Sunday, May 29, 2011

God with Skin On

St. Joseph the Carpenter by Robert Campin, 1375-1444

A sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 29, 2011. The lectionary readings are Acts 17:22-31, Psalm 66:7-18, 1 Peter 3:13-22 , and John 14:15-21 .

There’s an old story told by many a preacher. It’s a story that even appeared years ago in the Reader’s Digest. It tells of a child who can’t get to sleep. The child finally gets up and knocks on the door of the parents’ room, “I can’t sleep,” the child says. One parent gets up, goes with the child back to the room, gets the kid back into bed and tries to offer reassurance and comfort. “You know that we love you, right?” “Yes,” nods the child. “And you know that God loves you, and will be right here with you, and will watch over you all night long. You know that, too, don’t you?” And with that, the light is turned out and the child kissed good night. A few minutes later, the parents hear a knock on the door. It’s the child. “I know God is with me all night long. But can I sleep with you? Right now, I need God with skin on.”

“God with skin on” is the God I worship and serve, the God we celebrate and praise in this place, the God of Abraham and Sarah, of Moses and Miriam, the God of David and Bathsheba, the God of Mary and Joseph who became incarnate—who was made flesh—in order to live and walk and love and die and rise again for us. Ours is a God with skin on.

In our first lesson, from the Acts of the Apostles, Paul interacts with some sophisticated people. He’s in Athens and has come to the Areopagus (the hill of Ares, or for the Romans, Mars Hill). It was a great place of meeting in Athens. It was a place where the philosophers debated—the Epicureans, the Stoics, and all the other parties advocating one way of reason or truth as opposed to another. And while Paul respects his audience, and takes seriously their various beliefs, he nonetheless articulates his own view. Even more powerful, he spells out his belief borne out of his own experience.

Paul says, “As I went through your city, saw an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’” “Well, I’m here to tell you,” says Paul, that “what you worship as unknown, I can proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he is Lord of heaven and earth. God doesn’t live in shrines made by human hands, and is not served by human hands. God doesn’t need anything, but rather, it is God who has given to all mortals life and breath and all things.” Paul goes on to quote a saying that seems to have been known by everyone in Athens, “For we too are his offspring.” Since we are God’s offspring, there’s a connection we’re born with, we’re created in God’s image. We are flesh and blood, of divine design, consecrated, made holy, made new by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and made new every day that we awaken with faith in him.

Jesus is God with skin on. And faith in Jesus Christ is an embodied faith. Faith is dead if it just exists in prayers that are said, or sung, or imagined. Faith only lives when it is embodied, when it is enacted. Though we don’t work our way into heaven, or gets God’s attention or blessing by working especially hard or holy; as St. James says, “What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” (James 2:14-17)

Faith without works, is dead. But often, I think many (and many of us, perhaps) work with faith every day, but we don’t always notice it, or make much of it. Too often, we tend to separate in our minds the things we do and think and say when we’re at church, from the things we do and say and think during the week at work. But if your body shows up for work, you are taking Christ there. If your heart is in the office, then a sanctified and redeemed soul is also at your desk.

Dorothy Sayers put it well when she complained that work and religion had, too much, become separate departments in life.

The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter [she complained] is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays. What the Church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables. Church, by all means, and decent forms of amusement, certainly—but what use is all that if in the very center of his life and occupation he is insulting God with bad carpentry? [Dorothy Sayers, Creed or Chaos? (London: Methuen, 1947), 58-59, quoted in Armand Larive, After Sunday: A Theology of Work (New York: Continuum, 2004), 64.]

If you work in politics or policy, let justice and the vision of God be a part of your work. If you teach, let the compassion and humor of Jesus be in your words and teaching. If you drive, then do so with purpose and clarity. If you write or make speeches, then do it with honesty and integrity. If you deal with people in any way, try to see them as fellow sisters and brothers made in the image of God. If you volunteer, then offer your service in gratitude for all God has done for you. Whether we make tables, or decision; whether we cook up a meal, or cook up a business deal, we are the Body of Christ moving and shaping the world. We—as we move, and pray, and struggle, and heal, and fall, and are raised up again—we are called to be “God with skin on.”

Frederick Buechner, the preacher and writer, reminds us that, “Moses at the burning bush was told to take off his shoes because the ground on which he stood was holy ground (Exodus 3:5), and incarnation means that all ground is holy ground because God not only made it but walked on it, ate and slept and worked and died on it. If we are saved anywhere, we are saved here. And what is saved is not some diaphanous distillation of our bodies and our earth, but our bodies and our earth themselves.” [Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: a seeker's ABC (NY: Harper & Row, 1972) 43]

Jesus said to his disciples, “In a little wile the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live….They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me… and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

Graced by God, empowered by the Holy Spirit, may we show the risen Christ to one another and to the world. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Roadmap for Now

The Stoning of St. Stephen

A sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 22, 2011. The lectionary readings are Acts 7:55-60 , Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16, 1 Peter 2:2-10 , and John 14:1-14 .

It seems that Family Radio evangelist Harold Camping was wrong. The world did not end yesterday. We are still here. The red peonies are still blooming in the meditation garden out back. Baccalaureates and graduations are still going on. The beauty, the blessings, and all of the good things we know are still going on today.

The world didn’t end yesterday and that’s good news for most of us, but for some, it might have seemed like a welcome change. If you were out of work yesterday, it probably means you’re still out of work today. If you went to bed hungry, and the world went right on and the sun came up again, then you probably woke up hungry again. If things had come to a close last night, at least it would have taken away disease, warfare, destitution, abuse, and loneliness.

Harold Camping made a mistake in his calculations, but I think he makes a larger mistake, as well. In a radio interview last week, a Methodist minister named Brooks Morton put it well as he explained how, when he was first converted to Christianity, he believed that the end of the world was imminent. He put all of his energy into trying to figure out when the world would end. He put all of his imagination into himself—how he might clean up his act, how he might live a more pure and holy life. But he sees all that differently now.

Now [he says] I'm concerned about the people in my community who are homeless or the people in my community who are not going to have an air conditioning this summer when it gets up over 102 or 101, and the people this winter who, again, will not have coats. I have a much broader view of what God wants the church to do in the world.

It’s a Gospel passage that is often used at funerals, and as such, it gives a word of hope and assurance in the face of grief and uncertainty. But Jesus’ words also work for the day-to-day, the nitty-gritty, and any time and any place where trouble threatens. Jesus says “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” But he doesn’t just say that so that we might have a roadmap to heaven. It’s a roadmap for living, a roadmap that involves a choice, a place, and posse.

“Let not your hearts be troubled” can sound so pious and “stained-glass-like” that we can miss some of the nuance in its meaning. “Don’t let your heart be troubled” suggests that we have a choice in the matter, and that’s good news. We’re not spineless victims when trouble comes. We might not have any power over the situation or the thing, but we can choose how we react. We can choose how we let it get to us. We can choose whether to let it trouble our heart or not.

In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we have the culmination of chapters 6 and 7. Stephen is chosen as the first deacon, someone to coordinate the distribution of food and care for the widows. But the religious leaders of his day don’t like the new arrangement. They feel threatened and plot to do him in. They throw together a mock trial to accuse Stephen of blasphemy. But there, even in the midst of the trial, Stephen makes a choice. He lets himself be emptied, so that the Holy Spirit has room to work. Stephen lets go of his will, his cleverness, his resourcefulness, his connections—and he let’s God take over. And there in the middle of his trial he receives a vision, a vision of heaven opening and God offering welcome and power and love. The mob can’t handle this, and Stephen is stoned to death, becoming the Church’s very first martyr.

Most of us are unlikely to be put in Stephen’s situation, but some of the binds we find ourselves in can seem just as tight, just as hopeless. St. Stephen and countless others have CHOSEN not to let their hearts be troubled, but to believe in God, and to believe that God has a way.

Jesus talks about a place for us. Like Tony sings to Maria in West Side Story, like Carrie Underwood sings today, like Virginia Woolf longed for in her essay—there’s something in us that longs for another place, a better place. But that place is not just physical. It’s not geographic. It’s psychological, it’s intellectual, it’s spiritual. We long for a place where our hearts, souls, and minds are free to grow and develop as God intends, unrestricted by custom or expectation or background or any other thing.

When Jesus says “In my father’s house there are many dwelling places,” he’s not talking public housing. He’s not talking retirement villages in Florida. He’s talking about SPACE, space that has the unique qualities both of being expansive and of being safe. Jesus goes before us to prepare a way, if we follow him, he leads us where we need to be.

When trouble comes, there’s a choice involved (as to how we respond) and there’s a place up ahead (where all becomes clear) but perhaps even more important; in addition to being promised a choice and a place, we also have a posse.

The Urban Dictionary defines posse as “your crew, your homies, a group of friends, people who may or may not have your back.” In Medieval Latin, the posse comitatus meant literally, the “power of the county.” It came to refer to a common law idea of a group of people who were given authority to catch the bad guys. And perhaps the term posse came to life most vividly in Westerns.
But those early apostles were called together as a posse, and given authority by the Holy Spirit. One by one, the disciples ask Jesus where he’s going, how do they get there, what do they do about this or that, and each time, Jesus answers with relationship. You have seen me and known me, you have known God the Father. Believe and we are in you. You have all you need. You have one another. Thomas asks more questions. Philip asks more questions, but later, after the crucifixion and resurrection, they begin to see what Jesus means. They have each other—they have their posse—but it’s a special band of people who’ve got your back, and when they get tired, the Holy Spirit steps in. We’re covered, we’re good to go, we’re protected, strengthened, and enlivened for the mission of God in our world.

Trouble comes, but we have a choice, we have place, and we have a posse. I’m glad the world didn’t end yesterday. Imagine the adventures we might miss. There’ll be trouble lurking—we can count on that—but we have a faith that sustains, no matter what.

W.H. Auden says it so beautifully when he writes in the chorus of his Christmas Oratorio,

He is the Way.
Follow Him through the Land of Unlikeness;
You will see rare beasts, and have unique adventures.

He is the Truth.
Seek Him in the Kingdom of Anxiety;
You will come to a great city that has expected your return for years.

He is the Life.
Love Him in the World of the Flesh;
And at your marriage all its occasions shall dance for joy.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

In Celebration of the Life of Jeffrey R. Workman

The Resurrection of Christ, by Fra Angelico (1395-1455)

A sermon preached at the Mass of the Resurrection celebrating the life of Jeff Workman (1957-2011), sometime organist and director of music at All Souls Memorial Episcopal Church.

Westminster Choir College offers a class called TH350 “Keyboard Harmony.” It is described as being “an intense exploration of and drill in musicianship-keyboard skills. Activities include score reading, transposition, modulation, clef reading, figured bass realization, harmonizing melodies, improvising, and lead sheet accompanying.” Jeff Workman either took TH350 or a class like it. And while he certainly mastered “score reading, modulation, clef reading, figured bass realization (whatever that is), improvising and the rest—I think Jeff excelled, in particular, in the area of transposition.

As all the musicians in the room well know, as many singers know, and as many hymn-singing churchgoers have experienced, to transpose is to set a tune, or a phrase—any collection of notes—up or down in pitch, maintaining the same space between intervals.

And so, a hymn might come from an older hymnal and be pitched higher than we’re used to singing today. The generous and beneficent choir organist will transpose the tune into a lower key that is more manageable and easier for more people to sing. Sometimes, in reality, a tenor is really a bass, and so the solo needs to be transposed to a different key. Transposition can happen in a very planned, formal way, but it can also happen at the spur of the moment, when the need arises, and whenever the circumstances at hand seem to call for it.

Jeff had a great gift for transposing—in his music, and in his life.

I saw this daily and weekly, but especially I noticed it at a funeral we hosted back in January. Trent Royster was a friend of All Souls whose partner sings in our choir when he is in the country. Trent, the young man who died, had a good friend who is an interfaith minister, and who coordinates a nondenominational, diverse spiritual community. We hosted the funeral, but the visiting minister and members of her community led the service. They had, however, asked Jeff Workman to play a piece by Bach as the prelude.

While we were honored to host the service, the worship was a little different from what we usually do. The Reverend and her friends set up a screen in the middle of the chancel, where they would later project a slide show. The service was to have begun with African drumming, but the drummers got stuck on the Metro. So Jeff improvised a little at the beginning. Later in the service, during a reflection, I noticed that the Reverend got up and whispered something to Jeff, who was sitting at the piano. Next came the slide show, with images of our friend who had died and it turned out that Jeff had been asked to “play something pretty” on the piano.

The slide projector came on, and Jeff played. But, man, did he ever play. The music he made was an improvisation that sounded like some extraordinary blend of Erik Satie, George Winston, and Charles Ives. It was so beautiful. It was so right. Through that music, as we watched images of Trent, our friend who had died, everyone in that room was brought closer together. That music was God’s way of using Jeff to nudge a group of very, very different people a little closer to each other.

After the funeral service, I thanked Jeff for his playing and especially for his out-of-the ordinary response to the visiting Reverend. He looked at me, confused. He had no idea what I meant. I said, “You know, when she asked you to play something on the spot, and you simply did it and led us all in worship.” And again, Jeff looked at me and seemed not to understand that he had done anything unusual. That was soooooo Jeff.

He could transpose music easily enough. He did it with hymns and anthems, and certainly gave me lots of leeway with chant, but Jeff could also transpose people and groups of people. He was able to use music, and humor, and laughter, and love to shift us a little in our understanding of music, in our knowledge of God, and in our experience of each other.

Some of us have seen the church where Jeff learned to play organ, where he lived, and have met some of the people who were so important throughout his life. Though Jeff moved from New Park, Pennsylvania to spend time in Princeton, Baltimore, Alexandria, Palo Alto, and places I’m sure I’m not even aware of, he was the same gifted person wherever he went. And in each place, he would do his work of transposing, of making it easier for everybody to fit in.

With folks who can only sing low, he’d modulate his music to involve them. For those who could only sing high, he’d go where they needed him most. Through it all, God was working through Jeff to accomplish a greater work, and that greater work was to help us understand that each of us might sing differently—it might be in harmony or out of harmony, it might be Gregorian chant, early music, Renaissance, or 12-tone—but we each have our place in God’s ear, in God’s dream of what we can be, in God’s eternal song in which we all play a part.

Jeff and I shared a lot of favorite music and we shared some dislikes. I did convince him to let us sing “Leaning on the everlasting arms of God” for a funeral but I promised him we would use it sparingly. Jeff approved of my love of anything Benjamin Britten, and especially in Britten’s use of Christopher Smart’s poem in Rejoice in the Lamb. I think of that music, that poem and that composer, and the complexity of both their lives, and I think it is quintessential Jeff Workman.

After rousing most of creation to rejoice, the poem moves even more outward and including, as it builds slowly, like (I imagine) the arms of God enfolding and reaching around us:

For H is a spirit and therefore he is God.
For K is king and therefore he is God.
For L is love and therefore he is God.
For M is musick and therefore he is God.
And therefore he is God.

And then the music grows into almost a frenzy, as the instruments join together,

For the harp rhimes are sing ring and the like.
For the harp rhimes are ring string and the like. . . .
For the flute rhimes are tooth youth and the like.
For the flute rhimes are suit mute and the like . . .

[and so it goes, on and on, until it shouts out ]

For the TRUMPET of God is a blessed intelligence and so are all the instruments in HEAVEN.
For GOD the father Almighty plays upon the HARP of stupendous magnitude and melody.
For at that time malignity ceases and the devils themselves are at peace.
For this time is perceptible to man by a remarkable stillness and serenity of soul.

The Trumpet of God is a blessed intelligence. God plays an instrument and even the devils are at peace. There is stillness and serenity of soul.

For us, living here, still, there is not a lot of stillness. But Jeff is in that other place, singing and laughing and no longer needing to transpose, since in heaven-- every note, every sound, every voice blends into perfection. We can be guided by his spirit. We can be led by his laughter. And can continue the holy work of transposition, as we encourage one another to sing, to pray, and to live.

Thanks be to God for the life of Jeff Workman. May his soul rest in peace, and may he rise in glory.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Following the Good Shepherd (through 2010)

All Souls window in the narthex of the church.

The rector's annual report given in the form of a sermon on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, May 15, 2011. The lectionary readings are Acts 2:42-47 , Psalm 23 , 1 Peter 2:19-25 , and John 10:1-10 .

Today we hold our Annual Parish Meeting, which according to the church bylaws, is be held on the Third Sunday in May. The official meeting will be after the 11 a.m. Mass, in the undercroft, but this morning I’m reviving an old All Souls custom by offering my annual report in the form of a sermon. And the scriptures for today help me to do just that.

“Day by day,” we’re told, those early Christians “spent much time together in the temple… praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.” Most people experience us first through our worship. And we have continued to worship richly and fully. We blessed animals in October, and stretched limbs through yoga in Lent. Morning Prayer was said four days a week, Mass said three days a week, Stations of the Cross were prayed, people were blessed, healed, baptized, and buried. Through it all we have been led by amazing musicians. We spent most of 2011 with Philip Cave and said goodbye to him in November. It was then that we said hello to Jeff Workman and began what we imagined would be a new time of energy and growth in our music. And so, we keep on praying and we keep on singing.

The Acts of the Apostles describes a community of believers who “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. . . .”
We have broken lots of bread together. We have grown closer as we’ve continued our communion beyond the altar and through sharing fellowship in the undercroft, in homes, at nearby restaurants, at the parish picnic in Rock Creek Park. The foyer dinner program, the men’s fellowship, the Wise and Mature luncheons, a country western night, newcomers’ receptions— all helped us get to know one another and welcome others.

We’ve tried to be good stewards of all that we have and keep our household in order. All Souls are Green helped us conserve energy with new lighting, more accurate thermostats, recycling, and educational programs. The Bethany Guild was formed to help with organization, sprucing up, and general hospitality.

With the leadership of Dale Lewis, we began a visioning and planning process with MTFA architects and ambassadors from the congregation. We began putting dreams to paper and seeing what might work. We continued in that process as we prayed and plannned and met, and continue to work together toward accessibility and smarter space.

We’ve broken bread that nourished the body and the soul, but we’ve also broken bread that nourished the mind. The adult forum in 2010 began with Interfaith Dialogue, moved through the Evolution of Belief, continued with Living and Dying in Faith, and culminated with a mini-series on the Rapture. Our seminarian, Seth Walley, made his senior project our Rapture series, and Seth was one example of the nurturing power of our parish. We also encouraged Cameron Soulis in her year of discernment, sent Lisa Zaina off for her first year of seminary, cheered Shawn Strout on in his second year of seminary, and Norm Whitmire in his third year.

We shared our resources with others in need, giving sacrificially of time and our money. People from All Souls volunteered at Christ House, Transitional Housing, Habitat for Humanity, the Heifer Project, the Bishop Walker School, and the St. John Eye Hospital. In 2010, mission grants from the All Souls Endowment allowed us to support programs and ministries in Washington, DC with grants of over $30,000, and to international mission efforts with over $20,000. Volunteers and/or resources went to Haiti, Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, and South Africa.

It was in April of 2011 that the Rev. Sharron Dinnie, from Springs, South Africa, visited All Souls, preached on Sunday, and met with many in the parish. Having contributed money, we decided to do more, and so a handful of us visited Johannesburg in October. It was a trip that changed us, and we hope to return in spring of 2012.

Like those early disciples in the Acts of the Apostles, we were blessed by the Lord’s adding to our number. Some of this happened because All Souls became more visible. Even though we had enormous snowstorms during the early months of 2010, we were open, and people found us and prayed with us. When things warmed up, the garden guild continued its weekly conversation and outreach with the neighbors, and in June, we had a sizable delegation in the DC Pride Event. A number of parishioners staffed a booth at the Pride Festival, and helped people see that a living, breathing, moving Christian church can be a lot more fun and look a whole lot different from what they might have ever imagined.

Our second scripture reading, from the First Letter of Peter, speaks of endurance. It speaks of times when things don’t always go right or even seem to go fairly, but we endure together, by faith. The economic recession began to catch up with us in 2010 and we made some difficult decisions regarding the church budget. It made us lean and trim and some of our bones became visible. We did away with the full-time sexton’s position, relying instead on a cleaning service coming in for a few hours each week. We cut the parish administrator’s hours back.

Though our programs continued, and expectations remained, this meant that a parish of some 350 active parishioners had one full-time employee —the rector and the only priest. We were grateful that Father Worthley continued to volunteer on the Sundays he was in town, and many parishioners redoubled their efforts at volunteering and pitching-in, especially Clark Ball, Harriet Curry, Barry Huber, Terry Horan, Tom Mabon, and Oscar Prado. We have endured 2010, and a few more volunteers have joined us in 2011. But if we are to flourish, we will need to plan, and work, and contribute toward growth in new ways and at new levels.

The Gospel reminds us that today is often nicknamed Good Shepherd Sunday. It reminds us of our focus, the Shepherd around whom the flock gathers, by whom the sheep are led. We are reminded of our spiritual home that is here, and we are also pointed forward as we ask what it means for each of us to be called by name. And so the question comes up for us, “What does it mean for us to be the children of God?”

In our effort to be grown-up and serious Christians, I worry that we have sometimes forgotten what it means to be children. And we have forgotten to welcome the children, as Jesus taught. Granted, the children of All Souls are not always here, and when they are, it’s hard to keep up with them. But our classrooms are inadequate. Our time frame works against us. We have “made do” with too little. Busy families have come to us with low expectations for a Sunday school, and we have not done enough to raise those expectations. A few parents and a few other volunteers have helped as much as they could, but near the end of 2010, and into 2011, we have seen that much more is needed. And we will do more in the future.

The Good Shepherd calls us each by name. That happens not only at our birth, and at our baptism, and at our death, but it also happens throughout a life lived in faith, a life lived in openness to God’s continual calling. I’m grateful for those who have answered God’s calling to serve, and especially thank Bill Miller, Bob Publicover, and Jim Solomon, who complete their current terms on vestry. Larry Sturgeon continued his amazing service as volunteer treasurer. Our Endowment Board continued its fiscal leadership and guidance in mission support.

And thanks of a most special kind goes to Nancye Suggs, who completes her time as Senior Warden of Vestry. I’ve written elsewhere of my gratitude to Nancye, and we’ll be making a special presentation to her a little later on.

Thanks, in advance, to those who are hearing God’s call to stand for vestry in today’s election. I know that in saying “yes” to God (or at least saying “maybe”) they are, in effect, saying “no” to other things. I know that it’s no longer fashionable to serve on committees or to volunteer at church, and so, both I and the larger parish thank them for their service and their willingness to sacrifice for others.

Jesus says, “I come, that you might have life, and have it more abundantly.” We are so very blessed in this place. Every day that we are here is a gift. The building is beautiful, of course, and we give thanks for the way it shapes us in the beauty of holiness. But God blesses us even more richly in, and through, one another.

And so, thank you for the privilege of serving as your rector and thanks be to God for a very good year.

Thanks be to God who revives our soul,
who guides us and comforts us,
who nurtures and anoints,
who showers us with goodness and mercy, for ever and ever.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Waking Up

A sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter, May 8, 2011. The lectionary readings are Acts 2:14a,36-41, Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17, 1 Peter 1:17-23 , and Luke 24:13-35 .

What does it take to wake you up?

An alarm clock? A strong cup of coffee? An elbow in the rib?

Some wake up to a rooster crow, and others wake up to the sound of a trash truck.

For the cartoon characters Wallace and Gromit, it takes a little more than any of that. There’s an alarm that triggers a tea kettle, which makes steam which activates a giant hand that pokes the underside of the bed. Then there’s the smell of cheese—a good Stilton, usually—and then a spring-loaded bed, a slide, a chute that lands them into their clothes, with a cup of coffee made just like they like it.

We wake up, of course, not only in the morning, but all kinds of things can jolt us awake. Someone swerving into our lane on the road. A change in what we thought was to be our employment for the rest of our life. A child, a niece or nephew, or a grandchild. An unexpected test result from the doctor. And then, the other extreme, after worry and fear, we receive clean results from the doctor, and life is different from before.

We awaken in different ways and at different times.

In this morning’s first lesson, Peter follows in the footsteps of John the Baptist, trying to wake people up spiritually. His method is a bit blunt, a little like trying to wake up someone by throwing cold water on them. Peter says, “This Jesus, whom you allowed to be put to death—this is the Messiah.” “There’s a lot to answer for, so repent, get your lives in order, get right with God, be baptized and make a new start.”
Peter’s wake-up call seems effective, as the Acts of Apostles reports some three thousand persons were baptized and welcomed into the faith.

In some ways, the whole Easter Story is about the different ways in which people wake up to new faith, and wake up to new life.

One of the criminals who dies alongside Jesus wakes up the reality of the life that is possible. He doesn’t have to die alone. He doesn’t have to re-live his past over and over again. There’s another way, and so he asks for it. “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.”

There’s Mary Magdalene who goes to the tomb that first Easter morning. She has awakened early from sleep, but after she finds the empty tomb, comes into contact with the gardner-who-is-really-God, Mary wakes up to the reality that Jesus is risen from the dead.

Last Sunday we heard how Thomas is trapped in the nightmare of his worries and fears and disbelieving. He struggles to accept what the others seem so easily to believe. Thomas wants proof, and then when proof stands right in front of him, Thomas, too, finally wakes up.

In the Gospel from Luke, the wake-up call is gentler, but no less dramatic. It’s later on Easter Day and Cleopas and one of the other disciples—perhaps Luke—are on their way home from Jerusalem. A stranger joins them, and the stranger seems to know all about what’s happened in Jerusalem, and he’s able to put it all into the context of scripture and prophecy.

The disciples and their guest go home. They continue the conversation, and almost casually, they share a meal. And then they notice a pattern. Just like in the Upper Room, just like that Passover Meal, just like the bread and cup they shared the night of Jesus’ arrest… Jesus “took the bread, blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them.” And their eyes are opened. They recognize him. They wake up.

They wake up to love: the love of God that would not leave them without comfort. The love of God that would befriend, that would die in the place of, that would extend mercy and compassion and forgiveness even from the cross.

They awaken to peace: peace that transcends any and all understanding; peace that is no wimpy peace—this is a peace that has defeated death, that has won victory over violence and put evil in the grave, slammed down the lid and danced on it.

They wake up to the possibility of forgiveness: forgiveness that is beyond imagination, beyond human doing, but by God, through Christ, propelled by the Holy Spirit forgiveness then moves through each of us as we extend it to one another. Forgiveness is never deserved, never earned, never timely, but is always a grace given.

Marc Andrus, the Bishop of California, reminds us that Buddhists do not have an exclusive hold on the idea of “wakefulness.” Though the word, “Buddha” means “the awakened one,” Christians also have a word—the proper name, “Gregory.” Gregory means “wakeful watching.” In some ways, at our baptism, we’re all given the name “Gregory,” in that we’re called as followers of Jesus to be as alert as possible, allowing the Spirit to keep us with eyes wide open, with all senses alive to the presence and movement of God.

Bishop Andrus recalls the particularly watchful Gregory the First, Christian pope in the Sixth Century. Gregory reflected on what happens when one prays when he wrote, “in that silence of the heart, while we keep watch within through contemplation, we are as if asleep to all things that are without.” But as Andrus points out, Gregory’s wakeful watching doesn’t end in contemplative prayer, but also finds expression in active prayer.

During his papacy, things were not always great for the people on Rome. As Andrus tells it,

The citizens of Rome were nearly confined within the walls of the city, the population swollen by the many refugees, and the conditions being like that of a siege. Pope Gregory donated the produce from his family estates and organized a vast network of other farms who donated alms in the form of food for the starving of Rome. This remarkable exercise of Christian leadership deeply endeared Gregory to the people of Rome, changing the status of the Pope with respect not to power but to authority born of love.

[See “Wakefulness” at Bishop Marc Andrus’ blog,]

Life wakes us up, but unlike little children who sometimes wake up cranky and disoriented, we can choose how we respond when something wakes us up.

When a notorious terrorist is stopped, we are naturally relieved at some level, but we can choose how we wake up to that news—do we celebrate with savagery or do we allow God to awaken some deeper meaning for our lives?

As people around our country awaken to flood waters and devastation from storms, do we choose to remain sleepy and ignore their reality, or do we think with wakeful creativity and compassion how we might help?

It’s appropriate on this day to remember the many times perhaps we’ve been awakened by a mother—maybe gently, maybe creatively, maybe angrily. For the motherly invitations, nudges, shoves, we can be thankful, but we can also ask ourselves: Are we alert when God moves in motherly fashion and invites us to wake up?

The sufi and mystic and poet Rumi has a wonderful poem that strikes the spirit of an Emmaus awakening. He writes

The early breeze before dawn
is the keeper of secrets.
Don't go back to sleep!
It is time for prayer, it is time to ask for
what you really need.
Don't go back to sleep!
The door of the One who created the world
is always open.
Don't go back to sleep.

[Translation by Azima Melita Kolin and Maryam Mafi, "Rumi: Hidden Music" HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, 2001]

As followers of Jesus Christ we have been awakened to the possibility of new life.

There is a whole world to wake up to.

God invites us to wakeful watchfulness, so that we might help wake up the world.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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