Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Sermon: "The End of the Binge, or, Jesus is My Time-Lord and Savior"

"The End of the Binge, or, Jesus is My Time-Lord and Savior"

Preached at South Wedge Mission
Rochester, New York
Fifth Sunday of Easter
28 April 2013

Day Texts: Psalm 148
Revelation 21.1-6
John 13.31-35

"The end of the binge is the beginning of the story." -Jonathan Franzen


Caveat: I understand the irony in a sermon about time being the longest I've written in awhile.  During service it clocked in at 15:30.  That being said, the following is a transcription of that proclamation, which seemed to be the most well-received in awhile.  So there it is.  Enjoy it.  You've got time:)  

-SO. Here’s a phrase I bet you’ve never, ever, EVER heard, here in Rochester, or anywhere else.  Here goes: “Well, you know, I’d love to get together, but you know, I’m just so busy right now.”  Ever heard it?  It’s like the communal chorus of our collective life here, the theme that carries us all along day in and day out.  

-”It’s so busy right now.”  Even when we’re not actually doing anything, it feels like we’re still compelled to say “I’m just so busy,” if only because we so often feel busy.  All the time.  Even sitting still.  Even with so much going on in our heads.  So much information entering our lives.  So much happening.  And so we feel a sense of urgency, even anxiety.  Even when we’re just chillin’ - we’re busy.  

-But how fitting, at least, in light of today’s text from the Apocalypse of John.  When we hear that Jesus is the “Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End.”  Jesus is related inextricably with time.  He is the master of time.  Perhaps there’s a sense in which we could even call him a...TIME LORD?  

-For those of you who aren’t Doctor Who geeks, that’s what the time-traveling do-gooder bow-tie sporting hero of the show is.  And so is Christ.  Jesus is our Time Lord and Savior.  The Crucified Lamb is also the ruler and the God of Time.

-Now don’t worry, we’re saving a “Doctor Who-charist” for November, when the 50th Anniversary special comes out.  But Jesus-as-Time-Lord - its really not a category I think about very much.  Jesus is the beginning and the end.  He holds all of space and all of time in his scarred hands.

-Now, in troubled times like ours - times of bombings and explosions and rumors of wars and of church closings, like our predecessors Peace Lutheran did this morning - I do hear quite a lot of talk about Jesus as the hope of new beginnings.  Before he unveils his Time Lord nature, Jesus says, “Behold I am making all things new!”  And in an age of unprecedented technological progress and unspeakable horrors, it’s natural to long for the newness resurrection promises.  To move on from past atrocities.  

-Novelty’s like this way of life for us now; new experiences, moving every couple years, fresh starts, new jobs, the latest Apple products, the most recent episode.  A new church perhaps.  Or a new cause, to help make the world, and ourselves, better.  Jesus as Alpha is welcome news indeed.  And not just to those of us in Rochester hoping that this the week the Spring sticks around.

-But what of Jesus as Omega?  Jesus is the End.  Not just the beginning.  But the final note.  See, God in Christ Jesus through the Spirit did not only shape the world and create human beings in God’s image and breathe into them the breath of life.  God in Christ Jesus also brings the story to its conclusion.  Before we get “a new heaven and a new earth and a new Jerusalem,” we face the hard truth that “everything old has passed away.”  That Jesus is also an Ending.

-And that’s hard to face, right?  I mean, even Doctor Who struggles with ending.  Often when he’s about to regenerate and get a brand new life, the version of the Doctor who’s about to die really laments having to pass away.  He has to go through a painful transformation to become someone new, as well as to continue on as somehow the same.  There is a sense of loss and grief.

-And if we’re honest with ourselves, I wonder if we too share this deeply paradoxical relationship to endings.  Yes, we want newness.  But we also struggle with how to stop.  How to end.  We don’t just watch an episode.  We binge and mainline them, five or six at a time, only stopping when our retinas spontaneously combust.  We drink craft beer after craft beer, as if the fact that we are drinking good beer from our basement or brewery instead of Labatt’s somehow makes it less of a precursor to alcoholism.  So we just have one more, and it’s ok.  Or, we keep signing and signing up for cause after cause, because Metro Justice, and St. Joe’s, and South Wedge Mission, and Grow Green, etc etc are all so worthy, and in spite of how many times we save the world...we have this urge to save it again, lest we stop feeling useful or needed.  

-And at least for me, and maybe you too, its so hard to draw a boundary.  A limit.  To accept an ending.  And suddenly, we are so busy with compulsions, addictions, and schedules so full of doing things we ultimately don’t want to do, that we find we are without the time we so deeply crave to pursue the things that we do want.  Connection.  Intimacy.  And relationship.  A sense of place and settledness.

-See, I wonder if, in our basic human fear of endings, and of missing out, I wonder if we’ve forgotten how to embrace endings.  Perhaps our constant questing after novelty has led us to fear losing something new, while also avoiding ending that old thing that’s keeping us from the new thing.  Which, if we’re honest, is actually, usually, something quite old.  Something lasting.  And important.  And real.

-In this networked reality of compulsions and addictive thought processes and nihilisms and proxies, eroding our minds and stunting our spirits - well, that’s where, for me, Jesus as Omega - Jesus as Ending - that sounds like really good news to me.

-This past weekend, I had the privilege to worship at one of our sister mission starts, another Lutheran church in Brooklyn started by my friend Ben.  It’s called Parables, (they’re the ones we stole the idea to do the art night with Bogs during Lent).  The purpose of the event on Friday was to communally create folk hymns for use during worship.  Pretty awesome. 

-As we talked about music and reflected on this text from Revelation, one of the musicians in the group noted how important it was to have beginnings and endings.  Music is as much knowing when to stop as it is to start; as much about intentional silence as it is improvised notes.  Its the ending of a song that makes it a song.  Makes it something we can then remember, and hold on to, and cherish, and sing, and share, and pass on.  Endings give form.  Endings make singing possible.

-We’ve all heard a speech, or a story, or even a sermon where we’re thinking “if only that had ended five minutes ago, I might have remembered the good stuff he said?”  Right?  Never here, of course!  It’s the limits, the boundaries, that enable us to recognize, to consider, to enjoy.  To realize that pauses, and silence, and ending, are as much an art as saying, playing, and starting.  That’s what gives shape to songs, and poems, and even relationships.  Knowing where I end and you begin.  Suddenly we have something to share, rather than it all blending together.  

-And see, Jesus the Omega, Jesus the Time Lord, Jesus teaches us how to end.  He points us, in fact, to our truest and best end.  And that end is not us, or our compulsions or our desires.  It is Himself.  And through Him, to God.  And to one another.  

-And the means to achieving these ends is not a mediating technology.  It’s relationship.  It’s that great commandment at the end of our Gospel today.  “Love one another.”  And love God.

-Jesus is the ending, the Omega, first of all, because in the cross of Christ, Jesus has shown us the ending of all human endeavors to avoid endings.  The holes driven into his hands and feet by the nails are like periods, declaring, “it is finished.”  It’s not an option people.  When you avoid ending - when you try to prolong yourself or your desires or pleasure or power beyond their endings, it ends like this.  With death.  And, when you face human sinfulness, human fear, human scarcity, human idolatry, human complusion - all of these are here forth done.  This where they end.  With me.  And the cross.  

-But Jesus also shows us THE Ending.  Of the story.  Of the world.  The true end towards which we’re all traveling.  Towards a new heaven.  And a new earth.  The Ending which is also a true Beginning.  The Omega which is truly and forever Alpha. 

-See, in this ending, everything passes away.  The Old Jerusalem and its temple, the divine center of the universe, is gone.  These structures which mediate our relationships and our experiences that we thought were eternal and inevitable?  Gone. The old earth, with all of its beauties and wonders and all of its warfare and damage, is gone.  Even the old heaven, with all of our old hopes and dreams, is gone.  It is ended.  And Jesus, not any effort of human progress, no loaded schedule, no networking, brings it about.

-But notice what does remain.  What remains are the people of God.  And the trees that are for the healing and reconciliation of all the peoples together.  And the Time Lord, standing among his countless companions of every age.  What remains, in the end, to begin the new creation, are relationships. The people.  Our being-with God.  Our being-with each other.  Our being-with our enemies.

-And if what remains in the end are our relationships. and not how many hours we’ve logged on facebook, or volunteering, or playing Halo, or even watching Doctor Who - if our Omega is the Alpha, a new beginning freed of the old compulsions, centered on Jesus, a time when every tear will be wiped away and reconciliation, not distraction, is the name of the game, then I wonder: how does this challenge us today?  

-If God is truly shaping a reality in which “God will dwell with God’s people,” and people and relationships are the everlasting center, then what, in this time between Alpha and Omega, needs to die in our every day lives?  What might Jesus be declaring an Ending over, what is he begging and inviting us to stop, so that we might receive the gift of time to live for what is truly beloved in God’s heart?

-See, one thing I think Jesus has promised is that there will always be time for faithfulness.  And in particular, Jesus, the Lord of Time, will always give us enough space between the Alpha and the Omega to fulfill His commandment: “love one another.”  

-Because when we are loving only ourselves, time seems to disappear, seems to become scarce.  There is never enough.  But when we endeavor, trusting the promises and commandments of God, to place people at the center of our lives, to say NO to that which enslaves us and YES to that which is eternal, then we will discover, again and again, that life suddenly becomes very long, very fecund, very abundant, very real.  Because we are drawn into loving those things that Jesus loves. 

-And maybe you’ve had a taste of that.  That time when you unplug and step back.  Or you take time to have breakfast for a friend.  Or to pray and sit in silence in the midst of an urgent time - take time to be present to how God is busy in the world, and not just ourselves.  And suddenly it feels like those five short minutes of stillness stretch into an almost unbearable eternity.  Or that short conversation you tried to sneak in finds its ending two hours later.  And so much life has happened - life can be so long and full, when we follow faithfully.  

-God promises: there will always be enough time for the things that God loves.  And who God ultimate you.  And me.  And people.  And the creation.  God loves people so much that God is willing to end even the heavens and the temple, so that relationship may last forever.  

-And it will feel like an Omega.  An Ending.  A loss.  The old heaven and earth, the promise of infinite information, endless stimulation, and excessive intimacy, will have to go.  We will have to say no to certain things in order to say yes to others.  And we’re gonna need each other to make ourselves actually do it.  To be courageous enough to accept God’s gift.

-But as author Jonathan Franzen once wrote, “the end of the binge is the beginning of the story.”  The Omega of the old creation is also the Alpha of the new.  We will discover new depths of space and new dimensions of time, within ourselves, our world, and our God.  God has given us all the time in the world for one another.  God is making God’s home here, among us, among mortals.  Among people.  It’s there we’ll find the time, the intimacy and the love for which we long.

-See, that’s the song worth singing.  The ending worth accepting.  The beginning worth pursuing.  We will live fully in this presence, where the world, our place in it, and our time, will be truly occupied.  In a way that is worth cherishing.  In a way worth committing to.  In a way that can only be a gift.  And the best is yet to come.   



  1. This is beautiful Matthew. It reached me at the most perfect time possible. Thank you.

    ~Dana Scarbrough

  2. And if we try to prolong things unnaturally, past their ending point we risk becoming Voldemort. *mixes references with abandon*

  3. Great sermon, Matthew! Insightful, urgent point about endings. Love the staircase leading to the beginning of a delicious burrito.