Where To Begin

BY DONAVON RILEY

I’m going to begin at the beginning. But which one? Birth? Kindergarten? My first drink? The first time I had sex? High school graduation? The first time I smoked a joint? The first time I tried to kill myself? Conversion? Baptism? Marriage? My first-born? Ordination? Which beginning do I begin with?

The Greeks imagined time was a circle. A constant revolution that ends where it began. Others, like St. Augustine, thought time was linear. Everything begins back there somewhere and moves toward its climax out there, ahead of us somewhere.

I think time is punctiliar. A point. Wherever my feet are at, that’s history. I remember where I came from, and I imagine where I’m going, but the only solid evidence of time is where I’m at in the present tense.

For example, in the present tense, writes St. Peter, "baptism now saves you." Luther explains it in this way, that "in baptism the old Adam in us is daily drowned and put to death."

Another example is heard in preaching. God’s word of law and God’s word of Gospel speak to us in the present tense. The Law says, “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Do it. Now. Be perfect. What you did yesterday is a memory. What you do tomorrow hasn’t happened. So be perfect. Today. Then, before we lose all hope, the Gospel declares in the present tense, “I declare to you the forgiveness of all your sins, in the name of…” “This is the body of Christ given into death for your sins… This is the blood of Christ shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

But we prefer to live inside our head. Or we bury ourselves under a pile of feelings. We’d rather re-imagine our past or try to write the script for our future than be where our feet are at. That’s why we revolt against any word that traps and confines us in the present tense. Baptism now saves you. You are forgiven. This is the blood…

God created us to live in the present tense. He made us to be receivers, not takers, of his good gifts. We receive all things in the present tense. All things? Yes, all things. As Luther writes, I receive as gift from God: …my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. 

Try to escape the present tense, try to get away from where your feet are at and all that is gift is used as spare parts for the past I imagine I can’t live with and the tomorrow I feel I can’t live without.

So where to begin? Begin now. Now something new, something unimagined is happening. Time, history, my feet, every moment pregnant with possibilities. Every good thing is given in abundance by our Father in heaven. And as for the past, Jesus died there. Now Jesus is risen. Alleluia! The past is swallowed up by Jesus’ death and life. And tomorrow? As Jesus teaches, “don’t be anxious about tomorrow, because tomorrow will be anxious for itself.” Jesus has tomorrow taken care of too. That’s why He gives us today. All Jesus. All gift. Now.

Donavon Riley is a Lutheran pastor, conference speaker, author, Online Content Director for Higher Things, a contributing writer at 1517 Legacy Project, Christ Hold Fast, and LOGIA. Pastor Riley co-hosts the podcast: 'The Higher Things Simul Cast'. He is pastor of Saint John Lutheran Church in Webster, MN. A graduate of Concordia Universities in St. Paul, Minnesota and Portland, Oregon, Pastor Riley received his seminary and post-graduate education at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. He colloquized into the LC-MS from the ELCA in 2008. He is married to Annie, and is the father of four children: Owen, Alma, Hoshea, and Hallel.
Twitter @DonavonRiley