I spent part of every summer of my growing up life visiting my grandparent's farm in rural Wisconsin. The farm was called Bluebird Hill, and it was paradise for me. I wandered the hills and valleys around Bluebird Hill with my brothers and sisters, sent forth in the morning with a bag of sandwiches, welcomed home in the evening by the smell of freshly cut grass, dinner out of the garden. And instead of watching television, we sat out under the stars and learned about a part of God's creation that we can barely see past the city lights of Atlanta.
My grandmother was a big believer in feather beds, and I would nestle down in that feather bed, pull quilts close against the cool night air....well, that was a long time ago, but I can still remember how good that felt, to be warm and safe and loved. I remember one day when I was a teenager, after sleeping till noon the way teenagers do, I lay in my cocoon and listened to the sounds of my brothers and sisters who had been up for hours, playing outside, and to the voice of my grandmother talking to them as she hung freshly washed sheets on the clothesline outside my window. I leaped out of bed, raced to get ready, knowing that I had missed out on an important part of the day, that adventures had already happened, that conversations were over, that opportunities had passed. I had to get out of bed! No time to sleep late! Who knows what might happen during a day at Bluebird Hill, and I didn't want to miss out on a thing! It was out of a deep sense of urgency that I sacrificed that excuse of sleeping late that only teenagers can use and woke up early every morning from then on, eager to face whatever the day might hold.
Paul is endeavoring to evoke that same deep sense of urgency in his congregation in Rome. "Wake up, get up," he writes. "Get going, it's time!" "This is the day, this is the time for salvation. Don't live in the darkness of the night; live in the light of the day! What has happened that has Paul so excited, so passionate? God has revealed himself in Jesus Christ, that's what has happened! And not just that, but more. What God has done in the world, in a certain time and place through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, has changed everything, has changed the world! The world is now a different place, says Paul. The kingdom of God has entered into the world, a wounded world that has longed for God and groaned for good news. God is here. The good news is that in the death and resurrection of Jesus God prevailed. Death is defeated; it is not the final thing. New life in Christ is the final thing. Sin has separated us from God, but in Christ Jesus, we are reconciled to God and sin is no longer the final word. Forgiveness and grace are the final words.
There is some debate about whether or not Paul's passion for people to adopt his own urgency for faith and conversion came from his belief that the Messiah was to come again at any time, that the final times were here, and therefore people had a limited time to accept salvation in Christ before it was too late. Possibly early on in his Christian life Paul thought that. But his letters span many years, and the letter to the Romans was written possibly 60 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. Paul's energy and commitment to his firm faith in God's saving power was only strengthened over the years of his ministry, despite no return yet of Jesus the Christ, despite no final day of reckoning. Fundamental to Paul was his unshakeable belief that in Christ, God had effected a cosmic change in creation. Everything was different in how God related to the world, and so everything must be different in how the world now must relate to God. It was hard for Paul to comprehend that people would not want to profess faith in this new kingdom that God had created, in this new relationship that was possible between God and his children, in this new possibility of trust and hope and the freedom that comes from giving all that you are to God's care. The power of salvation is available to everyone, if you just believe.
Paul's passion lasted his whole life, because he knew that this good news was too good not to share - it was too good to keep quiet about it - it was too good not to give his whole life to preaching and teaching and courageously standing with his Lord and Savior.
Paul's mission was to people who were trying their hardest to profess their faith in Christ, whether they were Jewish or Gentile, and trying to figure out how to live in the Roman world as brand new Christians. We don't live in a Roman world today, but I can't say that it's any easier, most of the time, to know how to live in the world that we have as a Christian - brand new or not. Yet here we are, still looking for that good news, still living in a world groaning for God, yearning for healing, and seeking grace. Here we are, wanting to believe that the power of God for salvation is still as possible as it ever was and ever will be. That's faith, my friends.
A large part of Paul's message to the church in Rome, and to most of the churches to whom he wrote, was to encourage the people in how to live, how to behave, and in what to do in response to God's gracious gift to them, to the world. It seemed clear to him that if you live your life as if you are going to meet God face to face anytime, if you live your life confident that God's kingdom has begun, if you live your life knowing that the relationship you have with God is more important than any other thing in your life, well, if you live your life that way, then your behavior ought to reflect that this is what you believe. It wasn't about doing something right in order to win God's approval. (Paul would never have said that our action would win us salvation.) It was about faith, faith in God's actions, faith in God's love, and faith in God's promise of steadfast relationship with us! But faith is not just believing. Faith is also about doing, acting, and working in God's kingdom here and now, doing the work of Christ in the place where we are, responding to that free gift of God's love that we can do nothing to earn, but that we can do everything to show off.
I'll tell you the truth, I love getting presents! And when I unwrap a beautiful gift, I can't wait to show it off. The most beautiful gift that we have been given is God's great love - how can we show it off? Paul tells us how - by throwing off the works of darkness and by putting on the armor of light, that's how. In Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians, he calls upon this same image of light and darkness, but he defines it a bit more for us. He defines more about what this armor of light looks like. He says, "Put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation." Faith, hope and love. We can put on Jesus just like we put on a sweater. Wrap his nature around us just like I wrapped myself in warm quilts in a feather bed in my grandmother's house.
Faith, hope, and love, all gifts from God, are warm and constant companions in the midst of an often cold and confusing world. If we live in the midst of these gifts, if we live as if there is no time to waste, if we live as if it is urgent that we tell the whole world about the glorious gift of God, tell by acting out our faith, tell by our hope in word and deed, and tell by showing our love for our neighbor. Well, we would be putting on Jesus.
Every day is a new adventure in God's good news. This is news that is too good not to share. I hope you know that, too. Amen.
Let us pray.
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Now in a time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility, that in the last days when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.