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The Reverend Canon Michael Smith (Pastor)
Sunday 12 August – 11th Sunday after Trinity – Matins
Song of Solomon 8.5-7 & 2 Peter 3.8-13
‘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.’ 2 Peter 3.8
Tom Hazard is a history teacher in a tough London secondary school. He is teaching a lesson, to a class full of disinterested and surly teenagers, about the witch trials of 16th century and struggling, not just with the surly teenagers, but with flashbacks. Tom Hazard looks middle aged but is over 400 years old and he saw his mother executed as a witch because she had a son who was not aging normally. This scenario is taken from a novel I am reading at the moment called ‘How to stop time’ by Matt Haig. The basic premise of the story is that Tom Hazard, the hero, has a physical condition which means that after relatively normal ageing in the first years of life he begins to age very slowly, he ages 1 year for a normal person’s 13 or 14 years.
I thought of this story when I read the opening verse of chapter 3 of Peter’s second letter, ‘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’, because the most interesting thing about the novel I am reading is that living for over 400 hundred years rather than the usual human life span, gives a very different perspective on life and on human problems. I began to wonder if that is the point that Peter is making in his letter. Is what he says about a thousand years being like a day to God, really challenging us to think again and to think in new ways about the problems and challenges we face in life.
There is a strange contradiction running through chapter 3 of Peter’s second letter, at times he seems to be saying that one day is like a thousand years to God and later he says that the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and the end of the age as we know it is imminent.
Perhaps what this passage is telling us is that we should not allow our lives, and our sense of what is significant and important, be dominated by our perception of time. The things that are really important are those things that are not bound by or dependent upon time – love, grace, generosity, compassion – these are things that are truly important.
I wonder if what Peter had in the back of his mind as he wrote this letter was what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 6 Jesus calls on those listening to him on the mountainside, not to worry about food and drink and clothing, pointing to the birds of the air and the lilies of the field who do not worry but survive, thrive and are beautiful. At the end of Chapter 6 Jesus says, ‘strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness’. The things of the Kingdom, love, peace, justice, joy are not bound by or dependent upon time, they are not things for which we can or should set a timetable, but we do …. ‘I will start being more loving to my family and friends when I have built my career’. ‘We will build a kind of peace built on fear and get round to building peace based on mutual respect and trust later’. ‘When we get rid of this tyrannical leader by any means, then we will start working for justice’. ‘I am looking forward to finding some real joy in my life, when I retire’. Individuals and nations have a tendency to put things off, to dodge doing hard things – I know some of the things I have just said resonate alarmingly with me.
I am a little uncomfortable with all the language we have in our liturgy about eternity and eternal life. People sometimes tell me that the idea of anything being eternal, even playing a beautiful harp on a nice fluffy cloud, is not particularly attractive. I think we have to sit a little more lightly to time, linear time and the things of time. God is above and beyond time – with God there is just now – God’s now. What Peter seems to be saying in his letter and what Jesus seems to be saying in the Sermon on the Mount is, live for the day, leave the thousand years to God – live for now, not for some imagined future and make sure that you fill now, God’s now, with the things of God; love, peace, justice, joy …… do not put these things off until later ….. one day, today, tomorrow or in a thousand years there will not be a later …. there will only be God, so let us strive for the things of God today …. now.
Let us pray
(The hallowing of time – a prayer by Eric Milner-White, a past Dean of York Minster)
O my God all times are thy times, and every day thy day, made lovely only with thy light. Bring us, O Lord, to that blessed eternal day which thy Son, our saviour hath won for us and to the perfect light.
Blessed be the hour, O Christ, in which thou wast born, and the hour in which thou didst die; Blessed be the dawn of thy rising again, and the high day of thy ascending: O most merciful and mighty redeemer Christ, let all times be the time of our presence with thee, and of thy dwelling with us. In your name. Amen
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