- November 27, 2016
- 08:00 AM
Sermon for November 27, 2016 (Advent 1, Year A)
Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary
Texts: Romans 13:11-14; Psalm 122; Matthew 24:36-44
Title: To Wake From Sleep
“You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep” (Romans 13:11).
My dear friends: this morning, let us consider together how and in what ways we ourselves are still asleep.
For you know what time it is! WE know what time it is. It is Advent – the first Sunday of Advent. Another cycle of the church year has ended. NOW it is time to begin once again.
And so as Advent begins, and a new church year begins, we consider what the Lord had to say about the end. After all, in every ending, there is a new beginning.
Did you notice how, in order to contemplate the end of human history, the Lord points his disciples back to the beginning?
Back to the days of Noah. Back to the beginnings of the book of Genesis. Back to the early days of human history. The time of Noah itself was also an ending and a new beginning.
Genesis presents it as a time when God decided to shut down and re-start the entire process of human development.
It was a time to start again. That great flood was an end and a new beginning.
While we are on this Gospel passage, let me once again take this opportunity to clear up one area of deep confusion that seems to persist within American Christian circles.
Some people have made a lot of money writing books and making movies about the end of the world and what they think will happen. The most famous of these efforts is called the “Left Behind” series (http://leftbehind.com/) which has sold over 63 million books and been made into a series of movies.
Sadly, the entire effort is based upon a complete misinterpretation of today’s Gospel reading.
“For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:38-39).
After this comes the description of two in the field, and two at the mill, with one being taken and one left behind.
But notice this, please: the Lord makes it perfectly clear that it is the unaware ones, the ones without consciousness of God who are taken away.
In the great flood, the wicked were swept away. Noah and his family – and two of each kind of creature – were left behind.
These were left behind to re-populate the earth, to re-create humanity in a way which kept the awareness of God central to all human interactions.
To be left behind is to be given the opportunity of bringing God’s dream into reality here on planet earth – a dream of shalom, which is peace, harmony, wholeness.
But in order for that to happen, for God’s dream for humanity to become reality, there must be a deep transformation within each of us.
The apostle Paul writes his famous letter to the nascent church meeting together in Rome and in it he writes: “You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep” (Romans 13:11).
What an odd thing to say! What a very odd thing, indeed.
By definition, as Paul has explained earlier in this very letter, those who have been baptized into Christ are now fully awake!
Not so much earlier in this letter, he invited these same believers to consider themselves as “dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11)!
They have been given a new birth through the Lord’s resurrection and have been ushered into a new and wildly different life! A risen life!
And yet…and yet, in some way, there remains a disconnect. A gap between who they truly are – their true identity – and how they are living their lives.
It seems that their daily actions are not demonstrating the full awareness of their new identity.
And if a deep transformation is to take place within us and within humanity, awareness is what each of us needs more than anything else.
Awareness in each of our actions. Awareness in each of our decisions. Awareness of our thoughts. Awareness of our feelings.
There is an old story from Japan about a student of Zen practice which speaks with power about the importance of awareness.
In that tradition, a disciple studies every day under a master for a minimum of 10 years before any conversation can take place about the disciple moving on and becoming a teacher in his own right.
The story says that one day a disciple named Tenno went to visit his master.
He had completed his 10 years of apprenticeship. And he was ready to speak with his master about moving on and beginning the next chapter of his training by gaining students of his own.
Well, this particular day was a rainy one. Before Tenno went in to his master’s house, he took off his wooden clogs (traditional footwear in Japan) and left them along with his umbrella outside the door.
When he walked in, the master greeted him and asked: “Tell me, Tenno. You left your clogs and umbrella on the front porch, didn’t you? Tell me then, did you place your umbrella on the right side of your clogs OR on the left?”
Instantly, Tenno was humbled. He did not know the answer. He could not remember. And he realized that he lacked full awareness.
And so Tenno agreed to spend another 10 years laboring as an apprentice to this wise old master until he finally acquired full and complete awareness.
(The Song of the Bird by Anthony de Mello, S.J., Image Book by Doubleday, 1982: p.20).
How are you still asleep? In what ways, or perhaps in what areas of life, are you still asleep? Do you know if you left your umbrella on the right side OR the left side of your shoes?
When the disciples asked about signs and schedules about the end, the Lord directed their attention back to where it really matters. Back to the inner life, to their need to become who they really are.
“Keep awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”
Keep alert. Maintain awareness.
“Be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour” (Matthew 24:44).
Advent begins – and our new church year begins – with this simple admonition.
Because NOW is the moment for us to wake from sleep.
It is possible, my friends, to lead a life of deep and complete awareness, a life of unshakeable composure, a life of continual contentment and peace, a life that radiates the goodness of Christ.
But how does this happen? The Lord shows us the way.
Keep awake. Keep alert. Be ready. Remain aware.
May it always be so among us. Amen.