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Stay Awake!

Stay Awake!! Ha! Maybe I should give that command at the beginning of every sermon! I’m not sure it would help though . . . I think the words shared here each week either grab you or they don’t – either reach into your heart and mind in such a way that something greater can be known and contemplated . . . or they fall to the floor for naught . . .

As listeners to God’s Holy Word we all have to learn to pour ourselves into it and do our best . . . and if we do our part, the Holy Spirit will effect real change in us – will truly reach in and trans-form us. In the end, we are just receivers on this end of the line, so to speak . . . God is the Central Station and supplies all the power through which life is given . . . Christ is the wire itself that carries the signal to us – and the Spirit is the power in the line by which the signal arrives.

But again . . . Are we doing our part? Are we listening? Hello, Hello? Still awake?

Our first reading this morning is some strong stuff from Stuart’s favorite Old Testament Book Isaiah. It is a direct intravenous delivery of God’s word and there is no way to read or hear this without thinking that maybe it was written more for us than it was for the Hebrews. Of course, it was written for both of us. But I’m not sure I would want to argue with Isaiah about who is more deserving – them or us. Hear now the Word of The Lord.

ISAIAH 64:1-9
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence —
2 as when fire kindles brushwood
and the fire causes water to boil —
to make your name known to your adversaries,
so that the nations might tremble at your presence
3 When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
4 From ages past no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who works for those who wait for him.
5 You meet those who gladly do right,
those who remember you in your ways.
But you were angry, and we sinned;
because you hid yourself we transgressed.
6 We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
7 There is no one who calls on your name,
or attempts to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,
and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.
8 Yet, O LORD, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
9 Do not be exceedingly angry, O LORD,
and do not remember iniquity forever.
Now consider, we are all your people.

Well, you don’t have to look far to see how well our modern American culture fits into this warning / summation of what is going on in our relationship with God. Heck, you don’t even have to leave your living room. Just turn on that big screen in the corner and look at what is being celebrated and lifted up as acceptable, normal and “mainstream” in our lives.

Games made specifically for children and youth that promote warfare and greed and the dehumanization of human beings on virtually every level. The promotion of products that are all about appearances, status and what “we deserve” in life. Sitcoms, so-called “reality TV” shows and movies that are so tawdry, licentious and sex-charged that to have shown anything similar two generations ago would have gotten you arrested – or as a minimum appropriately marked as someone who was nothing more than a low rent porn peddler.

Promoting a variety of products that are all about performing better sexually on national TV during sporting events broadcast in prime time? Really? I mean REALLY? Anything seemingly goes now in these Not So United States of America.

Here’s a telling exercise: Imagine for a moment taking individuals in just fifty year successions back over history and allowing them to observe what we have become in the early years of the “new millennium.” If you were to do so and go back to the year 1 AD that would be just 40 people – 1 for every fifty years. I wonder what the view of the following generations would be like for each of them?

It’s hard to say for sure, but you might be able to guess with some certainty that for the first 37 individuals selected, that not a lot had changed from their perspective relative to how people basically lived their lives. Remember, the bronze and iron ages passed long before Christ walked the planet and after the fall of the Roman Empire in 455 AD humanity entered the long stretch of relatively unaltered time we call “the Middle Ages” that take us up to around the year 1500.

But then about 300 years later – or just 6 people in our little 50 year scaled continuum – we hit the industrial revolution and things begin to look a little different. Some brilliant minds that have been messing around with heat and water and steel and different processes of forming and relating all three, strike up a design we call an “engine” that allows us to harness power and direct it at things – like water pumps and belt lifts and wheels and anything that can push anything else in a mechanical method to “make something.”

Suddenly the world begins to be transformed and all 37 “50 year observers” that came prior to this point on our time-line would likely be saying, “Wow! THIS is pretty cool – goodness, look at all the stuff we can do!” But the next guy standing in line – number 38 – on the year 1900, quickly barks out, “Well you better hold on – because you haven’t seen ANYTHING yet!”

And he’s right about that. But by the time we reach 1950 we have developed out the ideas and the electrical inventions of Edison, Marconi, Bell, Tesla and others – and those “engines” that allow us to “direct power to things” have evolved such that we are flying machines above the ground at nearly the speed of sound and launching rockets and talking to other people anywhere in the world over something called a “wavelength” that travels invisibly through the air and almost everyone in the western world has running water and bathrooms and “engines” that keep us cool or warm and, and . . . Well, the list just goes on and on doesn’t it?

But we might imagine the next guy in line as standing there just grinning away like the Cheshire Cat himself as Mr. 1950 yammers on about all of this. Because he has a MONSTER card up his sleeve. He’s standing on the year 2000 of course and the array of inventions and technologies and the long list of how they impact both the quality of human life and the possibilities for future advancement seems almost endless.

Indeed, he seems to occupy the very spot that marks the true ground-zero for “The Age of Technology” itself in which advances in everything from chemistry to biology to medicine to transportation to communication just boggle the minds of the now 39 people that stand ahead of him. In fact, they stand there utterly slack jawed in total amazement – shaking their heads and repeating in a slightly disjointed unison . . . “That little thing can do that?!”

But unlike number 39, time-line representative number 40 is not smiling so much. In fact, as it turns out he’s a Christian and his view of where the world is going with all the abilities it has garnered and gathered up over the last 150 years or so makes him shudder with deep concern.

He looks at the first 37 representatives – and even the last two ahead of him – and realizes that while his 50 year window represents almost unimaginable technological advancement that it goes hand in hand with a shocking spiritual regression – that is, a steady and consistent walk away from God – that is every bit as astounding as the technological advancement is amazing.

For with all of mankind’s worldly success has come an arrogance – a reliance upon the self that has a large percentage of the population all but turning their back on God – especially in western culture. And while many profess a seemingly sincere “belief in God” it is only remotely informed by any real knowledge of His Holy Word – much less who He really is.

Successful churches for the most part have become little more than programmatic “feel good” places where leaders are often charismatic and inspiring in an emotional sense but where genuine personal relationships with Jesus Christ– the heretofore singularly declared “one and only Son of God” – are all but non-existent. Indeed, religion as “milk toast pabulum,” to use C.S. Lewis’ expression, is not only the frightening potential condition of our day but the lived out reality!

We have become totally distracted with our own creations and abilities. We have fallen into a trance – or perhaps better put – we have fallen asleep – to the Truth of who and who’s we really are. Don’t believe me? I challenge anyone presently running “all out” in the race that is the world, to step aside with a humble heart and an open mind and ask God to help them watch things just go by for a few days. You will not believe what He will show you.

Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Mark warn of a time of suffering and darkness – a time when “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light . . .” A time when “the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”

And into this time he says that he is coming. That those who live upon the earth in that day will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory.” And from that point forward something like a harvest will begin – which seems a clear enough reference to those other times when he spoke of the God of all creation conducting a final parsing – when “the wheat and the chaff will be separated . . . The sheep and the goats divided . . ..”

But we don’t take those words very seriously anymore do we? I mean, that really was a long time ago and heck, he clearly got the generation wrong didn’t he? Or maybe the translation of that Aramaic word was meant to mean something else? Either way as far as I can tell nothing really happened – the representative guy standing on the timeline in his day and time didn’t get swept away in any big cataclysmic event as was seemingly foretold.

Well, I guess that’s one way to look at it. As it all just being a bunch of hocus-pocus, mumbo-jumbo from a time when people just didn’t have as much understanding – or technology as we do . . . I mean we really do understand so much more about the world we live in now.

But do we? Really?

Where do we come from? Where does space end? And if it does end what’s on the other side? Doesn’t there have to be more . . . of something? I mean it can’t go forever? Can it? Or can it?

And time. We know time can stop. (We’ve proven that.) And even be made to go backwards under certain physical conditions. Are those conditions present out there? Whatever “out there” turns out to be? And how could we exist in an eternal moment where there is no time?

Black holes turn our best theories – including both the “laws” of physics and gravity on their heads. We have proven beyond any doubt that physical matter is able to exist in two different places at the same time. Some particles refuse to do certain things ONLY when we watch them. Yes. They change their behavior because they are physically observed. Still feeling smug and confident about everything we know? But there are far bigger questions that remain.

What is love? And why do we perceive some things as “good” and other things as “bad?” I mean where does that impulse come from? Is it really somehow just a “survival instinct?” Sure doesn’t seem like it. In nature survival means wiping out the other guy and taking everything you can for yourself. But why do most of us, in what we call our “better moments, refuse to do that? And why do we lift up as heroes those who would give their very lives that others might live? These people return to the dust much earlier than we do – if you’re listening to what the world says such heroes are the real fools in life. But that’s not the way we see it.

At least when WE’RE being observed. (And hopefully when we’re not.)

Why do we feel compassion in the depths of our hearts at the site of the suffering of others?
Why do we cry when something immensely sad or immeasurably beautiful happens in a story we hear . . . a book we read . . . a movie we watch?

Well, the truth, it would seem, is that when it comes to the physical universe we are reasonably decent lab technicians – we can swirl a beaker and parse an enzyme and channel physical “worldly energy” with the best of them. But when it comes to truly understanding life and its greater / wider questions and this strange condition / reality we call Love, we are at a bit of a loss. In fact, we are at a very large “bit” of a loss.

And the world is suffering mightily for it.

And frankly it’s because as a people we too have fallen asleep to the only real truth that matters. We have failed to “stay awake” and we now – perhaps more than any other time since the rebellion from God undertaken by the Hebrews – have placed ourselves directly at odds with the all-powerful and all loving God that put us here to begin with.

So. What in the world can we do about it? I mean history is what it is . . . and I am just one man – just one woman and there is so much misery and open rebellion from God in the world. I mean really. What can I do?

Well – maybe first of all – is what you can NOT do. You can refrain from supporting ANYTHING that your heart tells you goes against that which is good and holy and “of God.” Anything that you know in your heart is ultimately “tearing down” instead of “building up.” That might mean disengaging from the culture around you on a lot of levels (certainly from a lot of popular media and entertainment) and instead actively seeking out opportunities for REAL re-creation and renewal.

And second of all, let not your heart be troubled – because even though with “resurrection eyes” we see the fallen-ness of the world around us, we need to TRUST – completely and utterly with all that we are – that God has everything – EVERYTHING in His hands.

Which is to say that the God of all creation is still at work in our day and time – maybe even particularly so . . . For where there is great need of grace and healing and forgiveness and love – there is Jesus Christ also.

“Stay awake!” He begs of us . . . Commands of us.

Are we listening?

– Stuart Revercomb

Peace Presbyterian Church

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