If Not Now...

Monday, Jun 25th, 2012

                Discerning the season in which we live is a key spiritual practice.  Often we live with a complacent trust in "tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow," the unlimited stretch of time Shakespeare's MacBeth thought he had.  Neglectful of urgency and with little cognizance of the swift passage of time, we presume we will get around to what matters most--eventually.

                I have just returned from the General Assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship held in Ft. Worth, Texas.  It was a joyful and poignant occasion; joyful because of the remarkable ministry occurring and poignant because Daniel Vestal has concluded his tenure as the leader of this Baptist movement.  It is a liminal time as this Baptist movement discerns its "future story."

                Carrie NewcomerOn Wednesday evening CBF hosted a concert to honor the Vestals, which featured Carrie Newcomer, a fine poet-songwriter-singer of the Quaker tradition.  I was particularly struck by her concluding song, "If Not Now."  It is a call for a change of heart to mend what's wrong in the world; it is an urgent plea for people of faith to address the inequities many endure with fresh attention.  At this large gathering of Baptists, we sensed that infinitely more is possible, working together, undergirded by God's grace.

                          If not now, tell me when
                          If not now, tell me when
                          We may never see this moment
                          Or place in time again
                          If not now, if not now, tell me when.

                The epistle reading this week echoes this perspective on fleeting opportunity.  Paul writes: "See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!" (2 Corinthians 6:2b).  His willingness to endure "afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger" (v.4), and his capacity to rejoice in the face of it all speaks of his keen discernment of his apostolic season and his confidence in Christ.

                One of the most encouraging aspects of generative mission in our day (both CBF and ABC) is the willingness to make a long-term commitment.  Poverty, educational initiatives, earthquake or hurricane devastation, and disease all require more than "missional tourism" that swoops in, works a little, and checks that situation off the list.  Better to undertake an extended engagement as partners in mission where suffering is most acute than diffusing effort by spreading resources too thinly.

                Thankfully, missional organizations are growing leaner, and there is less bureaucracy to impede nimble action.  Churches are recognizing the joy of hands-on projects that build relationships of mutuality and trust.  Whether it be reconstructing infrastructure in Haiti, working with resettled families from Myanmar (Burma), or helping reshape the horizons of impoverished children in Helena, AR, a sense of urgency spurs these efforts.  If not now, there may be no future opportunity to live and tell the Gospel within contexts where the extremities of suffering go unabated.


Molly T. Marshall

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