13th Sunday after Pentecost. Proper 18, Year A. September 7, 2014 (Text: Romans 13:8–14)
When I was in college, one of my best friends was a guy named Davis who hated to get out of bed in the morning. He was a night-owl, of course, and since he never went to sleep before 2 a.m., he always hugged the pillow as long as possible and never ate breakfast. Davis was a chemistry major, a pre-med student, and very bright. But he’d sleep through classes and labs. He’d been the valedictorian of his high school class and had won a prestigious scholarship, but—needless to say—sleeping through classes and labs and even final exams did not help him keep his scholarship or get into med school. So, instead of becoming a doctor, he went to seminary and became a Presbyterian minister. (I suppose that somehow proves the doctrine of predestination.)
Davis didn’t want to get up in the morning and face unpleasant realities, such as of a test he hadn’t studied for. Or a lab he hadn’t finished. Or a boring lecture. What he really liked was to sort of “ease into” the day slowly, with no pressure and no expectations. That’s a luxury most of us don’t get until retirement. And some people don’t even get it then.
Paul wrote, “You know what time it is. It is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near.”
There are lots of people like my old college buddy, Davis. They don’t want to wake up and face reality. They feel more comfortable living in a fantasy world, a dream-world of self-deception and illusion. —As a spiritual exercise, let’s think about what God might want you and me to “wake up” and face. I made a list of five things, and the first one is this:
(1) Wake up and face the reality of your life. Recognize who you are and what you are. Don’t play games with yourself. Look in the mirror and see your real self. (For me, looking at myself in the mirror is not my favorite activity first thing in the morning, especially when I see my sagging jowls and thinning hair.) The ancient Greeks had a saying, echoed with different words in other cultures: “Know thyself.” Become self-aware. If you don’t really know yourself, you’re heading straight for trouble. Each of us needs to know our strengths and be aware of our weaknesses and our faults.
Don’t we all have friends who never seem to be able to say, “I’m sorry; I was wrong”? As far as those people are concerned, mistakes are only made by others (usually us), never by them. But we all make mistakes—big ones. An essential ingredient in self-awareness is recognition of the times when we need to ask forgiveness—from our wife or husband, our children, our friends…and especially God.
Another important aspect of waking up to the reality of our own lives is coming to awareness of the things we need to change. We all have room for improvement, for “reformation.” —Which brings me to the next item on my list…
(2) Wake up to the reality of God. God is real, and God is always there—an unseen Presence every moment of every day. And the testimony of the Bible is clear: God really does love us just the way we are, even though we’re imperfect people…sinners, in fact. We have “done things which we ought not to have done, and have left undone things which we ought to have done,” as the Prayer Book puts it. But God still loves us. If God didn’t love us, he surely would have swept us into the garbage heap of history a long time ago. No, God’s unconditional love is what sets us free to do the work we need to do—the hard work of making moral changes in our lives. We’re not earning God’s love when we determine to make those changes; we’re cooperating with his good will for us. God loves you and wants to have a relationship with you. God is speaking. Wake up and listen! God is saying that he wants you to…
(3) Wake up to the possibilities that are there for you in this life. This is the third item on my list. In the same passage where he called us to “wake from sleep,” St. Paul also said we should “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.”
There’s a wonderful time in childhood when we can play around with all kinds of possibilities. Our imaginations let us see ourselves in many different guises: as astronauts, scientists, athletes, explorers, or super-heroes with cool masks and capes. Having the right costume is very important. It helps us see ourselves in the role we’re playing. I wonder, do any kids ever imagine themselves as CPAs or corporate trainers? Do you know any nine year-olds who have friends over to dress up and play lawyer and client? The boys could wear little, “corporate look” pin-stripes and ties and the girls, small, tailored “power dresses.”
Most people wear whatever they please on the job, maybe “business casual.” Dress codes are old fashioned. But some of us put on a uniform, and when we put that uniform on it reinforced our awareness of the responsibilities and possibilities of our calling. —Some of you spent much of your life wearing a military or naval uniform. I put on a black suit and clerical collar. The uniform reminds us that we have a higher calling than simply pleasing ourselves.
To “put on Christ” the way we put on a uniform means to seek Christlikeness instead of self-satisfaction. A “possibility” is a “potential,” something that we’re empowered to accomplish – either by our natural, human gifts or by the gift of God. And the greatest possibility that’s there for you and me in this life is to become like Jesus, by the power of his Spirit. God sent his Son into the world to save the world, and that great work of salvation is advanced as we become like him. That thought leads to the fourth item on my list…
(4) Wake up to the responsibilities of your calling from God. Part of living a life of wakefulness and alertness includes being conscious of what God expects of us if we’re “wearing his uniform,” if we have “put on the Lord Jesus Christ,” responding to his call. Since God has entrusted us with a variety of natural and spiritual resources, he expects us to put those gifts to work. I’ve already quoted Paul a few times; here’s something else he wrote that’s not in today’s epistle: “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” In other words, whenever an occasion presents itself, don’t miss the opportunity to use your resources to benefit others—God didn’t put you here just to please yourself.
Mockers have been heard to say that church people are “only a bunch of ‘do-gooders’.” Fine. It’s better to be a “do-gooder” than a “do-nothing!” And the Bible teaches that we have a special calling to “do good” to those whose lives are linked with ours in the community of faith.
At last, I come to the final item on my “wake up” list. (5) Wake up to the truth of your accountability to God. We’re accountable to God for what we do with the resources he’s put in our hands. We’re responsible for whether we recognize the possibilities God allows us and avail ourselves of the opportunities he puts before us. I can’t draw a picture of what the Day of Reckoning will look like, but you will find some in the New Testament. I don’t take such pictures literally, but I DO believe that for each of us there will come a time when the Lord will say, “Well, now, Bruce (or Frank, or Mary Louise), you’re here with Me. Welcome! But before we move on to other things, I want to hear about your time on earth. My angels were watching the whole time, and I have all their reports. But I’d like to hear your side of the story. So, tell me all about it. I have plenty of time to listen.”
Today Paul reminds us to wake up to the reality that there will be a Final Exam. And we won’t be allowed to sleep through it.
Father Bruce McNab