Bible Passage: Romans 13:8-14
The night is far gone, the day is near.
Are you a morning person, or a night person?
I’m definitely a morning person. My best days begin around 5:30 am, and by three or four pretty much all I can do is sit around and talk with people. Luckily for me, God called me into a job where I get paid to sit around and talk with people.
There are certain days when everyone is a morning person, like when a long-anticipated day arrives, like moving day, or graduation day, or a wedding day. You plan for months then the day comes, the alarm goes off, and you’re on your way. Remember having that joyful feeling, at the beginning of a day that is different from every other day? The knowledge that “today’s the day”?
I would like to suggest that in the Kingdom of God that “this is the day!” feeling should be the way we go about our whole lives.
In the Kingdom of God, we are all morning people
Paul is addressing a particular group of people in his letter, who were caught between the oppressive political regime on one hand, and an increasingly exclusive Judaism on the other. Paul tried to communicate a sense of urgency to the Romans, about a third way. He could be talking to all of us. This urgency is not about preparing for the end times or the last judgment. It is urgency about what it means to be Christian, morning, noon, and night, any day, any time. Paul is saying “Wake up!!!” As in, grab a clue. Pay attention.
Wake up and hear the good news. Wake up and live like someone who has nothing to fear and nothing to be ashamed of. Wake up and remember what it means to be a follower of the Prince of Peace. Wake up and love your neighbor.
The earliest Christians attracted converts, not because they built beautiful churches or had great Sunday school or really affirming sermons or even great coffee. The earliest Christians attracted converts because of how they lived their lives. Romans and Greeks who became aware of the communities Paul helped to found learned about people who were willing to share what they had with the poor. The learned about people who gathered regularly for extended family meals of memory and hope that included women, children, slaves, and foreigners. (Someday, we’ll have these meals again.)
But most important, the earliest Christians attracted converts because of the way they treated one another.
The earliest Christians gathered—not the way we do today, and certainly not on Zoom, but not as far off as you might think—and others wanted what they had. What they saw, which was remarkable and different from any other religious practice, was the way these early Christians loved one another, and the way they understood their relationship with their God to be inextricably linked to their relationship with their neighbor.
Practicing forgiveness and loving one another the way Jesus loved his friends and disciples was the crux of proclaiming the kingdom of God.
Paul uses the metaphor of night and day, of sleeping and waking, to talk about this hard work of community life. When he says “salvation is near,” it is like when Matthew or Mark says “the kingdom of God is at hand.” Salvation is nearer to us than when we first became believers, not because the end-times are approaching but because we are past the honeymoon stage of faith and deeper into this hard work of being a community of faith.
If we are being faithful to our own call to follow Jesus, and being our most authentic, most human selves, it is inevitable that we will from time to time mess up. This is what today’s gospel is about. I want to say three things about today’s gospel:
- It’s not a weapon. Don’t ever let anyone tell you you’re a bad Christian if this process doesn’t work for you. There are times when it is not appropriate to go privately to someone to talk about how they have harmed you.
- Pay attention to how many times Jesus uses the word “listen.” Listening–really listening–is one of the ways we love our neighbors.
- When Matthew’s Jesus once again talks about binding in heaven and on earth, this is Matthew’s way of talking about the Kingdom. Just as Luke says “the Kingdom of God is within you,” John says “I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly,” and Paul says “now is the moment for you to wake from sleep”…Matthew is saying that the boundary between us and the Kingdom of Heaven is porous and permeable, this every moment.
Being a Christian community “in the biblical sense” is being the place where we go to any lengths to engage with our neighbors, to face each other when we have hurt each other, to stick with honesty and love through thick and thin, night and day. This is how we enter the kingdom and how we invite others to it, right now, this morning. Today is the day.
To set aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light is to pay attention, be fully conscious, to make a decision every moment to live honorably, and to love our neighbor. To set aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light means to set aside quarreling, jealousy, and all other behavior that distracts us from the work the kingdom of God. To put on the armor of light is to live as morning people, fully awake to the world around us and to our own place in it. Even when the world around us is in a global pandemic. Even when our place in the world feels much smaller than it once did.
To put on the armor of light is to embrace a sense of urgency about all of our relationships: where have I been wrong? Where did I stretch the truth? Where was I less than generous in my dealings? Where, today, right now, can I put things to rights? This is work. There is work to being a follower of Jesus. But I would like to suggest, on this Labor Day weekend, that this work is a labor of love.
You know what time it is. It is now the moment to wake from sleep! The night is far gone, the day is near. It’s a good thing that in the Kingdom of God we are all morning people.