Almighty God, whose Son revealed in signs and miracles the wonder of your saving presence: renew your people with your heavenly grace, and in all our weakness sustain us by your mighty power; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
God of all mercy, your Son proclaimed good news to the poor, release to the captives, and freedom to the oppressed: anoint us with your Holy Spirit and set all your people free to praise you in Christ our Lord.
The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, ‘Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.’ So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, ‘Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’ And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
Jonah 3:1–5, 10
5 Wait on God alone in stillness, O my soul; •
for in him is my hope.
6 He alone is my rock and my salvation, •
my stronghold, so that I shall not be shaken.
7 In God is my strength and my glory; •
God is my strong rock; in him is my refuge.
8 Put your trust in him always, my people; •
pour out your hearts before him, for God is our refuge.
9 The peoples are but a breath,
the whole human race a deceit; •
on the scales they are altogether lighter than air.
10 Put no trust in oppression; in robbery take no empty pride; •
though wealth increase, set not your heart upon it.
11 God spoke once, and twice have I heard the same, •
that power belongs to God.
12 Steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord, •
for you repay everyone according to their deeds.
I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.
I Corinthians 7:29–31
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’
As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
Sermon in Family Worship – Sunday Epiphany 2
“I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short. … For the present form of this world is passing away.” These are apocalyptic words from the apostle Paul. What can they possibly mean today, 2,000 years after they were written?
The appointed time for the world, which Paul declared, has passed hasn’t it? The world is still here – and yet we still bewail “the form of this world”, but do we believe with Paul that everything as we know it is about to end, and that the Lord will be with us imminently?
These are questions my teacher asked me when I first began to study scripture, and I had no answer. I still ask these questions again, because as I listen to the news, talk with friends and neighbours and overhear strangers talking here and there, I am very disturbed. On very bad days, I, with the whole of the country, quake in terror because of what the future could hold for us all. So I do believe the time is short and the form of this world truly is passing away.
I think Paul is asking us to live up to a standard which the “form of the world” does not recognise. I think he wants us to delve deep into our notion of the future, a future which is my ownmost possibility, that one thing which the world does not offer me – some sort of constant reality. The present form of the world is transient – it is “passing away” – what are we to do? Paul talks about everyday things in these few verses, doesn’t he? He talks about wives and husbands, the sadness of mourning our loved ones who have died, the transactions of everyday, even the joy of those who rejoice – this is business as usual. Paul is talking about those things which pass away. However, he wants us not to overly engage with these things.
Paul tells us to be like the Stoics, those dispassionate souls, who, like Kipling in his poem If, would treat victory and defeat, in fact any of the polar opposites of everyday life, in the same way. The Stoics were not like the manic–depressive who one moment would be cock-a-hoop shouting to the heavens with the utmost joy and at another time would be curled up in a darkened room groaning in black despair. The Stoics would show the most even of tempers, composed in joy or despair, never veering from that middle way.
Who among us would “buy as though they had no possessions”? Are you one who deals with the world as though you had no dealings with it? Those people are few and far between, aren’t they? We, however, worry about the slightest things to the exclusion of all else. We all know the catalogue of woes and we can recite all the passing forms of this world.
When we take that view of all things which Paul is urging on us, what do we see as the core of the world? Our families and friends, obviously, our homes where we gather to keep warm on cold winter nights, our work and the making of wages and then our pensions. – Oh, so many things can take our attention away into the passing world!
The forms of the passing world are the everyday concerns which overwhelm us. Instead of concentrating on our love for our neighbour and family, we would worry about what the stranger might take from us. That is not a middle way, is it? We need to love our neighbours, like the Good Samaritan, through what we do, with and for, them. We should be forgetful of our own personal problems so that our overarching care for the world around us takes hold. I should be able to forget my worries about this and that and remember that the person facing me is the most important fact at that very moment. I should not care more for the next big thing. I should not be deflected from that person before me. – I need to look that person in the eye so that the other can see my caring soul.
When we act in this manner, with that fundamental christian love, don’t worldly concerns fade into insignificance? That is the joy the Stoics reveal. The transcendent matters of life – my ownmost possibility – become the priority. No longer do my business worries control me – no longer do my neighbours worry me because of their foibles. – I have come to recognise the passing forms of this world.
Paul’s outlook – his focus on love – was very different from our own everyday attitude, isn’t it? He is looking to a future where the Kingdom of God is realised in the coming of the Lord Jesus, a future when only God’s will for the created order will rule. Obviously my own petty concerns fade into nothing, but I can love! My ownmost possibility has been realised.
No longer do I have to save my green stamps, my loyalty card points, in order to be happy. My joy will be complete when I let those forms of the world pass away. No longer will I feel the snubs of people passing by, AND no longer will I pass by on the other side.
I will be able to live life to the full because I will engage meaningfully with the whole of creation. I understand the love of God which my life should reflect and place that as the only rule I have in life.
This golden rule sets all at nought except itself. My care extends universally when I get it right. I reflect the attitude Paul wants the christian to have. In another place in the epistle Paul sings his hymn of love. Over against love everything pales into insignificance. The forms of this world pass away and a grander vision is to be grasped. This is how Paul is asking us to deal with the world – without any anxiety. That triad of faith, hope and love never pass away while the everyday does.
“The time is fulfilled.” Jesus preaches. “The Kingdom of God has come close to hand.” “The time is ripe for a proper harvest” of decision – of faith, hope and love.
All salvation was accomplished in Christ as Paul never tires telling us. The ever-loving Christ, Son of God, Love from Love, calls us to faith. The decision needs to be made now, before it is too late. Even if Christ does not come within the nonce, it is imperative that we live as though in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye, the last trump will sound – and everything Jesus promised will come to pass.
Living in that present of faith, hope and love places us right in the moment of the coming of Christ. We can, like Paul, live in that ultimate moment of our ownmost possibility, the moment when Christ is beside me and you and only love remains.