine wrote that these are the times that try men’s souls. Charles Dickens wrote that these were the best of times and the worst of times. Brigham Young, upon seeing the Great Salt Lake, said that this was the place.

But I am only aware of one time when the time and place of an activity are the subject of a single quotation. Invariably, when I would attempt to do something highly inappropriate, my parents would invoke the phrase, "This is neither the time nor the place." Now, I am sure that your parents said much the same or you as a parent have done so as well; but I am writing the sermon so the quote gets attributed to my parents. And to be complete accurate in quoting my parents, the phrase was generally followed by "and now is neither."

As Joel called out to the people of Israel, we have gathered in this place today in order to welcome the coming of the Lord. We have gathered here today because this is the day, as Paul proclaimed to the Corinthians, the day of salvation.

Today marks the beginning of Lent, the beginning of our preparation for Easter and the resurrection, the day when salvation is realized. It is because God has promised that there would be a time when all of our pleas for mercy and justice would be answered. And now is the time and this is the place, as Paul said.

The prophet Joel writes that this is the day both of the Lord’s coming and our own return to God. Joel wants us to gather together and celebrate the presence of the Lord in our midst now because we cannot presume that another opportunity will ever come again. It also marks the beginning of our preparation for the true celebration, one that marks our salvation.

But it is a preparation done privately, not publicly. Jesus, in Matthew’s Gospels, warns us against public demonstrating our faith solely for the purpose of saying that we have faith. This is not to say that we shouldn’t let others know what we are doing. Paul points out that there are many ways of expressing one’s faith and one’s celebration of life. . It will be our actions that the loudest when it comes to our faith. Paul writes about the different types of situations he and those who worked with him faced in the completion of the ministry. It will be by our actions that others will also come to know what it is that we are celebrating this day and preparing for over the coming days.

What Jesus warned us about was making a big deal out of it. Jesus never could tolerate those who would stand on the corner in public and loudly pray. For those who would stand on the corner and loudly pray for others to hear or sounded a trumpet before they arrived merely wanted the trappings of faith, not faith itself. If we spend more of our time showing off our faith, we do not have the time to use our faith. Paul reminded the Corinthians that God was ready to listen to them but they could not be so busy doing other things that they could not hear his call.

Jesus speaks of storing treasures in heaven, not on earth, for the treasures stored on earth would slowly disappear. We are afraid that if we do not work at putting away treasures on earth then we will be left with nothing. But the time will come when we find that we don’t have anything. Our treasures will be that which we find in heaven, having led the good life and putting our faith into action so that others have the good life as well. Jesus’ own concerns were for those to whom he ministered. He made no big deal about it, he did not call a press conference to let others know how many were fed or what was eaten; he simply went about seeing that those that were hungry were fed.

Paul wrote of the many ways that those associated with his ministry carried it out. Here is a chance to do the same. There is this thought that we should give something up for Lent; that we should sacrifice something. But I want us to think about something else this year; rather than giving up something, let us give of ourselves. Ask yourself what it is that you can do this year that would help someone. One way is to utilize the Lenten Calendar that is available.

There is a time and a place for everything, if I may paraphrase the Preacher from Ecclesiastes. Joel called for the people of Israel to come together in a single place to celebrate the coming of the Lord. Paul said that now was the time for salvation. If you have not given yourself to Christ, then this is the time and the place to do so. If you have given yourself to Christ, what better time or place is there but here and now to rededicate your life to Christ, so that others may also be able to so.

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