3rd Sunday of Epiphany (January 25, 2015)
‘Actively Waiting in Quiet Confidence’
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
When I was a kid, my family was not a rich family, so we couldn’t afford to stay in luxurious hotels for our holidays. Yet, every now and then, my mum would be asked by her employers to attend a conference in another city. She would stay in a hotel, paid by her employers. She used to take me with her because she wanted me to know how it felt to stay in a luxurious hotel.
I still remember how much I always enjoyed the experience. I would spend hours in the hotel bathroom, soaking myself in the warm water in the bathtub. I would go down to the lobby, read all the newspapers and magazines, soaking the atmosphere of the hotel. During breakfast, I would try to take all the food and drinks on offer; all that my tummy could handle. And at nighttime, I would stay up late, watching all the shows on television. I knew that I could enjoy the luxury only for a short period of time, one or two days usually, so I tried to get the best out of my time.
One of the greatest tricks that our mind does to us is to make us believe that we are immortal; that we will stay in this luxurious hotel called life forever. And the younger we are, the stronger our deception is.
Yet, whether we like it or not, death will come and visit us sooner or later. We all live ‘on a borrowed time’. Sooner or later, we all will die and face our Creator. And it is up to us to choose what to do in this time that we still have.
The early Christian communities lived with the expectation that Jesus would return in their lifetime. They too believed that they lived on a borrowed time. That was why they were convinced that they had to live differently, otherwise they would be found ‘not-ready’ when Jesus came for the second time.
This was the backdrop of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. But, in the part of his letter that we read today, Paul did not talk about the specific time when Jesus would return;
as if that time could be measured. When Paul said that the time was short, he didn’t mean that they only had a certain amount of days or months or years before Jesus returned. Unlike Jonah, who gave the people of Nineveh 40 days to repent, Paul did not talk about chronological time (as time is measured in minutes or hours or days or weeks).
In his letter, Paul used the Greek word, kairos, for time instead of kronos (the root word for chronological). So Paul talked about time not as a chronological event, but as a crucial moment; a moment of great opportunity; a significant moment when the believers ought to live their life as true believers.
Nobody knew when Jesus would return; not even Paul. Nobody needed to know when Jesus would return. Jesus may return in their lifetime, he may not. What was important was that the believers in Corinth lived their life ‘as if’ Jesus had already returned.
We too don’t need to know when Christ will return or how much time do we have left. Christ may return today, or tomorrow, or thousands of years from now. Death itself can be around the corner or it can be still far away.
What important, however, is for us to live our life 'as if' we had lived in God’s Kingdom already; to live our life ‘as if’ this time was the most important time of our life; ‘as if’ this time was the last time we had here on earth. We are to do our best to serve God and others in whatever time we have left.
When Andrew Chan, one of the two Australians on death row in Bali Kerobokan prison, heard that his bid for clemency was rejected, he was taking the Norwegian Ambassador on a tour in the prison. His friend and fellow Australian on death row, Myuran Sukumaran, continued on with the tour. He showed the Ambassador the programs that both of them had initiated in the prison: computer, art, painting, English, and first aid classes.
But Chan disappeared and everyone, especially his lawyer, was worried about him.
They looked for him in the prison and found him with another inmate whose hand had been paralyzed. Chan was holding the inmate’s hand, counseling and calming him down while they waited for medical assistance.
Indeed, Chan is completing a certificate four in ministry. His Supervisor said that he never once asked for an extension, even though he was doing his course from inside of the prison. “He could have easily thought of himself and nobody would blame him, but that is the Andrew we know,” his Supervisor said of Chan.
Waiting can indeed be filled with fullness and hope and does not necessarily filled only with anxiety and despair. Our situation may not be as dire as the situation that Andrew and Myuran face, but we can learn from them; we can also be active and filled with hope in our waiting for God's Kingdom to be fully revealed.
That was why, in our story from Mark’s Gospel, Simon, Andrew, James, and John left their boats immediately after Jesus asked them to follow him. Did they not worry about their future when they left their jobs? I believe they made the dramatic decision because they must have heard Jesus’ proclamation that the Kingdom of God was near.
They must have known that they lived in a transition time, so it was not good for them just staying there with their boats and doing what they had been doing. They must change their life to adjust to the new era that was about to come.
But whatever we do in our waiting, we need to remember that, in the end of the day, it is not about us; it is about God. What matters most is not our effort, but God’s grace.
There is a stark contrast in our story today from the book of Jonah. We are told that Niniveh was a very large city, even for our modern standard. It took three days for someone to walk across it. Yet, the city submitted immediately to the warning that Jonah preached, even though he gave one of the shortest sermons in the Bible
His message was approximately eight words in English (I wish I could preach that long every week), yet the effect of his sermon was further reaching than the long sermon Peter gave on the day of Pentecost. 3000 people became Christians because of Peter’s sermon (Acts 2:14-41), while the whole city of Niniveh repented because of Jonah’s short message.
Does it mean that the shorter the sermon the better? Not necessarily. The storyteller wanted us to know that there was something more that had taken place. Jonah’s sermon alone could not change the great city. The task was too great for him alone to handle. God must have been the One behind the great repentance of the whole city.
Indeed, after all the things that we have done, we need to remind ourselves that, without God, all will come to naught. Our confidence should rest not on what we have done, but on what God is and will be doing.
Most of you would know that I’ve just returned from a 2-1/2-week holiday in Europe.
Europe is a long way from Australia. It took 11 to 12 hours of flying from Perth to Dubai and then another 7 to 8 hours of flying from Dubai to Amsterdam.
The long flight was exacerbated by the fact that I did get a little bit nervous about flying. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoyed flying most of the time. I enjoyed seeing the landscape from up above in the sky. But knowing that I was flying in a ‘tiny box’, tens of thousands of feet above the ground, sometimes brought shivers to my spine.
(And knowing that I was going to fly in this box for 11 to 12 hours didn’t help much to alleviate my anxiety.)
Luckily, I’m not alone. Many have admitted that they too are nervous about flying.
Someone told me that she usually drank sleeping pills before she flew so that she could sleep all the way. A woman, who was sitting on my row as I flew from Dubai to Amsterdam, watched movies throughout the entire flight. She only took off her earphones when she went to the toilet or when she requested something from her husband. Once our plane landed in the airport, the first words that she said were, “Good, we are safe now.”
I had my own method of trying to calm myself: sleeping. But every time the plane shook, I would wake up and be reminded again that I was still flying in this tiny box.
The best way to alleviate one’s fear of flying is none of those methods. The best way, I believe, is to put our complete trust in the engineers, the pilot, and the ground crew who have done their job to make sure that the plane is safe. With this trust, we can rest assured that our safety is in place.
Trust is indeed the most efficient way to deal with anxiety as we wait. Trust is what the writer of our Psalm reading talked about as he waited for God to act on his behalf.
The psalmist wrote Psalm 62 in distress. In the early verses, he talked about how he had been assaulted by his enemies who sought for his demise. He felt like a feeble wall that could be broken at any times by his enemies. Yet, he said that God was his salvation and refuge; therefore he would not be shaken. He might be a feeble wall, but his God was a mighty rock and fortress.
Therefore, just like Paul’s advice in his letter to the Romans (12:19), the psalmist would not seek vengeance or try taking matter into his own hands. He would instead wait in silence for God to act on his behalf because in God was his deliverance and honour. He would find rest in God because his hope came from God and God only. He could now peacefully rest in the long flight called life, knowing that his plane would not crash.
Life can indeed feel like sitting in the waiting room of a dentist clinic; anxiously waiting for our name to be called. Yet, with God we can find our peace; with God, our temporary life on earth can become a great opportunity for us to discover life in its fullness and be transformed into His likeness.
 Stan Mast, 1 Corinthians 7:29-31, on http://cep.calvinseminary.edu (Epiphany 3B - January 19, 2015)
 Jewel Topsfield, Bali Nine Andrew Chan Comforted Inmate after He Lost Mercy Plea, The Age (Saturday, January 24 2015).