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23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – 2023a 

Old Testament – Exodus 12:1-14

New Testament – Romans 13:8-14

 

Lying at Your Funeral 

 

INTRODUCTION: Many years ago I spent several semesters during college working for an archaeological project in the tiny Central American country of Honduras. 

 

And it was during my time in Honduras that I learned something interesting about time. Namely, that it’s relative, just like a whole lot of other things in life.  

 

You see, time for Hondurans is sort of fluid and malleable. In America, our sense of time tends to be fixed and rigid. Tell a person you’ll meet them at 6:00 for dinner somewhere and that’s typically what happens. You meet at 6:00 and have dinner. Admittedly, there are people who seem to be chronically late for engagements, but even those folks tend to show up within 10 minutes, or so.

 

But in Honduras? Well, time doesn’t work that way. If someone says they’ll meet you at 6:00 for dinner, the only thing you know for sure is that there’s no way they’ll actually show up at 6:00. They might show up at 7:00 or 7:30 or even 8:00, but come 6:00 o’clock you can be assured they won’t be there. In the end, time for Hondurans is more about ballpark figures than anything specific. It’s just part of their culture.

 

Their sense of time is so different from our own it even affects how they understand distances and space. Ask someone how long it will take to drive to a certain village or town  and their estimate will depend on whether or not they like the place you want to go.

 

If the person has had a bad experience in the town, or there are people in it they don’t like, they’ll tell you the drive will take hours even though it might only take 30 minutes! The same is also true the other way. If the person likes the town, they’ll tell you it will only take an hour to get there when in truth it might take four. 

 

So the people in Honduras have a different sense of time than we do. As far as they’re concerned, time is pretty flexible and loose. 6:00 o’clock doesn’t really mean 6:00, but rather sometime after that.

 

ONE: Well, the Apostle Paul wasn’t really all that different. Just like the people of Honduras, he also had his own sense of time. 

 

But when Paul talked about time, it was usually in a cosmic, sacred way. More often than not, when we talk about time we do it in a chronological, sequential, way.

 

We talk about twenty-four hour days and the constant rush to be on time whether it’s for an appointment, or church, or to pick our child up from school. In a very real way, time is how we schedule our days and live our lives. It’s what the Greeks referred to as chronos time. 

 

I ran across a news story about a man named Porris Willet, who was a dock worker in Gillingham, England. For 47 years, his alarm clock would wake him up to tell him it was time to go to work. It was one of those old alarm clocks with the bell on it that clanged and rattled causing it to vibrate and shimmy all over the night table whenever it went off. Needless to say, Porris Willet hated his alarm clock. 

 

On the day of his retirement, it’s reported that Porris took his alarm clock to work with him. When the chance presented itself, he set it on an 80-ton hydraulic press and smashed it to smithereens. To which Porris said afterwards, “It was a lovely feeling.” 

 

Well that’s the kind of time we live with. It’s the kind of time that marks the passing of days, weeks, months, and even years.     

 

TWO: But for Paul time also had another dimension to it. 

 

The kind of time Paul liked to talk about is known in Greek as kairos time. You see, for Paul, there were periodic moments in life that were so momentous they required people to make a decision. There were major events in history that were turning points, for lack of a better term, and those turning points necessitated that people make a choice.   

 

And Jesus Christ, of course, was one of those turning points in history that required people to make a decision. Yep, as far as Paul was concerned, Jesus Christ had actually inaugurated a whole new world through his life, death, and resurrection. 

 

And so Paul believed people had a decision to make in response to that momentous event. They could continue to live in the world the way it was with all its failings and ugliness and sordidness, or they could choose to live in it the way God intended it to be, as found and expressed in Jesus’ life.

 

Or as Paul puts it: “Besides…you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep…the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day…” 

 

In other words, says one man when summarizing Paul’s advice and counsel, we should all seek to live in such a way that the preacher won’t have to lie at our funerals! 

 

THREE: And for Paul, of course, people who make the decision to live in the world the way God intends it to be, people who decide to live for that kingdom  inaugurated by Jesus Christ, well, they’re expected to behave in certain ways. 

 

And the defining characteristic of such people should be love. “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law…Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”

 

Well, that’s kind of strange talk, right? For Paul seems to be saying we should all carry around a large debt - except the debt we should carry around isn’t financial or some quid pro quo arrangement we may have found ourselves stuck in. Instead, what we owe everyone, above all else, is love. 

Back in the mid-70s, the Steve Miller Band had a hit with their song Fly Like an Eagle. Those familiar with the song will recall it has that recurring bit: “Time keeps on slippin’, slippin, slippin, into the future.” 

 

But the lyrics to the song are also a kind of call for people to make the most of time and to not squander it living crude, boorish, and self-absorbed lives. Or as Miller croons:  “Feed the babies/Who don't have enough to eat/Shoe the children/With no shoes on their feet/House the people/Livin' in the street/Oh, oh, there's a solution.”   

 

Well,  Miller, in his own way I think, is trying to say something similar to Paul. That everyday we are faced with that basic fundamental question: Are we going to be residents of the old world with all its failings and brokenness and cruelties, or, are we going to be citizens of God’s new and unfolding world? 

 

FOUR: Several years ago a man named Tom Vartabedian found himself in an unusual position.

 

After working for 40 years as a journalist for the Haverhill Gazette in Massachusetts,  as well as volunteering at another small paper called the Armenian Weekly, Tom’s long battle with liver cancer was about to finally come to an end. And so having written over a thousand obituaries during his career, he decided to write one final obit - his own. 

 

Humorously, he began his own obit with these words, “As the dog said when he bit his tail, ‘This must be the end.’”   

 

After providing a recap of his career and how he spent the last week of his life with loved ones in Nova Scotia, despite feeling terrible, Tom turned reflective. Mentioning that people often said his career as journalist had become stagnant and stale because he spent almost half a century at one paper, Vartabedian claims he usually responded, “‘Why not?’ If you really love your work and environment, why change?”   

 

And then he offered some final words that I think the Apostle Paul might approve of: “What you do for yourself invariably dies with you. What you do for others lives on and forms legacies. When troubles get you down, find your faith and give it a chance. It’ll be there waiting for you.” 

       

CONCLUSION: Well, time passes for us all, right? Everyday the seconds, minutes, and hours pass until 24 of them have gone by and we start all over again. Day after day, year after year, decade after decade. 

 

The question, of course, is how are we going to live as the seconds, minutes, hours, and days pass? Are we going to live in the world the way it is with all its pettiness, ugliness, and cruelty, or are we going to live as citizens of that new world begun in Jesus Christ?   

 

For now is the moment for us to wake from sleep…the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day… 

 

After all, who wants to have the preacher telling a bunch of lies at their funeral?   

 

And now to Jesus Christ, who loves us and has freed us from our sin and made us to be a kingdom, priests of his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen!      

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