June 23, 2024- sermon- Hamilton Throckmorton

Sermon Text...


June 23, 2024                                                Hamilton Coe Throckmorton

II Corinthians 6:1-13                                     The Federated Church, UCC


     Time to go. Time’s up. Time for the party. Bedtime. Time for a haircut. Time to go the hygienist. Time for the cake to come out of the oven. Time for school. Time for work. Time for fireworks. Time for the game. Time to go shopping. Time for church.


     Time is an ever-present factor in our lives. I set my alarm for a certain time or show up for appointments at a particular hour. You follow your own schedules about when you’ll visit your friends or start dinner preparations. Mary and I have a son who used to run track events in college, and I would regularly time his events until I realized I could never be as precise as the electronic timing systems that posted the race results. Many years ago, I had a stop-watch and at what must have been a particularly dull point in my life, I used to see how quickly I could push stop after I had started it. I tried this the other day on the stopwatch on my phone, and found that the fastest I could stop it after I had started it was .08 of a second. And no, my life has not gotten that dull again!


     Time is a part of work—is it quitting time yet? We time our sports. Young musicians use metronomes—and maybe older ones, as well—so they can learn to keep a steady beat. Medical and legal and business appointments are for a particular time. Some of us are habitually early, some are chronically late, and others are pretty much on time.


     And all of this is the way we tend to think about time. The Greek word for it is chronos. It’s the sort of time we keep with clocks. It’s the word from which we get our words “chronology” and “chronological.” Chronos is what ticks away at steady intervals. It’s what measures the runner or the TV show or the baking cookies. It’s what orders our days.


     The Greek language also has another word for time, though, and that’s kairos. It’s a word with no equivalent in English. It’s the time, though, that’s the most important time. We may measure our days with chronos, but we measure our lives with kairos. Chronos is the routine of the regular appointments, the morning coffee, the endless diaper changing, the nonstop laundry, the daily dinner preparation, the logging on at work.


     Kairos is something entirely different. It’s the word the apostle Paul uses in the pleading tone of his second letter to the Corinthians. “Look,” he says to them, “now is the acceptable time [kairos]; look, now is the day of salvation!” (6:2). Paul has a somewhat fraught relationship with the Corinthians. They’ve had strenuous disagreements. They have, in many ways, been at each other’s throats, with abundant tears and anger. And in an outburst of intensity, Paul virtually begs them to pay attention to one thing: “Look, now is the acceptable time; look, now is the day of salvation!”—or “now is the day of wholeness,” which is what the Greek word means at its root. This is the time. This is the moment. This is the day of wholeness. This. Right now. This is the kairos.


     Paul is calling the Corinthians and us back to the urgency of the now. He reminds us all that there is no ordinary time. It is all holy time. I think Paul is trying to wake them and us up. I think he’s saying, ‘Don’t fall asleep in your life. Don’t take it for granted. Live it with all the passion and energy and generosity you can muster. These are magical moments. Don’t just let them skate blithely by. Take them in. Be grateful for them.’


     Kairos time is time that we notice and remember. It’s wedding days and graduation days. It’s proms and meeting the love of our life. It’s the doctor’s office calling with news about the biopsy. It’s the other car t-boning us in the intersection. It’s when the metronomic march of minutes and seconds moves to the side and life grips us with its ferocious intensity and magnificence and beauty. Kairos.


     I vividly remember the birth of our older son Alex. His umbilical cord had been tied around his shoulder and he couldn’t emerge from the womb and a crisis atmosphere electrified the birthing room. And when the obstetrician was finally able to dislodge that cord and Alex came out, there was such relief, but there was also and especially such immense joy. And I lay on a mattress on the floor of the hospital room, with a red and white checked shirt on and cuddled him in my arms. And never will I ever feel more elation than that. And it was kairos time.


     I think Paul is saying: Notice. Pay attention to the wonder of this strange and beautiful life you’ve been given. Don’t let it pass by without going, “Wow!” I’ve always loved the line in Alice Walker’s play, The Color Purple, in which the character Shug utters the line that gives the play its title. “I think it [ticks] God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.” Paul, too, wants us to notice the stunning purple. Noticing that purple is kairos time.


     I think Paul never wants us to forget that there is a precious urgency to this one singular life we’ve been given to live. Don’t let it flit away. Don’t come to the end of your life and wish you had planted the garden or gone to more movies or danced more often. Don’t look back and wish you had given yourself to a cause or advocated for something that mattered. Don’t end up regretting that you hadn’t, in Martin Luther King’s words, been “a drum major for justice, . . . a drum major for peace, . . . a drum major for righteousness.”


     The writer Anne Lamott says, “Oh my God, what if you wake up some day, and you’re 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written, or you didn’t go swimming in those warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy; or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life, of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid? It’s going to break your heart. Don’t let this happen.”


     And Lamott tells the story of a conversation she had with her friend Pammy. “About a month before my friend Pammy died, she said something that may have permanently changed me. We had gone shopping for a dress for me to wear that night to a nightclub with the man I was seeing at the time. Pammy was in a wheelchair, wearing her Queen Mum wig, the Easy Rider look in her eyes.


     “I tried on a lavender minidress, which is not my usual style. I tend to wear big, baggy clothes. . .. Anyway, the dress fit perfectly, and I came out to model it for her. I stood there feeling very shy and self-conscious and pleased. Then I said, ‘Do you think it makes my hips look too big?’


     “And [Pammy] said to me slowly, ‘Annie, I really don’t think you have that kind of time’” (https://www.inspirationforthespirit.com/you-dont-have-that-kind-of-time/).


     We don’t, do we. This is the moment. This is the now. This is the day of salvation, the day of wholeness. Every day is. In Paul’s letter, he is focused on the tension and frostiness in their relationship. And his plea that they pay attention is essentially a plea for reconciliation, for making peace, for finding a way to be in a caring and attentive relationship with each other.


     We have this need, too. Some of are estranged from family members. Some of us can’t forgive a work colleague. Some of us persist in a kind of judgmentalism that keeps us from welcoming and accepting people we have judged harshly and ruled out. We know who we are! And one of life’s core tasks is to make connections where there is separation, to make peace where there is only division. For real reconciliation to occur, both, or all, parties need to participate. But it won’t happen unless you and I make the effort from our end to bring it about. The intensity of that need for salvation, for wholeness, is now. This is the day of salvation. This is the day of wholeness. This very moment is the kairos moment.


     One of the places we know such urgency in the call to wholeness, of course, is in our relationship with creation. We can’t live through this past week and its extreme heat without committing or recommitting to practices that work at undoing the destructive ways that have led us to this precipice. If we really see this as a kairos moment, we’ll plant more trees; we’ll reduce our use of plastic; we’ll work to develop wind and solar power, including perhaps here at Federated; we’ll seek to minimize our burning of fossil fuels; we’ll honor the earth on which we live as though it really were our mother. That would be a kind of wholeness. That would be a kairos way to live.


     This sort of healing and reconciliation happens when we’re aware of the fruitfulness of each moment, when we’re attuned to the richness of this time of kairos. One of Mary Oliver’s poems speaks so richly of the urgency of this moment, and of the need to be aware of it and to absorb it and to take it in. It’s called “Messenger”:


            My work is loving the world.

            Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—

                        equal seekers of sweetness.

            Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.

            Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.


            Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?

            Am I no longer young, and still half-perfect? Let me

                        keep my mind on what matters,

            which is my work,


            which is mostly standing still and learning to be


            The phoebe, the delphinium.

            The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.

            Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,


            which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart

                        and these body-clothes,

            a mouth with which to give shouts of joy

                        to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,

            telling them all, over and over, how it is

                        that we live forever.


     Mary Oliver knows what “the day of salvation,” the time of wholeness, the moment of kairos, looks like. It looks like attention. It looks like awe. It looks like noticing the color purple. It looks like knowing that we don’t have the kind of time that we can sit around worrying about superficial and tangential things. It looks like tending to the creation. It looks like joy in the moment. It looks like taking nothing for granted.


     We have been given the gift of a mind-bendingly, glitteringly stunning universe in which to live out these few precious years of our lives. Paul calls us to notice, to see the time of salvation, to take in the day of wholeness which presents itself to us now . . . and now . . . and now. The unending invitation that comes to us is to absorb and to revel in the magnificent wonder of each precious moment. And in the wake of that stunning wonder, to make peace, to create a huge tent, to welcome all people, and, wherever it might be lacking, to embody the gorgeousness of God’s grace with each other and with the entire world. It is the most sublime privilege. And it is the most divine calling. May we go forth to be smitten, and to give ourselves to holy love.