Sermon Preached by the Rev. Fulton Porter, III at St Thomas Church, Chicago December 4, 2011
The Second Sunday of Advent
2 Peter 3:8-15a, 18
An On Time God
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
I have a confession to make. I have a problem. Don’t tell no body, (and please don’t tell my wife), but believe it or not, I am chronologically challenged. Yes, I admit it. I sometimes have a problem with being on time. Trying to do too many things in too short a time, underestimating the time required to be at a destination, ignoring the alarm or just plain ole “too slow”, whatever the reason, the fact remains that me and time don’t always see eye to eye.
What about you? Have you ever been late for an appointment or meeting? Most people, even those who don’t share my handicap, have been late for at least one engagement in their lives. For some, tardiness is unusual. For others it is routine. Sometimes we get up on time and get out the door on time, but there is a flat tire on the car. Sometimes the car will not start or the alarm clock fails. Sometimes we oversleep, are caught in traffic jams or get stalled by one thousand and one maladies that all signal we are going to have a bad day. While some are late by accident, there are others that are late intentionally. These folk want to avoid something that is uncomfortable or uninteresting and time their arrival perfectly. Some want to steal the focus of the moment by making a late, but grand, appearance. Even the best Christians work hard to maintain a busy schedule and stay on time.
I heard the story about Tardy Terry. Tardy Terry was never on time for anything at the "Never-too-late-Episcopal Church." Each Sunday he arrived late for the church service, just after the offering. When he sang in the choir, he never knew the songs because he came to rehearsals as they were giving the closing prayer. He almost missed his wedding but arrived just in time to say, "I do." He missed his daughter's school play, but caught her bow in act two. Tardy Terry was late his entire life. While the people were sad, there was a sigh of relief from everyone when they heard news of his death. Finally, they thought. He'll make it to church on time. However, on the day of his funeral, the hearse took a wrong turn. After the family had filed in, in came Tardy Terry's casket...at the end of the line! He was late for his own funeral.
Because we are familiar with tardiness and fight so hard for timeliness, we are gratified to know that there is a God who is always on time. He is always in control and is never late. He never forgets. He never has a flat tire and cannot be held up by a train. God is always on timeAs Christians, we affirm our faith each time we consider that the God we serve blesses us immensely. We are encouraged further when we consider that God always seems to respond to our needs just in time. God is on time, all the time!
This is the season of advent. Advent is a time of waiting and anticipation for the joyful celebration of God’s incarnation at Christmas time. God robed himself in flesh and dwelt among us in the person of Jesus Christ, Mary’s baby boy who was God manifest in human form. God who came to earth to bring peace and justice; God who came not to condemn the world but that the world through him might be saved; God who entered into time for us and for our salvation, came down from heaven.
We have begun the waiting on Santa’s knee. We have begun the waiting in frenzied shopping and consumer driven rituals which all but obscure the true reason for the season. People are beginning to greet each other in the name of Christmas and it is a happy time. The lights are hung, and the greenery is displayed and the joyful spirit of the season is apparent. This is the time when we rejoice in the happiest season of them all as we wait ever so busily for Christmas.
Yet in the midst of our consumerist culture and amidst the joy and happiness we feel as we commence this Christmas season, this is also a time that Darrik Acre has called a time of great shadows. Not only is this the time of the year when light is scarce and shadows and darkness reign, it is a time when the dark things of life may manifest themselves. It is a time when depression intensifies and suicide grows in popularity. It can be a time of darkness and shadows.
Shadows, we recognize their presence. I dare say that we have come face to face with shadows this week, haven’t we. We have faced the sad darkness of death this week, haven’t we. We have faced the reality of our mortality. Somewhere a husband and wife whispered “I love you” and “goodbye” to one another as the husband lay dying. Somewhere, people are facing the horrible reality of war in this season of peace and somewhere a daughter or son is killed or maimed in the name of creating democracy. Somewhere, a corporation doesn’t know if it can stay financially solvent unless it takes drastic actions, so lay-off notices go out like Christmas cards. Somewhere, another person has lost the battle with AIDS. Somewhere somebody has gotten a discouraging report from their doctor. Somewhere, a child wonders where his next meal will come from. Somewhere, another child of ours is killed in a drive by shooting. Somewhere, a wife was battered and abused last night. Somewhere, in this season of joy, a husband has come home to find that his wife is gone. Somewhere, there is someone caught up in a lifestyle of dependency on the latest pill they can swallow or the alcohol they can consume.
Yes, in the midst of this joyous time, there is still a darkness which hovers. And we cry out like the prophet, “O, that God would tear open the heavens and come down, and make the crooked places straight and the rough places plain!” Because if we never needed the Lord before, we sure do need him now! We need Him every hour. We need God to come to us right now and save us from the troubles of this life. And we are waiting for God to split open the heavens and come like a reverberating sledge hammer to fix it all. And when it doesn’t happen that way, we want to doubt God.
Even so, we just don’t seem to have the patience to wait. And because of our impatience, it seems that God is not coming. Sometimes it seems that God has left us all alone to fend for ourselves and the wait for God becomes painful and unbearable. Our patience has grown thin and we cry out to the God, “O, that God would tear open the heavens and come down!” Come down and do something now! Do it when I want it done and how I want it done!
And so, in the context of this time in our existence, my focus was drawn to our scripture text from 2 Peter and it is here that I would like to shine the sermonic spotlight. This text focuses on Peter as he reassures believers that God will deliver on his promises on time. Many scoffed at the faith of the Christians. Nearly all of the Patriarchs of the Christian faith were dead and the present leaders were aging, yet Christ had not returned as promised. Unbelievers unmercifully ridiculed them. Peter, one of the last of the Christian Patriarchs, addresses what appeared to be a delay in the coming of Christ in his second letter.
I want to call your attention to the fact that initially in the beginning of Chapter 3 (go back and read it sometime) Peter reminds them that scoffers are to be expected. Those outside the faith do not carry the same belief as those who know God. Thus, it is expected that those who are unfamiliar with God’s ways should scoff. Their ways will not be self-fulfilling. Only the word of God remains true. You see, scoffers enjoy ridiculing the faithful, when it appears that the object of their faith is fruitless. In so doing, their denial of the faith is somehow reinforced. Evildoers and unbelievers enjoy making fun of believers, quickly pointing out anything that might be inconsistent between their belief and reality. Believers, if not reminded, might be discouraged.
In the Old Testament, David wrote to believers who were disturbed about the apparent prosperity of the ungodly in Psalm 37:1 he wrote "Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity." David addressed the temptation to stray when it appeared that the ungodly life was the most prosperous. Peter addresses the temptation to lose hope when it appears that the promises of God would be unfulfilled.
In such times, Peter said it is good to remember. Since the immediate subject was the promise of Christ to return and usher in a new kingdom, Peter urged them to remember God's past promises in relation to the great flood. He promised it and it happened. Since he promised a flood and it happened, Peter concludes that assuming that he will do the same in years to come is logical.
Scoffers argue that despite the faith of believers, nothing has changed. The world continues as it always has despite their great sacrifices. They suggest that hundreds and thousands of years have passed yet the object of their belief has not occurred.
Peter reminds believers not to be influenced by such reasoning because God is not subject to the limitations of time. Thousands of years in the sight of humankind are but passing days or even seconds with God. It was two thousand years before God fulfilled his promise to Abraham that all of the families of the earth would be blessed through his family. This occurred with the birth of Christ. It was several hundred years before the children of Israel took possession of the Promised Land. Obviously, God does not reckon time in the same manner as man.
Christ referred to the infinite nature of God in John 8- "Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am." Indicating that he existed before Abraham was even conceived. In Hebrews the inspired writer says "Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever." Thus indicating the truth that time has no affect on God. What he did before can be done today or tomorrow.
It is sufficient, said Peter, for believers to remember that God is not slack or negligent. He simply waits until the right time. With respect to unbelievers, Peter said God is not slack but is longsuffering, delaying to give them time. Thus, God clearly moves in his own timetable that is altered on occasion for the advantage of the believer and out of mercy to the unbeliever. In Galatians, Paul makes it clear that when all conditions were perfect, God sent his Son to earth to begin the redemption process. The phrase the "fullness" of time intimates a chronological pregnancy that was ready for delivery. God moved and acted when the time was appropriate, not one day sooner or later. He will make his return in the same manner...in the fullness of time!
And here is the crux of the matter. Often we are frustrated when it appears that God has forsaken us. When problems mount up, and sickness swells and stock markets crash and available solutions are few, some lose hope. When we are experiencing life difficulties our first response is to pray. After prayer, we take actions to alleviate our situation. Sometimes however, our best efforts are unsuccessful. We did everything right. We prayed. We believed. We acted. Yet it often appears that our situation does not change. Our cabinets are empty. Our refrigerator's shelves are bare. Our freezers are filled with ice. Our personal affairs are still in disarray. Times are tough. In such instances, has God forsaken us? Are we foolish for continuing to believe in him?
A certain widow woman of scripture found herself in the same situation. She was a believer but was broke, hungry and at the point of starvation. When the prophet of God came to her home, she found that God could take her last little cup of meal and jar of oil and stretch it to meet her needs every day. She didn't know when or how God would respond to her need, she just knew he would. Even as the barrel emptied she kept trusting God. When he arrived, he arrived on time!
God is on time because he is ahead of time. We trust God to take care of things for us because we know that God has already begun the process to resolve our problem situation although the solution is not apparent to us.
When we watch a star twinkle at night, we must remember that the light from the closest star, takes 4.3 years to get to us. When the wise men saw the star in heaven pointing the way to the Christ child, the light from that star actually twinkled thousands of years before, but because of the distance, arrived on earth later, but on time. Often blessings that we request from God operate in the same way. The answer to many of our prayers is probably already in the working, at this very moment. When the answer arrives God arranges for it to be "on time."
They brought a blind man to Jesus. The skeptics, attempting to confuse Christ, asked whether the blind man's sin was the reason for his blindness. Jesus answered by saying that the Blind man was born blind so that he could live among the skeptics and be present at the day and hour that Christ passed by to be healed by his power. The blind man could not see but the restoration of his sight was already on the way!
Those of us who are frustrated with problems or heavy burdens should remember that God may seem slack or slow but the answer to our prayer is already on the way. We cannot hurry him but we should be patient. That is why Isaiah says “But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint."The key word for us is "Trust!" Trusting God is to know that he may not come when you want him, but whenever he comes, he is always on time!
And so my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we must consider and come to understand that we serve an on time God. My father worked for UPS for many years and United Parcel Service promotes the fact that it can place a package in the hands of the receiver in 24 hours. Yet there are times when UPS can't find the right address or can't make a delivery because no one is home. Federal Express prides itself for being able to deliver a package by 10 a.m. the next morning. However, there are times when they just can't make it. They refund the charge but they still didn't make it on time. E-mail, one of my favorite modes of communication, can deliver a message in seconds! But regardless to how fast E-Mail can be delivered, the message can't get through if the system is backed up.
That's why we rejoice in the truth that we serve a God who is on time all the time! Well how do you know that preacher? Well, Abraham stood on a mountain with his son on an altar. When the knife of sacrifice was drawn that's when he found that God was an on time God!-There was a lamb in the bush! The three Hebrew boys in a fiery furnace learned that even in the midst of the fire that God is an on time God! Daniel in the lion's den learned that although angry teeth and enemies growl all around you that he is an old time God.
He is on time because he is fast. Well how fast is God? Light travels at a speed of 186,000 miles a second, but God is so fast, before you can lift up your eyes unto the hills from whence cometh your help, the answer is already on the way! Sound travels at a speed of 1085 feet per second, but God is so fast that before you can say "Father I stretch my hands to thee!" the answer is already on the way! Thought waves travel at thousands of miles per second, but God is so fast that while you are thinking, the answer is already on the way!
When the world cried out for a savior, the answer was already on the way! In the fullness of time, God rearranged the biological processes of a woman named Mary! In the fullness of time, God made a hole in the ordered processes of nature! In the fullness of time, God sent the Word to dwell among men! At the right time, and on time, God revealed God’s self to the world! At the right time, and on time, he began a three-year ministry! At the right time, and on time, he took up an old rugged cross! At the right time, and on time, he died out on Calvary! After the three days and nights, at the right time, and on time, he arose from the grave!
We serve an on time God!