I remember when I was working with someone who did not appreciate being asked to “pay attention.” It is true that at times this can be a command by someone in authority that sets one’s teeth on edge and gets one’s back up, so to speak, but in this case the person really did need to learn to pay attention. Saying “Pay attention” to this person was in fact, at times, necessary to get them to listen and then show a change in the behavior necessary to fulfill what was needed.
In our Exodus passage, God needs to get Moses’ attention. Moses doesn’t really know God; however, the Lord still calls to him and wants to tell him something very important. God’s call to Moses is like saying “pay attention, for this is very important.” Of course the burning bush and the request to take off his sandals because this is holy ground should have clued in Moses that this conversation was going to be very special. God, who chose the ancient Israelites to be a people set apart to do the Lord’s will on earth, wanted Moses to listen and then consequently show that he listened by doing what God required of him. This was no easy task to ask of Moses. The Hebrew people had been under atrocious enslavement to Egypt for a long time and their treatment as slaves was getting so burdensome as to not be sustainable. The Creator of all heard the Hebrew people’s cries and wanted to release them from their bondage.
Going to Pharaoh could easily have meant death, especially since Moses had fled from being part of Pharaoh’s family for killing an Egyptian. God asked Moses to trust that the Lord of all would be with him to strengthen and protect him for this important work. Moses did pay attention as he listened to God. That affected his behavior enough to lead him to Pharaoh and that eventually involved freedom for the Hebrew people and land they could call their very own.
In our Romans, chapter 12 passage, Paul is asking the believers in Rome to pay attention, too. He too wants them to listen and show in their behavior the way God wants them to live as revealed in Jesus Christ. Before I go into detail on that I’d like to tell you an abbreviated version of the following story. It is called “God Lives under the Bed” by an anonymous author:
“I envy Kevin. My brother, Kevin, thinks God lives under his bed, for heaven’s sake! Well, that’s what I heard him say one night.
He was praying out loud in his dark bedroom, and I stopped to listen. ‘Are you there, God?’, he said. ‘Where are you? Oh, I see.
Under the bed…’ I giggled softly and tiptoed off to my own room. Kevin’s unique perspectives are often a source of amusement. But that night something else lingered long after the humor. I realized for the first time the very different world Kevin lives in. He was born 30 years ago, mentally disabled as a result of difficulties during labor. Apart from his 6-foot-2 size, there are few ways in which he is an adult. He reasons and communicates with the capabilities of a 7-year-old, and he always will. He will probably always believe that God lives under his bed. That close, personal proximity is important to him.
“I remember wondering if Kevin is ever dissatisfied with his, what many of might think of as, monotonous life? Up before dawn each day, off to work at a workshop for the disabled, home to walk our cocker spaniel, return to eat his favorite macaroni-and-cheese for dinner, and later to bed. The only variation in the entire scheme is laundry, when he hovers excitedly over the washing machine like a mother with her newborn child. He does not seem dissatisfied. He lopes out to the bus every morning at 7:05, eager for a day of simple work and wrings his hands excitedly while the water boils on the stove before dinner, and he stays up late twice a week to gather our dirty laundry for his next day’s laundry chores.
“Kevin doesn’t know what it means to be discontent. His life is simple. He will never know the entanglements of wealth or power, and he does not care what brand of clothing he wears or what kind of food he eats. He never worries that one day they may not be because he doesn’t know how. Kevin is never happier than when he is working. He does not shrink from a job when it is begun and doesn’t leave a job until it is finished. Yet, when his tasks are done, Kevin knows how to relax. His heart is pure. He still believes everyone tells the truth, and treats other people in that manner.
Free from pride and unconcerned with appearances, Kevin is not afraid to cry when he is hurt, angry or sorry. He is always sincere.
And he trusts God. Kevin comes to God as a child. God is his closest companion. My obligations, my fear, my pride, my circumstances – they all become disabilities when I do not trust them to God’s care and when I do not come before God like a little child. Too often, unlike me, Kevin prays in the dark, soaking
up the goodness and love of God. And that is how he lives too.
And one day, when the mysteries of heaven are opened, and we are all amazed at how close God really is to our hearts, I’ll realize that God heard the simple prayers of a boy who believed that God lived under his bed and Kevin won’t be surprised at all!”
When we consider the church, in Greek- ekklesia- and commonly known as community, is called out of the present world and set aside for God’s distinct purposes, it may be helpful to consider some questions. “What is the character of this church community? What are the norms that guide and the practices that guide and motivate this same community?” What is its stance and response in relation to the world? Kevin can inform these questions for the faith community as can the apostle Paul, in our Romans passage. Paul wants the community of believers, down through and far past us, to engage in a way of being and acting that seeks to embody genuine love, mutual regard, humility, solidarity, peace, and harmony. It is a way of being and acting that cares not only for members of the faith community but also for the wider society, particularly the strangers in our midst.
Definitely opposed to our society’s culture of conformity and compliance, those who embody the power of the risen Christ exemplify behavior and morality that promotes life-giving relationships and encourages hope. Hearing that, we may now ask a question of our own behavior: Is what I’m thinking, saying, and/or doing life-giving to others or does it put down, flatten, spirit-crush, damage or destroy life and hope? People of God, Paul explains that we are not to repay evil with evil or follow behaviors that are against the ways of Christ such as the hate that was so evident at the rally in Charlottesville and, although not all, many counter-protestors were trying to replace with peace and love. We are a community set apart not because we arrogantly think of ourselves as better, but because we witness to Christ’s love and genuine mutuality and compassion. This Body of Christ is to engage in a way of being and acting that seeks to embody genuine love, mutual regard, generosity, humility, solidarity, peace, gentleness and attaining harmony with one another. These are Christ- and God-like traits that Paul puts before us in this passage and others in his letter to the Romans and the Galatians.
The actress from Everybody Loves Raymond and now in the sitcom The Middle, Patricia Heaton, expresses what can be helpful to us as we strive to be the faith community God sets apart to witness to an oft-times dark and hurting world: Anytime anybody is rude, it makes me double-check my own behavior to make sure I don’t do that to other people. As I have said other times, when we read a rude or disrespectful post on a website, Facebook or Twitter, do we perpetuate that rudeness and disrespect, do we lash out just as rudely, do we pass on that rudeness or do we counter it by posting that we disagree and why? Kevin wouldn’t approve of that behavior!
William Glasser, an American Psychologist states, “If you want to change attitudes, start with a change in (your own) behavior.” Change begins with us (say that again with me- Change begins with us!) A youth minister tells of a confirmation retreat wherein sixty teenagers were encouraged to create an agreement that would govern their behavior throughout the retreat. The group started brainstorming what behaviors they though Jesus Christ would want them to show. Right away one young man emphatically stated, “No drama!” (Yeah, right!, with a bunch of middle-school age children.) Another said, “Do not talk when others are talking.” More suggestions followed: Respect the leaders. Participate fully in the activities. Do not gossip about one another. Listen and learn to what they needed to successfully complete the agenda of the confirmation retreat. Show respect to one another. The leaders posted all their suggestions on a board on newsprint and each of the teens and leaders signed their agreement.
Perhaps we could sign such a covenant before each committee meeting or for every time we start to post on Facebook or Twitter, or maybe even every time we get ready to leave the sanctuary. We could list all the positive and up-lifting behaviors we find taught by Jesus and by Paul and each one of us sign such a covenant before or after every worship service, church event, Sunday School and Bible Study class, pot luck meal, mission project, and puppet or choir practice. Or perhaps we could simply listen for God calling us out and setting us apart to live the way our Redeeming Lord wants us to live as we then show that proper behavior to others. I’m encouraging us all to “pay attention” to Christ within guiding what we think and say and do. May you pray continually for God’s gracious guidance for in your life.
Alleluia! What a Savior! Amen.