What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away. – 1 Corinthians 7: 29-31
This week’s Scripture reading sounds like a nugget dropped out of the middle of nowhere.
And when we zoom out and read the whole of chapter 7, even backing up to where we were last week, it doesn’t get much better. We are in curious foreign territory this week.
As a little recap…
Last week I gave a bird’s eye view of 1 Corinthians. It’s a letter that Paul wrote to a church that he planted and cultivated himself. The Corinthians were a people that Paul knew really well and their’s was a church that he was deeply invest in. His letter reads like a series of essays addressing concerns that he’s been hearing about among the congregation. And given their apparent sketchy behavior – Paul is now trying to clear up some hazy teachings.
We hear in our Scripture segment of the day that time is growing short!
So short, that people with wives should act like they have none.
So short, that those who are mourning shouldn’t bother.
So short, that those who are celebrating/rejoicing also shouldn’t bother.
So short, that those who are about to buy stuff, should act like they have no possessions/need no possessions.
So short, that those who had any dealing, any interests, any empathy for the world… shouldn’t.
Because none of it mattered. Time was short.
Jesus would return soon and everything would change.
Rather than being bogged down and distracted by our relationships/ our things/our communities/ our work and passions… we should let those things go so that we can fully focus on our own holiness and prepare ourselves to be with Jesus again.
Paul would have us be free from concern and to have completely undivided interests/ undivided devotion to the Lord.
How does that hit your ears today? I wonder what this brings up in you…
It seems to me… to reveal an urgency that has been lost in time.
In Paul’s day and age (and he wrote his letters to the church in Corinth around 50ish AD), there was this certainty in the early church that Jesus would return. And it wasn’t some abstract “someday God will return” notion. It was Jesus has gone to heaven to say “hey!” To his dad and he will be right back. Like tomorrow, perhaps even this afternoon. Jesus’ return was thought to be imminent.
We have to remember that Paul’s ministry and his work establishing ancient churches… all of this is happening within a single generation. These people walk where Jesus walked, they knew his disciples, they experience the same signature brand of Roman oppression first hand. While Jesus left he was going to be right back!
Peppered throughout Paul’s many letters to the ancient churches is this idea that followers of Jesus live in the world, but we are not to be of the world. Maybe you have heard that phrase before. Our devotion, our citizenship, our focus is meant to be upward and onward and totally God’s. Douglas Ottati in his Feasting On The Word commentary, he wrote that the things Paul suggests are distractions or things that might divide our loyalties (marriage, mourning, celebrating, citizenship…) that they each provoke anxieties that may hinder devotion to the Lord, and it is better to be anxious not about world affairs but about being holy.
These teachings of Paul’s… make me itchy.
Many of Paul’s teachings make me itchy.
It’s not that I disagree with him in that – my devotion and my loyalty and my focus – should be on God/ on the Kingdom of God.
What makes me itchy/ what I struggle with is how Pauls wishes for us to express that devotion. Bags packed, awaiting the Lord, unencumbered.
To me, holiness and righteousness they can’t possibly be that tidy…
Do you know that old prayer of St. Terease of Avila?
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body….
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
Paul’s teachings and this prayer of St.Teresa are both about a kind of urgency and our vocation as followers of Christ.
Paul would have us focus entirely on righteousness – on getting right with the Lord, and as we await the Lord let’s save as many souls as we can. The goal, the prize, the purpose of live and faith is eternity it is heaven. And the time is now to get right! Jesus is coming!
(I need a pulpit to pound!)
What if (don’t stone me as a heretic, please…) what if Jesus did come again already and is present again/ now/ here/ in this moment… in you? What if you truly are the hands/the feet/ the eye/ the heart/ the compassion of Jesus on this earth? What if that was the intention when Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit into us/into the world? What if the in-breaking, the unfolding, the coming reign of our sovereign God is happening through you/ by you/ around you?
What if Jesus has returned?
Maybe our neighbors, and strangers, friends and foes…what if we hold a little piece of the incarnation?
Jesus said he would come back one day… what if he did/he is/ he will?
That is super confusing and deliciously hopeful, but no more so than this weird nugget of Scripture from 1 Corinthians is seemingly lost in time and context.
What do you think? How does this hit your ears?…
Did you catch the inauguration this week?
Did you catch the poet, Amanda Gorman? She has since broken the internet…. She’s everywhere.
Amanda Gorman is the National Youth Poet Laureate and she delivered a sermon for the ages at President Biden’s Inauguration.
Listen to this:
We the successors of a country and a timeAmanda Gordon, The Hill We Climb
Where a skinny Black girl
descended from slaves and raised by a single mother
can dream of becoming president
only to find herself reciting for one
And yes we are far from polished
far from pristine
but that doesn’t mean we are
striving to form a union that is perfect
We are striving to forge a union with purpose
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and
conditions of man
And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us
but what stands before us
We close the divide because we know, to put our future first,
we must first put our differences aside
We lay down our arms
so we can reach out our arms
to one another
We seek harm to none and harmony for all
When I heard that I felt my faithful bone rattle in me! I couldn’t wait to get to work in this world. Not just because I believe in being an invested citizen in these United States, but because in my baptism I took on job of advocating for justice. As a preacher I believe in stirring up the people and inviting them to look up to God and see God’s kingdom of love before us. As a member of the Body of Christ I believe in civility and compassion and equality for all.
Paul said that we should strive to be anxiety and distraction free. That God and God along should have our true focus.
But devotion to God, calls for my sweat right here.
Devotion to God call for me to work for peace.
Waiting for God, give me time to create spaces of justice.
My discipleship implores me to take seriously that I math hands and feet, the eyes and heart and compassion of Christ in this world. Here. Now.
Children of God, perhaps we hold a little bit of the incarnation between us. The presence of Christ/the presence of ultimate love on this earth here and now. Perhaps by our efforts, by our brave dreaming, by our brave being… by our hope and commitment to fan the flames of what is good and just in our homes and in our communities… then we might be able to build together the kingdom of God.