Between Now and Then - An Introduction
Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” Jesus said to them, “When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come.
Give is each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.” (Luke 11:1-4)
When freeway traffic becomes a bit like a parking lot - it can be frustrating. This is the kind of situation that seems to brew road rage. After being in L.A. and sitting in traffic that can delay a short trip for hours, traffic in Columbus, Ohio - even when it comes to a stand still - is really quite a breeze. Having said that, I know that I have done my share of swearing - hitting the steering wheel - and taking part in righteous rudeness. It can happen very quickly.
I will eventually arrive at my destination. And yet, between now and then, all hell can break loose - even if it is simply my own internal and nonverbal hellishness. The thing I must remember is that my hellishness does not do me or anyone else any good. So why go there? Why think about flipping my middle finger? Why let myself get all worked up and angry when I am greeted with that finger by another driver? What good does it do me to shake my head in a self-righteous wag? These roadway antics may not merely be the way I react to being on the highway in heavy traffic. It may be how I am very often in the rest of my life - letting myself react from that center of control that I assume is to be the ruling power of my day. Between now and then when I am fooled into believing that I have the right of way - the most important agenda - the privileged spot in life - the answer to everything that seems to be jammed up, I can be assured that I will be a contributing partner to the hellishness that often keeps us a divided and angry and intolerant people.
The other day I was locked in traffic. I was in my usual southbound lane. It is the lane that is to eventually lead smoothly into the exit onto I-70 East that will be on the left. Unfortunately, this lane is not the center left lane. I don’t use the center lane because I know it comes to an end and all traffic in that lane must merge into my lane. See, even there it is my lane. Ahhh! I realize that everyone does not know that the center lane will merge into my lane. The signs that eventually will alert drivers to the need to merge to the right come later than I would expect. That leads to a bottleneck and permits drivers in the center lane to speed forward and squeeze into my lane at the last moment. Quite often, drivers in my lane know this game and we keep close to one another’s bumpers - just to be obnoxiously righteous. Most times during the day the blending of the two lanes happens smoothly - plenty of time - good use of turn signals - hands waving in gratitude - and a transition that takes place well before the very end of the center lane. But yesterday was not most times of the day - it was the making of hell.
Caught far back in the lane that bears my ownership, I prepared for a wait. The cars in the center lane were speeding by me. It was far enough back in traffic that they really were zipping along in that lane. At one point, a bright yellow SUV passed by and a young boy was leaning out the back window waving his arms and verbally taunting us as they drove by. They were going to get to their destination while we were stuck. It hit me that he did not know what was to come. The lane would end - the speed would be reduced - he would have to enter my lane - we would all be forced to be one. Ha! Now, that sounds as though I am gloating. Well, for a moment I was. Then it hit me. Between now and then we have the ability to handle the delays - the taunts - the injustices - the slings and arrows and waving arms of misfortune - with grace or we can become a part of the finger-flipping world that seems to rule the highways of our lives and our hearts.
Between now and then - even though it may not seem like it - we are in that time in which the Reign of God is at hand. How does one live there - here? I like to say - we know the way. I remember a song by an east African group I enjoyed in the early 1970s. One line of a song has stayed with me over the years. It deals with being on a road - a road in life - a road we will all face - a road with a destination we have yet to reach. I doubt that the lyricist was writing about the Reign of God - but it sure has spoken to me of just such a journey. It will be hard we know - and the road will be muddy and long - but we’ll get there - heaven knows how we will get there - we know we will. It is not easy to be gracious or loving or courteous or forgiving or kind in a world with a character that is often quite contrary to such images. We are within the days of the coming of the Reign of God - always have been - it is a life we have been invited to share with others. It is the life that is often recalled with images of light that open up a new reality in which the hellishness of the antics of the world are met head on by an alternate character. The image of light simply means that it will be a living presence - in real time - in our time - that attracts attention because it can appear to be so foreign - so out of place.
The then that will come is as close as the now in which we find ourselves. Gene Wilder in the movie The Frisco Kid played the part of a Polish Rabbi traveling from NYC to San Francisco during the time of the ‘wild, wild west’. He often would respond to the times of difficulty that created great discouragement with these words of promise: When the Messiah comes. That would be a better time - a just time - a time of rest - a time of unbounded grace and mercy and kindness. The then of the coming of the Messiah - over the length of this long movie - was unfolding within the ordinary and everyday journey through the worst of days that seemed to rule the day now. The Torah that he was to deliver to the new synagogue in San Francisco - the book that opened up the vision and life of the Messiah of God - was becoming not that which was to come - but that which was unfolding already - leading, I think, to a touching revelation for the young Rabbi.
Between now and then the promise of God’s peaceable Reign - the Beloved Community - becomes the substance and shape of the day. We enter it or we walk away from it - we become a part of it or we become a part of something else. Yes, in the meantime - the time between now and then - we will get caught in traffic and flip a middle finger and leave no room for a stranger - but each of these times will reappear and we will be handed the opportunity to breathe in a life in which the coming of the Messiah is open among us. We are not invited to live within the way of the Messiah of God in order to get somewhere other than right here. We are invited to be right here - between now and then - as though we are a part of the character of God’s Reign. I’m sure all of us have seen that light go on here and there in our lives even in the midst of darkness. Those moments along the way display the holiness - the blessedness of God’s Reign.