TEXTS: 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20
‘After John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God and saying, “The time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe in the good news.”’ “The time is fulfilled . . .”
I have often marveled at how the ancient Greek language has the ability at times to be much more articulate than our own English tongue. Where English has a single general term for something, ancient Greek sometimes has multiple terms with each of them meaning something slightly different and therefore able to articulate more clearly that item or that thought or that experience of feeling. So where we might add adjectives and adverbs to noun or verb to narrow down exactly what we are talking about, the ancient Greeks might have had a more specific noun or verb itself so that there would be no need for extra descriptive words. Many you might remember that I have spoken of the fact that the Greeks had three different nouns for our single word “love” which, of course, eliminated confusion over what kind love we might be expressing or talking about. The same thing goes for our English word “time”. We have only that one word, while the Greeks had two. Chronos is the Greek term for elapsed time, a concept that humankind has created to mark our passing from one experience or one point to another. I tis where we get the root for Chronograph. Chronos is what we measure with clocks and watches. Kairos is a Greek term for time which means something quite different. Kairos is experiential, the designation of a moment of experience and of how that experience is in relationship with the experiences of others and of the universe and even of God.
Have you ever been in a situation where it felt that time was absolutely dragging?
According to Chronos, that time was no different in length than any other lapse of minutes and seconds. The second hand on your watch was moving at exactly the same speed as it moves through any other given Chronos period. What you are experiencing when time seems to drag is Kairos. Kairos is not ruled by Chronos. Kairos is ruled in great part by us, by our emotions, by our physical condition, even by our mental acuity – whether we are in that moment mentally sharp or dull. And Kairos has the ability be experienced in just the opposite way as well, so that we can find ourselves in a situation where time seems to just fly by.
I’m hoping that you can begin grasp what kind time we are talking about in our gospel passage today when Jesus proclaimed to the people of Galilee, “The time is fulfilled.” Jesus was not saying that an appropriate number of minutes or hours, weeks or months, years or decades or even centuries or millennia had passed from some chronological (Chronos) point in past. Jesus was not saying that a chronological time had come to pass. No, what Jesus was saying was that the Kairos time was fulfilled. The experiential confluence of God and humankind had emerged. God’s chosen Kairos time was and is in that moment. That time of fulfillment may have been long or short chronologically, but it was definitely present. The time of fulfillment, said Jesus, is now; not now as opposed to a minute earlier or a day later, but now in the cosmic relationship between God and God’s people; not now in a sense of lasting for the next ten minutes or ten years, but now until God chooses that it is no longer now.
Mark goes on to then describe the shape of Jesus’ ministry and how Jesus planned to proclaim this good news of the Gospel to world. And the way that Jesus began is through the selection of those who would assist him. Jesus called disciples and we are told that those men who became disciples dropped everything and followed Jesus. The followed Jesus “immediately”.
Do you know how many time Mark uses the word “immediately” in the sixteen chapters of his gospel? 27 times in our NRSV version! We can also find the phrase “at once” 8 times as well as other English words used to translate the Greek word. There is a terseness about the Gospel of Mark, an avoidance of long winded stories and dialogues, a sense that Mark is pressing the reader to follow the gospel to its completion and not to get sidetracked in extraneous details. I don’t believe that Mark’s urgency is “Chronos” urgency, because Mark spends almost no energy at all in writing on the “when” factor. Mark does not try to set before the reader a chronological framework for the gospel story. No, I believe that Mark’s terseness, his sense of urgency, is one of Kairos. Mark wants the reader to know that the time of God remains and that the reader must act upon the good news of his Gospel immediately if she or he is to expect to be a participant in God’s new realm. We don’t know whether the “immediate” response of Simon and Andrew, James and John happened chronologically in a matter seconds or hours. What we do know is that they responded to Jesus in the Kairos moment, at that appointed time that allowed them to participate in an amazing ministry of one who was no less than God incarnate, the Son of God Almighty.
Are Kairos and Chronos still factors in the world today? Absolutely! Our world seems to have become infatuated with Chronos time and we live in constant fear that at some point a certain number of minutes and hours, days and years will have elapsed to our detriment. We believe that we may have missed a Chronos opportunity that can never come again; that Chronos time will somehow run out before we accomplish all that we need to accomplish. In our concern about Chronos time we have stuffed the moment, our Kairos time so full of experiences that we are seldom able process them, and so our experiences seem somewhat hollow and meaningless.
Most of you know that Jenny and I have two adult sons. I have mentioned to a few people that our sons are very different from each other and that one of the ways that they are very different is that one is a Kairos person and the other a Chronos. Our eldest is Chronos; always concerned about the time that has elapsed. He is able, without glancing at his watch or at a clock on the wall, to tell you within 5 minutes what time it is day or night. It is the way he is geared, the way his body and mind operate. Our youngest is Kairos; not terribly concerned about what time of day it is or even what day of the week or month, but able to live richly in the moment that is at hand. Each son has learned to live with his particular orientation and the fact that they are Chronos and Kairos has been both a blessing and a curse to each of them. Chronos son knows how keep to keep to a schedule and how to meet deadlines. Kairos son knows how to get things done and how to accomplish what is needed.
When it comes to life in general, I believe that it doesn’t really matter whether you are a Chronos person or a Kairos person as long as you use your orientation productively. When it comes to the Church, I believe that we must pay attention to the difference between the two, that we must understand that Chronos and Kairos are two totally different things. If I as pastor dwelt too much in the Kairos concept of time when I was leading worship and allowed myself to get caught up in the moment while I was preaching, there is a good chance that my congregations would be ending our second service on Sundays at about two in the afternoon! And friends, I have been to those services! Many of my African American sisters and brothers worship in Kairos time. I’ve been to services that lasted nearly three hours (Chronos–wise)!
Let us always remember though that the moment of God’s presence among God’s people is always a Kairos moment. God’s time is fulfilled by God and not by us. It is never too early or too late to take advantage of God’s time. God’s time is always being fulfilled. God’s kingdom is always at hand! Step out of your Chronos restraints. Step into God’s Kairos moment. Know that God is with you. Embrace the good news of Christ your Savior! Amen.