A congregation of the United Church of Canada
Yr A ~ Advent 2 – Romans 13:11-14 (MSG)
Just about every afternoon my spouse and I take our dog, Billie, for a walk. And just about every afternoon, when we first get inside the house, the first thing Billie does is turn around and stare at her tail. It’s like she can’t believe this thing followed her home! I guess she thought maybe she got rid of it on the walk? So what does she do? She tries to grab it, and as she twirls around in circles trying to catch it, we stand there and laugh ourselves silly. Just about every afternoon.
Peace comes when we focus on God and stop chasing our tails.
That’s it. That’s the sermon. Oh, if only it were so easy to do!
This section of Romans 13 is all about a minister encouraging their congregation to not get bogged down in the busyness of life so much that you lose yourself, and lose your connection with the holy. It’s about being mindful in the midst of the inherent chaos of life. It’s about retaining, and celebrating, your immersion in the presence of God even as the world around you swirls and convulses for seemingly all the wrong reasons. In other words, December! [grin]
The NRSV translation begins with the phrase, “you know what time it is.” In other words, you already know this stuff. You didn’t need to tune in to this today to learn for the first time that getting absorbed and exhausted by obligations and to-do lists tends to distract you from what’s important – things like kindness, compassion, love, God. You already know this. My main task today is to help us all remember that – to find ways to stay tuned-in more – and to appreciate a bit more why it’s all worth it.
Paul says, Romans 13:12 The night is about over, dawn is about to break.
It’s a great image. We can’t perceive as well in the darkness. As light emerges – like the light of the world being anticipated and renewed through Advent and Christmas – it feels like the breaking of the dawn. The freshness of a new day. It carries echoes of resurrection – the promise of new life.
Paul says we should, Be up and awake to what God is doing!
Hmm, that age old question about how do we know what God is doing? The fancy word is discernment. It’s amazing how easy it is to conflate ‘what I want’ with ‘what God is doing’. Is it God’s voice, or God’s will that we are responding to, or our own desires and vision for how something should be? History is riddled with the terrible aftermath and collateral damage of countless people who couldn’t tell the difference. How can you be sure it’s God’s voice?
Easy. No, really. It’s actually easy. Our core affirmation is that God is Love. God can only ever be love. God can never not be loving. Another way to say that is that God and Love are synonymous, and if you’re talking about love you’re talking about God. So how do you know if something is ‘what God is doing’? Easy. It will be loving. If it’s truly loving then it’s truly of God.
If something hurts, or diminishes, or takes advantage of another person, or creature, or the environment even, it is not loving, and therefore not of God. If something builds up another person, cares for them, helps them, heals them, encourages them, makes their life better in some way, and inspires them to do likewise, then it’s loving – and that’s God in action. If you can recognize love, then you can recognize what God is doing. Although it’s hard to see that love if we’re ‘absorbed and exhausted by our obligations’ and to-dos. Oh, and as usual, we need to remember that God does all this loving through us.
Unfortunately, all that unloving stuff is through us too. We may not do it directly, or intentionally, but our complicity and silence that don’t challenge the unlovingness amounts to the same thing. I didn’t or don’t do that, but the system I participate in, and benefit from, did and does. If you can recognize injustice, then you can recognize where people have turned away from God’s way – away from the way of lovingkindness – away from the way of one-anothering.
This is the insidiousness of the world today. We are so easily ‘absorbed and exhausted by obligations’ and to-do lists that we turn inward and forget to be mindful. But it’s not just our obligations that distract us – our choices and our predilections do too. Our amusements. That’s a fascinating word, by the way – amusement. It literally means to take your muse, your creativity, your inspiration, your spark, your flare, and to ignore it, to squelch it, to have none of it. Like a-moral means ignoring or being without morals, and a-theist means ignoring or being without a god – a-musement means to turn your brain, and self, off.
So naturally Paul, who can’t resist to waggle his finger in our faces, gives us a list of dangerous amusements. Romans 13:13
We can’t afford to waste a minute, must not squander these precious daylight hours…and then he lists 6 things – things that we tend to do after our to-do lists (or to avoid them). The words are complex. He speaks of:
Feasting and carousing – ‘deep drinking’/drunkenness – defiling the marriage bed – lewdness/wantonness/crude public behaviour/licentiousness.
Those first four are all kind of moralistic behaviours. It’s the last two I want to say more about. They are ‘quarreling’ and ‘jealousness’, but there’s more to it than just that. It’s not so much ‘quarreling’ but the readiness to quarrel, or the affection for dispute.
Let me tell you something about the internet. Did you know that they’ve figured out that being angry keeps you more engaged than feeling good does? Anger makes us stay online longer, and type more nasty responses, and react more, and click more – and staying longer means we’re also taking-in the advertising whether we realize it or not. That’s where they make their money. The computer algorithms are designed to send you more and more of the stuff that makes you angry, because it pays. There’s even a name for this: it’s called ‘rage farming’. That’s the affection for dispute Paul means. Talk about something that’s unloving and not of God!
The last thing on Paul’s list is related to that – jealousness. But it isn’t just envy or coveting – to be jealous here means to be overly zealous – to be boiling over with emotion. So what’s happening is that the things we’re choosing to escape from our challenges don’t actually bring us any relief – they nudge us (or outright push us) deeper into our spiralling and negativity.
What can we do about this? You already know the answer. Breathe. Step off. Pull the plug for a time. Keep Sabbath. You don’t need to climb a mountain and become a hermit. You just need to breathe, and remember to be mindful. Remember to be loving. Stop chasing your tail.
Paul suggests this: Romans 13:14 Get out of bed and get dressed! Don’t loiter and linger, waiting until the very last minute. Dress yourselves in Christ, and be up and about!
Maybe that’s too poetic, or too theological. I think he just means to wrap yourself in love, as best you can, and don’t wait until some mythical time called ‘later’ when life will supposedly be easier. Wrapping yourself in love doesn’t mean you have to live a perfect life. It does mean that you will actively and intentionally try to maintain mindfulness, and open yourself to the loving presence of God, so you can love.
How do you maintain mindfulness amid the chaos? Little things. I bet you have all sorts of strategies already to help you do this.
Things like wearing a cross around your neck, or carrying a prayer stone in your pocket.
Things like making church participation a regular part of your life – through worship, through serving, through helping, through giving, through prayerfulness.
Things like having a special place for your nativity scene amid all your Christmas decorations.
Things like making sure you’re listening to Christmas carols and not only Santa songs at Christmas (keeping the story of Jesus firmly in focus).
Things like trying to limit or diminish the crass commercialism of Christmas by doing something loving and self-less – like maybe contributing to our Lifewater well-drilling campaign.
All those little things you do for others are loving – and you already know that if it’s loving then it’s of God – and if it’s of God then you’re staying mindful, and you’re not getting completely overwhelmed and oblivious.
And now we get the payoff. Realizing that you’re actually doing much better than you think you are, and recognizing all the loving you do as an expression of God’s love through you – make you feel something deep inside you…Peace. Being ‘absorbed and exhausted’ interferes with peace. Being mindful and loving generates and manifests peace.
Do you know who really gets this teaching? Dogs! Sure, we started with a story of a dog chasing its own tail and getting nowhere. But they only do that for a short time. Most of the time they are nothing but hope, peace, joy, and love. What would have to change in the way we approach life for peace to be known? Be more like your dog!
Last week we were introduced to the word ‘hopedemic’. A ‘demic’ is something that is characteristic of or affects a whole people or population. We pondered how the world might be if hope – expectant trust in God’s love – affected or characterized everyone who calls themselves a Christian in the whole world. A ‘hopedemic’!
Today I’m yearning for a ‘peacedemic’. Imagine a world where more and more people took a second to breathe deeply before they spoke, or acted, or reacted (or typed, or posted).
Imagine a world where in the midst of our busyness we found the capacity to pause and be mindful.
Imagine a world where people recognized and embraced lovingkindness, and rejected injustice, and rage farming, and unhealthy behaviours.
What would it take to bring that about? A peacedemic!
The kind of world we’re yearning for has a name – it’s called the Kingdom of God – and we’re already immersed in it. Seasons like Advent help us focus in and perceive it, and allow it to be born again and again and again through us – like the breaking of the dawn – like the birth of Jesus – like the light of love.
I pray that your Advent and Christmas will feel like a peacedemic – for your sake, and for the sake of the world.