Romans 13-11_14 Alarming
Let me play for you one of the worst sounds in the world (an alarm clock). Who would agree? There we are, blissfully sleeping, enjoying a nice dream, perhaps of walking the white beaches of Hawaii, and then (ring again). The alarm clock rings, wakes us out of our sleep and dreams and into the real world; it alarms us to the fact that the day has begun and we need to get up. But what do we do? We hit the snooze button and lay there and work out, now what is the quickest time I have ever got up and ready in time…right that gives me an extra 20 minutes sleep. So every time we hear this (ring it) we re-hit the snooze button, until we suddenly realise that we are late…and then its too late.
There are times however, when ignoring alarms to wake up and falling asleep again is extremely dangerous, like falling asleep behind the wheel of a car. You read the warnings signs on the side of the highway ‘stop, revive, survive’, or read the fatigue signs ‘tired, yawning, loosing concentration’, yet you drive on thinking I Ok, I’m not sleepy. Its dangerous to ignore the alarms, because have you noticed how you can never tell when you actually fall asleep. There is no point when you say to yourself “I’m going to sleep….NOW! Neither is there a point in our sleeping when we determine the precise time we wake up. Sleep is a lapsing out of our control.
St Paul rings an alarm bell for believers in Christ. He warns “The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.” Are you asleep? Surely not yet, I’ve only just started the sermon! So why does St Paul mean to alarm us into being fully awake by saying “The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber…” Who’s asleep? St Paul, we would think, would be alarming those non-believers, the outright sinners and the heathen. To wake up to themselves, to see that the dawning of God’s kingdom has now begun; to wake up from their godless acts of indecency and believe in Jesus, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and will come again to judge the living and the dead.
We would even like to think the alarming words “wake up from your slumber…The night is nearly over; the day is almost here,” are a wake-up call to slack and lazy Christians who never come to church; those we only see at Christmas and Easter; to those we judge under our breath as hypocrites. To think St Paul’s alarming words are ringing for others, but not for you or me, is the same as thinking that the fatigue warning signs on highway, are not meant for us…they are there for everyone else. Or to think the ringing of our alarm clock in the morning, is meant to wake only the neighbour.
God’s word is never meant for someone else. He always speaks to us directly and addresses us personally and calls us by name, as he did to Adam in the garden “where are you.” And Jesus’ words spoken over the bread at the Last Supper are also addressed to you personally, saying “This is my body, which is given for you.” The word of God spoke life into us, and he continues to speak to us, sustaining us physically and spiritually, as Jesus said “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” We are people of the word. We are saved from the guilt of our sin and God’s wrath against us, because of suffering and death of Jesus…the word of God in flesh.
St Paul’s alarming word of God “The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber”, is our personal word alarm from God, telling us as believers that every hour we have believed brings us an hour closer to the day of Jesus’ return.
To be asleep as a Christian is to think, speak and act as if God does not address us personally in his word. And so to be asleep at the wheel of our Christian life, is to think that “you shall not murder “ only applies to those criminals in jail and others who threaten violence toward others. Yet if we are people of the word, even this must speak to us, as Jesus points out “anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”
Just as we get tired on a long road trip, and if we ignore the warning signs thinking they apply to someone else, we may fall asleep and crash. We also get tired of battling our sinful nature. We get fatigued of always fighting the constant temptations that draw us away from God’s word. St Paul says in Roams 7 “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do– this I keep on doing.” And so, in our spiritual fatigued state, its easier to convince ourselves that God is only speaking to others.
We know God has asked us to pray, and promises ‘whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours,” but we convince ourselves that’s only for those who are good at prayer. We know we should do the home devotions that we have been given today, we know that Jesus said ‘we live on every word that comes from the mouth of God”, but in our fatigue we believe that’s only for religious people, not for me.
We know Jesus said “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest”, yet in our weariness, we feel Jesus must be saying this to people who haven’t done the things we are now ashamed of. God’s word alarms and awakens us to a lot of things, including today’s alarm “The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed,” but its far easier to hit the snooze button, turn off God’s word and fall asleep.
This is the sleep St Pauls is warning us of, spiritual fatigue…or as they saying goes “I’m OK Jack.” But we are not Ok. Just as a sleepy driver could laps into a micro sleep any second, spiritual fatigue is the first sign of imminent danger. God warns ‘sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” And St Peter adds “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” St Paul is ringing the alarm, are we hearing it? Are we awake enough to apply it to ourselves?
If so, once awaked by God’s word, you may be wondering what are we to do to remain awake spiritually? Once you have woken up in the morning, do you go straight outside? No, we first get dressed ready for the day. In the same way, St Paul encourages us, once awakened to get changed for our spiritual day, to get dress spiritually for the light, that is, to put on Christ.
It is in the putting on of Christ, and not our own efforts, that enables us to remain aware; to be awake to the prowling’s of the devil who tricks us into thinking God is not addressing me. To put on Christ is baptismal language. Paul, in Galatians writes, “for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Not only are we forgiven in Baptism, and given the gift of eternal life. We are also covered by Jesus to protect us from the attacks of the devil; the acts darkness, and the spiritual fatigue St Paul speaks about.
To put on Christ is expanded upon by Paul in Ephesians 6. “Put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground…Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
All this clothing is given to us as a gift to put on, so that we do not become fatigued by our own efforts at being spiritual, and then fall asleep at the wheel of our salvation. Each piece of Christ’s clothing, the helmet, the breastplate, the shield, the belt and the sword are all simply different facets of the one and the same word of God that addresses you personally. So not only does God address us in his word saying “this is my body and blood given and shed for you”, he also dresses us and covers us in his word.
Luther called the church ‘the mouth house of God’. It is in church were we are covered by the word of God so that we are awakened and ready of the coming of the Lord. So as the writer of the book of Hebrews writes “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another– and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”