14 August 2016
“I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo. "So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
This is one of the more well-quoted scenes from JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Ring series. Like Frodo Baggins, we do have had to go through things we wish we didn’t need to go through. Unlike Frodo Baggins, we do not have to walk into the most dangerous kingdom on the map to destroy a powerful ring that could be used by the most evil man in the world to destroy the world, thankfully. But like, Frodo, we too have to decide what to do with the time in our lives that has been given to us.
In the gospel passage this morning, Jesus is questioning what the people of his time are doing with their lives. It’s a question a few of us may ask ourselves now and again. What am I doing with my life? An existential question du jour. Everyone gets more or less about eighty years on this planet and usually at some point during the that time, wonder what we are supposed to be doing with all that time.
The thing about all those eighty years is that we only get to live in one moment at a time. Sometimes that fact can seem so overwhelming. It seems so little and, yet, we feel there is so much for us to do. We live in a time, like Jesus’ time, where most people were questioning what the world was coming to, where violence was everywhere, where people did not feel safe. Where all we have is now and now seems so insufficient. While we do not have powerful magical rings that need to be cast into fire, there are things we need to take care of and sometimes that does add a little bit of fire in our lives.
Jesus feels this pressure too, and he shows it in the gospel passage today. Jesus says he came to bring fire and how he wished it was already kindled. How he came to bring division. How he came to teach the people the signs and how he wished they already knew. He knows his time is short, he mentions the baptism with which he will be baptized and the stress that this puts on him. The fire that Jesus came to bring was judgment, the division a new loyalty, loyalty to God that usurps our loyalty to our families, the baptism his passion and death, and to teach us the signs of the coming kingdom of God.
However, as good of a teacher as Jesus was, we still do not always understand.
For most of us, when we see clouds or winds, we know what is going to happen sooner or later with the weather. When we see signs of weather crises coming, we definitely respond. The people of Palestine in Jesus’ time knew how to respond when they saw signs of impending weather. They had to protect themselves and their crops. We shut up our windows and we make emergency plans. Some of us have emergency plans and are prepared for weather crises, and some of us are even prepared for crises of other kinds. Beyond weather, we know the signs of when major political news is going to break, we know the signs of when there will be new releases of movies or games, fashion trends or car breakthroughs. “We know how to interpret current day issues. We're techno-savvy. We have scientific theories and precise machines of all sorts. We can communicate around the world in nano-seconds—but why do we not know how to bring the Kingdom of God to our fractured world?” asks Susanna Metz. We have been working at this for centuries, yet still we have not figured it out.
Part of the problem is that we ourselves get in the way of seeing the signs. As humans, we love to look at the train wrecks happening in our world. Given the way the world stands right now, we can become totally engulfed in watching the news of these things. War has become normalized for us. We have accepted our society this way and though we grumble about it we haven't been able to work together enough to solve any of the major global issues of poverty, hunger, or crime. We are hypocrites, especially since we know things are not looking good going forward and yet we fail to acknowledge the figurative fact that it is going to rain.
Jesus is getting on the case of his followers for ignoring signs of crisis in the world that have nothing to do with the weather. How resonant that is with what is going on in the world today. Can we not see the crisis that we are in? So much death and killing, division and hate. Blood is thicker than water, but it is through water that we are baptized into the family of God. Yet, still, Christians go up against Christians, and believers in God against other believers in God. Certainly in our day and age, in our country, with people being killed everyday for simply being who they are born to be, it can be hard to figure out what the big picture is.
Jesus is really calling for us to pay attention in the gospel passage for today. You cannot read the signs of the weather unless you are paying attention to them. You cannot read the signs of the times unless you are paying attention to them and reflecting on what they mean. You can look at clouds and not draw the conclusion that it is going to rain and that you need to close your car windows unless you are paying attention. We’ve all been there, done that, seen the weather forecast and forgotten to close our car windows. We can look at the violence in our country, the prejudice in our towns, the hate infecting our neighbors, and the indifference of our own hearts, but unless we are paying attention we will not draw the final conclusion that we need to do something. We will not move towards action. We will not open ourselves up to the leading of the Holy Spirit and the direction of love.
When I think of Frodo and Gandalf having the conversation I quoted earlier, it occurs to me that even though the story of the Lord of the Rings follows the ragtag band that goes to destroy the ring that has come into Frodo’s possession, it does not share the story of the hobbits left in the Shire during their journey. But the reason for this is simple. The hobbits who stay in the Shire throughout the time of the book series live fairly normal lives. They do not have a part in the grand stage, they are ignorant of the things going on which could have destroyed their lives. Their story is one of people not involved, not paying attention.
But that is not the story that God has called us to. No, we have not each been given a ring to destroy, but we have been given important work to do and sometimes that can feel terrifying. What is God calling us to do with the time given to us?
Jesus’s teaching for today almost sounds like a call to conversion, because it is. Now is the only time we can live into the life of Christ. In some ways, we are already making good decisions with our time, we’re here, right? But is that it? Is that all God is calling us to do right now? Because the signs that I have seen in the world, in the church, in our community, mean that the time is now. Now is the time to be in relationship with Jesus. Now is the time to act in love and imitate our teacher, our Savior. To declare our need for Jesus, to lay down our masks, tear down our walls, and let the light of the world shine through. We cannot wait until some future time. We will not be living in the kingdom of God later if we are not living into the kingdom of God now. Now is the time to give your heart. We have decisions to make, like Frodo Baggins of the Shire. May we, stick to our true calling and spend our time with God.