Sep 7, 2014
8Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.
11Besides 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; 12the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
- Romans 13:8-14
I’m going to tell you a story that isn’t very nice. But it is honest and so I’m going to tell it anyways. There is this guy I went to college with. I met him the summer before, at General Assembly. He was on the General Youth Council, which I didn’t know anything about until I went to Kansas City that summer. But what it meant was that, as a senior in High School, he helped to lead the youth events at assembly, and got to preach one night for the whole assembly when they did sort of a youth Sunday kind of worship night. I thought he was amazing, and I learned from the program that he was also going to attend TCU starting in the fall.
So I was super excited when I ran into him on the street that week. I approached him, enthusiastically, introduced myself and explained that I, too, would be attending TCU in the fall. Usually I would not be this bold, but I had this idea in my head that since TCU was a Disciples School that it would be just like church and church camp and everyone would be great friends. And Since I only knew two other people who were starting school with me, I felt like this was increasing my percentage greatly, of potential friends. It turns out he, too, would be a religion major, so I proudly went back to my friends feeling like I’d made a significant accomplishment.
Well, we got to school in the fall, and he and I did not become friends. I joined a sorority and there were about 2 other religion majors who had gone Greek and I think the rest thought we were dumb as bricks. And many of them treated us that way. But that was ok, I had friends, and went along my way.
Fast forward about eight years, and I found myself sitting in a large circle of a group called the Bethany Fellows. There were probably 30 of us, all in our first five years of ministry, myself being in the first six months of full time ministry, and we were assigned the task of checking in with the group. We were to talk about how we were and what was going on in our ministerial context in no more than three minutes. It was a tricky balance to achieve because on one hand, the whole point was to be honest and vulnerable among a group of colleagues who you could trust and who would pray for you. But you wanted to avoid the over share, where you exposed everything in your personal life to a group of colleagues, which in a small denomination who could likely connect you to your next call, which was the case for me.
So it was my not-friend’s turn to check in, and many had shed tears, telling about how their church was dying, they never took their day off, or many telling of how isolating ministry felt after spending three years surrounded by friends in seminary. As I sat there, my heart overwhelmed by all the stories I had heard, and how they related to mine. So he begins to share, and he says, “Well, basically, everything is great. My church is great. The town I live in is great. Family is great. It is just all great.”
And I wanted to punch him in the face. Because it wasn’t honest. It couldn’t have been. I could not have asked for a more supporting, loving, nurturing congregation to begin ministry in, but I assure you, no one’s first year of ministry is simply, “great.”
Another young man shared next, this colleague would become one of my closest friends, as he said, “I’m really glad that everything is going so great for many of you, but where I’m at right now really sucks. My church can’t afford to pay its utilities, so I am often not paid. Attendance has doubled, so we have about twenty on a Sunday. But you see, the pastor serving before me was found guilty of sexual misconduct. Things are a mess.”
Brene Brown describes courage as coming from the Latin word, “cor,” and says the original meaning was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart. It takes courage to be vulnerable, to expose what shames you, to let go of who you thought you would be in order to be who you are.
So the truth about my not friend is that he is still not a close friend, although I consider him an acquaintance, a colleague and mostly the good friend of one of my good friends, so I have grown to respect him. Mostly because I know that in college we are all just projecting our insecurities onto other people. And I think that the real reason that he and I will never really be friends it that there is something about him that brings out all of my own insecurities. Every time I am around him I feel like that dumb high school student standing on a downtown street in Kansas City, introducing myself to someone who would never think I was good enough to be his friend.
Wake up! Paul tells us. Even though Paul thought salvation came with a timeline that didn’t quite happen the way he anticipated, there is a timeless truth about waking up to God’s saving action, waking up to the truth in our own lives so we can be awake to the truth in someone else’s life.
Brene Brown observes that those who are vulnerable, remember the ones who have the courage to tell their story with their whole hearts, that they practice compassion, which is love with legs, but they practiced compassion first to themselves and then to others because as it turns out, she explains, we can’t practice compassion with other people if we can’t treat ourselves kindly.
But we keep hitting the snooze button. The snooze button is when we numb the things we don’t want to face in our lives. Brown also tells us that we can’t numb selectively. So if we numb the painful aspects of who we are, you know, “It’s all great!” then we also numb joy, gratitude and happiness. We numb our empathy for someone who is hurting and we numb to bright hues of color that come off of fall trees that are changing before the winter. We numb the question how are you? When someone actually means it. We numb the love from our spouse by turning to our iphone during dinner. We hit the snooze button and all of the sudden we find ourselves jolted awake by a funeral or a tragedy or a baby being born and we wonder where have I been while life has kept happening?
We are about to enter a season of true wonder. I bought mums this weekend, y’all. Pumpkin flavored anything will soon be available for purchase. The leaves on the tree that sits outside my office window will hopefully begin to turn firey red. There will be that first crisp cool Autumn evening, but will you be there for it? Will you notice it? Or will you be staring at your phone, or your tv, or your whatever it is that keeps the feelings you want to avoid at bay?
Waking up is a life long journey not a one-time decision. I am not naïve to the pain that has given us good reason to numb. Many of you have faced violations so deep that it makes sense to never think or speak of them again. You have encountered tragedy or grief so great that silencing the hurt seems most sensible. The reason naming our pain matters is because it takes away its power to control us. The reason we can name our deepest hurts and disappointments is because we believe in a God whose whose love is more powerful than any other force in the world which means that eventually, sometimes slowly, and daily healing will happen. Salvation is truly near…
Thank God for professional counselors who are available to walk through our pain with us. There is somehow a stigma that those who go to counselors are broken or weird, but make no mistake that counseling is for healthy people and God help us break the stigma against it.
So the commandment from Paul is the same one that Jews observed in the Hebrew Bible, the same one that Jesus called the greatest commandment, and the same one that is the foundation of who we are as a Christian community. Love God. Love one another. But the only way we can encounter the person who is addicted, abused, homeless, hungry, imprisoned, frightened, or neglected, is to be in touch with the pain in our own lives. Not that this pain rules us. But that we know where it is and where it comes from and who to go to with it.
A church where everyone is “just great” every single Sunday is a church that is not fully living into the command to love one another. Because then we are just those people who offer charity to the broken people while ignoring the brokenness in our own stories. And I don’t think that is what God meant by this greatest commandment.
Because when we offer a paper bag full of food, we are not just offering bread to the hungry. We are recognizing that we are all starving for something. When we give a homeless man a place to lay his head, we are not just offering shelter for the homeless, we are recognizing that sometimes our homes feel empty. When we give money for children in Guatemala we are not just helping those poor kids, we are realizing that sometimes we look to the wrong places for true joy.
Love is universal. And I wonder if just like Brene Brown says we can’t numb selectively… can we really love selectively? Can we accept another person’s brokenness if we haven’t recognized our own?
Wake up. Stop hitting the snooze button. There is so much life to live. Love is the center of what it means to live. Salvation is available each and every day.