While We Wait
The story is told of the man who was down on his luck and very short of cash despite his best efforts. He remembered something that he had heard his Sunday school teacher say, and so he knelt by his bed and prayed.
“O Lord,” he said, “I have heard it told that to you one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day, that our whole lifetimes are not but just a second to you. Please let me know, Almighty God: Is this true?”
To his utter astonishment, a blaze of light filled the room and he heard a booming voice reply: “Yes, my son, it is true what you have heard.”
Feeling somewhat braver now, our man ventured a follow-up question. “So then, O Lord, would it be true that a million dollars to you are like one penny?”
Once again came the reply, “Yes, my son, this also is true.” By now greatly encouraged, the man made his request. “Then, O Lord, if it pleases you, please may I have one penny?”
After a moment’s silence came the answer from God. “Certainly, my son. In just a second.”
In many ways and in many places throughout Scripture we are told and shown that God’s time is not our time. Madeleine L’Engle, who was a novelist and lay theologian, had a beautiful way of explaining God’s time as compared with human time.
The people of the Bible knew of two distinct words for time, Chronos and Kairos. Chronology, she writes in a memoir, “is about the measurable passage of time, although duration varies: How long is a toothache? … How long is … dinner with friends, or a sunset, or the birth of a baby?” Chronos is “the time which changes things, makes them grow older, wears them out, and manages to dispose of them, chronologically, forever.” Chronos is our time, human time. Kairos is God’s time, God’s million dollars, God’s second or minute. “A thousand ages in thy sight are like an evening gone,” the hymn tells us, and that is Kairos.
The first-century followers of the Jesus way, including the ones who were on the receiving end of the first and second letters of Saint Peter, believed that Jesus would return to them, in physical form, to gather them up into eternity, within the span of their natural lives. So did the authors of these letters, both of whom spoke of how people who follow Jesus want to live, in relationship with everyone around them, while they were waiting for Jesus to come back.
It is helpful for you and for me to recognize that the very earliest Christians had every expectation that the Second Coming would be within a few years and certainly within their lifetimes. The perspective of more than two thousand years – changes things.
But the truth of Christianity, its center, its core, its beating heart, is unchanged and unchanging, and that is the truth that we hear in these letters today. Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.
Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.
Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.
“A thousand ages in thy sight are like an evening gone.” A powerful reminder that the way that you and I measure time – by clock, by wristwatch, “like sands through the hourglass, so run the days of our lives” – is not the way that God measures time. And yet that important knowledge is secondary to the wisdom of today’s letters: no matter how long it takes for Christ to make good his promise – to return for us and take us home – this is how to walk as a follower of Jesus in the meantime. This is what Christian looks like.
The letters of Peter were addressed to followers of Christ in what was then called Asia Minor, a region that includes parts of Syria, Turkey, and Armenia. At the time these letters were written, followers of Jesus were under persecution not only from the government in Rome but also from plenty of locals who were deeply suspicious of this new religion, its practices, and its adherents.
So how can these words ring true in a time and place in which Christianity has become a dominant world religion, one that many people, in many countries, claim as their own?
These words can, and these words do – simply and completely because every single one of us has been in an argument. A disagreement. A situation in which someone we love and care about is holding a different view. It happened in the days of Peter and Paul; it happened in the Middle Ages – I want to say there was once this guy named Martin Luther – it’s happened for as long as humans have measured time. Yet in so many cases, for me, both of us believe that we’re right – and both of us believe that what we think is what Jesus teaches. I would venture to guess that you’ve also found that to be true. At least sometimes.
The question before us today is as old as Christianity. What does being a Christian look like? What does it look like to follow Jesus?
And the answer has always been as varied as humankind, because each of us must ponder in our own hearts what it looks like to follow Jesus, what it looks like to worship God. The footsteps I leave as I follow Jesus will not exactly mirror the footsteps you leave as you follow Jesus. Nor should they. Because God the Creator of the Universes, made you and me each of us in God’s own image – and Jesus the Christ, God in human form, invites each of us to walk in his footsteps – whatever that looks like.
But I know this much is true: Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.
Keep your conscience clear, even when you are maligned. Strive for Jesus to find you at peace, without spot or blemish. And wait with patience for the time when Jesus will fulfill his promise to come again, or until the time when we, each of us, in God’s own good Kairos time, is gathered home.
A thousand ages in thy sight are like an evening gone/Short as the watch that ends the night before the rising sun. O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come/Be thou our guide while life shall last, and our eternal home. Amen.
 L’Engle, Madeleine. A Circle of Quiet. © 1984 by HarperOne Reissue.