There are moments in life . . . moments that are weightier than others; they sit in the forefront of our minds carrying wonder.
Infused with meaning, they’re the 3rd-and-short-Todd-Gurley-breaks-loose-for-a-fourth quarter touchdown kind of moments. They’re the gold medal rounds, the first kiss, the announcement that you’re having a baby boy, and the doctor declaring your cancer free. These moments are the engine, the life force that keeps us getting up and moving every morning.
Although marked in time, these moments seem to transcend it altogether. Their memory, their energy is felt . . . far beyond.
The Greeks had a word for this, kairos. Chronos meant the passing of time, but kairos, well that’s altogether different.
L.L. Cool J defines kairos the best in his movie, Deep Blue Sea, “Touch a hot pan, a second feels like an hour. Wrap your arms around the one you love, an hour feels like a second.”
Dr. Loyd Allen picked up on this same sentiment four years ago when he married Noelle and me. He told us we had all the time in the world but no memories yet. Eventually, though, we’d get to a point when all we had were memories and very little time. He said, “In-between those memories, fill your time with love.”
Kairos moments are memories filled with love.
And also pain. There are other moments in life that sting, that carry with it truckloads of anger and regret. These moments rip the ground right out from beneath our feet. To the point we feel we can’t even stand.
Dr. Walker-Barnes’ diagnosed with cancer. Dr. Gushee’s mother just passed away. You have a miscarriage. Your husband loses his job. Police officers shoot and kill innocent, unarmed black boys. ISIS traps thousands on top of a mountain with no food or water. Refugee children are imprisoned at our borders.
These moments are weighty too, but in a different way. They carry grief, anger, and despair. They’re not life-giving at all. They destroy our hope and they breed fear.
I guess that’s why a few years ago when we hosted Walter Brueggemann he said, “That which unites all humans isn’t love, its pain.”
And Qohelet shares this same sentiment in Ecclesiastes 3 saying life’s rhythm is the balancing of both sides of this kairos divide.
There are times that we are born and then die,
When we plant and then uproot,
When we kill and heal,
tear down and build,
weep and laugh,
mourn and dance,
love and hate,
For every season . . . there is a time. For every season there is a place. And we’re always somewhere on both continuums.
So get comfortable with it. Or pay attention to the fact that you’re uncomfortable with it. But at least name it. Because it’s real. And it’s in front of all of us. We experience the good with the bad. Mountaintop moments as well as valleys. And we can’t control it. We can hardly predict it.
Time unfolds as it will. Life happens.
And we’re just hanging in the balance stuck in the middle of it.
Literally. We’re stuck in the middle of it. As ministers, our place is on both sides of the kairos divide. We’re helping and holding, hoping and healing, praying and waiting, partying and grieving, worshiping and attending.
Our place is to help others see the joy that comes in the morning . . . and to sit with them as they wrestle with the despair that lurks at night. Our place is to provide space for others to feel and experience the Divine . . . and feel safe enough to rise from the ashes of pain. Our place is in the pulpit declaring God’s word. . . and at Hospice whispering words of hope. Our place is in the baptismal waters . . . and the court room at someone’s trial.
For the kairos divide is strong enough to transform someone trapped in sin to feeling the living waters of God’s grace. It’s also able, though, to send loving people, like Robin Williams, into depression and even death.
And there you are. Stuck in the middle. Helping others deal with life and find their way.
I know a recovering addict. He called me the other day and cussed me out. Top down, just ripped me with his language. I shouted over the phone, “You’ve called the wrong number!” There’s a pregnant pause. He quietly asks, “Who is this?” I reply, “It’s Pastor Barrett!” The next thing I hear is, “Shit!” and then he hangs up.
I also know a retired school teacher who’s developing Parkinson’s. She shakes all the time. She pretends it’s not there and gives excuses when her Sunday school class asks about it; she just says its a reaction to her new medication and the doctors say it will go away. She so badly wants to keep her best face in front of her peers. Honestly, she’s not ready to admit what time’s doing to her body.
I know a third person who trumps every sentence you say. Literally. He’s a one-upper. I don’t think he knows he does it; it’s just somewhere deep within his psyche. It’s pretty hilarious. On my worst days I’ll set him up just to see what he’ll say and then secretly laugh about it.
And the truth is, all three of these people come to church looking for sacred space and holy time. All three of them bring the good and the bad and look to me as pastor hoping that I will help them decipher God’s hope for them. They’re hoping I can help them experience something holy.
The world needs ministers translating God’s power, analyzing life’s movements, and listening to the spirit of the living God . . . because life happens, we get out of rhythm, and we need help finding our way.
As ministers . . . our place is in the joy and in the pain. In both places, we experience sacred space and holy time. We don’t always have to see it coming nor do we need to know what to say. Most of the time, it’s best to not say anything at all. But your presence in the good and the bad of people’s lives, is a holy calling. There’s no excuse for not recognizing it.
Recently, I performed a wedding for a couple in my church community. I didn’t want to do it at first. Weddings take up a lot of your time. And I could already get the sense after meeting with this couple for premarital counseling that it might not be the most detailed of all weddings. With fifteen minutes to go before the ceremony began, it all fell apart . . . the groomsman missed their cue because they were hovering Zaxby’s chicken fingers in a Sunday school room. The videographer decided to do monologues with the bridesmaids and they couldn’t get the mic to work. It was storming and the grandmother was still in the car in the parking lot because she didn’t want to mess up her hair.
But when it finally came time for the vows, there I was, standing in that space . . . ready to experience something holy.
One month ago this week, my wife’s last remaining grandparent passed away. Retired pastor and veteran, he lived to 89 and died of congestive heart failure. In the midst of our own grieving, our own feelings of failure for not making it to his bedside in time, and the agony of knowing he didn’t get to see his great-grandchild one last time, in the midst of all of that, I watched my wife compassionately offer support and council to her parents, siblings and aunt. She was there helping others express grief, shed tears, and sit comfortably with death.
And that’s Qohelet’s message for us today.
He’s reminding us about the nuances of life and how our job is to help people interpret it. We help open people’s eyes to the fact that God’s not causing the cancer or wars or drought or anger. God’s not intentionally destroying just so God can rebuild. God’s not throwing stones just to gather them up. God’s not hating us, injuring us, setting us back or dividing our lands; rather, life is just unfolding. Time is just passing. Plants are being uprooted and then more are being planted. So don’t blame God. Qohelet doesn’t. We shouldn’t. It’s just the rhythm of life.
In other words, God’s not the evil dictator waiting for us to fail. God’s not the manipulative architect designing flaws in the system to test our faith; rather, God’s alongside us helping us experience the holy in the midst of the mundane.
For in the midst of the yin and the yang, the good and the bad, the timely and the unforeseen, sits the presence of God. It’s all around us. And the world needs our help to see it.
When I think about the ancient Israelites, I see a group of people struggling with finding the same rhythm as us. But I also see them systematically doing something about it.
Their laws were built around the notion of Sabbath. Their blood, sweat, and tears went in to building and maintaining a Temple. The idea wasn’t lost on them that if they are to manage a healthy rhythm of life, then they’re in need of holy time and sacred space.
And the idea can’t be lost on us either. If we’re going to help others experience kairos moments, we need to position ourselves to receive them too.
So pay attention when you go to concerts, the mall, the movies, and even church. Pay attention when you go to ball games, class, family’s houses for lunch and the beach for vacation. Pay attention when you’re at a cabin in the mountains, a favorite restaurant to eat and in a favorite chair to read.
It’s in these places we find God. It’s in these moments that time is more kairos than not. It’s in these moments we can help others find peace.
I don’t have a tattoo (how’s that for a transition?), but if I did I know what it would be. Have you ever heard of the 3rd century mathematician, Archimedes? He once said: “If you give me a lever and a place to stand, I’ll move the world.”
I’d get that depicted on my body somewhere. It captures something of who I want to be and what I want to be reminded of. It reminds me of my own need for holy time and sacred space.
We all have God-given gifts that can affect change, do good, create beauty, make a difference in the world. That’s our lever. But we also need a solid place to stand. A place not riddled on the fault lines of fear, but rather on the sure shores of God’s grace. A place that we can dig our feet into and use our gifts to make a difference in the world.
That’s the image I’d want on my body. For a long time I used to think McAfee was that place to stand. I was and am still so proud and grateful to work at McAfee. But I used to give it the credit for being my place to stand. It made sense. I’m rooted here. I have a voice. I can affect change.
But the more I think about this image and my own need for kairos moments, the more I realize McAfee’s not the ground in which I stand, it’s the lever that moves the world. It’s the tool.
The place where I stand is something else. Something deeper, something more. It’s the resolute faith that God is still moving and loving and healing in this world. It’s the belief we can find God in both time and space. That’s where I stand. That’s my solid ground.
And I’ll keep using levers like McAfee and the church and blogs and nonprofits to make sure those around me know what God’s up to in this world. I’ll keep using levers to help God create beauty, love kindness and share sacred space. That’s where I stand. That’s where Qohelet is too.
May we be people who stand firmly in both time and space. May we use our gifts to help others find God in the rhythms of life. It’s what God’s calling us to do.
This sermon was oringinally written for and preached at McAfee School of Theology’s chapel service on September 2, 2014.