Delivered at Ames UCC on May 27, 2018
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie
Sermons are written to be heard rather than read.
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APOCRYPHON OF JOHN
The One is illimitable, since there is nothing before it to limit it,
unfathomable, since there is nothing before it to fathom it,
immeasurable, since there was nothing before it to measure it,
invisible, since nothing has seen it,
eternal, since it exists eternally,
unutterable, since nothing could comprehend it to utter it,
unnamable, since there is nothing before it to give it a name.
This is a description of God from The Apocryphon, or Secret Book, of John, which both of our Bible studies read this spring. The premise of this second-century manuscript is that the risen Jesus, post-Easter, has brought secret teachings to the disciple John, son of Zebedee. This is a common theme in the noncanonical, or unofficial, gospels, that only a few are really ready for what God has to offer. And what this secret book offers is a portrait of God before creation.
The Hebrew Bible, our Bible, begins with God inviting the deep to cocreate without any discussion of what God is then or before. Where was God before then? What is there before then? Our Bible has so humanized God, especially in Jesus, that this apocryphon is a strong reminder that God is and must be so much more:
The One is not among the things that exist, but it is much greater…it is in itself, it is not a part of the eternal realms or of time.
Our time, on the other hand, is quite finite.
Management guru Peter Drucker’s writes, in his classic book The Effective Executive, that time is our only nonrenewable resource. We “cannot rent, hire, buy, or otherwise obtain more time.1
The time we have to breathe and learn and love and drive and work and rant and laugh and to laze about is finite. We do not have, in these bodies, endless time. And we have no control over how much time we will get in these bodies. Will we make it to 80? Will we make it to the end of today? On this Memorial Day weekend as we remember the dead of war, we also remember that every second is dear.
So how do we want to live each and every one?
Part of why we are here is to answer that question, to find a way to use that precious resource with care and with depth. We are here to find, in our finite way, a connection with the infinite. And based on all of our scripture, official and not, the infinite would like a connection with us.
In our reading today, we have left Peter and Paul and the early church, our study for the last several weeks, to travel back to even earlier faith ancestors, the Hebrew people who worked with God to get free from slavery. They are now in the wilderness, where they will remain for forty years. The time between the thrill of release and the relief of being settled takes them whole lifetimes. And not because of the physical distance they have to travel.
Though there is no historical evidence of an exodus of slaves and subsequent colonization of another nation (and the Egyptians kept very good records), if it did happen, the walk should not have taken much more than a month. Did they get hung up by the newborn and the infirm? Did they decide to set a slow pace on purpose? Did they walk in circles? Or was it because they did not maintain a good GPS signal, spiritually speaking?
God’s answer is in a message for Moses to share with the people:
You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples.
Hear me, O Israel. Keep me, O Israel. Work with me forever as you did to gain freedom, O Israel. Then you will be home. Not home in slavery. Not home in wilderness. Not home in a new nation. Then you will be home in me.
It took the Hebrews a lot of time to learn that lesson, 40 years. It took them 40 years to arrive at a place they already lived in: God. Those 40 years could have been collapsed into the length of time it takes to say, “Dear God,” the few minutes of conversation, which is prayer, that reminds us that our home is in the eternal even if our bodies are not.
But I know it is hard. I do not fault the Hebrews. I know it is hard with the demands on our time to give time to God. The illimitable, immeasurable, and unfathomable can feel harder to make an appointment with than our very concrete bosses and children.
So let me offer a tool, a tool for connection and a tool for reclaiming time.
If you look at the bulletin insert, a chart of most of the seasons of the church year along with their dates and traditional colors, you will see that Ordinary Time begins today and goes all the way through November and then briefly returns between Christmastide and Lent. Some churches refer to it as the Sundays after Pentecost and Epiphany, others call it the Season of Creation.
Basically, it is the time when we are not preparing for or celebrating special times. It is the season when we do not have the sweet and sentimental traditions of Advent and Christmas or the spare and surprising dynamics of Lent and Easter. It is ordinary time, though in our church we mark it with not-so-ordinary worship, with llamas and other congregations.
I included that insert today as an invitation to mark your daily calendars with the colors of the liturgical season. I think most electronic calendars let you color code a day or add 24-hour appointments over consecutive days so that you can have a strip of green or blue or purple at the top of each. Part of reclaiming my own time for myself and God, to seeing each valuable hour that I have and that I am already home, has been to return to a paper calendar. I used colored pencils to mark each day of the next year.
As much of our limited time is dictated by the real demands of earning a living and caring for those we love, we can place those demands within God’s time outside of time, within the perpetual church calendar and its cycles of birth, death, and renewal. We can spend 40 years feeling like we are walking in circles, never appreciating where we already are, or we can let go the tyranny of chronological arrivals in favor of an immediate home with God.
There is nothing ordinary about the time we have. Every minute is extraordinary because it will never be repeated and it may be our last. And every one of those minutes, those in times of captivity and those in times of freedom, are suffused with the presence of God.
You don’t have to be an initiate or specially prepared to hear from God. You are ready. Reach out to the greater eternal as it reaches out to and you will find yourself soaring as on eagles’ wings all the days of your life.
1Drucker, Peter F. 2006. The Effective Executive. New York: HarperCollins.