Tell me, what were your first thoughts when you saw clothes original to the 1970’s showing up for double the price paid for them originally? Honestly now. Seeing teenagers in Leisure Suits had to be unsettling. Some of you, like me, surely had nightmares!
If the 70’s did not conjure bell bottoms and silk shirts, what about the 20’s or the 40’s and 50’s styles? Had many of us known these styles would make a comeback in Vintage stores, we would have held on to them for a huge profit!
It used to be that well-worn jeans were a sign of economic difficulty.
Today, the same symbol is high priced fashion. Fashion has a Karmic feel – you know, what goes around comes around. Maybe you should stop giving your well-worn clothes away and put them in mothballs for a future retirement investment.
The Apostle Paul took up questions raised by Christians in Corinth. Where we find it difficult to have conversations about intimate matters, Paul addressed them head-on. It seems as though had we paid attention to the instruction Paul gave we, at least in the Church, would have averted a #metoo, or #churchtoo, movement. That is, when Paul begins talking about matters about which we fear talking to our children about, he wrote in his reply, “Now in response to the things you wrote about, “It is good for a man not to use a woman for sex.”
Please do not give in to the immediate discomfort that arises when that three letter word is mentioned in front of children. After all, it is written about here in our Sacred Text. You would need to hide your Bible. Had we spent more time with the subject, and Paul’s instructions, many may have avoided today what was fashionable then almost 2000 years ago, and beyond.
When we did not pay attention to what drove Paul’s comments, we learned that what was fashionable then has always been fashionable, even today. Whether in Hollywood, the Halls of Congress, in State Houses around our Country, or coffee shops, gyms and salons, what is hard to imagine is that we keep sewing our cultural tapestry with the same fabric.
Paul calls on Christian people, Jesus people to use a different fabric.
Instead of what was well-worn and obviously dehumanizing, he committed to an underlying understanding about the way the world will one day work. He writes to Christians in Corinth, “For this world in its current form is passing away.”
Form. Fashion. Scheme. Pattern.
One day what robs people of their dignity and humanity will pass away. The form, fabric, scheme, the pattern will change. For Paul, the coming of Jesus brings this future into the present. That is what is described as “passing away.”
Maybe we could stack our metaphors. Might we exaggerate the imagery? If your imagination has not been immediately receptive to the fashion – form, tapestry, sewing, pattern – then maybe we would do well to take the translation “passing away” and look for it in our modern usage for something that will.
In much the same way we fear talk of specific subjects in Church – like the suggestion that politics is not the same thing as partisanship – we look for ways to take the sting out of – die, death, dead.
College English, and now undoubtedly high school English points out the way we avoid being blunt, direct. To say, “She died,” sounds cold, even calloused. It takes the one we love and reduces them to a statistic of the number of deaths in a given year from a specific event or illness. Our fear of death is that we will not be remembered. That to say it with words that betray our deep emotions.
We soften the words die, death and dead with euphemisms – words that sound less harsh – pass away, pass on, didn’t make it, go to a better place, no longer with us.
When Paul asserts that the current form is passing away, he is telling his readers, the way the world now works is dying. It will not last forever. His logic is that we should pay attention to those things that will not pass away.
Maybe here he has in mind Jesus’ words, “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” Of course, that leads us to the need to come to terms with just what that means.
Maybe one of our other passages will provide a clue.
Let’s quickly consider two of them to help us.
First, imagine you get a word from the Lord tomorrow – a vision, a dream, a booming voice, or the response to hearing God speak in the Scriptures.
The message is clear, “Get up and go to Pyongyang.” Once you look at a map and discover this is the Capital city of North Korea, you opt instead for Hawaii. After all, you have seen what Kim Jong Un did to his uncle. What would happen if you walked the streets shouting, “Repent for in 40 days God will destroy Pyongyang.”
Once at your preferred destination you go for a swim after sipping tea on the beach only to be swallowed by a huge fish. After three days you wonder if you shouldn’t have gone ahead and taken God up on his instructions.
That three-day trip leaves you parched. Having been spit out on the coast of North Korea, you begin announcing, “Repent for in 40 days God will destroy Pyongyang.”
Whether you believe it or not, or want it or not, word spreads from the least to the greatest and lo and behold that leader that strikes fear in the whole world with his itchy ballistic missile button responds to the word and orders the entire Country to put on sackcloth as a sign of repentance.
Your hatred runs so deep that despite the fact that you did not like the message or where God sent you, what you wanted was God destroying Pyongyang. When they all repented, you pouted on the shoreline in the hot sun, No tea. No beach umbrella. You were inconsolable. Had God been planning to do this anyway, why not send someone that had a heart for all people. He knows you didn’t.
The story of Jonah is the story of us. And, the story is not about the fish. When we tell our children the story and make it about the fish, we miss the message.
We are so captivated by the current way the world works that we cannot possibly see that all people, no matter their political affiliation, their Country of origin or their preferred vocation are valuable to God. Pay attention to the tit for tat we get swept up in during Congressional Gridlock. Watch for the way people are characterized from both sides of the aisle.
And, if you find yourself inconsolable about those whose views differ from you, admit that you wished they would move to another Country if they will not put on sackcloth and repent.
The fabric of this world is not different than Jonah’s. People in power are despised. We don’t want hope for them; we don’t wish them well. We wish they would pass away.
But, what Paul points out is that way of thinking is passing away, and it shows up in those committed to Jesus. Our thinking is passing away. No longer do we wish enemies dead. Instead, we find that our following Jesus changes us, our view of them, our concerns for their well-being. When it doesn’t, our need is a Good News reminder. A voice or word that makes us aware we are participating in for of this world that is dying.
The long throes of death have been shortened writes Paul.
What he means by this has been discussed for centuries. What event has shortened the time?
Could be that Paul refers to death in general. We do not live forever so make the most of our time living in the way of the Commonwealth of God – that is a way in the world that seeks the good and peace of and for all.
Or it may be that Paul has in mind an event the suspects is coming. Some 15 years later Jerusalem was sacked. The pressures faced by Jews and Christians increased. Time for preparing would be short.
However, given Paul’s regular emphasis on Jesus, Christ crucified as he puts it, it is as likely he has in mind the Coming of Jesus at just the right time. His Coming, Jesus’ coming brings the future into the present, and the now of the Commonwealth of God is more than a future hope it is a present reality.
We look to Mark 1 and Jesus’ preaching. This apocalyptic event marks Paul’s way of thinking such that he cannot help but consider the issues people face through the event of Jesus’ coming into the world – and specifically that his death and resurrection mean a new fashion, a new scheme, a new form for the world as we know it. The old is passing; the new is coming.
Text: 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20; Jonah 3:1-10
*I often have a manuscript available but do not always read it. It is part of my preparation. There may have been slight additions/differences to the preached version.