The Fullness of Time

I have been asked to post this sermon from the Austin College Perspectives and Reflections Service:

Perspectives & Reflections Service

August 12, 2021

Grum Sanctuary

The Fullness of Time

Psalm 20:1-5

The Lord answer you in the day of trouble!  

The name of the God of Jacob protect you!  

May God send you help from the sanctuary,  

and give you support from Zion.  

May the Lord remember all your offerings,  

and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices.  

May God grant you your heart’s desire,  

and fulfill all your plans.  

May we shout for joy over your victory,  

and in the name of our God set up our banners.  

May the Lord fulfill all your petitions. 

Galatians 4:14        

But when the fullness of time had come, 

God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,

Luke 19:5

When Jesus came to the place, 

he looked up and said to him,

“Zacchaeus, hurry and come down;

for I must stay at your house today.”

Esther 4:14b

Who knows? 

Perhaps you have come to royal dignity

for just such a time as this.”

Since this is billed as a “Perspectives and Reflections” service, I want to begin by telling y’all that my careful reflections over the summer have led me to conclude that I should begin this year—right up here in front of all of you—by blatantly and shamelessly violating two of the most important lessons I learned in seminary about preaching.

I’m gonna spend the next several minutes talking about myself.

And then I’m gonna talk about four passages from the Bible and pointedly ignore the context in which those passages were written.

To quote the novelist Tom Robbins:

                        If you can’t break your own rules,

                                Whose rules can you break?

So let’s talk about me.

Actually, I’m gonna talk about me in 1983.

At midnight on New Years Day in 1983, I was in a little Gasthaus in the Austrian Alps singing Edelweiss with 20 or so Austin College students and two AC Professors: Myron Low and David Stout.

It was my Junior year and we were on a Jan Term called Fin di Siecle Vienna where we were studying the Fall of the Habsburg Empire.

I remember that we had to haul all our trash from the New Year’s party back down a snowy mountain path to get back to our bus.

And I remember that Dr. Low fairly quickly figured out that full trash bags made good sleds.  He rode most of the way down the mountain—as did many of the rest of us.

He was a creative man.

That was a great night.

++++++++++++ 

A few weeks later, after the Spring semester had begun, Bill Tiemann asked me to come see him in his office.  

Bill’s office then was my office now.

He was the AC Chaplain in 1983.

When I got to his office, Bill showed me a letter he had received about something called the National Ecumenical Student Christian Conference.  He said he didn’t know too much about the organization putting the conference together, but if I wanted to go, the Chapel program would by me a plane ticket and pay for my conference registration.

That was probably February of ’83.

++++++++++++

In about April, Bill Walker came up to me in the Student Union Building and asked me to come to his office.  Bill worked in Student Affairs at the time.  I don’t remember exactly what his title was, but I think his job was analogous to what Amanda Handsbur does for us now as Director of Student Activities.

Bill told me that he had been contacted by the organizers of the Kerrville Folk Festival.  They were sending free tickets to their festival to college campuses. They hoped that the colleges would send representatives to the festival who could hire their musicians to come play gigs on their campuses.

I was active in the Campus Activities Board at that time, and Bill asked me if I wanted to go to Kerrville.  I didn’t know anything about the Kerrville Folk Festival, but I said, “Sure.”  It sounded like fun.

I met lots of musicians down there and some of them did come to Sherman to play.

++++++++++++ 

Fast forward to September of 1983.

I was a Senior then, and was carrying my guitar across campus to play with some of my friends in the lawn between the Ad Building and Baker Hall.

As I walked past the Administration Building, Bruce Lunkley called to me. 

Called to me by name.

Bruce was the Director of the A Cappella Choir. I had never had anything to do with the Choir so I was surprised that he knew me.

But he said, “John, I was at Ken’s Pizza in Denison last night and the owner told me they were looking for somebody to come play music in there on a weeknight. Do you think you and your friends might be interested in that?”

+++++++++++++

I know this can all sound a little trivial and self-absorbed.  It’s just 4 little stories from 38 years ago about random Austin College professors and staff members.

It’s just that—38 years later—all of those stories are still reverberating through my life.

++++++++++++

I’ve been back to Austria four times since 1983.

I’m wearing a Gustav Klimt tie from the Chicago Art Institute. I learned about Gustav Klimt on that Jan Term.

I regularly recall and retell—and occasionally embellish—stories from that Jan Term with other alums who were there with me.

And I’ve helped Wayne Crannell lead three Austin College Jan Terms to Scotland since 2015.

++++++++++++ 

I did go to the National Ecumenical Student Christian Conference in the summer of 1983.  It was a great experience for a naïve white boy from Texas.  I learned a lot.

There was a time every day when conference participants met in their various caucuses.  There was the Black Caucus, the Hispanic Caucus, the Women’s Caucus, the Roman Catholic Caucus, the Gay & Lesbian Caucus.  

I remember learning real and valuable lessons at the conference about allowing others to have their space.  And respecting their identities.

So I didn’t feel comfortable going to any of those caucuses.

There was only one other heterosexual white Protestant man there.  He was a rising senior at UCLA.

We found each other fairly quickly and decided to form the Party Caucus. Whenever the other caucuses met, UCLA boy and I went somewhere and got a beer.

We actually had some wonderful, serious, and life-changing conversations that week.  Conversations that I still remember clearly.  We’re still friends.

His name is Peter Crouch.  I doubt that many of you know him.  He’s the Development VP at Presbyterian Children’s Homes and Services in Austin.

But his wife Suzanne Crouch works in our Institutional Advancement office.

And their son Taylor graduated from AC in 2016.

+++++++++++ 

I went to the Kerrville Folk Festival in 1983.  And I’ve been back more than 30 times since then. 

I’ve made good friends there.

I’ve done weddings and funerals for friends that I only know through that festival.

My kids love it there and it’s probably not completely coincidental that they both chose to go to Schreiner University—in Kerrville.

++++++++++++

My friends and I went to Ken’s Pizza at Dr. Lunkley’s suggestion. 

Soon we had a regular Tuesday night gig there. 

We called ourselves the Tone Deaf Cowboys (don’t ask—it’s a short and discouraging story).

We learned how to play shows and we learned that we loved to play together and that other people seemed to like it too.

And, even though we’re spread out all over the country now, we still manage to play “destination gigs” somewhere a couple times a year.

Our most recent show was in Santa Fe on July 30.

++++++++++++ 

So—looking back 38 years later—I can see that 1983 was a full time in my life.  More full than I realized at the time.

And, looking back on that full time, I can recognize the faint fingerprints of lots of Austin College people.

That’s a big part of why I love this place so much.

++++++++++++ 

But enough about me.

Let’s talk about the Bible.

I had Lilly read the first 5 verses of Psalm 20 at the beginning of this service because I really like the second-person element of that passage.

As we begin this academic year, it’s good to hear those words spoken from the stage of this Chapel:

The Lord answer you in the day of trouble!  

The name of the God of Jacob protect you!  

May God send you help from the sanctuary,  

and give you support from Zion.  

May the Lord remember all your offerings,  

and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices.  

May God grant you your heart’s desire,  

and fulfill all your plans.  

May we shout for joy over your victory,  

and in the name of our God set up our banners.  

May the Lord fulfill all your petitions. 

I’m fully aware that not everybody at this service or on this campus identifies with the Bible and the Christian Church as fully as I do.

That’s fine.  Our diversity is a source of our strength.

But I like the idea of addressing every single member of this community and praying or wishing or hoping for your comfort, success, and fulfillment.

That’s good and authentic language for this Chaplain and this Chapel.

++++++++++++

When Galatians talks about God sending Jesus “in the fullness of time” it means something like “after all the other necessary things had happened.”

But I just like how that phrase sounds.  “The fullness of time.”

It is only with 38 years of hindsight that I have been able to recognize the “fullness” of the time I spent interacting with those AC professors and staff members all those years ago.

It was clearly a full time.

++++++++++++ 

Luke 19:5 talks about particular things Jesus does when he encounters Zacchaeus up a sycamore tree.

According to that verse, Jesus

  •  notices Zacchaeus,
  • calls him by name,
  • and invites him into a story that he had not considered before.

Isn’t that what all those AC folks did for me in 1983?

They noticed me.

They knew my name.

And they invited me into stories that I had not considered before

  • in Austria
  • in Kerrville
  • in Washington DC
  • and at a local pizza restaurant.

++++++++++++ 

And there’s one more verse that Lilly read to us: Esther 4:14.

  Who knows? 

Perhaps you have come to royal dignity

for just such a time as this.”

Esther is an interesting and complicated book.  It has clear misogynist elements and some surprising feminist themes as well.

But those are beyond the scope of this sermon.

I just really like the phrase “for such a time as this.”

That phrase—along with the “fullness of time” phrase—can help all of us in this room recognize and remember why we’re here; what we’re up to as Austin College faculty and staff.

I’m tired of preaching about COVID.

We’ve got wise colleagues guiding us as we seek to live together responsibly in the face of COVID.  We can’t let our guard down.

But we also must remember that this is a profoundly full time for our students.

All of us are absolutely prepared “for such a time as this.”

We are ready—right now—to

  • notice and attend to our students as whole, distinct, unique people;
  • to call them by name;
  • and to invite and enable them to be part of stories they may not have considered.

This is our time to notice, encourage, and accompany them through this full time. 

That’s our privilege and our obligation. 

We can do that.

Let’s get busy.

Amen.

1 Comment

  1. Susan DeLee CuellarAugust 19, 2021 at 9:23 pm

    Wonderful sermon, John. Thank you for sharing at such a time as this. Peace.

    Reply

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