Friday, May 18, 2012

Understanding the Time

    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. 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. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime... [C]lothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ....
-Romans 13:11-14 (NIV)

Chicago is expecting guests this weekend. We’re hosting a NATO summit, and so we’re expecting several thousand dignitaries, including heads of state, government officials, and an international press corps.
    We’re also expecting an international corps of protesters calling attention to what they see as injustice and inequity, especially in the corporate world. With demonstrators expected to set up shop outside many of Chicago’s corporate offices, and fearing violent confrontations, some offices are encouraging their employees to stay home today and Monday. Others are suggesting that their workers dress casually on those days, and refrain from carrying bags with corporate logos on them, in order to help them “blend in” with the presumed protesters. Tenants in one Loop office building received a memo urging them to “look like a protester” when they arrive for work on the days of the Summit.
    “Blend in.” “Look like a protester.” Good advice, perhaps, in a situation where standing out might be uncomfortable. Shorts and a t-shirt aren’t proper dress for a traditional wedding, any more than a cocktail dress works for a beach party. Sometimes, not blending in might even make you a target.
    It’s all about understanding the times.
     Blending in is perhaps a good idea for a couple of days because, practically speaking, Tuesday will come and the NATO delegates and protesters alike will go home. Life will go back to normal, or what passes for it, and it will be business as usual. Deadlines. Meetings with clients and customers. You know - work stuff. And when life goes back to normal, well, you don’t want to look like a protester then. You want to be dressed for business.
   Sometimes understanding the time means that you have to choose to stand out. You know, for instance, that even if everyone else in your office building is wearing PJs to work, it’s still a bad idea. Pajamas are for bedtime. When the protesters are gone, not one bank in the Loop will want its employees wearing t-shirts, jeans, sandals, and Anonymous masks. At the the office, you have to dress for business. Whether anyone else is or not.
    It’s all about understanding the time.
    Sometimes the church forgets the importance of understanding the time. And when we do, we inevitably make bad fashion choices.
    When Paul told the church in Rome that their “salvation is nearer now than when we first believed,” he was reminding them of the time. “The night is nearly over,” he warned them. “The day is almost here.” He meant that Jesus was coming, that the world as they knew it, with all its values and priorities and rules for success, was winding down to its end. A new era was dawning, in which the kingdom of God would upset the current world order and put his creation right, bringing an end to injustice, evil, grief, and death. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection had been the first act of that new era, the lightening of the skies before the sunrise. The sunrise, Paul wrote, was just over the horizon.
    That’s what time it is.
    And with the night ending, and the day coming - well, the smart thing to do is get out of bed, put aside the PJ’s, and get dressed for the day.
    There are things you wear when you’re asleep that aren’t appropriate for your waking hours. Things done in the darkness that wouldn’t be done in the light. To understand the time is to understand what not to wear, what’s not appropriate for people who know that daylight is just over the horizon, waiting to break. We have to “take off” whatever belongs to the night and the darkness, acts and attitudes that betray a connection to the current age. If the current age was the last word, if we were expecting nothing else, then some or all of those things might be appropriate. As things stand, though, those of us who know differently need a wardrobe change.
    That’s why it’s a failure when the church adopts too closely the values of the world in which it exists. It compromises our witness to a dawning new age, kind of as you’d look at a person who was warning of the coming day while wearing a nightshirt and slippers. It just lacks credibility.
    Of course, understanding the time isn’t just about knowing what to take off. (Imagine how that would work in the office....) It’s also about knowing what to put on.
    Or, in our case, who to put on..
    We’re to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” In a sense, we do this at baptism. But, like a lot of following Jesus, it’s left to us to make real through our actions what we do symbolically through our rituals. So when Paul tells the Roman Christians, and us, to put on Christ, he’s talking about the kind of people we should try to be. In short, we’re to be people who look like him, who imitate his actions, copy his attitude, live by his priorities. One of the reasons we choose the clothes we choose, of course, is to make some sort of statement about who we are and what we want others to know about us.
    In putting on Christ, then, we’re saying something about who we are. We belong to him, and our identity is now wrapped up in his. In putting on Christ, we’re saying something about what we want the people who know us to understand about us.
     Putting on Christ, of course, demands a price. It will require that we stand out in a world in which many people live by other codes and understand the time very differently. It will mean sometimes being in uncomfortable situations, and will sometimes even make us targets. But that shouldn’t surprise us, should it? After all, Jesus was a target himself.
    So if you go down to the Loop this weekend, you might want to blend in. You might want to look like a protester. But may we never blend in as we live in our world and walk among its people. May we understand the time - that a new era is coming, is just over the horizon - and may we strip off the acts, attitudes, and values that reflect the era that’s ending. And may we put on Jesus, so that those around can see by what we say and do that we belong to him and to the age to come.
    Now if I could just figure out what color shirt goes best with my hand-lettered “Tax the Rich” sign....

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