David A. Davis
September 10, 2017
“Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ…put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” “Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” Put on. Put on the Lord Jesus Christ. It is in Ephesians that Paul writes, “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of the Lord’s power. Put on the whole armor of God.” You remember, the belt of truth, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. And “Put on the breastplate of righteousness.” Put on. Put on the Lord Jesus Christ. “Since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” That’s I Thessalonians. Put on. Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.
The connotation in Greek has to do with clothing and dressing and wearing… putting something on. Eugene Peterson, in his paraphrase The Message, he puts the end of Romans 13:14 this way: “Dress yourselves in Christ and be up and about.” It makes it sound like part of the morning routine. Take a shower. Brush your teeth. Dress yourselves in Christ. Other preachers and devotional writers draw on the image of putting on a uniform or wearing the colors. You put on the armor, you put on Christ, like a member of a team dresses for the game, like an athlete puts on Under Armour, like a member of the military represents and prepares.
Put on the Lord Jesus Christ. The image in the epistles of the New Testament comes with urgency, an uncommon urgency that seems somewhat lost in the comparison to the morning routine of picking your clothes for the day. In Ephesians, Paul’s exhortation about putting on the whole armor of God is for the purpose of standing firm against the devil. “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against rulers, against authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Eph. 6:12). That all sounds far away from the morning paper and a cup of coffee.
In I Thessalonians and here in Romans the urgency is the coming Day of the Lord, the return of Christ, the triumphant coming of the kingdom, the consummation of salvation, the eschaton, the ultimate fulfillment of salvation history, the kingdom ultimately come on earth as it is in heaven. As Paul puts it, “For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near.” In contrast to Paul’s urgency on spiritual warfare in Ephesians, in contrast to that battle imagery, the urgency in Romans, the urgent response is to the coming day of the Lord. And that response as described by Paul, the response described in Romans, is not to battle; it is to love. Have no obligation other than to love one another. “The one who loves fulfills the law… Love is the fulfilling of the law… Lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” The armor of light is love; loving actions. You know what time it is, Paul exhorts the church in Rome, so live honorably and love. Put on Christ! And do it now.
It would seem to me that the sense of urgency, Paul’s urgency in putting on Christ, is lost on the average 21st -century disciples of Jesus like us. No doubt some traditions, some preachers, some corners of the broader Christian Church give testimony to an experience of the urgency of spiritual warfare. And yes, in some Christian circles the focus on the end times, the rapture, the apocalypse comes with a certain urgency in all the rhetoric, in the teaching, and in the preaching. But even then, one is hard-pressed to ponder a day-to-day urgency for the individual Christian life, an urgency like that reflected in Paul. Here in Romans Paul’s urgency is not going down the path of a kind of revival preacher who wants to know, if Jesus comes back tonight, are you ready? No, Paul’s sense of being ready, responding to the day drawing near, Paul’s urgency is the call to love your neighbor as yourself.
Let me speak only for myself here. I’m not sure the Apostle Paul’s urgency has had much resonance for me in my life of faith. Urgent prayers when people I love and care for are sick or dying or in harm’s way this morning? Sure. An urgent need for God’s guidance in seasons of discernment, or an urgent yearning for God’s peace in moments of turmoil, or an urgent cry for God’s assurance when, as the psalmist says, “the earth should change, the mountains shake, the nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter?” Yes. No doubt. But that kind of day-to-day, first thing in the morning, before you put two feet on the floor you better put on Christ, that kind of guttural, groaning, response to the coming Day of the Lord, that sort of defiantly and intentionally putting on Christ every day, that urgent faith-with-an-attitude start to the day, I’m not so sure. I’m not sure in my 55 years, in my 31 years of ministry, in my 18th year as your pastor, I have felt that kind or urgency. I’m not at all so sure about that kind of urgency in my life of faith. Until now. Until right about now. Until “these days.”
You know what time it is. Hatred. Bigotry. Racism. Homophobia. Antisemitism. All abundant and unveiled. The day may be near but the night isn’t far enough gone. The clear and present darkness abounds. It demands the armor of light. Putting on the armor of light. The nastiness that’s in the wind. The putrid things people are saying. The horrible actions directed at those who are somehow deemed different or less-deserving or just less. Such hatred, such disturbing behavior, it’s not limited to or defined by a “hillbilly elegy,” or some old racist uncle everyone avoids at the family reunion. The sinful growing darkness comes in every generation, in all economic strata, in every demographic, among the powerless and the most powerful. Decency and unity and reconciliation are so far off the rails that people seemed surprised at the goodness of humanity revealed during and after catastrophic hurricanes. It’s a pretty low bar these days when it comes to the common good.
A rabbi stood outside his synagogue on that fateful day of Shabbat in Charlottesville as the congregation gathered for worship. While the crowds and violence and all the police presence were blocks away, the small band of people on the other side of the street shouted threateningly, “Jews will not overtake us.” An Asian American television reporter in Philadelphia, born and raised in this country, was verbally assaulted in a crosswalk in Center City by an aggressive female driver who yelled at her, “This is America. Just go home.” Several high school students in Iowa were dismissed from the high school football team when pictures of them wearing white robes, hoods, and burning a cross showed up on social media. An African American teammate, son of the local mailman, said “I thought they were my friends. I have been in their homes.” You know what time it is.
A group of conservative pastors and theologians issued a widely distributed statement on human sexuality. Clearly it was intentionally timed for the current political climate. It is a hurtful theological assault targeting the LGTBQ community and any of the Christian faith that would dare declare themselves welcoming, affirming, and understanding God’s Spirit at work in all of God’s children. One Baptist seminary president said he signed the document as “an expression of love and concern for those increasingly confused about what God has clarified in holy scripture”. An expression of love? An expression of love that has in just days stoked the fires of discrimination and hate and condemnation and fear. You know what time it is.
Roman Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan in New York City defended the undocumented young people known as the dreamers who know no other country but this one. He said that ending the DACA program and putting all of the young people at risk is “contrary to the spirit of the Bible and of our country, and a turning away from the ideals upon which our beloved country was founded. All of the ‘Dreamers’ who now face such uncertainty and fear, please know that the Catholic Church loves you, welcomes you, and will fight to protect your rights and your dignity.” Loves. Welcomes. Protects. And a former member of the presidential administration responded in an interview that the Catholic Church just needed illegal immigrants to fill their pews and that it was in their economic interest and that priests and bishops should stick to doctrine. You know what time it is.
All of that and more, in just the last few weeks. There is an urgency to “these days.” You and I have to put on Christ with day to day urgency. If you’re anything like me, maybe with an urgency like never before. Have no obligation other than to love one another. Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love is the fulfillment of the law and the fulfillment of the gospel and the fulfillment of scripture and the fulfillment of doctrine and the fulfillment of the Christian life. You know what time it is. Lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Live honorably and love! And put on Christ and do it now.
Put on Christ urgent and new every morning. And be confident that his love moving in and through you will be sufficient for another day, that his love moving in and through you will make a difference in the world, that his love moving in and through you will bring light to the present darkness because this darkness can never overcome His light.
Put on Christ urgent and new every morning so that by his grace you can work on the log in your own eye and lay aside the weight and the sin that clings so closely, so that by his grace you can see the face of Jesus shining back at you in someone who is different, in the stranger, in someone who disagrees with you, in someone everyone else expects you to shun, so that by his grace that strengthens you can speak for the long silenced and embrace someone wounded by another’s words and lift up those being stomped on by evil.
Put on Christ urgent and new every morning, and with the power of His Spirit you can defiantly stare down hatred without fear, you can stick your finger into the bullying puffed up chest of bigotry, and you can rise above the sinfulness of complacency and the temptation not to care. Put on Christ urgent and new every morning so that the vision and promise of his kingdom would so fill you that can’t help but shout louder than those who would pervert the gospel for the sake of prejudice and their own power.
And so that the vision and promise of his kingdom would so inspire you that you can’t stop telling our children of a God whose love will never let them go and a God whose love embraces all and that our embrace, our love absolutely shall be as bold, and broad, and audacious as Christ’s own love. So that the vision and promise of his kingdom would so convince you that your own voice does make difference when the saint’s are called to sing a song of righteousness, and your own light does make a difference when others want to blow it out, and your own act of love makes a difference, because in the words of Bishop Desmond Tutu, “goodness is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate, and life is stronger than death.”
You know what time it is.
Put on Christ.
© 2017 Nassau Presbyterian Church
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