Thursday, 24 November 2016

Wake up!

A Sermon on Romans 13:11-14

Wake up.
Wake up from your slumber.

Wake up from your dreaming.
Wake up to yourself.
Wake up to reality.
Just, wake up.

Paul’s injunction to the Christians in Rome is grounded in the notion of a disconnection between their experience of existence and the reality of God’s love for them and life for them.  He tells them that they are asleep.

Wake up.

The notion that somehow people are asleep or disconnected from reality is a constant theme for novelists and film makers.

As a teenager one of my favourite series of books was by the author Stephen Donaldson and was called The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever.

The main character in these books very name and title indicate a contradiction Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever.  In him covenant, promise and faith, are contrasted with unbelief and doubt.  The character is transported to another world, a fantastical place, which he assumes is a dream.  Being a dream his behaviour involves a libertine disregard for the world in which he finds himself and its people.  Everything is there for his benefit – but it is not reality, it is a dream.

Wake up.

Is this us too? Living as though we are in a dream, in an altered reality.  Taking advantage of each other and the creation as we seek to gratify our desires?

Wake up, cries Paul. You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep

Do we understand the reality of this world?  Do we understand our relationship with God in Christ? Do we understand our responsibility to each other and to God’s creation?

The selfishness of the character Thomas Covenant in the novels, the desire for self-gratification, may very well be a reflection of our hedonistic culture in which the most important question we seem to ask one another is, “Are you happy?”

Wake up, cries Paul.

Put on Christ and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

It’s not just about you.  Life doesn’t revolves just around you and what you want.

As we begin our journey through Advent, our preparation for the return of Christ our King, the challenge for us is to enter more deeply into our faith.  To wake up and put on Christ.

Yet how difficult is this?  Most of us have come to see that Advent is about preparing ourselves for the Christmas onslaught: gift buying, menu making, event attending, and list achieving preparation.

This week on the morning ABC radio program a reporter was asking people whether they were ready for Christmas.  But his question was driven by one motive: “have you saved money for Christmas?”.  Are you ready to go on the spending binge?

This week I have been reading a book about the Anthropocene, the new definition of the geological era in which we live.  We are living in a time that humans are so impacting the shape of life on the planet that scientists have named this geological era in which we live the Anthropocene.

In one of the essays Michael Northcott says, “In the post-Christian culture of capitalist consumerism Christmas has morphed from the festival of the Incarnation of light in cosmic darkness into a fossil-fuelled festival of consumption where neon lights and LCD screens displace candles and incense.”

No longer does our culture celebrate the Incarnation of the light we worship at the altar of mammon – money, growth, progress, consumption and wealth. 

To return to Paul’s letter to the Romans the question might very well be asked of us, “Have we as modern Christians turned Christmas into a time when we satisfy the desires of the flesh, as opposed to celebrate the light of Christ coming into the world?”

What are we preparing for?  What must we wake up from?

Advent is about preparing for Christ’s coming again. Christ’s return not simply the birth of Jesus.  The birth of Jesus that we celebrate is on the Roman holiday of Sol Invictus, the sun god.  The date was chosen by the Romans to preserve their ancient festival of the turning of the season. Even the date of our celebration of Jesus’ birth is an act of syncretism.  Encultured into Roman festivals, encultured into Christendom, enculturated into consumerism Christmas struggles to have meaning in terms of God’s love made flesh in Christ Jesus.

For every year I have been involved in preaching I have found this period of the year a deeply challenging time.  My very first Christmas sermon began with the words ‘bah humbug’, although I may just as well have used Pauls’ words, “wake up”.

What might we do to shake ourselves from this slumber?  What might we do to turn again to God as we prepare for the coming of Christ?

Let me suggest four things that come to us from today’s readings.

Firstly, worship God!  In Psalm 122 the Psalmist says “I was glad when the said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’”  I was glad to go to worship.  Here there is an attitude of heart to bring to God in our worship.

In a conversation last week a friend who rarely attends church anymore spoke of how boring church can be.  And, I must admit I agreed.

As a Christian I have worshipped in traditional, contemporary, evangelical and Charismatic services.  I have worshipped in high liturgy and café church and contemplative and worship that felt like a rock concert.  In all of these settings I could find myself saying, as my friend said to me this week, it’s boring.

Even the liveliest of services can feel boring but the gladness of heart in the opportunity to worship God transcends the style of worship and our personal experience as we bring our hearts in gladness to God.

It is not about gratifying my particular preferences in worship style it is about engaging in the life of worship: be glad to gather with the community.  Recognise it for the privilege and opportunity it is to worship God.

Wake up and be glad!

Second, seek contentment and moderation in your lifestyle.  In an era of instant gratification when we can buy the next item at the press of button without even leaving our house we need to learn again to be patient, to train ourselves to the art of restraint.  Do not seek for more than you need.

Our whole culture is built on teaching you and training you and tempting you to covet.  We are sold the line that our consumption is good for the economy.

David Bentley Hart in his book titled God says, “Late modern society is principally concerned with purchasing things, in ever greater abundance and variety, and so has to strive to fabricate an ever greater number of desires to gratify… Our sacred writ is advertising, our piety is shopping, our highest devotion is private choice.” 

At Christmas time the gluttony of consumption of goods and foods is exposed.  How does this really prepare us for the coming of Jesus?

Wake up and exercise some restraint.

Third, be conscious of others, make your life about others.

In Psalm 122 the psalmist implores the listeners:

For the sake of my relatives and friends
I will say, ‘Peace be within you.’
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your good.

Life is give an outward focus.  Rather than asking what is in it for me we are called to think about what it is we might be offering others.

This should not become another expression of simply gratifying of the flesh of our loved ones by giving them what they do not needs but a deeper reflection of the giving that seeks the good of God.

For the sake of your relatives and friends, for the house of the Lord, and for your neighbour who could be either friend or foe.

Wake up and think of others.

And fourthly, seek peace.

The Psalm declares, “Peace be within you.”  Whilst Isaiah would have us beat our swords into ploughshares – weapons of destruction into sustainers of life.

Peace is both the inner eternal peace with ourselves and God as well as peace between human beings as well, an absence of war.

The concept of shalom, peace, has deep layers of meaning one of which we celebrate when we share in communion: God’s forgiveness, God’s offering of forgiveness to us.  When we share the peace in our worship we are acknowledging to one another that we are all reconciled to God and to each other and that this peace that we are sharing is God’s desire for the whole world: the reconciliation of all things in Christ.

From the peace we encounter in our relationship with God should flow an outpouring of our peace with others in the world.

Wake up for blessed are the peacemakers.

The advent of our God is nigh, Jesus is coming.  No one can know the time.  So we are called to prepare ourselves, to be ready, to be attentive.  Transformed by God’s unconditional love and forgiveness let us hear God’s word of hope to us in Christ and let us prepare through Advent:

For 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 lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light; let us live honourably as in the day, let us put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Wake up.

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