Sermon 11-2-2014; ‘The Eternal Now’
Responsive Reading: God is the Eternal One – Adon Olam (found on a Boy Scout website)
Thomas Kelly, A Testament of Devotion; Essay – ‘The Eternal Now and Social Concern’
Ruthie Tippin, Pastor – Indianapolis First Friends Meeting
Thomas Kelly died at his kitchen sink while doing the dishes. He was 48 years old. He was an educator, a philosopher, a scholar… a Quaker. He had taught at Wilmington College, Earlham College, Wellesley College, University of Hawaii, and Haverford College. He and his wife worked with the American Friends Service Committee. His students were crushed at the news of his death. Some of his essays were gathered into a collection, and published as “A Testament of Devotion”. This book is given to each of our college graduates. It is one of my most favorite books.
Fifty years before Tom Kelly wrote his essays, the Church was consumed with Heaven. If you look at the hymns written in that time, (about a hundred years ago for us), you’ll see it: When the Roll is Called Up Yonder, O That Will Be Glory For Me, When We All Get To Heaven. The needs of the Here and Now were secondary to the goal of the Over Yonder. The importance of the With-God Life - the Vineyard, Fishing Net, Wheat Field, Kingdom-of-Heaven-on-Earth Life now, was supplanted by the need to seek the God-In-Heaven Life, the Streets of Gold, Crystal Sea, City of God Eternity then. But then… everything changed. Just like the pendulum in an old grandfather’s clock swinging back and forth, by the time Kelly wrote “The Eternal Now” in 1938, the Church was in a different place. The world was in a different place. Eerily, it sounds a lot like 2014 for us:
“All this is now changed. We are in an era of This-sidedness, with a passionate anxiety about economics and political organization. And the church itself has largely gone “this-sided,” and large areas of the Society of Friends seem to be predominantly concerned with this world, with time, and with the temporal order. And the test of the worthwhileness of any experience of Eternity has become: “Does it change things in time? If so, let us keep it, if not, let us discard it. I submit that this is a lamentable reversal of the true order of dependence. Time is no judge of Eternity. It is the Eternal who is the judge and tester of time. But in saying this I am not proposing that we leave the one-sidedness of the Here and of time-preoccupation, for the equal one-sidedness of the Yonder… But I am persuaded that in the Quaker experience of Divine Presence there is a serious retention of both time and the timeless, with the final value and significance located in the Eternal, who is the creative root of time itself.” [p.89-90]
God is always. God is ever. God was. God is. God will be. God is eternal. God is now. God is the Eternal Now. Just as our lives are both structure and Spirit, illumined, shaped, and strengthened by God’s light, breath and passionate love for us, so are our days measured in time and in timelessness. Clocks and calendars are only one measure and do not displace the Centered, God-filled, self-abandoned experience of the timeless relationship we have in God.
So what time is it? My watch says it’s __________, and the clock at the front of the Meetingroom here says it’s ____________. They may both be right. But the most accurate way to answer that question is to say… the time is now. Now is the time.
Ribbon Thing: Each of you has a paper ribbon in your bulletin. Take it out. Fold it in half, and then open it again. The mark you have made is this moment in time. Everything to the left is the past, and everything to the right is the future. This is the way we ‘mark time’. All too often, our lives are focused on this mark. This tiny, but certain place. We measure everything by it. The past sometimes haunts us with regret, loss, or failure. Sometimes it is viewed as a treasure that we long to return to, and count again and again. The future is seen by some as a place of escape – a way to move beyond the pain, struggle or complication of life as we know it. Some see it as a destiny – a place of promise that holds great possibilities, while others view the future with fear – it is unknowable, unseeable, and therefore, terrifying. To others, it’s a source of pressure – of responsibilities to be fulfilled, bills to pay, expectations to be met.
The past, the future, the now. Now is always the time. It has always been the time. Turn your ribbon over. The fold you made, marking this moment is time, should form a peak. Notice what this moment in time looks like now. It rises above the rest of the ribbon of your life. This is the way God sees your life – it is lifted, not as a division between times, but as a moment, this moment, when your life is lifted into God’s presence once again. This is the Holy Now, the moment between your past - relinquished to God, and your future - yet unseen – where you, this moment, are in the presence of God.
This gives us a new way of thinking – of being. Our lives are not made up of the past, the present and the future. No… in the span of time and timelessness, our lives are a series of “nows”, a chain of experiences of God’s fresh presence with us, the mark of God’s continuous, abiding constancy in and with us. Childhood – God’s now. Adolescence – God’s now. Adulthood – God’s now. Our lives? God’s now.
God was present with Moses at the Burning Bush. For us, that was Then. For Moses, that was Now. God was present with Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem, when their baby boy was born in that stable. For us, that was Then. For them, that was Now. For Paul, God was present when he was blinded by the Light and Power of God’s presence on the Damascus Road. For us, that was Then. For Paul, that was Now. There is no difference. God is just as much God now, as God was then. God is just as present now, as God was present then. God was just as present yesterday, and God will be just as present this afternoon, tomorrow, next Tuesday, next February, as God is today! God is a Now God… an Eternally Now God. God continues to be now for us – the Eternal Now – regardless of what day it is, what time it is.
Thomas Kelly: “The possibility of this experience of Divine Presence, as a repeatedly realized and present fact, and its transforming and transfiguring effect upon all life - this is the central message of Friends. Once discover this glorious secret, this new dimension of life, and we no longer live merely in time, but we live also in the Eternal. The world of time is no longer the sole reality of which we are aware. A second Reality hovers, quickens, quivers, stirs, energizes us, breaks in upon us and in love embraces us, together with all things, within Godself. We live our lives at two levels simultaneously – the level of time and the level of the Timeless.” Thomas Kelly [p. 91-92]
Of course, we all have to live in ‘real time’. But we must remember always to live in the realm of the timeless… of God’s eternal, timeless presence in us. God wants to expand our ‘real time’ moments with God’s eternal timelessness, and the way God chooses to do that, is by filling those moments with God’s presence.
Many of us fill our time with responsibilities and/or responses to those around us, and their requirements. We get busy. We move so fast, with such preoccupation that we squeeze God flat. God’s presence? Hardly recognizable. God’s breath? Barely noticed. We are so anxious about how time is taken from us, that we no longer see time as God’s gift of presence to us… something that is ultimately God’s to give and to control.
Each of us is “handed” – most of us have a dominant hand, either right of left. A small percentage of the population is ambidextrous, but most of us are dominant on one side or the other. Hold out your dominant hand, and use it. It feels good, doesn’t it? Natural. Powerful. Dominant.
That’s how we operate. That is how we fill our lives. We busily move, control, and dominate our lives. Now, imagine that same hand being God’s presence, God’s intention – God’s Now in us. God’s understanding of this day, this moment in time, our needs in real time for this day and the purpose of this day in our lives.
Hold out your other hand. Your less dominant hand. Imagine that as you. Your still, open, available you. Now join it together with your God-hand. Allow your God-hand to move your other hand a bit. This is what it means to live a with-God, Eternal Now life – a timeless life. A life of energy and purpose where the weight and care and concern of our daily life is not dependent on us, but on God operating in us, moving with us, working God’s purpose through us, knowing all that is necessary both in real time, and in the Eternal Now of time.
Can you hold on… and let go? Can you live in the moment… and in the eternal? Can you imagine God’s joy at seeing each moment of your life lifted into God’s presence? Be still. Be available. Be still and know that God is God. That God was, is, and always will be God, and that you live in the Eternal Now of God’s loving presence. Let go… and hold on.
“Ye have no time but this present time, therefore prize your time for your soul’s sake.”
George Fox, 1652
God is the Eternal One
God is the Eternal One,
Who reigned before any being had yet been created;
When all was done according to God's will,
Already then God's Name was Sovereign.
And after all has ceased to be,
Still will God reign in solitary majesty;
God was, God is, God shall be in glory.
And God is One,
To God belongs power and dominion.
And the Sovereign of all is my own God,
My living Redeemer,
My Rock in time of trouble and distress;
My banner and my refuge,
My benefactor, to whom, in anguish, I can call.
Into God's hands I entrust my spirit,
Both when I sleep as when I wake;
And with my spirit, my body also:
God is with me,
I will not fear.
"Adon Olam" ("God is the Eternal One").
An eleventh-century Hebrew prayer composed by the
Jewish poet and philosopher Solomon Ibn Gibirol.