We are wrapping up our worship series, Creatures of Habit. We have acknowledged that even the most spontaneous among us are still creatures of habit. We have been talking about how a life with Jesus is more than simply saying, “I believe that Jesus saved me.” If you understand what Jesus has saved you from, that only gets you through the door. You may have heard this metaphor before, but our life can be compared with a house that we walk by in a neighborhood.
You can walk by the house and not even really notice it. That is when we are basically oblivious to God in our lives. As the Holy Spirit begins to work on us, we may enter the gate and walk up to the porch of the house. This is when we are learning about God and Jesus, but we are not sure what we believe about it. Then, there is the crucial moment. The door opens, and we are invited to come inside the house. When we cross that threshold, it could be compared with that moment when we realize not only what Jesus did for us, but how much we need it, and how little we deserve it. Now, we are just inside the front door, but there is a whole house with many rooms to explore. We spend the rest of our lives finding the hidden gems in the corners and alcoves of the house. It’s like someone has said to us, “Take off your coat, and stay a while.”
We don’t need to wear the old overcoat that we needed outside of the house. We have something new for the inside. It’s a give and take kind of thing. We change, and we are changed. We find the habits that we can let go of, and we learn of new habits that we can take up. We’ve spent the last couple of times looking at kinds of habits that we may want to let go of. This week we will learn about cultivating new habits. Those habits can help us to make good choices that are helpful and uplifting to others and maybe even to ourselves.
Michael Phelps, the Olympic gold medal swimmer, said, “I am kind of a creature of habit. Once I get used to doing things, it’s like second nature.” He fell out of some of his good habits for a little while and got into some trouble, but he resumed the good habits and won some more gold medals.
Wayne Gretzky, the acclaimed hockey player, said, “No matter who you are, we’re creatures of habit. The better your habits are, the better they will be in pressure situations.”
And finally, Joseph Wood Krutch, a highly regarded writer and naturalist said, “When, in the present world, men behave well, that is no doubt sometimes because they are creatures of habit as well as, sometime, because they are reasonable.” Of course, he also said, “Cats are rather delicate creatures, and they are subject to a good many different ailments, but I have never heard of one who suffered from insomnia.”
So, today, we will be talking about cultivating, putting on, the good habits, the ones that will serve us and the ones around us in the pressure situations. Our Scripture passage come from Romans 13:8-14.
Hear the word of the Lord!
[Paul says,] 8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,”
“You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
11 And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.
In the summer, it can start getting light outside here as early as 4:00 in the morning. On the very longest days, you can see a tinge of light on the horizon as early as 3:30. Until more recent years, I would frequently sleep until 11:30 a.m. on my day off, but now I can wake up at 4:30- 5:00. It’s amazing how my attitude has changed. Now, sometimes I get more things done before 7:00 am than I used to get done all day. When the sky is blue and the sunshine is bright, I am anxious to go out and do something, but now I usually have to wait until some kind of “decent” hour. It’s so disappointing when the clouds roll in. It looks dreary, and people want to stay inside. Why couldn’t they have woken up earlier? We could have gotten ahead of the day.
That’s kind of what Paul is talking about here. Paul is saying Time to wake up and get started on the day. But this is a different kind of day than we might usually think of. With the resurrection of Jesus, we are in a new age. We are supposed to live like it. With Jesus we are supposed to live according to the new rules of the new world. The morning has dawned even though most people are still asleep. Paul urges us not to wait. The time is NOW! Or as I say to motivate myself, “Daylight’s burning!”
Paul is contrasting the morning with the things that are done in the dark. What are the things that we do in the dark? Why do we do these things there? Privacy? Sometimes privacy is important because it is no one else’s business. Sometimes it’s because it’s something we shouldn’t be doing. It’s the old habits, the old life, those things that hurt ourselves or others. Those are the things that Paul is talking about. It’s those things that we would be ashamed of in broad daylight.
There was a study published in the study published in the journal Psychological Science that shown that darkness itself can have an effect on our behavior. “The volunteers were given $6 to divide any way they wanted between themselves and their partner. There was no question of honesty on the line—keeping the entire $6 and giving the partner nothing was a permissible choice—but there were questions of generosity and fairness, and once again, darkness made a difference. Participants who wore sunglasses gave an average of $1.81, compared with $2.71 for the other group. ‘[The] participants did not expect to see or talk to the recipient of their offer before or after the experiment,’ the researchers wrote. ‘Nevertheless, darkness increased self-interested behavior’” (Jeffrey Kluger, “Why Shady Deeds Are More Likely to Happen in the Dark,” Time, updated March 3, 2010, http://content.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1969242,00.html). A slight tangent, but one thing that it tells me is that we need to be extra vigilant when in the dark or even wearing sunglasses.
In any case, Paul indicates urgency here. “The hour has come.” Why so urgent? Is it because he thought that Jesus’ return was immanent? Some have suggested that, but based on other his other writings,probably not. He comforts the Corinthians that the people who have already died before Christ’s return are not lost. (cf. 1 Cor 15) It is more like what I like to call the Parable of the Young Ladies that Jesus told in Matthew 25:1-13. There were 10 young ladies in a wedding party, and they were waiting for the bridegroom before going into the party. Five had brought extra oil for their lamps and five didn’t. They all had to wait a long time, and they all fell asleep. When they woke, five realized that their lamps were going out and needed more oil. While they were out buying more, the bridegroom came. The ladies who were there accompanied him into the party. The others were shut out. The point is that we have to be ready at any time. We may have to wait a while, but there is no benefit in delay. The time is now!
So, what are the good habits that we are supposed to cultivate? If it is helpful to have a list to strive for, you can start with the Fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (cf. Gal 5:22-23) As Paul told us earlier, these “are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” (Romans 13:9) These are the attributes by which God lives.
Now, if you have paid attention to my sermons in the past, you will remember that I have said that we can’t make our own fruit on demand. We can’t just say to ourselves, “I want fruit,” try really hard, and produce fruit. It is a result of living a life with God. It is part of the sanctification process, being made holy, being made like Jesus. It is part of the inner transformation that the Holy Spirit produces within us. However, we also have a part to play. We can use the metaphor from earlier about exploring the house that we entered when we came to believe. We physically move around the house, exploring it, learning more about it, as we move deeper and deeper inside.
But to keep with the gardening metaphor of producing fruit. We can’t have fruit just by trying harder, but we can cultivate the fruit. We can work with the Holy Spirit. I am reminded of another parable Jesus told in Luke 13:6-9. A man was concerned that his fig tree wasn’t producing any fruit, and he wanted to cut it down. But, the gardener said to leave it for another year, and he would dig around it and fertilize it, then see what would happen. If we want to do that, you know what that means. Being in relationship with Jesus through study. Hanging out with other people who are followers of Jesus, but that is not enough. Like what Jesus’ mother tells the servants at the wedding in Cana, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5)
That sounds simple, but it less so out in the real world. We have to practice identifying our moods and behaviors. Look at what moves us in the right and wrong directions. We can’t just go with the flow in the moment as we are making this change because we’ll often choose out of our self-interest or what feels good at the moment.
There is an exercise that can help us, and it is called the Examen. It was popularized by Ignatius Loyola in the 16th century. The most basic idea is to look at the things that you did or happened in your day. Examine what drew you closer to God. What made you feel far from God? Where was it completely neutral? There is a more formal version of this prayer in the insert in your bulletin.
There was another idea that I came across that sounded intriguing. Some people during their morning devotional time mentally and prayerfully “clothe” themselves with the character of Jesus. They may do this by reading the Gospels or intentionally remembering their baptism on a daily basis. They are living the in new world as someone who has been raised with Christ, and try to live life accordingly.
These ideas have their similarities. One that I thought was quite bold and could get to the heart of the matter quickly is this. At any particular time or place when you are doing something, think of how you would feel if Jesus came and sat down next to you while you were doing it? I’m not talking about anything involving personal hygiene, but rather reading, watching TV or a movie, some other kind of activity.
I saw this report the other day. There has been an uproar lately about language being used on social media and objections to certain behaviors of prominent people. Yet, so many of the people doing the complaining read books and see movies where this language and these activities are a matter of course, like Fifty Shade of Grey and its sequels. I think that the writer had a point. Now, to be certain this is not true of all of the objectors, and I am not a fan of either type of behavior, language, and attitude.
The same day that I saw that report, I saw something else. It said, “Your diet is not only what you eat. It is what you watch, what you listen to, what you read, and the people you hang around.” Pay attention to what you feed your soul, not just your stomach.
The sun is rising. It’s time to get up. The time is now!
This is living by God’s Law. Not a command to earn salvation or special status, but as a response to God’s mercy and love. Living out the transformation going on inside of us. It is living a life that reflects God’s character and loving that life in a way that those who don’t know God cannot understand.
The truth is that we sing it at the end of every worship service, but do you think about the words of John Wesley’s Rule?
Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.
Look at the words. Think about them. Try to live them, not as a badge or something to be proud of, but out of joy and love of the Lord.
That is putting on the light of Christ or clothing ourselves with Christ.
Don’t wait because the time is now! There’s no more time to waste. Our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. Daylight’s burning.
The Examen: A Daily Prayer
Examen is an opportunity for peaceful daily reflective prayer. It invites us to find the movement of God in all the people and events of our day. The Examen is simply a set of introspective prompts for you to follow or adapt to your own character and spirit.
Begin with a pause and a slow, deep breath or two; become aware that you are in the presence of the Holy.
What am I especially grateful for in the past day . . .
The gift of another day…
The love and support I have received…
The courage I have mustered…
An event that took place today…
I am about to review my day; I ask for the light to know God and to know myself as God sees me.
Where have I felt true joy today?
What has troubled me today?
What has challenged me today?
Where and when did I pause today?
Have I noticed God’s presence in any of this?
In light of my review, what is my response to the God of my life?
A Look Ahead
As I look ahead, what comes to mind?
With what spirit do I want to enter tomorrow?