Summary: We must remember that this earthly life is not all that there is. We must keep looking beyond our earthly life, which is passing away. We must remain invested in the world in order to do the work God has given us to do.
Do you ever get the feeling that time is passing by quickly? Do you ever feel that you have too much to do and not enough time to do it? If so, then you can probably appreciate the sense of urgency that Paul has in the reading from 1 Corinthians 7:29-31, which we heard earlier in today’s service.
In God’s sense of time, our daily lives are nothing but a blink of an eye. Paul considered all of time from the cross forward to be part of the “last days” before Christ’s return, and he warns us to always live in the light of Christ’s certain return at an unforeseen moment. Paul wants us to live our lives as though Christ could return at any time because he could return at any time. We must live every moment of our lives fully for God. It reminds me of the line in an old African American spiritual song. It goes like this: “I want to be ready to walk in Jerusalem just like John.” Jerusalem is the earthly Holy City, but our heavenly home is another Holy City. We have to be ready to walk in the heavenly Holy City at any time because not only could Christ come at any time, but we could die at any time.
Corinth was a Greek city and the people were influenced by Greek philosophy, which tended to emphasize dualism. Dualism saw the physical (such as the human body) as evil and the spiritual (such as the soul) as good. The phrase “It is good for a man not to touch a woman” was consistent with this belief, but it was at odds with Judaism and Christianity. Both of these faiths look at the whole person as indivisible in terms of both the body and the soul.
Paul answered the Corinthians’ questions about marriage and sex. His own opinion was that people should remain single as he was. The reason he gave was that Jesus would return soon, the end was near and the world was passing away. Paul wanted all faithful people to devote themselves entirely to the work God wanted them to do. Attachment to other things such as marriage and family responsibilities would hinder their commitment.
Christians in Paul’s day expected Jesus to return at any time. Their expectation was based on Christ’s statement that “this generation will not pass away” until he returned. Jesus’ return should focus our spirituality and increase the love we have for our fellow man. His return means that our salvation is at hand. The old earthly ways of doing things don’t matter anymore, because Jesus has given us a much better alternative.
Jesus operated with the same sense of urgency in the reading we heard from Mark 1:14-20. He had a lot to do and not much time to do it. He had an urgent message that required an immediate response because the message was so life-changing and so wonderful that the people who heard it would be moved to repent, respond and react.
Many generations have passed since Paul wrote this passage from 1 Corinthians with a sense of urgency, and so that sense of urgency might seem old-fashioned to us. In spite of the passage of time, we can reflect on Paul’s sense of urgency and learn from him how important it is that we continue to serve the Lord, regardless of where we are in life. It doesn’t matter if we’re rich or poor, young or old, working or unemployed.
Too often we focus on the circumstances of our daily lives, and that preoccupation leads us to trust in those circumstances when we should be trusting in God instead. Once we trust worldly things, we try to control them, and in most cases our attempts fail. We need to make God’s call to serve our number one priority. We have to trust God alone.
Paul argues that we are in a time of crisis because Christ could return at any time. God’s call is urgent. The world will be turned upside down, so those who have focused on worldly things need to repent. The only way we can be prepared for his return is to make the work we have been given to do our number one priority. In my own case, that means preaching the Good News of the Gospel whenever and wherever God calls me to preach. It does not matter if it is within this Parish or in other churches. I don’t care if the fact that I accept invitations to preach and lead worship in other churches pleases people or not. When I get an invitation to preach in other churches, I see it as a call from God, and he is the only person that I have to worry about pleasing.