Exodus 12:1-14, Psalm 149, Romans 13:8-14, Matthew 18:15-20 September is here along with school and work. So in just a little while we’re going to offer a blessing for backpacks, bags, & briefcases as people head back to school and back to work at the end of summer. And I can’t think of a better Lesson than the one we hear this morning from St. Paul. He writes, “You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep” (Rom. 13). No more summer slumbering. No more sleeping in. Time for work. Now is the moment - wake up. And even if we’re ready to go back to school or work, it doesn’t always make for an easy transition. It can cause some feelings. It can even interrupt our dreams.
Most of us have had that dream. You know the one I’m talking about. It’s that dream where you’re in a cold sweat because you’re late and you’re going to miss something important. There are a thousand different versions of this dream. Maybe you feel like you’re going to be late for the first day of school, or maybe the first day of a new job; maybe you’re late for a plane or a train - or maybe you’re even late for your own wedding. Whatever it happens to be in your dream, it’s usually something important and if you’re late it’s going to be painful, embarrassing, or fearful.
Right now is when those dreams start cropping up because people who study these things tell us those dreams are caused by change; a change of season that comes with a change of life. Because if we’re facing a change and we feel even a little bit unprepared then these dreams are a red flag, a kind of wake-up call about what we’re feeling beneath the surface. We don’t feel ready for change.
And when we wake up, we’re supposed to do something. We’re supposed to put that fear to rest. It may not be anything complicated. Maybe we just need to reassure ourselves. Maybe we’re not unprepared, we’re just nervous. The first day of school means that we’re going to have a new classroom, new kinds of homework, and that can feel uncomfortable. But, hopefully, we’re also going to see our friends right there with us. We’re going to be supported. It’s going to be okay.
I’ll never forget the first time I had to change classrooms at school. You know, in 1st - 5th Grade we just stayed in the same classroom for the whole school day. We each had our own desk, our own chair, we each had the same teacher all day. But when 6th Grade rolled around everything changed. We had to change classrooms and we had to change teachers. And all of a sudden I felt like I was supposed to be Tarzan; like I was supposed to be swinging from one classroom to the next just like Tarzan swinging from tree-to-tree, except I had no idea where I was going and I was surrounded by all of these other people who were swinging around on their own vines and trying to do the same thing. We were all out there bumping into each other and it felt like a jungle. But, really, it was okay. I just needed a little practice, and there were people to help every step of the way.
Other times, maybe we’re having a panic-ridden dream because we haven’t been doing our work and we need to get ourselves in gear. We need to make some changes. Maybe we’ve got an interview or a presentation - maybe even a sermon to get ready - and we haven’t begun (because football season is just beginning and you have to cheer for your football team - Go Irish!). And if that’s happening, then stop procrastinating, cut down on the distractions and get to work - or at least get a couple of computer monitors so you can prepare your sermon and watch football at the same time. Am I right?
Today, St. Paul is saying something similar about Christian life. Now is the moment - wake up. And do something. But what does he mean? As someone who follows Jesus, what are we supposed to “wake up” and do? It might be easy to look at this passage and get the wrong idea. We might think that Paul is just a killjoy. But I don’t think that’s the point. It has less to do with how much we’re partying, and more to do with how we’re treating each other. Yes, Paul warns against things like too much “reveling and drunkenness” - those are good warnings for anyone who wants to actually do something in this world. But the main point about living in the “light” is to “live honorably” as our translation puts it - and the image Paul uses is something like walking around with all of our clothes on. You don’t show up on your first day of school wearing your under garments or your sleeping garments. At least, not if you actually want to get something done.
Paul says, when it’s daytime, you put on your clothes and you go to work. And for Christians, our work clothes are “the Lord Jesus Christ.” We actually “put on” Jesus because Jesus himself is the big change that unsettles and disturbs a sleeping world - so to speak. And Paul says we’re living in the dark as long as there is “quarreling and jealousy”; as long as we’re fighting and struggling to be the top of the heap; as long as we’re more concerned with getting our own way, than giving ourselves away. If that’s the case, we’re just living in the dark.
Now is the moment - wake up. Put on Jesus. And if Jesus is main cue, then there’s going to be joy. There’s going to be partying. But what there shouldn’t be, what it should be really hard - if not impossible - to find is Christians consumed by “quarreling and jealousy”. It’s the last thing you’d ever expect at church. Because these are the people who put on Jesus. These are the people who don’t hold a grudge; who don’t owe each other anything “except to love one another” (Rom. 13.8). Any other commandment is summed like this, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Rom. 13.9).
It’s about caring so much for other people that we don’t even let them slip away. It’s tenacious. Today in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says if anyone wrongs you; if anyone treats you rotten, then you chase after them and you try to win them back. If they don’t listen to you - don’t give up, go for backup and bring more people. Do whatever it takes.
So maybe this explains that little tagline at the end, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matt. 18.20). Maybe it’s not a philosophical mystery. Maybe it’s just a way of saying that you need at least two people to show a love that does any justice to Jesus; something that strong, that tenacious. You don’t find Jesus by just thinking deep thoughts. You find Jesus by loving another person with that much strength.
And if our church can somehow manage even a glimmer of that kind of love - even the size of a mustard seed - well then who knows, maybe some days we’d find ourselves waking up in a cold sweat because we were actually afraid of missing church. If we could actually love each other with love as strong and tenacious as Jesus, then we just might be afraid that we were going to miss another chance to worship and to work side-by-side. And who wouldn’t want to be the first one through the door at a church like that? Amen.