Monday, August 29, 2011

Marks of the True Christian

Romans 12: 9-21, page 162
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.
Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.
Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
You can get in a lot of trouble if you act without thinking.
You might enter into senseless business deals because of emotional pressure. You might go along with the crowd because in the moment it feels like the best thing to do. You might do something that you know you’ll regret, but you do it anyway because you just want to give in to impulse – in to momentary pleasure without thought for lasting wellbeing.
It’s dangerous – to act without thinking. Your parents told you so. But it’s also dangerous to think without acting.
It’s possible to think and think and think – to think through all the possible problems, to become aware of all the potential drawbacks, to become so fearful of risk that you become immobilized. And this is dangerous too – because without action life will pass you by.
Thinking through all the possibilities – not wanting to commit to early – all the while doors are closing.
So afraid of making a miss-step that no step is ever taken.
Assuming that there is plenty of time while the clock keeps on ticking.
Its dangerous stuff – thinking is. I can think of all kinds of reasons why now is not the best time to potty train our two year old daughter Lily – for one thing she doesn’t want to stop using diapers, but for another thing now is just not the right time. She has a new baby sister to adjust to. We’ll soon be moving into a new house, I hope anyway, and I wouldn’t want her to get used to using one set of toilets then ask her to get used to some that are completely new.
More than that, I know what to do with diapers, so I don’t have any problem telling myself “now is just not the right time.”
But if not now, when?
This is really a good question to ask when you say to yourself, now is not the right time to visit grandma, assuming that she’ll be there forever. Now just isn’t the best time to talk to your children about drugs or cigarettes or whatever else, as though you could protect them just a little while longer. Now is just not the right time to quit smoking – there’s too much stress at work – now is just not the right time – all the while assuming that we are guaranteed more than right now, when really the question is – if not now, when?
Moses surely wouldn’t have denied the fact that his people needed to be liberated from Pharaoh’s oppression – but was he just going to walk away from his flock?
Now’s not the right time – and besides – Pharaoh wants me dead for murder, my mother set me down the river in a basket – there’s nothing for me back in Egypt and here I have a family, a life – maybe later, but now’s just not the right time.
But if not now, when?
Moses had plenty of reasons to put it off – just as you do.
He had a life to attend to. Babies to feed. Times were tough.
But if not now, when? And if not you, then who?
Let love be genuine, Paul says – and maybe this one is easy enough to go along with, but in reality we push this one to the backburner as much as any other – focusing on whatever emergency we face, putting out whatever fire is burning bright while the fire of relationships needs tending. It’s easy to assume that it won’t ever go out, but for how long can you really ask those who love you to wait before the fires start to cool?
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them he says – and I suppose that we always intend to burry hatchets, put an end to harsh words, put aside old resentments – but intentions are only kind thoughts that don’t do anyone any good until they turn into action.
We postpone hard conversations – we postpone forgiveness – we postpone living as we know we should not realizing that time is short and getting shorter.
The bush is burning – as we assume it will burn on forever.
The people are suffering under Pharaoh’s oppression – as we assume that they can just go on suffering a little while longer – but why not put an end to it today?
Moses did have a life as a shepherd – but God had prepared him for a life as a shepherd of his people leading them into the promised land – and you may have a life now – but God has prepared for you a life free from the torment of grudges held tight for too long, forgiveness withheld, and the constant drive for vengeance – and why would you postpone such a life any longer? If not now, when?
Our second scripture lesson for today is from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, and the minister I knew as a child used this passage for his benediction Sunday after Sunday.
At the close of every worship service he would stand before us calling us to leave church going forth as true Christians – letting love be genuine, hating what is evil, holding fast to what is good.
Sunday after Sunday he called us to live life defined by the marks of the true Christian – but it was so easy, and it still is so easy, to believe that now is not the time and that living as we should can wait.
After all – today we live in a world where knowing what to love and what to hate is not nearly so easy as it should be – blessing those who persecute you seems a dangerous proposition indeed, and surely today is not the time for loving enemies – should we go loving our enemies leaving room for the wrath of God we may not live to see tomorrow.
But if we don’t live by these standards today – when will we?
The world is not getting any better – and if there aren’t people out in the world determined to choose another path it never will.
Now is the time. Today is the day.
Let love be genuine – now and forever.

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