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What Time Is It?
a homily based on Romans 13:11-14
by Rev. Thomas N. Hall

Don't ask Josh Mellet what time it is. Josh, our skin-headed basketball player dozed off in my speech class for the entire hour a number of years ago. I could tell that Josh was in his usual sleep mode by the position of his head and mouth. But he slept for the entire hour and I wasn't even lecturing! He missed watching four of his colleagues debate each other on a critical issue facing the church. He missed the raised voices, flushed faces, animated gestures, students interrupting the other in mid-sentence. Josh slept soundly through it all. Well, not quite all. With about three minutes left I stood to give out assignments and close the class. Apparently, the sound of my voice penetrated through the deep crevices of Josh's subconscious and set off his red alert system. Because Josh abruptly jerked awake and instinctively bolted to his feet ready to leave the room. Like a turtle stretching his neck out of his shell to see if the coast is clear, he looked around the room and realized that the only ones standing were him and me. Chortles and chuckles and suppressed cackles spilled across the room. Old Josh wasn't sure what time it was, but he was sure that it wasn't time to go back to sleep. Red-faced and embarrassed, Josh, our skin-headed basketball player sat back down, wide-eyed and awake. I can't be too hard on Josh because I, too, have been asleep when I was supposed to be awake. There have been times when I've forgotten what time it is and missed an important appointment.

All of our lessons this morning deal with the idea of knowing what time it is. The prophet Isaiah, in our first lesson, for instance, points to future time; begins with the phrase "in the days to come." And he goes on to give a glowing description of a future utopia-a time when war will be no more. No more terrorists, no more anthrax, no more death; a time when swords will be beat into plowshares, and spears into pruning hooks.

In our epistle lesson Paul, too, reminds us of what time it is; he gives us our second wake up call. The night is far gone, he says, and the day dawns.

Even in the gospel lesson, Jesus warns his followers to "keep awake" since they were in the dark concerning when he would return. " But about that day and hour no one knows," Jesus says, "neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. "That strikes me most are the words of Paul when he says to us, "you know what time it is . . ." We do? Of course we do, Paul. We know what time it is alright. Time is this thing that is sliced into twenty-four equal pieces and repeated endlessly every moment of our lives from the second we're born until the last breath we expel. We have wristwatches and alarm clocks. Factories manufacture five hundred million timepieces each year. In this country alone we buy three hundred thousand of them each day in brilliant colors with creative faces.

What time is it? Do you want that in microseconds-millionths of a second; nanoseconds- billionths of a second, picoseconds-trillionths of a second, or femtoseconds-thousandths of a trillionth of a second? So minute is our divisions of time that there are more thousandths of a trillionth of a second in one second than there were seconds in the past thirty-one million years. We know precisely what time it is.

But this is not the kind of time that Paul wants us to be aware of. All of this time that we know so well is chronos time. Chronos time is wristwatch and alarm clock time. Chronos is the time in which we live most of our lives. Chronos times are these buckets of time that we pack with feverish activity in our Daytimers© and time management systems. The kind of time that we feel guilty when we're not doing something. It's the time we try to slow down, yet fall hopelessly behind.


Chronos time watches our bodies grow older, our skin lose its elasticity, our energy diminish. Chronos time reminds us of our own mortality. Isaac Watts knew chronos only too well what chronos time was when he wrote,


Time like an ever rolling stream,

Bears all who breathe away;

They fly forgotten, as a dream,

Dies at the opening day.


Chronos time is what Shakespeare had in mind when he had Richard II moan, "I wasted time, and now doth time waste me." Chronos time is this metronome. Each tick, each tock reminds us that time like an ever rolling stream will bear all who breathe away-including us. Listen to the ticking. Chronos is time ticking away-forever.


[Begin a metronome at this point, but keep on talking.]

Seconds of aging. Of terrorism in our country. Of children starving in Somalia. Of torture and executions of children and women in Bosnia in an effort by Serbs to rid their land of Muslims. We can't put time in a bottle and use it where and when we want. It just keeps ticking, beyond control, out of control.


[Stop metronome at this point]

But there is another time called kairos. This is a time not measured by a metronome, nor can it be plotted in nanoseconds. Kairos is the time Paul refers to in Romans 13. Kairos is real time that reaches beyond time. It's God's time. Kairos are those moments when God breaks through our Timex lives with his joy and presence. It's that time which we usually do not recognize while we are experiencing it, but only afterwards we become aware that we have been for just a moment in God's heavenly time zone.

Several weeks ago some of our younger church members offered their service as acolytes. One of our candidates for candlelighting took his calling especially seriously. For him, holding the candle lighter was a holy moment, a spiritual moment when he would lead the people of God into worship. You should have seen him in rehearsal. Never has the candle lighter been held more reverently, or the approach toward the altar more deliberate and measured! Reminded me of Martin Luther's first experience at offering mass when he became a priest. Our acolyte steadied the candle lighter with both hands and cautiously approached the altar. For several seconds of chronos, my friend had become aware of God's holy presence, God's kairos.

Kairos is being time, never wasted time. When we take moments to reflect on our lives and on Christ's coming, we are not only collaborating with chronological time, but we are touching on kairos; we move beyond the normal restrictions of time to God's time.

Paul says that we are kairos people, people who walk according to God's schedule. No wonder he knuckle-knocks on the door of our church. Some of us have fallen asleep! Paul throws in quick succession on the screens of our minds images someone being roused from deep sleep. Of the night and the dawning day with new hope and justice. He throws up the image of light versus darkness, our worst and best locked in combat. He says it's time to wake up. The night is far spent, the dawning of a new day is near. Don't waste time, he scolds. Don't abuse your life or the lives of others. Don't quarrel and don't get jealous.

We've been so wrapped up in our chronos-jamming more and more activities into briefer packets of time--that we've forgotten what time it really is. We haven't adjusted our watches to God's clock! Maybe some of us have become too comfortable with our Christianity and have dozed off before the crackling fire in the hearth.

The Advent season allows us to become aware of what time it is. Advent means that we live in chronos time but conduct our lives as if in kairos time. We wait for Christ to return. Even now God's glorious kairos spill back into our present so that we can actually live now in conformity with God future.

In the play, Our Town, Emily who has died in childbirth wishes to return home to relive just a day. The stage manager grants her request and she goes back to her hometown. But she operates on purely kairos standard time. She sees, as no one else among the living can, incredible beauty in ordinary things. Yet she grieves that no one is aware of these wonderful moments in life. She cries out to her mother, "Mama, just look at me one minute as though you really saw me . . . it goes so fast we don't have time to look at one another." And then she goes back to the graveyard and to the quiet company of the others lying there and asks the Stage Manager, "Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?" And he sighs and says, " No, except maybe the saints and poets. They do some. II What time is it? It's time to let God break into our lives with his son.

Maranatha. Come quickly, Lord Jesus. Amen.