The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s132e06 St Barnabas Orange East Sunday 20 20/8/2006
'Sleeper awake!' Ephesians 5.12
It is interesting to me that the final injunction that Jesus gave publicly was 'keep awake!' Matthew 24.42 (the three parables of the kingdom in chapter 25 interrupt the pattern), Mark 13.37 and Luke 21.36. This ought to alert us to the importance of this and we might be tempted to make a cardinal virtue of insomnia :-)
I have always enjoyed my sleep and over the years I have come to appreciate how necessary it is. I find that I am becoming a contented, if not somewhat selfish, 'after hours' recluse. When my boys were younger, there would be some mornings when I thought that one or other of them had grown an inch overnight! (2.54 cms doesn't quite have the same ring to it! :-) Often when a particular issue is troubling us, things seem clearer in the morning after a good night's sleep. And in hospital patients are encouraged to rest as much as possible as this is when healing happens. So growth, processing and healing happens, during our times of sleep, when it seems we (at least consciously) have the least to do with it.
Our times of sleep are when we are most at-one with ourselves; and so the call of Christ to wake up is a calling back to those people God has put around us.
Both of these are important, for we can just as easily burn ourselves out helping others as we can living a self-centred life. Jesus is not the hard-taskmaster. He invited his disciples to come away by themselves to rest and recuperate.
When we are asleep we continue to breathe, our brains still function though at a different level, our ears are able to hear, our body is still sensitive to touch -- but our eyes are closed -- we do not see. When we are awake we do see and we see others. So the call to wakefulness is the call to perception. The call to wakefulness is a call to perceive who we are and who others are. And who we are as individuals is a child of God. Who others are, similarly they too are children of God.
In that lovely passage in 1 Corinthians 13 Paul says: 'now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face'. But of course the face we will still be looking at will be our own and so the promise is that then we will realize how we have been instruments of God. If this is true for us, it will be true when we look at others. We will see how others have been instruments of God as well.
For me, this is what Jesus meant when he said: "The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!" (Matthew 6.22-23) If we look at others and ourselves critically, never seeing the good, how dark we make our world!
When Jesus said publicly 'keep alert' to the crowds, had they done this they would have witnessed, less that a week on, his crucifixion, and they are bidden not to be scandalized by this.
But the other thing we don't do when we are asleep is that we don't move -- unless we are prone to sleep walking of course. So when Christ bids the sleeper to awake, he bids us rouse ourselves and move -- rather than to stay where we are.
It is not the first time I have commented that everyone in the Anglican Church knows that we have to change and that we will die if we don't and so everyone agrees that change must happen -- and so we agree, provided someone else does it! In the Anglican Church, if we are high church -- then it's the low church who have to change -- and vice versa. If we are broad church -- then it's those fundamentalists who have to change -- and vise versa. If parishes have to merge, then that's alright -- provided the service I attend remains and essentially remains unaltered. Of course everything really would be so much better if everyone came to Church -- like me! And this leads me to ask: 'Where is the good news we have to offer?' If we refuse to change, how can we ask anyone else to change?
In the most recent issue of 'Marketplace' (August 2006 p10,11) there is an article on an Anglican congregation where the average age is under 40 -- a service for children who go to Junior Surf Life Saving training on Sunday mornings. This service is at 5.30pm on Sunday evenings. It is a lovely idea, and I am sure that many parishes would be pleased to follow suit. I could well imagine some people in parishes showing this article to their clergy and suggesting that she or he do something similar J! What a wonderful way to save the church and not disturb the existing services and patterns of worship! By someone else doing something!
If we intend to do nothing but stay the same, then what do we need God's grace for? -- we can stay the same and do nothing all by ourselves! I certainly can.
Jesus calls us to be awake, to have our eyes open and to have a healthy eye -- one that sees good in others. The people who opposed Jesus were those who saw the good things Jesus did, but refused to allow that they might be 'of God'. So we must be awake to the presence of God, not just in our own lives but also in the lives of others. It is only then that we will have any good news for others -- or for ourselves for that matter. And becoming awake we are called to move.
In recent times the ('other') Old Testament lesson has been the story of the affair King David had with the wife of Uriah the Hittite. When Bathsheba falls pregnant David conspires to have Uriah killed. The prophet Nathan catches King David out and the moral of the story is that there will be hell to pay if the sacrifices you make to God are not your own. God cares for the foreigner, even if it is the anointed King of Israel who is the perpetrator.
This story calls us to make sure that the sacrifices we make to God are our own -- that we move -- not that we get others to move.
Most churches I have been associated with have operated on the dictum that children are to be seen and not heard. Sunday Schools happen during the main worship time, so that the worship of the elderly can carry on uninterrupted. This is just another version of the same paradigm -- avoiding moving ourselves. Other people have to come and fit in to our worship, to admire our devotion, and to not change anything. And I suggest it is precisely here that our Church is dying, because for all our expressed love of others, we actually only want others for our own purposes -- to enable our worship patterns to continue on unaltered -- world without end. 'Our' sacrifices to God are actually at the expense of someone else's -- so they are really someone else's -- and there will be hell to pay -- even if we are like King David -- the anointed ones of God. Paedophiles, for all their professed love for others, actually only want to use others for their own purposes -- they actually only want to dominate and manipulate others. Do we think God will bless their activities? Hardly! Then why would God bless our efforts to manipulate and dominate other people, even if we presume we are doing it in the very name of God?
Christ calls us to awake from our sleep -- to see ourselves and others in the clear light of the gospel of God's unconditional acceptance for all people, whatever their age, whether they come to church or not, their colour, race, creed, gender, or with whom they express their intimate affections. We are called to see God at work in these others as well as ourselves, and to move to make our structures reflect this primary gospel truth rather than continue to try to dominate and manipulate others.
And let me finish by saying that while I might like my bed -- it is in my waking hours, when I am seeing the good in others and moving -- that is the really exciting time, and when I am most conscious of God around me.
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