September 4, 2011
Romans 13:11-14 (1)
“You Know What Time It Is”
Rev. Lauren J. McFeaters
For Paul, time is of the essence.
He’s spent eleven chapters proclaiming the power of the Gospel and the mercy of God. Now he begins to give instruction on Christian life. How our worship is central to our wellbeing and our wellbeing is central to how we behave. How we take our everyday life: our sleeping and eating, going to work, going to school, our walking around life, and we place it before God as an offering. (2)
For Paul, our everyday life is a life of decency; a life of graciousness; a life which honors the gospel. For Paul, the Christian life honors the everyday simplicities of openness, gentleness, innocence and serenity. For Paul, everyday simplicity is freedom. Duplicity is bondage. Simplicity brings joy and balance. Duplicity brings anxiety and fear.
And for Paul, the everyday life that we offer to God begins with the dawn.
You know what time it is,
how 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.
For the first believers, life was lived with a sense of anticipation. Everyday life held expectancy; a keenness, for the Lord is near. The promises they knew from the Hebrew Scriptures were tangible, touchable things, for the Lord is nigh. The reign of God and all it meant was so close at hand. When they prayed “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” they knew it as a real and solid event happening in their lifetime.
Two thousand years later, not so much.
Our anticipation rarely shows itself. Perhaps we get a whiff of it during Advent or Pentecost, but for the most part it hardly exists. From time to time Christian communities arise with a sense of urgency about the end times and they choose predicted dates for the return of Christ. They live with an earnestness and eagerness. For most of us however, the sense of anticipation that drives Paul’s writing has wholly diminished. I think we’re the poorer for it; the poorer for having lost this vision, because for Paul, this anticipation is not about circling a date on the calendar, but about living (3) on the edge of what has been and what will be.
You know what time it is. You know what time it is, Paul says. It’s still night, the old age is still with us, the sun has not come up, but in the east, the sky is changing, ribbons of light are breaking through as the new age is dawning. The sky is transforming – but slowly. It’s not night; it’s not day, (4) yet there’s an inexplicable earnestness in the hearts of believers; a mysterious eagerness for that first glimpse of sky. There’s a standing firm in hope on the edge of what has been and what will be; anticipation you can smell on the wind, and hear in the beating of your heart. It’s the chance to wake up and offer our life to God.
Some of you may not know this about me, but I love weather. Any kind of weather: rain, wind, hail, cold, frosty, blustery. I just feel weather is extraordinary interesting. For me, there’s not much weather going on out there today. It’s a seemingly perfect summer day; 75 degrees, blue skies, light breeze – but it’s not weather to me. I think of a day like today as a day without weather.
What constitutes weather for me is wind and clouds, rain and snow, cold and damp. Did I mention wind? Lots of wind.
So you can only imagine how completely content I was last Sunday when Hurricane Irene came through. Now that’s great weather.
During my sabbatical I traveled to Scotland for three weeks in April. I was looking forward to lots of weather. Guess what? There was no weather. It was three weeks of clear skies, sun, and cool breezes. I was appalled.
And I know I sound bizarre. It’s not that I love the outcome of the weather. People suffer from the extremes of weather. I don’t love the consequences of weather. What I love is that weather, my kind of weather, points me toward something new, something fresh. It draws me to the elements and to nature and the sky. It grants me a new perspective; a new vantage point.
My love of weather comes from my love of the dawn; those moments you don’t quite know what the sky is going to do with itself. Dawn is the time you look at the sky and can never be sure about what comes next. The day has not yet revealed itself and anything can happen next. Anything.
It’s that holy, liminal instant when life is lived between the already and the not yet. There’s space to breathe; there’s room to go deep; there’s opportunity to say to God: “I give myself to you. I trust you. I am wholly dependent on you. I am yours and you are mine. Do with me in this day what you will.”
We are people of the dawn.
We are people of the dawn and it’s time to wake up.
We are people of the dawn and it’s time to get up; time to be vigilant to what God is requiring of us.
And what God is requiring of us is to live as children of the day.
We lay aside the works of darkness.
We put on the shield of light.
We live honorably.
We make sure that we don't get so absorbed and exhausted in taking care of all our day-by-day obligations that we lose track of the time and become oblivious to God.
The dawn is breaking.
We don’t squander precious hours being frivolous and superficial.
We don’t sleep around and overindulge.
We don’t grab and hoard.
We stop the bickering and backbiting.
We cease the gossip and end the resentment. (5)
We turn from the decadence and wastefulness.
We finish with the shallowness and insincerity.
And we do it because in the kingdom of God’s salvation there is no room for it. It’s an utter waste of and a scandal to the gospel. It injures relationships and destroys the community.
Because when at dawn you say to God:
“I give myself to you.”
“I trust you.”
“I am yours and you are mine.”
“Do with me in this day what you will,”
then there’s no room for darkness.
There is freedom.
You know what time it is.
It’s time to taste your freedom.
You know what time it is.
It’s time to come to table.
It’s the table of the dawn and Jesus has been waiting for you. He’s set a place for you.
You know what time it is.
Time to come and meet your Lord.
(2) Eugene Petersen. The Message: The New Testament in Contemporary English. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress Publishing Group, 1993; Romans 12:1, adapted.
(3) Cynthia M. Campbell. Feasting on the Word; Year A, Vol. 1. Eds. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010, 18.
(4) M. Eugene Boring and Fred B. Craddock. The People’s New Testament Commentary. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004, 500.
(5) Eugene Petersen. The Message: The New Testament in Contemporary English. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress Publishing Group, 1993; Romans 13:11-14, adapted.
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