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Sleeper, Awake!

  • November 11, 2018
  • 08:00 AM

Sermon for 11 November 2018 (Proper 27 B REV)

Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary

Texts:             Ephesians 5.3-20; Psalm 146; Mark 12.38-44

Title:               Sleeper, Awake!

Give us your Spirit of wisdom and revelation, O God, that we may have the power to comprehend the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, and to live as children of light who give thanks to you at all times and for everything. Amen.

“’Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead! And Christ will shine on you.’ Be careful, then, how you live, not as unwise people but as wise” (Eph. 5.14-15).

My dear friends: how do we discern the wise way of life from the unwise? How can we tell when we are truly on the path that is pleasing to God?

We are moving quickly now toward the end of the Church Year, and toward the end of this Letter to the Ephesians. Only two more Sundays after today, and Advent will begin again.

We are at the point in this Letter where the author pivots to focus on specific problems there in the city of Ephesus. Specifically, problems related to that pagan society out of which these people have come.

The saints of God are urged to stay away from foolishness, from drunkenness, from all of that lusting, grasping, seedy, night-time, creeping around in the dark kind of behavior.

This has no place among the saints, among those called to live each moment in the light of God’s presence.

And so Paul urges the Church to “not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Eph 5.17). And to “try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord” (Eph 5.10).

Perhaps this sounds easy, but I’m not so sure it is. After all, what WE consider to be wise and prudent behavior is not always the same as what GOD considers to be wise.

How do we know what is the wise way to live?

After all, consider our Gospel reading this morning. As the Lord sits down in the Temple, he watches the actions of the many worshippers who came in and out on a daily basis.

First, he condemns the scribes who are careful to secure their position of honor and respect within society. And then he praises a widow who gives away her very last penny. She tosses it into the treasury of the Temple, which was already adorned with elaborate gold furniture and decorations.

Now you tell me: which one of these is the wise way to live, and which is the unwise?

Or to put it another way: which of these ways would you want your children to follow? Or would you advise a friend to follow?

You know the answer. And this is the problem we face.

To love God in the way that Jesus demonstrates – with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength – this is not the way to maximize profits, or to secure a position of influence and power in society. This is not the way to ensure a comfortable retirement, and a prosperous future for your children.

This way of Jesus – it is the way of sacrifice.

Sadly, the last few days have provided us with another reminder of the spirit of sacrifice in the tragic shooting in Thousand Oaks, California. Yet another horrific, senseless massacre of innocent people by an angry, armed man.

But as the customers ran out of the Borderline Bar, first responders ran in. And Sheriff’s Sargeant Ron Helus was shot and killed. One who served in law enforcement for 29 years and was about to retire. He didn’t have to do that. He didn’t have to run in through the front door.

Sergeant Helus could have been careful. He could have been cautious. But he didn’t. That’s not the way he was trained. That’s not the way he operated. A bit like the widow in the Gospel, perhaps, he put it all in, everything he had.

Is that an unwise way to live? Is that a foolish path to follow? To run toward the shooter? To run into a massacre in an effort to save others?

I’ve given you a half-piece of paper with a quotation from a great preacher, William Malcolm Macgregor, a Highland Scot. I love this text! I hope you take it home with you, keep it, and let it inspire you, as it does me. Please pull it out now as I read it.

“Jesus did love a man (a person) who was able, sometimes, to be reckless. He did not care for the rulers as a class, but when one of them forgot his dignity and ran after a peasant teacher and fell on the road at His feet, we read that “Jesus, seeing him, loved him.” He did not choose for His disciples discreet and futile persons, but a man (Peter) whose temper was not always under control, and whose tongue was rough when has was roused, and another (Judas) who might have been a saint, but his life got twisted and he betrayed his Lord. He saw a widow flinging into the treasury all that she had, which no doubt was a very foolish action, but it stirred his heart with gladness to see somebody venturing herself simply upon God. He wanted life in men, energy, impulse; and in His Church He has often found nothing but a certain tame decorum, of which even He can make little.”

Life, energy, impulse, passion, drive, commitment. THIS is what Christ has always been looking for in the Church: passion for the things of God and the way of God! And a reckless abandon to follow Jesus in the way that leads to eternal life, no matter the cost!

So I ask you again: what is the wise way to live? And how do we know if we are being foolish?

After all, not all foolishness is the same! There is the foolishness of the young newlyweds who were Instagram stars for taking amazing photos, great selfies, in remarkable places, like the edge of high cliffs.

And yet, just a few weeks ago, while trying to get a great selfie at a famous cliff in Yosemite National Park, they fell and died. This kind of thing is becoming more and more common.

Now, THAT kind of foolishness is far different from that of Sergeant Helus who ran toward an active shooter in the hope of saving others.

To be sure, it was certainly foolish for the widow to give away what little money she had left, but we do not know what she was thinking. Perhaps she was actually feeling grateful for God’s blessings. Perhaps she thought that others were more in need than she was, and that it was right for her to share what little she had.

Perhaps this widow understood that, in the sight of God, there is a reckless foolishness that is truly the path of wisdom.

The wise way to live is the way of sacrifice on behalf of others.

We are blessed to remember this spirit of sacrifice on this Veterans’ Day which is also the Centennial Anniversary of Armistice Day.

At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, we will ring our bell as a call for peace, as a prayer that wars may cease throughout the world. And we ring the bell also in honor of those who marched straight toward the battle in a spirit of sacrifice on behalf of others.

November 11 is also the commemoration of Saint Martin of Tours, that amazing patron saint of France who was a soldier in the Roman army early in the fourth century. But Martin had given his heart to Christ, and when the Emperor came to the frontlines handing out cash bonuses to those soldiers who would volunteer to go on the offensive against the Germanic barbarians over in the next valley, Martin knew he had to walk away.

Martin told the Emperor, “I am no longer a soldier of Rome. Now I serve as a soldier of Christ.”

After all, how could he take money to go and attack innocent people for the sole purpose of increasing the glory of Rome, to expand the Roman empire?

You see, there IS a world of difference between marching into battle to rule over your neighbor, and doing so to stop an aggressor.

Both are foolish and unwise. But only one of those paths is pleasing to God.

So, my friends: how do we discern the wise way of life from the unwise? How do we know that we are on the right path? And how do we tell the divine kind of foolishness from the human kind of foolishness?

We can tell when our actions and our decisions are not designed to benefit ourselves, not chosen to protect ourselves and our place in the world.

We can leave all of that with confidence in the hands of God. And so free from anxiety and fear and worry, we can give and give and give. And maybe some will see us as reckless, or write us off as gullible and foolish.

But that’s okay! Because we get to sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs together, making melody to the Lord in our hearts.

So sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead! And Christ will shine on you.

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