Apostle Paul writes to the Romans that they know what time it is. But do we know what time it is? From the lectionary passages of this Sunday morning, let us meditate on what time we are in, what we are called for, and how to answer the calling.
First and foremost, as you read in Psalm 149:
1 Praise the Lord!
Sing to the Lord a new song,
his praise in the assembly of the faithful.
It is time now for us to Praise the Lord! But not to praise the Lord as we always had done, but to “sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of the faithful.” What new song might we sing to the Lord? For some of us we have been Christians for a long time. If you are like me, you have only known life as a Christian. I have been praising the Lord all my life. What new song could I sing to the Lord? If we praise the Lord in the context of where you are now, in this time and place, praising the Lord cannot be the same as when you just became a Christian, or even life as you knew it prior to March 2020, when the pandemic caused us to lock down in our homes to prevent and slow down the spreading of Coronavirus, Covid-19 virus. Since the pandemic has changed life as we know it for all of us, all over the nation, all over the globe, the way we travel, the way we buy groceries, and the way we move about our neighborhood have changed. Let us think together about how to Praise the Lord in this time, and to praise God in the assembly of the faithful. For this reason, I am happy that we will gather together soon, to see and to be in the presence of each other as we praise and worship the Lord. Today we worship and praise the Lord together virtually, each of us together in one mind and spirit, but in each of our homes.
If we are to praise the Lord, sing to God a new song, in this time of pandemic, what would we say, what words and tune would we sing to the Lord? And yet at the same time, let us remember that “8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). This means the context of our lives change, and so what we might praise and thank God for will change, but our faith in God and who God is are eternal.
So in this time of pandemic, how might we understand God’s message to us spoken through Apostle Paul’s words? We are to wake up from sleep.
“11Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep” (Romans 13:11).
I will say, the pandemic has caused me and probably all of us, to re-evaluate what we consider are essential in our lives! What is most valuable and worth risking your life for? For example, I considered the risk of catching the virus by riding subway to go to dentist for a minor tooth pain in the beginning of the pandemic, back in March. I decided against that dentist visit. But now that pandemic is managed better, where most people are wearing masks, washing hands, and subways are disinfected nightly, I might consider going into the city. Riding the train and subway now (compared to few months ago), does not feeling like I am risking my life to make that trip.
So, wake up from sleep! Old ways are no longer “normal” ways to live. We are living in different times now, one where we must wake up and prioritize and reconsider and re-evaluate how we choose to spend our time.
I have spoken about the time we are in as time in the midst of a pandemic, but as it is written, it is also time that is closer to our salvation than when we first became believers. “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;” (Romans 13:11).
If we are closer to salvation, we have work to do, yes? Paul urges us the following:
“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 13:12-14).
Let us drop the works that are not beneficial or pleasing God. Put on “the armor of light” to live honorably in the day. Paul goes onto say, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” What could putting on the armor of light and putting on the Lord Jesus Christ mean for each of us? Perhaps, it means to do what is beneficial to yourself and to others, and put on the Lord Jesus Christ, literally, see the world as God sees it, and to ask and to do “what would Jesus do?” From the moment you get up to the moment you put your head down for sleep at the end of the day, live, act, be, and think in such a way that everything is acceptable before our Lord! As the scripture says, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)
Would your thoughts as you wait in line at the grocery, or driving in crowded traffic be pleasing and acceptable to God? Would the worries you have in your heart, your fears, and concerns that forgot who God is, that God is sovereign, be acceptable and pleasing to God? Think about everything you feel, think, say, and do. Would your actions, everything you do, everything you are, be pleasing to God? I know, I know. To have feelings, actions, spoken or unspoken word of our every waking moment be acceptable before God who is holy is a very, very tall order, and overwhelming and daunting to take on. So how about we start with tangible goals?
As Apostle Paul reminds us, love.
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:9).
Yes! Let us love ourselves, and only then can we love our neighbors as we love ourselves. If we can’t love ourselves, if we can’t accept or forgive ourselves, we can’t forgive or accept others. Love yourself, and love others as you love yourself, and love even those who it is not easy to love! How might we love? What might be said or done if we loved ourselves and our neighbors? Loving starts by caring and having interest in oneself and in others. A simple question, “How are you today?” can convey to oneself and to others that you care about how the person is doing today. Not yesterday, not tomorrow, but how are you doing today? Loving ourselves and our neighbors will look different for each of us.
One way I am loving myself and loving my neighbors as I love myself is by participating in Samaritans 5K Run/Walk for Suicide Prevention on 9/26/2020. I am participating to honor the memory of my friend Esther, and also to raise funds to help the Samaritans organization based in Boston area to support suicide prevention. I know that this not an easy topic to discuss. We must reach out to others. If we ourselves are feeling hopeless, please, tell someone. If you have neighbors who are locked down at home alone and might feel isolated, please, check in on them. Life is too short to have it shortened by hopelessness, despair, and suffering. Let us be kind to one another, for we know not fully what anyone might be going through.
As we wrap up our meditation on today’s message, have you wondered, how do the passages fit together? The Genesis passage speaks of God telling Moses about Passover. Israelites are in Egypt as slaves.
“It is the passover of the LORD. 12For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. 13The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.” (Genesis 12:11-13).
God is preparing to take Israelites out of Egypt. But first there will be a “Passover of the Lord.” The plague to hit the land of Egypt will “passover” the houses that has blood as a sign that they are God’s people. And the Israelites are commanded to keep the day as a day of remembrance:
“14This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance” (Exodus 12:14).
We also need a day of remembrance. We need festivals to the Lord where we celebrate God’s work in our lives. There are different days marked on the church calendar for such celebrations. But on a smaller scale, on a more practical level, every Sunday is a day of remembrance for us. A day to remember how God has sustained us throughout our lives, and especially in the past week. A day to praise and thank the Lord for who God is and for how God loves us.
And we know from our Gospel reading from the Gospel of Matthew:
“20For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matthew 18:20).
We know that God promises to be with us where two or three or more are gathered in God’s name. So, this morning, we have gathered, virtually, but together in mind and spirit to praise and to worship and to thank God. Let us continue to keep our day of Sabbath and our day of worship by gathering together in person, when it is possible, and virtually, when it is safer to gather not physically but still gathering together spiritually.
Let us Pray – God, you are the power of liberation, calling your servant Moses to lead your people into freedom, and giving him the wisdom to proclaim your holy law. Be our Passover from the land of injustice, be the light that leads us to the perfect rule of love, that we may wake up from sleep and love, loving our neighbors as we love ourselves; we ask this through Jesus Christ, the pioneer of our salvation. Amen.