The Present Time

Luke 12: 54-56

John 2: 5-11

Victor Borge, the well known Danish-American comedian and pianist of another time, told a friend he could tell time by his piano. His friend was skeptical, so Borge volunteered to demonstrate. He pounded out a crashing march loud and fast on his piano. Immediately there came a banging on the wall and a shrill voice screamed, “Stop that noise. Don’t you know it’s 1:30 in the morning?”

An anonymous author wrote, “It isn’t what you know that counts; it’s what you can think of in time.”

An insurance agent received a phone call from an excited woman. “I want to insure my house,” she said. “Can I do it by phone?” The agent replied, “I’m sorry, but I have to see it first.” “Then you’d better get here soon,” the lady said. “‘Cause the place is on fire!” 

Jesus is teaching his disciples and anyone in the crowds following him in these pages from the gospel of Luke. He’s teaching us as well. I read a solitary verse from Luke 12 last Sunday which encapsulates Jesus’ call for his audience (the disciples and crowds alike) to be attentive to the times in which they live. Verse 40: “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” He followed that with the Parable of the Unfaithful Servant (“the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him . . .”) and the declaration that he didn’t come to the earth to bring peace but division. I read today what followed – “You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”

For the last two thousand years the church has been fascinated with when the Lord will return. These verses in Luke don’t flood our minds with images of dragons, plagues and a new earth. Jesus spoke simple, yet profound, parabolic images that carried the solitary message of being ready for the Master’s return by being ever willing to do his will as a faithful servant; remaining faithful day in, day out. Jesus’ words from Luke 12 today convey not a focus on an end to the age, but a wide-eyed awareness of the present time. As Jesus spoke those words in Palestine in the first century, he spoke to the witnesses of his work, revelation and ultimate passion as the Messiah. Were they aware of their present time?

A management trainer/efficiency expert was driving through the country side when he noticed an old farmer in an apple orchard feeding his pig. The farmer was holding the pig over his head and moving him from apple to apple in the trees while the pig ate happily. The trainer turned around, parked, and walked up to the farmer saying, “Hey, there! Have I got a good idea for you!” The farmer asked him what it was. The trainer said, “Just put the pig on the ground, get a stick, knock the apples to the ground and let the pig eat them there. It sure will save a lot of time.” The farmer looked at the trainer while he moved the pig to another apple and finally said, “Aw, shucks, mister, what’s time to a pig?”

What’s the present time mean to us? Each day, we do what we’re supposed to do or are able to do. Each day may be unique in its characteristics or consistently mundane. For most days, for most of us, they’re unique and mundane. Jesus’ words to his disciples informed them he was aware they could interpret their environment and the weather. They were capable of interpreting their present day in the context of the earth and the weather. They needed to broaden their capabilities to understand the present day. This was said to them by God-in-the-flesh. Are you aware who’s with you? Are you aware of his capabilities? Are you aware of what he’s asking you? Are you aware of how much your life will change when you commit yourself to trusting in his word and in what he will empower you to do?

Those verses out of Luke 12 I read, “You know how to interpret the earth and sky, but why you not know how to interpret the present time?”, reminded me of a familiar story from John, chapter two.

His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ Now standing there were six stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (verse 5-11)

This story strikes me about an understanding of present time in the life of a believer. This is the story of Jesus turning water into wine at a wedding feast. The chief steward, after he tasted the wine the servants brought to him, went to the bridegroom and said the best wine is not served after the guests are tipsy. We’re supposed to serve it first. What was supposed to happen at the start of the feast? Serve the best wine. What was supposed to happen after everyone had their fill? Offer the inferior wine then. We have plenty to learn and trust about God’s timing.

This is what Jesus, I believe, was implying in Luke 12 about interpreting the present time. We have to grow in our capability of interpreting the present time. There’s nothing we can do to change the past. The future is God’s business. It’s in the present we encounter God’s will and God’s way for us and through us. Jesus wanted his learners in Luke 12 to perceive God’s appearing and God’s work and God’s will through the life of Jesus in their present. The wedding feast miracle in John, chapter two, communicates two particular things about interpreting the present in light of Jesus in our lives.

First, Mary tell the servants, “Do whatever he tells you”. Somebody is expressing some serious faith in this. A young boy happened upon an old man who was fishing in the mighty Mississippi River. The little boy began asking the old man a slew of questions and then told him a slew of things about the mighty river that a little boy could never know at his age. Suddenly their conversation was interrupted by the shrill whistle of the majestic River Queen paddling relentlessly down river. The sight of the gleaming riverboat caused the surprised spectators to stare in awe and appreciation. Above the noise of the paddle wheel was heard a small boy’s voice calling across the water, “Let me ride! Let me ride!” The old man turned to the boy and told him that boat would never stop for his request. The little boy cried all the more. Old eyes bulged in disbelief as that great ship pulled for shore, lowered its gangplank, and two small feet scampered on board. As the boat pulled back into the main stream, the little boy looked over the railing and yelled to his old friend on shore, “Mister, I knew this ship would stop for me. The captain is my father.”

Mary told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Mary had heard and experienced and seen things Her son had done and things she was told about what he was yet to do. She trusted whatever he would say or do as the will of God. She interpreted her present time, and in her present, her son, her Lord, was present. He could be trusted. In our present time, we can trust what we hear about our Lord Jesus, and we can trust what he may share with us about his will for us in our present time. We can interpret our present time by trusting he is with us and he gives us direction for our lives. Do whatever he tells you.

Secondly, the chief steward said, “You have kept the good wine until now.” While we can trust our Lord’s will is best for us in the present, we’re entrusted with the reality that our Lord will act or speak how and when the Lord chooses. The chief steward, I don’t believe, came to the bridegroom to tell him he was excited to find the best wine was left over. He probably came with a sense of embarrassment that the best wine was found in great quantities after everyone was tooted. Interpreting the present time may lead us to understanding that what the Lord may direct us to do we can trust to be the best option, and what the Lord may bring into our lives by his efforts alone will be the best whenever it arrives. Interpreting the present as a follower of Christ requires faith that what he requires of us is the best, and what he brings to us, when or how it comes, is always the best.

(Preached at St Mark UMC in Anniston, AL, August 14, 2022)

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