“Besides this, 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. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light;” Romans 13:11-12
Floods and fire….war and pestilence…trial and tribulation….the world seems to in an uproar and no place seems safe. All around us our loved ones and neighbors are beset with a chronic anxiety. We no longer believe in those who represent us in government or the media charged with keeping us informed. We look with distrust at our religious leaders and at the person sitting in the pew next to us. Even nature herself seems to be rising up against us, possibly in retaliation for human maltreatment over generations. Many of us feel helpless…or hopeless… fearing that things can only get worse. We want to blame someone so we blame God…or sinners….or liberals or conservatives … anyone who disagrees with our worldview or follows a different religion. Someone must be to blame for all of this misery…just not me.
The truth is we are all innocent and yet bear some blame for the state of things. We, who have benefitted from social, economic and political structures that have historically oppressed the poor for the benefit of the wealthy…that have pillaged and desecrated the earth for resources that we have squandered carelessly believing that they would last forever. We have waged war for profit and power and accepted corruption from our political and religious leaders and from our legal system. We have made justice a myth and honor a lie believing that God favored us to the detriment of everyone else. The consequences of the sins of the fathers seem to have come upon us at last. We have created this mess and now we must accept the responsibility of cleaning it up or learn to survive in the rubble that remains.
I realize I have painted a rather bleak picture of the current state of affairs but not necessarily because I think this is the path of the future. Yes, things are bad but as long as there are people of good heart willing to work with love for a better world we are not without hope. God did not bring us this far to leave us in the darkness. We can and will weather these storms and hopefully in the process find ourselves a little more grateful for the blessings of this life, more patient with one another and ourselves, more generous with our forgiveness and more responsiveness to the needs of those suffering around us.
In today’s passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans the Apostle is admonishing his readers to “wake up” and recognize that now is the time to get busy with the work of the kingdom. While we were spiritually sleeping things got away from us and we have some housekeeping to attend. He goes on to tell us to “lay aside the works of darkness” and to clothe ourselves with the protecting armor of light. While most of us here probably don’t consider ourselves as workers of darkness, all of us can benefit from this advice. Anger can be a work of darkness…arrogance…apathy…selfishness…
greed…complacency…complicitness… all of these are works of the devil and all of us are susceptible to any or all of them. Sometimes it is easier to “go along to get along” and we fail to speak up against evil or in support of good when we have the opportunity.
In our Gospel lesson for today Jesus is addressing conflict within the community of the faithful. Any group of people will have some measure of conflict. While diversity is a wonderful thing, disparate opinions and life experiences can result in disagreements, sometimes over small things and sometimes over matters of importance to the individual and to the community at large. The mark of a healthy community is how those conflicts are managed. Do we disagree with civility and respect one another? Do we listen to opposing views looking for areas of potential compromise? Are we honest and open with one another, not harboring hidden resentments until they erupt in the wrong way at the wrong time? In the midst of our disagreements do we remember that the other person is a brother or sister in Christ, loved and precious in the sight of God, just as we are?
In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus outlines a process for dealing with conflict that offers several opportunities for the disagreeing parties to reconcile. At the same time there is an acknowledgement that there may be times when one or the other of the parties is not willing or able to reconcile and one or the other must walk away. No one wants this sort of situation but all of us have experienced it. Such an outcome is a failure…of the process and of us as Christians who are committed to loving and forgiving one another in a Christ-like manner.
While this topic is always a difficult one for a preacher I think in these contentious times it is perhaps a good thing for us to consider how we behave when we are in disagreement with one another in the Church and in our outside community. As people who have committed ourselves to seeking and serving Christ in all persons we must always remember whom we represent. The Christ we reveal in our own words and actions is the Christ that we are showing to the world. If all someone knew of Jesus was what you reveal in your own behavior would that be a Jesus that anyone would want to know?
All around us are people who are desperate for love and for a sign that God has not abandoned them or this world. We are the heralds of the Gospel…we are the signs that the hurting and desperate children of God need. How we behave with one another in our own Church community…how we treat our neighbors …or that stranger on the street or in the grocery store…how we welcome the visitor among us both in our gathering and in our neighborhoods…these are the actions…the signs that God’s loving Spirit is still active and moving in this world. Few of us are called to do great things but all of us are called to do what we can where we can to bring more love into being. It really is about each and every one of us doing our tiny acts of mercy until like drops of water in a storm we have created a flood of goodness washing away the evil that so many seem so intent on releasing onto this precious creation.
While each of us is called to serve where we are for many of us that call is also to give feet to our love taking it to where it is most needed. For some that may mean putting ourselves into uncomfortable situations and facing the wrath of the powers that be. Some of us may have to become political…like Fr. Mark Johnston running for public office…or like those of us who gathered at UAB to publicly support our DACA recipients or those who organize and march calling our elected leaders to legislate with greater justice and equity. Some may be called to serve in relief efforts to help those in dire circumstances. While the gifts of others are to minister to the emotional needs of those in despair and fear. There is a place and work for each of us.
Whatever God calls you to do you will be given the strength and the courage to accomplish but it must always be done with love. Anger and a passion for justice are powerful forces but love is the only thing more powerful than hate. Without love the temptation to use the methods of force and violence can lead even good people to become no better than the evil they oppose.
Time and again we hear stories coming from war zones where the innocent bystanders on the ground…the victimized citizens…cannot tell one army from the other because all of them brutalize and terrorize the weak and vulnerable. What have we gained if you cannot tell the good guys from the bad guys? This is not a movie where the hero wears a white hat. The only way they will know us to be the servants of a loving God is by the love we show in what we do and how we do it.
I know these are anxious times. Many of us have friends and family who have been or are in the path of the hurricanes and the fires. We pray for all of those who are recovering from Harvey or are evacuating or preparing for Irma. We pray for the firefighters in the Pacific Northwest. We grieve with our Mexican neighbors devastated by the earthquakes…with the Rohingya refugees fleeing the horror in Myanmar. With the rest of the world we anxiously watch the threatening antics of the North Korean leadership and feel the emotional burden of the never-ending war in the Middle East. We cry for peace and there is none to be found…except the inexplicable, internal peace that comes from admitting that alone we can do nothing but in God all things are possible.
Brothers and sisters, we must pray…and pray…and pray…and then pray some more. Then while we continue to ask for God’s help and guidance we need to get up off our knees and get to work. If you have a conflict with your brother or sister do your best to reconcile. If you have time and opportunity offer to help someone without waiting to be asked. If you need an outreach opportunity Grace has a number of ministries that serve our neighbors near and further afield….but we are not the only ones. All around us are organizations working to make this community and the world better.
If you fear for the earth, plant and nurture something green…park you car for a while or disconnect from your technology for a spell…if you want to welcome the stranger offer comfort and support to a DREAMER who may be anxious and afraid right now. Even doing something small will make you feel less helpless. Create something beautiful or support an artist who is making beauty. Sing to your spouse or to your pet. In whatever way you can bring some light and peace and joy into this mess of a world. All of these actions together will help to pull us back from the brink of despair. But do remember that the doing is only the evidence of our being. If we open ourselves to embrace the Holy Spirit our very persons will become the witness to God’s love.
You are not alone in this…you are not helpless… and you are not hopeless. God in Christ Jesus loves us fiercely and unconditionally and we in turn can love one another and this world in a similar way. God is with us in the midst of the storm and will remain with us no matter what comes to pass…
So with voices full of hope we will sing our songs of love in the rain and wait patiently for the sun to appear.