Have you ever thrown a book across the room?
Have you ever been disappointed in how a story ended?
Have you ever read the last page and screamed out loud “NO!” and then slammed the book shut?
I have. I was reading the book My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult (who I had the privilege of hearing last Monday night at the Lecture Series at the Carnegie Music Hall). Spoiler alert: at the end of My Sister’s Keeper, one of the sisters dies (I won’t tell you which one). I was so mad I wanted to throw the book. But as the author explained, “it had to end that way.” But, when Hollywood made the book into a movie, they changed the ending and made the other sister die, making it a less objectionable ending.
Have you ever been disappointed in how a story ended?
Today’s reading from Deuteronomy may shock and disappoint you.
Moses, Hero Moses, has led the obstinate people through the wilderness; giving them food, water, and a way through the Red Sea. Moses even spared their life before God. With his eyes to the Promised Land, he carried on. Now, as we find Moses on the brink of the Promised Land, God shows him all the vast land that the Israelite people will have, but instead of Moses taking a step into the Promised Land, Moses dies.
What? Why did Moses have to die? We wonder. It doesn’t seem fair or right.
In our Bible study on Wed, after we voiced our shock and disappointment, some shared that maybe it was time because Moses was old (120 years!) and tired (40 years leading a hesitant group of people, living on manna and quail, sleeping on the ground). Maybe Moses did what God called him to do, and did it well, and now he could rest from his labors.
The Israelites, even though they complained and quarreled with Moses, they respected him and trusted in his fearless leadership. And now he was gone. Now What?
The story tells us: The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the period of mourning for Moses was ended. Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom…
It’s a happy, well, at least acceptable ending. In Moses’ place, God raises up Joshua, who successfully and faithfully leads God’s people into the Promised Land.
We have the ability to know the rest of the story. But, at the time, the Israelites did not.
All they knew is that Moses had died. The text does go on and tell us the rest of the story. But before we read on, let’s stop at the semi-colon. Moses died, the Israelites wept for thirty days;
Now is a good time to ask, Now What?
Have you ever been at a place in your life when you asked, “Now What?”
Her parents sacrificed everything to get her into college. The first semester was overwhelming. She is failing. Now what?
His job was eliminated. He is too young to retire. His family depends on his income. Now What?
Her marriage is ending. And she just found out she is pregnant. Now What?
His treatments do not seem to be working. They are out of money and hope. Now what?
She knows she cannot take care of herself, but she loves her house full of memories. Now what?
Just when we have it all worked out—a perfect plan. Then life happens. And we find ourselves in an unanticipated, unfamiliar, often unfriendly place. And we wonder, Now what? Now What? It is not a question of despair, but I think a question of faith and courage. It is open-ended. We ask it because we truly do not know what is next. I think God loves this question, because it gives God room to work—to work wonders.
Today is the anniversary of the Reformation: we remember that on Oct. 31, 1517 Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Chapel, igniting the Protestant Reformation. Did Luther know how things would work out? Could he have seen how the Reformed church would form and grow and expand and endure? No. I think he went home from the chapel that day, put down his hammer, got on his knees and whispered a prayer into the frightening silence: “Okay God, Now what?”
Now What? It is not a question of despair, but I think a question of faith and courage.
It is open-ended. We ask it because we truly do not know what is next.
I think God loves this question, because it gives God room to work—to work wonders.
For the last 40 days, most of you have been involved in a small group, meeting weekly to discuss the church; to ask questions about what we have been, where we are now, and who we are called to be. From what I heard in the groups, you were critical and complimentary; you were engaged and enthused; you were faithful and fun (imagine that Presbyterians having fun together?); you were patient and passionate and prayerful. You were careful and courageous in asking: Now what?
It’s the right question to ask. In this in-between time. We are done with small groups and wonder what is next. We are in this in-between time. A time we would rather get on with writing the ending.
In the Greek language, there are two words for time. Chronos and Kairos.
Chronos is chronological, sequential time, a specific amount of time; It can be used and planned; wasted and managed. Still, it ticks away. The only time we have any control over it is on Daylight Savings Day—remember to turn your clocks back next Sunday or you will miss worship!
Kairos is entirely different. It is a moment of indeterminate time; it seems like suspended time. Kairos is often brought on by pain or crisis or uncertainty. Kairos happens at a crossroads (at a semi-colon)—as we stand and pause, not knowing what comes next. Kairos is pregnant time, a time of possibility. It is the time of God’s activity. Often, in kairos time, God is at work, trying to get our attention. In Kairos time, we are forced to be present to ourselves, to God and to the experience. These are the moments that try our souls; these are the moments that define us.
There I lay in the hospital, after being rushed by ambulance to a hospital with a NICU (Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit). I was pregnant with my second baby, but things were not going well. I was going into labor too soon. They were trying to stop things, but it seemed as if it was too late. They said they would have to deliver the baby in the morning, and hope that he was not too premature and frail to survive. I remember lying there praying with Brian and my mother-in-law Linda. She held my hand and helped me give it to God. Whatever happened, God would be with us, she said. We were in kairos time; suspended time; unknown time; the time in which God works—wonders. Thinking he would be too premature to survive, we decided to name our baby Christian, as a blessing. And now look at my premature baby all grown up to a giant!
My friends and fellow pilgrims, We stand here together, at the end of a 40 day journey of small groups, poised for a New Beginning, but not yet knowing what God’s Promised Land looks like. We have come to a semi-colon in the writing of our story. Now is the right time to ask, “Now What?” But, let’s not be afraid to wait for the answer. For we are living in kairos time. Kairos time is pregnant with possibility.
And in kairos time, surely God is at work—even working wonders.
Remember that when the time was right, God became flesh and lived among us.
I wonder how God is being born among us, even here, even now?
Will you wonder and watch and wait with me?
The Rev. Dr. Donna Giver-Johnston, Community Presbyterian Church of Ben Avon, Oct. 26, 2014