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Discipleship is for Now

Between memory and anticipation is now. This is a profound concept. What gives us the ability to perceive time as progressing forwards? Partly it is memory. I remember something that happened in the past, but I'm not in the past anymore. How did I get here in the present? I remember remembering the time before. As my memories accumulate, I get a sense of moving forward through time. Another part of the sense of the forward progress of time is the anticipation of what's coming next. I anticipate the next thing to happen, and then I find out whether I was right or not. I remember anticipating the present and compare what I anticipated with what happened. Between the certainty of remembering things that happened and the uncertainty of things that might happen is what we call "now."

How long is "now?" To some extent, it is an infinitely narrow slice of time, the point in time we call the present. As soon as it's not in that infinitesimal moment, it's not "now" anymore--or maybe it's not "now" yet. Our usage in language is not so precise. "Now" could mean this moment or this hour or this day or this year. I suppose the demonstrative adjective, "this," is pretty characteristic of "now," no matter how wide it is.

There is an organization of futurists called The Long Now Society that tries to think in terms of a ten thousand year "now." They seek to foster long term thinking. How do we solve cultural and engineering problems differently if we think in units of ten thousand years? At first it seems unrelated to our infinitesimal moment, but if we say it with "this" in front, it's remarkably the same. In "this" ten-thousand-year period of history, we remember the last ten thousand years and anticipate the next ten thousand years. One verse of the hymn, "O God, Our Help in Ages Past" by Isaac Watts says, "A thousand ages in your sight are like an evening gone." God certainly is capable of thinking in terms of a very long "now."

I've also heard (and apologize for not finding the source) of a relational definition of the present age. The "present age" started at the birth of the oldest person you've ever touched or had a live interaction with. Think about holding your great-grandmother's hand when you were very young. It ends with the death of the youngest person you will ever touch or have a live interaction with. When you are old, how much longer will the last baby you will ever hold live? That's a "now" that is defined by presence and relationships. I think God thinks of "now" in these terms. God shares a "now" with us that last as long as our relationship with God lasts. Jesus says, "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age," so our "now" with God lasts beyond our earthly death because our relationship with God lasts to the end of the age.

On Sundays, we've been talking about discipleship. A disciple lives with and observes the master, not just to learn the words and facts and teachings of the master, but also to observe and imitate the life of the master and to conform the disciple's life to that of the master. This requires a lot of energy spent paying attention in the "now," an intense present tense. Another word for paying attention in the "now" is mindfulness. What does a disciple do? A disciple pays attention to the master. A Christian pays attention to Jesus.

Paying attention requires staying in the present while the master is near. The Christian disciple remembers their past life and compares it to what Christ is doing in the "now" and anticipates the next time they can have an opportunity to do differently, to act more conformed to how Christ acts. Between that remembering and that anticipation is a lot of energy spent learning in attentiveness.

Later, when the disciple is no longer with the master, the disciple remembers the master. In this way, Christ becomes a part of us, and we carry Christ with us in our memories. A Christian disciple pays attention to neighbors in the "now" and remembers how Christ acted in relation to neighbors and anticipates acting that same way to neighbors. When learning is over and it's time for doing, a disciple still acts in the "now."

Part of being in the "now," as we said, is anticipating the future. We anticipate and hope for our future, that we will have eternal life, but that anticipation remembers our sins that were forgiven. In between anticipating a blessed life and remembering our sins are forgiven, is discipleship. It's in that "now" that we forgive others and care for our neighbors.

--Chas