Do You Know What Time It Is?

William McKinney
September 2, 2008

President Bill McKinney delivers the opening chapel service of the new 2008–09 academic year.

PSR Opening Chapel, September 2, 2008
Text: Romans 13: 8-14

Paul tells his colleagues in Rome that they do know what time it is.

Now is the moment to wake up. The night is far gone, the day is
near. It is time to set aside the works of darkness and to pour on the
armor of life.

Do you know what time it is?

Paul is writing about the moment in the day that is the longest, the last part of the night that anticipates the dawn.

Eugene Boring and Fred Craddock say that this is the story of Christian existence. It is like...
…living in the time of the early dawn. It is still night, the old
age is still with us, the sun has not yet come up, but in the east the
sky is already becoming bright as the signal that the new day is
dawning. Christians are those who know what time it is, that “the
darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining, and who
thus orient their lives to the dawning new age, rather than the
lame-duck administration of darkness that is already passing away.

Please note that I don’t take this as a political statement, though
I’m sure you’ve noted certain contemporary parallels: the lame-duck
administration of darkness that is already passing away. Indeed.

Do you know what time it is?

It is at the moment between what has been and what is to be. We are
getting nearer, says Paul, to the salvation of God’s promise. We are
not there yet, but we are nearer to the dawning of the kingdom of God.

So, Paul asks, how are we to live in the new day? We are to “live
honorably as in the day.” We’re to set aside reveling, drunkenness,
debauchery, licentiousness, quarreling and jealousy. And in putting on
the Lord Jesus Christ, we are to “make no provision for the flesh, to
gratify its desires.” No surprise there: this, after all, Paul!

Do you know what time it is?

You know, of course that it is the first day of school, the opening
of the fall semester at Pacific School of Religion. For some of you it
is the beginning of your time in this community.

Paul was writing to a small congregation in first century Rome and
not to a multidenominational Christian theological school in Berkeley,
California in the 21st century. At the same time, his words seem rather
appropriate.

Surely for our newest student colleagues but in different ways for all of us, this is a transitional time.
The transitions take many forms. In the past two weeks of orientation
we have heard from the new students about the transitions in their
personal lives: moves across the country and the world, lives turned
upside down because the time has come to move on. Being in Berkeley
means not being someplace else, but you’ve had a sense that it is time
to be here.

We’re thinking a lot about upcoming transitions on our faculty and
in the Graduate Theological Union. We will be doing a lot of searching
this year to help prepare PSR for its future.

Do you know what time it is?

It is a time of transition in the lives of many of us.

My hope this day is that we are at the end of the long night approaching the early dawn.

This summer I did a lot of thinking and reading about transitions in
the churches and our partner faith communities. After decades of
worrying about declines in mainstream Protestantism, I am seeing
glimmers of positive transition. I can’t say I am optimistic about the
structures of Christian denominations. I won’t go so far to say they
represent the lame-duck administration of darkness that is already
passing away, but they don’t seem to be ready for the new day.

I spend a lot of my time thinking about congregations. There have
been times in my career when I spent a lot of time worrying about
congregations. Working for 11 years with one of the national agencies
of the United Church of Christ I had too many colleagues who felt that
“real ministry” was beyond the parish. Too often congregations seemed,
if anything, irrelevant to the coming of God’s kingdom on earth.
Congregations got even less attention in the academy.

I’m struck by how much that has changed in recent years. I sense
among our students a new appreciation of what congregations can be and
do in the world. Many of our students have come to us from
congregations that they say were “there” for them at an important
turning point in their lives and I often hear stories of wanting to do
for others what a pastor or lay leader did for me.

Some of us were observing this summer that there’s been a shift in
our own dialogue from tales of woe to tales of celebration. That’s a
healthy shift, I think, from worrying about churches that are dying or
fraught with difficulties to learning from congregations that are
experiencing new life and transformation.

I think of two churches in Oakland—First Congregational Church and
Plymouth Church. For a long time, many in the community had written off
these older churches, founded more than 100 years ago, saying that
their time had passed in a city like Oakland. But PSR graduates who
went out to serve these churches refused to accept defeat; they were
able to see in these old churches the potential for new life to
flourish once again. They helped these congregations reconnect with
their communities, and now those churches are thriving.

Do you know what time it is?

It is a time of transition for churches and their partner faith communities.

My hope this day is that we are at the end of the long night approaching the early dawn.

On Sunday evening, “60 Minutes” told the story of patients who
suddenly awoke after many years of loss of consciousness. A man who had
been in a coma for ten years regained consciousness after receiving a
new medication.

Like Rip van Winkle, he experienced a new world. He recognized most
of his family but not his teenaged son he had known only as a young
child.

Imagine someone who returned to consciousness this summer after a
decade of sleep. She awakes at the beginning of the Olympic Games in
China. China. Who, as recently as a decade ago, could have expected
China’s emergence as a world power? Who, a decade ago, could have
anticipated the Democratic Party’s naming an African American as its
candidate for President of the United States? Or a woman on the
Republican ticket? Or Al Qaeda and 911? Or Katrina and its aftermath?
Or Facebook? Or that she and her partner could now marry in California
and Massachusetts? And that on November 4 we have a chance to make that
possible in the future as well.

I have no difficulty at all believing that we are living in a long
night. I also have no difficulty hoping that we are close to the dawn
when our salvation will be nearer than it feels.

Do you know what time it is?

It is a time of transition for churches and their partner faith communities.

My hope this day is that we are at the end of the long night approaching the early dawn.

I am old enough to have stopped hoping that any political process or
election will deliver us from the pain we know in our lives. That’s a
point my friend Jeremiah Wright of Trinity United Church of Christ made
earlier this year to his own regret and to that of his most famous
former parishioner. Politics can’t bring salvation as individuals or as
a society. Politics and politicians have limits, but they can make a
difference. They can bring us nearer to where we seek to be, nearer to
where God is calling us to be.

That’s enough to make me want to work very hard over the next couple of months to work for a new early dawn.

The Apostle Paul made more than a few mistakes in advising the early
Christian community but he got one thing right. Paul knew that in the
end and in the beginning and in the moment it is about love.

This is the 13th time I have preached at Opening Chapel. This summer
I re-read my previous 12 sermons and discovered that love was
essentially missing. Justice and hope were there. Compassion was
emphasized, as was academic rigor. I’m glad for that.

Paul knew that love is central to the Christian gospel and the
Christian life: Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for
the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. Don’t screw around,
don’t kill people don’t steal, don’t covet. Do love your neighbor as
yourself. “Love does no wrong to another; therefore, love is the
fulfilling of the law.”

Love should probably get more attention in our life together as a
community. When I visit with alums I often hear a long litany of
complaints about the things that happened – or didn’t happen – in their
time on campus. More than any school I know, PSR encourages students to
foster their critical skills. Doug Adams used to quote United Methodist
Bishop Marvin Stuart, who said he far preferred to work with graduates
of Claremont School of Theology because compared to PSR graduates they
were safe and predictable. PSR graduates, he said, were always trying
to change things. “Sometimes they don’t work out in ministry,” he would
say, “but the best of them become bishops.”

I don’t want PSR to lose its critical edge and I surely want us to
do a better job to make the campus experience a satisfying experience
for our students and all who work and serve here. But I do wish we
could do a better job of fostering a sense of love and appreciation of
one another.

“Love does no wrong to another,” says Paul. Love does no wrong.

I wonder what it would look like if those of us who constitute this
campus community could approach the dawn of this new academic year with
a bit more love in our hearts.

Do you know what time it is?

My hope this day is that we are at the end of the long night approaching the early dawn. And that love might be in our hearts.

Amen.

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