Third Sunday after the Epiphany – Year B
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Sunday, January 24, 2021
In the midst of the political happenings of the last few weeks, we’ve all enjoyed seeing the popular meme of a grumpy looking Senator Bernie Sanders sitting in our favorite places with his arms crossed and his large mittens, including right here in front of the altar at St. Mary’s. One of the more enduring memes over the past couple of years is the one with the two actresses from The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills on the left yelling at a cat, with the cat on the right providing some sort of snarky response. I can see this meme in today’s epistle lesson from 1 Corinthians. On the left, the ladies are yelling, “For the present form of this world is passing away” and on the right, the cat is responding with a smirk, “No it isn’t.”
I mean, it’s not hard to disprove this statement. As St. Paul tried to navigate all of the unknowns in the early church, he had no guide but the Holy Spirit, and he firmly believed that Christ would return in glory during his lifetime. He didn’t. 2,000 years later, we are still waiting for the world to end, and Christ to return in glory. After having spent my teenage and college years in the evangelical world, when I came to The Episcopal Church in my mid-twenties, I was relieved to hear preachers and teachers tell us God is calling us to build his kingdom here on earth rather than obsessing over over the world to come. But in ditching all thinking about eschatology, or the theology of the last things, the Church risks becoming nothing more than the Rotary Club with beautiful architecture, fancy vestments, pretty music, and nice-smelling incense. Yes, Christians are to focus on feeding the poor, welcoming the stranger, and bringing God’s kingdom to earth, but Christians of every age are called to live as if the world to come…….is coming tomorrow. In other words, for those of us who follow Christ, time has been shortened. At our baptism, we were joined to a new reality in Jesus Christ, a redeemed reality. Time has grown shorter. The verb that Paul uses here is used nowhere else in the New Testament. However, in other ancient Greek literature, it is used to describe the shortening of sails, the cowering of scared people, and the retrenching of armies. That is, the term carries a sense of being reduced, restricted, or contracted in upon oneself. There is a sense, then, that for Paul, it is not only that a specific eschatological event may be about to happen – that Christ will return at the end of time – but rather that time itself is hunkering down and making preparations for a challenging obstacle. 
“Let those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it.”
With the contraction of time in upon itself, all aspects of reality are affected. Our relationships, our experiences that cause us grief and joy, our possessions, indeed all our dealings with the world – all these things are passing away. They are neither permanent nor final. Though it seems morbid, St. Benedict told his monks to keep death daily before their eyes.
Being aware that we’ve been baptized into this new reality gives us the freedom to engage with the world differently. It’s not that we shouldn’t get married, or mourn or rejoice or own possessions. Rather, we should do all these things knowing that our lasting hope – our ultimate hope – is in the One who transformed reality by his death and resurrection. It is only when we live with death daily before our eyes that we can begin to get outside of ourselves and put the needs of others before our own needs.
Paul wants us to know and believe that our identity is in Christ, not in our relationships or emotions or possessions. No, the Church is not the Rotary Club in drag. We love our neighbors as ourselves because of the life, death, and resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ. Because that’s who we are. And yes, there’s a sense of urgency about this work God has called us to do. The fact that Christ didn’t return in Paul’s lifetime doesn’t diminish Paul’s point that we are called to live as if Christ were going to return in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye. The time has grown short for us to proclaim Jesus Christ, and him crucified, and to devote ourselves to serving others in love. This urgency will often make us frustrated with the many things in this world that hinder the advancement of God’s kingdom, and move us to tear down those walls wherever we see them.
Friends, the appointed time has grown short. The present form of this world is passing away. Let us live faithfully and diligently in this new reality into which we’ve been baptized, and let us with haste love the Lord our God, and love our neighbors as ourselves. Amen.
The sermons preached at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!