Sunday, August 08, 2010

Sermon: Wake/Rest/Serve

I had struggled and sweated over my Master’s thesis. I hadn’t slept. But I finished it—turned it in, and got on a plane back to the United States.
I wrote the sermon for my best friend’s wedding on the 11-hour plane ride from London to Los Angeles. I hadn’t slept.
I wrote my Best man’s toast and a speech about brotherhood, singleness, and friendship for the bachelor party on the plane from LA to Eugene Oregon. I hadn’t slept.
Kevin—my friend who was getting married—picked me up at the airport. I hadn’t slept.
Then came the bachelor party. Everyone showed up at the house down by the river. A bonfire was lit, a few golf-balls were carelessly hit into the Willamette River. Drinks were poured. I hadn’t slept.
Everyone gathered around—I gave my speech about bachelorhood, brotherhood, and continual friendship. I still hadn’t slept.
I began to talk to a friend I hadn’t seen in several years. Then I sat down on a couch.

Then I was woken up by someone vigorously knocking against my sternum.
“Man,” he said, “I’m glad that woke you up! We’d talked to you, poured water on you—I even slapped you on the face a couple of times. I can’t believe you slept through Kevin’s Bachelor party! I can’t believe you couldn’t stay awake for a celebration like this!”
I hadn’t slept. I couldn’t stay awake any longer.
And so, I want to say three things to you today.
1. Stay Awake
2. Rest in God’s Grace
3. Serve your neighbor
Please turn to your neighbor and say to your neighbor, “Stay awake. Rest in God’s Grace. Serve your neighbor.”

Let us pray.
Holy Spirit, please bless the words of my lips, make them true, make them faithful. Please bless too the ears and the hearts of the congregation, fill them with good things and awaken within them mercy, grace, love, and compassion.

Stay awake.
Stay awake, because the Son of Man is coming like a thief.
Stay awake, because God breaks into our lives in unexpected ways and at unexpected times.
Stay awake because we may bolt the lock of our door, but that just means He will come through the window.
Stay awake because, we may re-enforce our windows with bars, but that just means She’ll cut a hole in the wall.
Stay awake because, we avoid going out at night, because we might get mugged. But that just means God will mug us in broad daylight as we walk to our car.

Have I exhausted you yet? Has all this talk of not sleeping and of Staying Awake made you want to collapse in the pew, or onto a couch?
Well, when I say, “stay awake” I’m not talking about that zombie-like wakefulness caused by jet-lag and poor planning. That wakefulness that is caffeinated exhaustion.
No. Because, at that Bachelor Party—even when I was awake—I wasn’t REALLY awake. I wasn’t alert. I wasn’t aware. I wasn’t present for my friends or experiences, or even present for myself.
And so, when I talk about being awake, I am taking about a wake-ful-ness that IS alert, is aware, and is present.
Because, if the Son of Man is coming like a thief in the night
and if God acts in unexpected times and unexpected places,
we need to be more than just awake.
We need to be able to catch God in the act. We need to be surprised by God, not sleepy, not sluggish, not dull.
And God does act in unexpected times and places.
It is, in fact, a central truth of our faith.
It is a re-occurring piece of our story.
The Israelites cried out in Egypt for a savior/ and got mumbling Moses.
The disciples looked for a Messiah on a war-horse/ and they got one on a donkey.
The scriptures say that dying on a tree is a curse/ so Jesus went ahead and died on a tree.

Stay awake, stay alert, be aware, and you will catch God doing amazing right here and right now.
For example, when you think of the various Lutheran churches in the city, you would assume that those that are growing the most would be the ones with a lot of money—those is the best of neighborhoods—those with the most staff.
But we here in Pimlico/Park Heights know better.
We know that God acts in unexpected ways and in unexpected places.
We know that, while it might not look like it today, with the choir and pastor and head musicians gone—we are one of the congregations that continues to grow.
Stay awake!

Stay awake, but don’t get me wrong. I know it can be hard to stay awake.
I know it can be difficult to stay awake in the night.
I know it can be hard to stay awake when the sun goes down.
To stay awake when the edges of dusk fade, when it so dark that you might as well have your eyes closed.
When you can stare into another person’s eyes and you could just as well be staring at a blank wall.
I know its hard to stay awake when the darkness is so deep that it is invisible.
Its hard to stay awake. Its hard to be awake to God’s movement—because so often it is invisible.
Its also hard to stay awake because there are long periods of time when neither thief, or mumbling Moses, or even so much as a DONKEY shows up.
The letter to the Hebrews, after all, describes multiple faithful people—
Abel, Enoch, Noah,
Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Moses, Rahab, Samson,
David, and the prophets
who all died without having received the promise. It describes these people as having lived with hope in the invisible and a conviction in things unseen.
And it is important to acknowledge that. Because we can get discouraged. We can think that if things aren’t going all right we’re doing something wrong.
We can think that if we lose a loved one its our fault.
We can think that when our prayers go unanswered it is because there is no one to answer us.
We can even think that God has abandoned us.

Let me make it plain. A neighbor asked me the other day if I talk to myself in the morning—because she apparently hears me praying in the morning.
And you know what? As far as the visible world is concerned I could just as well be talking to myself.

And yet, anyone who has been following the oil spill—in the gulf lately can say a little something about the power of invisibility and things unseen.
After all, the administration recently told us that 70% of the oil that leaked out of that wound in the sea floor has disappeared! Yes, disappeared.
They can no longer see 70% of the oil. But that doesn’t mean its not there. It just means it is either deep below the surface of the ocean, or has dispersed and become to small for the eye to see.
Likewise, that doesn’t mean praying is talking to oneself. It doesn’t mean unanswered prayers are unheeded ones.
No, it just means we continue to stay awake—it just means we continue to wait convinced and hopeful about things unseen and invisible.
But yes, sometimes its hard to stay awake.

And all of that leads me to the question: How is it that we can stay awake?
How is it that we can be convinced in unseen and invisible things?
Well, I wouldn’t have fallen asleep at that Bachelor Party if I had prepared myself by resting. If I had given myself time to sleep on the plane, or even just a nap on the ride to the party.
And as Christians we need to rest.
We need to prepare ourselves for wakefulness by being rested.
There is a reason we talk about Sabbath, and more than that there is a reason we talk about Grace!
Yes. Grace!
I know!
I know!
I’m too Lutheran for my own good!
But I have to say it and say it and say it again.

Just as a runner doesn’t run the day before a marathon,
and just as a speaker doesn’t shout until they are hoarse at a basketball game the day before a big speech.
We don’t work to try to earn God’s love—because when we do that we forget to rest in Him and know His love!
We rest in God’s grace because, the Master is returning from the wedding banquet.
We rest in God’s grace because, the still small voice is speaking a word of comfort and truth to us.
We rest in God’s grace because, Jesus comes to us in our times of trial, and asks if he may wash our feet and serve us with gentleness and power.
We rest in God’s grace because, no matter who we are, no matter what we’ve done, no matter what situation we are in, God is with us and God is for us.
It is God’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom.
It is Jesus who says to us, “do not be afraid, little flock.”
Rest in God’s grace. Rest too, in community with your sisters and brothers—finding strength in this community here.
Rest in your baptism, knowing that you are a Child of God.
Rest too in the holy meal of communion, rejuvenated by the blessed words—the body of Christ give FOR YOU—the blood of Christ shed FOR YOU.

Rest, because we have a calling.
Yes, a calling to be awake—to witness God’s unexpected and amazing acts.
But not only that!
We have a calling to be awake for our neighbor.
And this is no small task.
How do I know this? Because whenever the gospel of Luke contains the phrase, “do not be afraid,”
its time to brace yourself!
When the angel Gabriel announced John’s coming and Jesus’ coming he said, “do not be afraid.”
When Jesus called his first disciples he told them, “be not afraid.”
And today, we are told, “do not be afraid.”
Do not be afraid, but stay awake because our brothers and sisters cry our in need.
Stay awake because there will be a neighbor in need of a generous hand.
There will be a neighbor in need of a kind word.
There will be a neighbor looking for a guide and a mentor.
But not only that, there will be neighbors who need you to listen—really listen—when they speak.
There will be neighbors who need you to treat them as equals even when you don’t want to.
There will be neighbors you don’t like. There will be neighbors who don’t like you.
Don’t be afraid, but stay awake to serve your neighbor.
Just as Jesus dressed himself for service in order to serve his disciples we, as his disciples—as those who follow after him—are called to dress ourselves for service as well.

The next morning, after the Bachelor Party
I had slept!
I was awake.
I was at Kevin and Kelly’s wedding banquet.
I celebrated that joyous event and served my friends by preaching at their wedding, and by roasting and toasting them at the reception.
“Stay awake. Rest in God’s Grace. Serve your neighbor.”