We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood -- it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, "Too late." There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. Omar Khayyam is right: "The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on."A quote from the debate at the Copenhagen conference yesterday? A speech from a prominent NGO outside? No, it is an extract from this 1967 speech by Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. and concerned the Vietnam War. The man had a gift with words.
But the sentiment he expressed then about the challenges of his day still apply today to ours. Procrastination still kills. There is no guarantee that our civilisation will escape the fate of those dug up by archeologists. And there is no guarantee that our actions and inactions might not be material contributing causes to that result. As my fifth-grade teacher used to say "It is possible to avoid the consequences of our actions, but not to avoid the consequences of avoiding the consequences". In other words, we shall reap what we are currently sowing.
What of grace? Of forgiveness and the love of God? They are indeed a comfort, removing anxiety over past mistakes and giving us hope to act without full knowledge (to "sin boldly", in the famous exhortation of the older Martin Luther). But they are never an excuse. They give us freedom from guilt and fear, freedom to act, but never freedom from responsibility or the "freedom" to do as we please without consideration of others. This latter "freedom" is merely another kind of slavery, according to Jesus. It is slavery to our selfish desires. The great epistle of freedom is Paul's letter to the Galatians:
For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
- Galatians 5.13-15Are we indeed loving our neighbour? Or are we simply consuming and thereby consuming one another? To follow Christ does not give simple answers. While we may find a new centre and coherence to our lives in seeking to love our neighbour, it does not remove the necessity of working out just what it means for us to love one another today.
So let us examine ourselves without any of the false safety nets of misplaced security or simplistic notions of freedom and ask: what are we to do today? Not "what do we want to do today?", nor "what will enable our lives to continue as they have been?" nor even "what must be do to survive?" But simply, what are we to do today? This question is not easy. The pressing needs of the hour do not remove its complexity. The answers are not found in the back of a book. The apparently obvious solutions put forward by so many interests do not remove our responsibilities to pay attention, to deliberate and to act.
May God have mercy on us all.