Jeremiah 31:27-34

Luke 18:1-8

“The time is coming…” Jeremiah speaks to a people who have been uprooted from their land, and he promises that “the time is coming” when God will restore them there. He promises cities, farms, livestock, and gardens – the good things of life in abundance – when the old covenant is made new. The people will embody repentance and live into the reality their ancestors failed to uphold. Their lives will be about justice and righteousness. Jeremiah’s audience knew they had failed. According to their way of thinking, the exile had come because of the people’s sins. However, God is faithful. “The time is coming” when the covenant will be upheld despite the people’s unfaithfulness.

Jesus’ audience was waiting as anxiously as Jeremiah’s ever had, but the “old” covenant was still failing, and the people were not yet sovereign in their own land. “The time” was still coming, God’s promises were yet unfulfilled, and now Jesus proclaimed “the Kingdom of God.” He preached it and lived it. He taught new life, fed and healed, and welcomed all people. Something new was at work in him. The religious leaders – at Jesus’ time and in Jesus’ community after the resurrection – wanted to know when the Kingdom would be coming. Of course we want the Kingdom, God’s realm of righteous peace, justice, and love. We’ve waited far too long for it already!

But that’s just it – we’ve waited far too long. If “the time is coming” since Jeremiah’s time, since Jesus’ time, when is it getting here? Jeremiah knew the waste of the earth, the effects of sin handed down through the generations, as if people’s descendants tasted their ancestors’ bitterness. As if your education, economic attainment, and physical health depended largely on the country or zip code in which you were born. Jesus knew a world where the powerful had their way with the weak, where a widow had no advocate but her own persistence. As if justice depended on money, rather than fairness. As if only certain people and interests have the right to a voice. Jesus was like Jeremiah; he talked about a coming day when God would set world to rights. So when was that?

You may know where I’m headed, but wait for it. Imagine an earlier time in the church, when the promises were still fresh. Jesus’ earliest followers didn’t have the perspective of 2,000 years to think with; they didn’t even have 100 years of New Testament texts. They only had this absurd promise that Jesus had risen and would come again, which was to say that everything would be getting better very soon. And it still didn’t. Time dragged on and on, and the promise started to sound hollow. Where was God now? Even the judge from Jesus’ parable would have come around by now, and God’s much more just than that, right?

But Jesus was not just a prophet of some “coming time.” He uses that language just like other prophets, but that means something deeper is at work. The early church (Luke’s community, especially) prayed and prayed, which they already knew to do, and they heard something from Jesus. Jesus had said it long before, way back in chapter 17, before he started talking about “that day” when God’s Kingdom would come. The Pharisees had asked him where the Kingdom would come, and he replied: “No one will say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’; because the Kingdom of God is within you.” “The Kingdom is within you.” Whatever Jesus said about the coming time, he said this too: the Kingdom is (already) present within us.

That’s how prophets talk about time. Yes, they’re talking about history, but they’re also talking about the depth of human relationship. Jeremiah predicted a time when God would restore the people who were captive in Babylon, and God did that. But Jeremiah also talked about a covenant with human hearts where the ways of God take shape, in a justice and peace we know within. Jesus talks about moments of truth and decision that will come (and have come) for each generation. But he also – and more deeply – talks about God revealing a truth already present in our hearts and our communities. The perfection of God’s Kingdom (universal justice, peace, and joyful worship) is beyond the limits of this world, but we trust that it’s coming ever more into being. All of life points that way, even when we can’t see it.

God’s people, then and now, are something like the miners in Chile whose rescue we watched this week. They waited and waited, but they didn’t despair. They spent more than two months in a deep hole, the first 17 days without any new supplies, but they taught the world something about faithful work. They couldn’t dig the rescue hole, but they could dig wells, eat and exercise, and keep each other going. They trusted (with lots of communication) that the rescue was coming, and they worked toward it from their end. So really, they were already rescued long before reality caught up with the deep truth of their hearts.

That’s how it is, how it will be. God’s new covenant is already written on our hearts, and we’ll learn it still more deeply. The Judge of the Universe already rules in favor of the poor, the needy, and the oppressed – our sense of justice testifies to this. The Kingdom, just coming into being, is already within us – our growing faith reflects God’s eternal faithfulness. Our human, social, and natural lives are already reaching toward healing – our discomfort with life as it is points toward God’s truth.

We have indeed waited for far too long. We feel God’s determined impatience to come to life in our reality. We’ve waited long: from the beginning of time, this next moment of God’s life has been in the making. We’ve waited eagerly: we know the joy and justice we await; we can taste and feel it as if it were already here. And it is. God is already among us, revealing our truest faith, naming us as what we’ve always been: beloved, blessed, holy children of God. May that truth be always within and around us.