September is a month of acceleration as the academic year and football kick off. There is a sense of anticipation for the unfolding of possibilities yet to be realized. The church liturgical year appears out of step as it draws to a close with a sense of compelling urgency that the end is near. For the six months of ordinary time readings from Matthew’s gospel have explored how Jesus taught and demonstrated what it means to love one another as he loves us. The tone changes as we approach the end: promise is mixed with warning. We’re almost done, the end is near, there isn’t much time left to do the work God has given us to do.
When I was young I took all this ‘the end is near’ stuff as irrelevant to me. It was always presented as the end of time, Christ’s second coming and judgment day. History and science suggest that day is probably millennia away. In the meantime I’d had a life to live that had only just begun. Now I’m old and faced with the reality that the end really is near, as it had always been, and is for everyone. My friend Pickett has adapted a quote from Henri-Frederic Ariel to read, “Life is short and we do not have much time to gladden the heart of those who travel with us; so be swift to love and make haste to be kind.” I wonder if it’s taken as a platitude suitable for framing but of little practical value. To the contrary, it is a call to make living into the commandment to love a way of one’s life.
Jesus commanded us to “Let your light so shine that others will see your good works and give glory to God.” (Matt. 5) As it has turned out we prefer others to see our good works and give the thanks due to us. Ordinary good deeds are something Boy Scouts do to earn merit badges. On occasion they might be random acts of kindness but as a rule we are transactional people who expect something in return for the good deeds we do. There is no condemnation in that, but it is not what Jesus commanded. The temptation is to become complacent about worship and doing churchy things that should suffice as discipleship. Jesus called his followers to make his commandment a way of life that in all times and in all places gives glory to God.” Contrary to images of self righteousness bible thumpers, it’s a life without much thought given to doing good deeds. The deeds are just what one does. Without making a big deal of it, they shine light that gives glory to God. When it’s the way life is lived it isn’t a burden or anything special, it’s simply the way of life.
I find my way of living that kind of life is a bit erratic and imagine you have the same experience. Even Peter and Paul couldn’t keep it up. We are, in the words of an old hymn, prone to wander. Recalculating, as the GPS voice says, is a principal reason to worship in the company of others needing to recalculate. That’s what worship in church is all about. It isn’t something to do but to be in an intentional community with others in communion with God. It is a time for reflection and redirection.
Life is a process of daily recalculating, mid-course correction, resetting. The question is, a recalculation of what? For Christians daily recalculation must first be about how to follow Jesus in the way of loving others as he loves us. After that it can be about recalculating all other matters that God knows we need: what to wear, eat, drink, how to earn a living, where to live and all the rest. But, said Jesus, seek first the kingdom of God, which is the way of love, and then attend to other necessities of life.
The Christian life is a dynamic life of spiritual and material adventure, but it’s susceptible to the disease of complacency. Attend church as often as conveniently possible, pledge an acceptable amount, volunteer to do churchy things as time permits, and call it sufficient. The Revelation to John records that Jesus dictated a letter to the church in Laodicea observing that their expression of the faith was complacent, neither cold nor hot but lukewarm. Be cold or be hot, he said, but lukewarm is worth nothing. (Rev. 3.15)
Maybe as the new school year gets started it would be worthwhile to make it an exciting new start to one’s Christian life at the same time. It would reenergize the end of time closing of the liturgical year. What Jesus meant when he warned us to repent because the end is near was to GET A NEW LIFE!