This morning’s lectionary message comes from Romans 13:8-14, where we’ll begin by quoting Paul: “[F]or the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8b). Paul emphasizes the preeminence of love, which is a wonderful quality to highlight. We know that there is nothing greater than love, and that all the Old Testament Law is fulfilled when people love one another. Love is also one way to describe God’s very essence, which is at core spirit.
People who want to know who and what God is must embrace love. Both Jesus and Paul reiterated how when people love one another they are also loving God. And the greatest commandment of all, to love God with our heart, soul, mind and strength, is similarly fulfilled when we love other people as we want to be loved (hence the Golden Rule of doing to others what we want done for us).
Consistent loving is not easy. If it were, then everyone would be doing it (which, sadly, they are not). Love must transcend trite slogans and become a revitalizing presence that empowers us to respond to the people around us, those whom we can accept for who and what they are. If compassion is love in action then we need to become ever more active in receiving and sharing God’s love and truth with every living creature. This is the heart of Jesus’ gospel and is incumbent upon all followers of God to fulfill.
There is more to Paul’s message than an emphasis on our favorite four-letter word: love. So, we must now transition to another of Paul’s topics, this one about waking from spiritual slumber. Again, Paul says it best: “Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep” (Romans 13:11a). Time is paramount. Each day we move closer to the realization of our progression from this life to the next. Make no mistake: eternal life has already begun. We must be awake and aware of the splendid task of living and loving in the time we have left on earth.
We exist in an era wherein much has been discovered about awareness, which is a form of mindfulness. Being aware and mindful of who and what we are is critical. People often don’t exercise proper awareness about their larger situation, their environment and other facts impacting their lives. A life of wellbeing requires that people not only know who they are but also how choices impact the surrounding world. As a form of hyper-awareness, mindfulness if even more powerful in that it helps people connect profoundly with their thinking, sensations, emotions and feelings in relation to the meaning and circumstances of where they are (both physically and philosophically). Mindfulness helps a person know how they affect their surroundings as much as how the surroundings affect them and others.
Ready for the end? Of life? Paul seemed to be prepared, and the overwhelming sense is that he expected the world would collapse in a fit of fire and finality. For better or for worse—I think better!—the world didn’t end in the first-century. The sense of urgency in the New Testament writings is still unfulfilled because Jesus hasn’t returned and no one seems to have a valid clue as to if or when that will happen. We need not sink into a faithless despair or a cynical apathy as we debate the legitimacy of biblical prophecy. Instead, we can take Paul’s advice to “live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness” (Romans 13:13a).
Is Paul’s recommendation for us to eat, drink, and be merry? Celebration is fine, especially if we do it for a greater good, such as rejuvenating ourselves and sharing the joy of God’s kingdom in a loving, compassionate manner. Living in mindful love isn’t dependent upon pin-pointing Jesus’ return or attending the latest Book of Revelation prophecy seminar. We can take Paul’s advice to simply be ready whenever our end occurs. We are ready when we know who and what we are, and when we choose to live intentionally, aware, awake and mindful of the redemptive love of God.
It’s not that we can’t have fun, but that we should choose long-term joy over short-term indulgence. A life of wellbeing means that people are thinking and behaving in a holistic manner, which means that the mind, emotions, spirit and body are doing their part contributing to health and happiness. If we receive and share God’s love and truth then we are certainly on the path toward wellbeing. We needn’t hold our breath waiting for the heavenly trumpet to sound at the end of history because God’s marvelous spirt enlivens us in the present.
–Reverend Larry Hoxey