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Pastor Glenn McDonald: What Time is It?

It was the first truly nationwide media event. 

 Americans waited breathlessly on May 10, 1869, to receive word by telegraph that the final spike had been driven into the transcontinental railroad, officially linking the westward tracks of the Union Pacific Railroad with the east-directed tracks of the Central Pacific Railroad at Promontory Summit, Utah. 


Railroad tycoon Leland Stanford was chosen to drive the ceremonial last spike. Comprised of 17.6 carats of pure gold, it glittered in the noonday brightness.


Stanford swung. He missed.


A musclebound railroad worker stepped in to finish the job with a single stroke. Clattering telegraphs immediately relayed a one-word message from coast to coast: “Done.” The great, nation-uniting technological marvel – a project that had been commissioned years earlier by none other than Abraham Lincoln – was completed at last.


But what time had the golden spike actually been driven?  That depended on whose clock you were consulting. The locals in Promontory reported 12:45 pm. The folks in nearby Virginia City opted for 12:30 pm.  San Francisco journalists reported both 11:44 and 11:46 am, and at least a half dozen other times were logged in around the country.


So, what was the real time?


At that moment in American history, no one could say. Towns and villages cherished “local options.” Social historian Bill Bryson points out that as recently as 150 years ago, it could be midnight in New York City, 11:47 pm in Washington D.C., and 11:55 pm in Philadelphia, all at the same moment.


In the days when horse-drawn carriages represented the fastest way to travel, such variations weren’t overly concerning. But when the railroads came, it suddenly became crucial to know how and when to catch a train, especially since every town and transportation company preferred its own homegrown timekeeping.


Because the federal government hesitated to address the crisis, a gathering called the National Railroad Time Convention took action.


Its members authorized the four time zones that still prevail across the United States, and declared November 18, 1883, to be the day of national clock synchronization. People were nervous. What would happen when the time suddenly changed? Farmers wondered if their hens would stop laying eggs. Workers in Chicago, realizing they would have to work an extra nine minutes, considered going on strike. 


The day itself turned out to be anticlimactic.


At the hour that was designated high noon, the hands of the clocks in every railroad station, town hall, and homestead were made to point straight up.  And just like that, life went on. When people realized there wasn’t going to be a disturbance in the Force, they shrugged and returned to their daily chores. 


So, when it comes to walking with God, what time is it?


The apostle Paul makes some fascinating observations in I Thessalonians 5:4-8:

“But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.”


Let’s consider an illustration that could not possibly have occurred to Paul, for the simple reason that he knew nothing about jet lag.


Many of us have experienced “going back in time” when we fly from east to west. 


We do no such thing, of course. But if we take off in Boston and land in Los Angeles, our bodies remain oriented, at least for a day or so, to the clocks back on the east coast. 


This produces an interesting effect on the first morning we awaken in California. Our bodies say, “It’s 7 am, the sun is up, and it’s time to get moving.” But the clock in our west coast hotel room says it’s only 4 am. It’s dark outside, sunrise is hours away, and the prospect of sleeping in seems pretty awesome. 


Paul suggests that those who embrace Jesus as Messiah are already living in God’s tomorrow. The sun has risen on the new creation – specifically the newly created life that God has planted in our own hearts. Something is different. And that something is us. “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)


Nevertheless, when we look around, we see the same beat-up, broken-down, sin-weary world. God hasn’t yet redeemed and recreated the rest of reality. All we can see are hints of God’s new creation. That means we are “sunrise” people living in a “predawn” world.


So, what are we supposed to do?


Paul is blunt. We are to live right now, in the darkness, as if the sun has already risen on the new heavens and new earth. 


People around us may be bitter. We are to be grateful. Others may live for the chance to get payback. We are to embrace opportunities to forgive. “Night people” may insist that the sun is never going to rise, anyways, which means the world has no chance of improving. Therefore only suckers cling to hope. But as God’s “daylight people” we choose to live with faith, hope, and love (notice that all three appear together in I Thessalonians 5:8). 


So, when it comes to walking with God, what time is it?


We may be tempted to think it’s time to sleep in. 


But our true call is to wake up every day in the “time zone” of God’s new creation, and to invite others to join us there – so they, too, can meet the One who is the Light of the World.    

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