Lectionary blog for Jan. 21
The Third Sunday after the Epiphany
Jonah 3:1-5; Psalm 62:5-12;
1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

When I was about 12 years old, I found an old Royal manual typewriter in the closet under the steps in our old farmhouse. It belonged to my mother, who had bought it when she was in high school. At that time William Faulkner and Walker Percy were my heroes, and I intended to grow up to be a great Southern novelist. I knew I needed to learn three things: how to smoke, how to drink, and how to type. My good Methodist mother needed to know about, and help me with, only one of those ambitions. So, Mama taught me to type using the phrase they taught her at Stuart High during WWII. Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country. I sat at the kitchen table and typed it out, over and over again “Now is the time …” Fifty years later, I still type that out when testing a computer keyboard. “Now is the time … “

Though now I now type, “… for all good people,” not “all good men.”

I thought of that line as I read our Scripture lessons for today. Each of them is about urgency, immediacy, the press of time. Jonah preached to the Ninevites and his message was “Now is the time to repent.” Paul, in Corinthians, said, “Now is the time to get serious about God.” Jesus says to Simon and Andrew, James and John, “Now is the time to follow me.” Now, now, now.

Jonah proclaims – “Forty days more, and Nineveh will be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4)
Paul writes – “the appointed time has grown short” (I Corinthians 7:29).
Mark tells us – “And immediately they left their nets and followed him” (Mark 1:18).

Now, I confess that this is a difficult message for me to preach. Not because I don’t understand it or believe it, but rather because I am one of the world’s greatest procrastinators. My wife might ask me, “Will you take the recycling to the curb?” I will answer, “Sure, no problem.” Hours later she prods. “I thought you said you were going to take the recycling to the curb.” And I will reply, without looking up from my book, “I am.” She purses her lips and says, “Well?” And I, perpetually surprised and wide-eyed, say, “Oh, you meant now?”  “Oh, you meant now” is the procrastinators’ mantra. It is our motto, our personal and communal creed. It allows us a somewhat graceful escape by implying that we simply didn’t understand the urgency of the request.

In today’s Scripture lessons, God means now! We in the church are very good at ecclesiastical procrastination. God says, “Come and follow me.” And we say, “Sure, no problem.” Presently, God comes back and says, “I thought you were going to follow me.” And what do we say?

In today’s Scripture lessons, God means now! We in the church are very good at ecclesiastical procrastination.

We ask surprised and mutter, “Oh, you meant now?”

God says, “I want you to spread the good news of my love.” And we say, “Sure, no problem.”

Later, God returns, tapping an impatient divine foot and saying, “well?’” And we sheepishly bleat, “Oh, you meant now?” In all areas of our spiritual and churchly lives, God has called us to act, to pray, to witness, to share our resources. We are called to feed the poor, to clothe the naked, house the homeless, to heal the sick, to stand with the oppressed and suffering. And we generally answer all these callings with a resounding “Yes, Lord, we will!” But God must continually come back to us, reminding us, “Yes, I meant now!”

Now is the time for all people to come to the aid of God’s kingdom.
Now is the time for us to take up our cross and follow Jesus.
Now is the time to commit ourselves fully to the good news of Jesus Christ.
Now! Now! Now!

Amen and amen.

Delmer Chilton
Delmer Chilton is originally from North Carolina and received his education at the University of North Carolina, Duke Divinity School and the Graduate Theological Foundation. He received his Lutheran training at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, S.C. Ordained in 1977, Delmer has served parishes in North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.

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