"Early Riser," by Pastor Kinsey
This is my confession: I have a lot of self-righteousness about being an ‘early riser!’ I like getting up before the sun, and enjoying the early morning, before most people are out of bed. This is my quiet time, my time to get the news on NPR, do the dishes, watch the sun rise.
Conversely, I have a hard time staying up late. My energy dwindles after dinner. I have to push myself to get work done or attend an evening meeting. If I can make it to the 10:00 News, before I start brushing my teeth, that’s a good day!
So, I’m not very good at late night “reveling and drunkenness,” as St. Paul puts it! Though, I have been known to enjoy a beer or two at Theology on Tap. I even tried all-night-partying in college with a few class mates. But it didn’t really interest me. I couldn’t see the point of it, really. And too much alcohol just makes me sleepy anyway. I’m a bit of a party pooper most of the time.
So, that’s my confession! I feel self-righteous about being an early riser, because, at least on the face of it, I pretty much naturally am not tempted by the very stuff Paul warns about, in today’s Reading from his Letter to the Romans…
“…you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For …the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness… Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ…”
The church Paul was building across the northern Mediterranean, was expecting the immanent return of the Lord Jesus Christ, the day of salvation, that was coming near. But in the meantime, followers of Jesus were to, put on his armor, to actually put on, him, the Lord Jesus Christ, as they waited. The time was early in the morning. The night time, when all the reveling took place, was over. But dawn, the moment of resurrection for the world, had not quite yet arrived either.
These would have been well known metaphors, for the believers Paul addressed. Salvation in Christ had arrived as, a full promise, in Christ’s resurrection, the first born of the dead. But the redemption of the whole world – i.e. God’s beloved people, all other creatures here below, the fruits and flowers, the lakes and rivers – still await the new dawn of the most beautiful and beloved day of the new age to come!
Paul then takes this metaphor and builds on it. As we await the day, he says, we “put on the armor of light.” An analogy to military dress and equipment, mixed with a protection of light from the expected, wholly new day, of creation. This is how we are to dress, right now. There is nothing that can harm us, when we put on these new ‘school clothes!’ And further, this wardrobe has no need to gratify the desires of late night reveling. Putting on Christ is respecting the gift of our bodies, for we know that the resurrection-life to come is an embodied one, a redeemed life, in God’s redeemed creation, and somehow, wonderfully, also beyond sin and death.
But, I also know, these are all just metaphors. We do not know what the realm and kingdom of God look like, exactly. So, rising and waiting early in the morning in the last bit of darkness before the light of dawn, as I love to do, is not morally superior to those who stay up late and sleep-in. If it was literal, and not metaphorical, I would have been rewarded with the new day, a long time ago! But I have not seen it yet. It doesn’t dampen my enthusiasm, or joy, for rising early. But I know, any joy I do derive from naturally being an early riser, is only self-righteousness if I equate it literally with my faith, in the Lord Jesus Christ!
Once, not too long ago, I stayed out past midnight listening to the Blues at a local club in New Orleans, an experience of elation like pure heaven! And to top it off, as we walked back to our hotel, we happened to cross paths with a street band, a really boisterous brass band, the kind of which you only find in New Orleans, and it grabbed hold of us, building louder and faster, and it took me to heavenly places, the kind of improvisation and free spirited sound that you couldn’t help but dance to. I felt as if I had reached the dawn of the new day itself!
Later I read how it was just these kinds of bands that caused those, early-to-bed-types, to push through a new law against late-night, loud music, on the streets of New Orleans! And that made me feel so confused and conflicted! Normally I would have signed on to that petition right away! But now I wasn’t so sure, because it was an elation I’ll not soon forget. Was it reveling and debauchery? I don’t know – to me it was spiritual! But, I do feel bad if we woke someone up – some early riser, like me!
Of course, this is just a metaphor too. However much it felt like heaven, it was just a fleeting moment, at best. Midnight and dawn have broken many times since then, without the new day of Christ having yet arrived.
When Paul told the Romans, “you know what time it is,” he used the other word for time. Not Cronos time, of the clock, sequential time. But Kairos time, historically full moments, moments full of pregnant anticipation, red letter days. Even today, 2,000 years later, we still live in that pre-dawn moment, awaiting the full revealing of Christ on the new day. And we are still trying to learn how to await it with the armor of light, having put on the Lord Jesus Christ. We still live in this same kairotic moment.
And, what does this mean, if not, as Paul says in this same passage, that we are to “love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no wrong to a neighbor;” says Paul, “therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”
And, loving neighbor, on the face of it, feels a lot more doable to us than trying to follow all 600, or so, laws of the Torah, from the first five books of the Hebrew scripture, or Old Testament. Now, we just have one law to live by.
And Jesus demonstrated what he meant by those words, by giving his life, for the sake of the world. So, cross and resurrection are the shape of, loving neighbor.
‘Loving neighbor’ then, can stretch us in ways we had not anticipated. Each situation we encounter, is different to some degree. New people, new places, complicate our decisions. Right and wrong, black and white answers, that we may have previously taken for granted, might not always fit the new situation we encounter, facing a world vastly more complex than we thought, as we grow older. There is no script to follow, exactly – when all there is, is a general imperative to “love your neighbor as yourself.” This kind of, life of faith, requires prayer and trust, that God will guide us. This kind of life, must take risks for the sake of the gospel.
And so, being grounded in what time it is, that Kairos time, time with a meaning, the time before the breaking of the dawn – can help us, and guide us, and sustain us, as we take seriously the calling to love your neighbor as yourself. Putting on the armor of light is a metaphor meant to center us in our real life of faith.
For we know, Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. That’s what time it is. It shapes who we are, and how we live in the world, as followers of Jesus – no matter if we’re early risers, or sleepers-in!