Timing: The essential element of good comedy. Good timing in buying and selling assets means the difference between profit and loss. "Know when to hold 'em, know when to fold." A sense of timing is also critical in relating to God.
I believe the current master of good timing is the comedian Robin Williams. I found out recently he's an Episcopalian. I won't be able to approximate his manic delivery--but imagine him now if you can. On a recent HBO special he nails Episcopalians' approach to faith in these times of change:
Robin Williams' Top 10 Reasons to Be an Episcopalian:
When Jesus led his disciples into the district of Caesarea Philippi, timing meant everything. He was at a crucial turning point in his public life. He was about to tell his disciples he had to go to Jerusalem and confront the authorities of Judaism. His timing was critical in asking his closest friends what they believed about him and their mission with him.
Pursued by the Pharisees who wanted to catch him in heresy, he retreated to the remote desert regions way away from Galilee, where he'd been teaching, healing and preaching the coming of God's domain. In Galilee Jesus and his disciples were always under the severe gaze of the religious authorities. I hear in this passage Jesus preparing for community organizing on a bigger scale. The stakes had risen as the crowds had grown. He asked the question first, "What are people saying about the Son of Adam?" Then after hearing what the disciples heard rumored about him--associating him with the great dead prophets before him--he asked the big question. He asked it to confront, to agitate, to seek accountability from his closest colleagues," What about you, who do you say I am?"
Have you ever been asked by a stranger, "Are you saved?" Or, "Do you know Jesus?" Has it ever been a pleasant engagement? Only when the timing is perfect, in intimate, caring relationships do questions like these allow us to express our experiences with God. So a high level of trust is a prerequisite--a relationship with the questioner that tells us the confrontation may be OK. And yet answering these faith questions always takes courage, and makes us accountable to the questioner.
"Who is the Son of Man?" Jesus asked. Tom Erhich, in his daily comments about the upcoming Gospel readings, offers this take on Jesus' question:
And yet, it is the time and place of salvation.
After Jesus had heard Peter answer for the whole team, "You are the anointed, the son of the living God," he told them about the next steps in their community organizing. They would be the ones to carry on his mission of binding God's children back with God. But his closing words were a stern, strong warning: "Tell no one else that I am the Messiah!"
Why such a stern warning? Timing. The whole of Jesus' ministry was engaging people where they were. No preconditions, no barriers, no exclusions. The temptation, he knew, would be for the disciples to break out, telling their amazing secret about Jesus, and their poor timing would wreck it all. Take the time, as he demonstrated, to know people--to know their pains and joys, to live with them. To eat with them, walk in their shoes. Then, at a prime moment, you may just get a chance to lead them deeper. That was the caution, that was the invitation. Good timing makes good organizing.
So it is for us today. As a community, we are to recall that everyone has distinct needs for God. All folks are on their own paths in faith. We really have two challenges: to listen to our own souls' yearnings for God, and to be companions to others listening to God's whispers in them. Approach them where they are, know them as they are, patiently wait for the connecting moments, and we honor Jesus as his disciples today. Then the potential for our work together as Christ for the world is limitless. Timing is everything.
Copyright 2002 Calvary Episcopal Church
Gospel: Matthew 16:13-20