The Signs of the Times

Romans 7, 18-25b + Luke 12, 54-59, October 22, 1999

Romans 8, 1-11 + Luke 13, 1-9, October 23, 1999

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The gospel for Friday and Saturday teaches us (among other things) of the importance of correctly reading the signs of the times. Jesus notes how hard we work on understanding the weather -- and how little we apparently care about the importance of developing the ability to correctly read the signs of the times.

These two days' readings in Romans give us clues to where Christian discernment begins, in an understanding that there are three sources for the "interior movements of our being": the world, Satan, and God. He clearly identifies the crux of the issue: the inner desire to follow God frustrate by worldly and Satanic influences. Which is to say, there is often a disconnect between what we believe and what we do. I preach against the evils of exploiting the poor in factories owned by garment companies in the US -- even as I wear a shirt perhaps made in Indonesia.

But as Paul notes so cogently in Saturday's readings, does this disconnect mean we should just give up? If grace is so important, should we sin a lot, so that "grace may abound?" Grace abounds apart from our sins, and we shouldn't use the mercy of God as an excuse for our own laziness. If I can't take a big step, I can take a little step. If I can't afford to have a private tailor make me a shirt, I can nevertheless work to end the exploitation of the poor in other countries. I can talk with tailors to find out more about the economics of making shirts, and perhaps think about recruiting some unemployed poor people to start a shirt-making cooperative. Other people will have other "little steps." You could start a compost heap. Or take a casserolle to a new family who moved into your neighborhood. You could not snap at somebody in anger, be kind to the counter staff at a fast food restaurant. As with evil, so it is with good: small acts of goodness pave the way for greater acts of goodness, justice, mercy, and peace. "Grow in Christ" means something starts small and gets bigger.

Paul continues with powerful metaphors of life and death, living the Resurrection in our daily life. "You too must think of yourselves as being dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus." That is, Arrogance, Exploitation, Violence, Death or Beauty, Wisdom, Justice, Love.

Jesus reminds us that the worldly explanation -- what seems "obvious" -- may not be in fact true. A tower fell on some people and killed them, did this happen because they were wicked? No -- but Jesus says that if we do not repent, the wages of sin is death. Worshippers at the Temple were murdered by Pilate -- they were not the greatest sinners, but if we do not repent, the wages of sin is death.

God is patient, he will put up with a lot, even a prolonged period of barrenness. We who are gardeners for God must likewise be patient, remembering the mercy of God and his desire that all repent. But sooner or later it is necessary for the rubber to meet the road, for deeds to follow beliefs. God's justice will not be delayed forever.

Thursday morning early I went to my home town for the funeral of my aunt, Carol Rae Waldrop Perry, who was my first music teacher. In her 44 years of teaching music, she undoubtedly taught hundreds of children the beauty and discipline of music. In her work as a church musician, she "married and buried" two generations in my home town of Frederick, Oklahoma. She was born on a farm in a small town, and lived her entire life there, faithfully married for 46 years to her high school sweet-heart, and had children and grandchildren. We laid her to rest facing the East, carried to her grave by neighbors who had known her all of her life, in a cemetary beside her ancestors, and we read the Twenty-third Psalm. As I stood by her grave, I had a moment of peace and understanding of the "rightness" of these natural rhythms of our lives. We are born, we grow, mature, and our physical bodies die, we transition to a new order of existence beyond the grave. We are very sad about our loss, but if all people lived 62 years in the way that she did, the world would be a better place.

Her children rise up and praise her, her husband, too, extols her: Many are the women of proven worth, but you have excelled them all. Proverbs 31:28-29

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