March 18, 2008
First Christian Church- Community Wide Holy Week Celebration
Mark 13: 32-37
Be Alert! Stay Awake!
There are many Holy Week traditions that we have at each of our churches and one here at First Christian is a 24 hour prayer vigil. For a full 24 hours from Thursday night to Friday night this week- there will be someone in the church praying. We put a sign up sheet in our youth hall and folks sign up in half hour increments. Last year I was standing near the sign up sheet when one of our young adults got really excited about signing up for a time in the middle of the night (usually those slots are the hardest to fill). She remembered praying with a group in the middle of the night when she was in youth group- and what a powerful experience it had been; so she conned a couple of other young adults and some youth to come and pray in the middle of the night. Then she caught me in a moment of crazy and I agreed to join them.
Please know this about me, I love my sleep. Sleep is a precious gift from God- and I don’t think we should mess with it to much- even if it is for prayer. If you don’t believe this about me- ask my husband- I am almost always the last one to bed and the last one in our household- and I’m not usually too pleasant right after I wake up either.
So I dragged myself out of bed a few minutes before our appointed hour of prayer. I drove to the church and positioned myself in the prayer chapel. And no one was there. So I sat quietly in the silence and waited- and no one showed up. I sat there- five minutes, seven minutes- and at this point I started to have some really unkind thoughts about these “friends” who had signed up with me. You know, the kind of thoughts that you think ministers should be exempt from having? I was having those thoughts.
And then, there in the quiet stillness of the prayer chapel, these words of scripture came to my mind- as if spoken directly to me- “could you not stay awake with me even one hour?” Those were Jesus’ words to the disciples as they prayed with him in the Garden of Gethsemane. You see, they too were having trouble staying awake- and Jesus was left alone in prayer. Of course immediately I realized that I was not, and had never been alone- Jesus was awake with me- praying and filling me with the spirit- but I was feeling too sorry for myself to pay attention. So I relaxed a little- I began to think that staying awake for this hour alone was the least I could do for a savior who did so much for me. And then it happened- they showed up. First two more came to pray with me, and then three more, and our little group of six had a powerful prayer experience together in that chapel.
Let me ask you a question this afternoon: Are you awake? I mean hopefully I haven’t put anyone to sleep literally with my sermon yet- but are you alert? Are you paying attention? If you follow Mark’s gospel through the last week of Jesus you will see that Tuesday is an extremely busy day. Jesus spends the day around the temple court, responding to questions from those in power, and teaching his followers final lessons. You can see that those in power are looking for ways to trap Jesus in the questions that they ask him- and each time, Jesus responds with intelligent answers that stun the crowd and outsmart his opponents.
Toward the end of the day Jesus talks about the future and tells his followers that they must be on guard- they must be alert- because no one knows the hour or the day when the Kingdom of God will come in its fullness. God’s Kingdom came to earth when Jesus Christ came- but it is not only a present kingdom- but a future one, one that is yet to come. Will we be asleep when the kingdom comes again? Or are we paying attention, are we vigilant- are we noticing the signs of God’s presence in the world?
Are you noticing God’s presence in the world? Are you taking note when you see people loving one another as Jesus commanded them to do? Are you paying attention, and maybe even participating when people take care of their neighbor- by feeding the hungry, or visiting the sick and the imprisoned- when people are taking care of widows and orphans- do you see it? Or are you asleep? Are you spending time in prayer daily, thanking God for all the blessing that you’ve been given- or are you asleep to those blessings.
My challenge to you this morning is to wake up, to tune in and to turn on to what God is doing in the world through the powerful love of Jesus Christ. You can notice the kingdom of God that is here with us- and you can stay on top of your game- you can be awake, alert and alive to the kingdom that is to come. Because no one knows the hour, or the day, and like the disciples praying with Jesus in the garden, we are vulnerable to the temptation of sleep. We are so busy with the pace of the world- that many times all we want do want to sleep when we come home at the end of the day. However, I’m afraid that if we are asleep, or even not paying attention to the presence of our God that we might miss it! Will you be awake when the kingdom of God breaks into the world again- or will you miss it? “Can you not even stay awake with me one hour?” Jesus asks- I hope our answer is “Yes, Jesus- I will stay awake with you. I will be alert to the signs of the God of love all around me. I will even participate in your loving work in the world. And I will be awake when the kingdom of God comes- even if I cannot know the hour or the day!” This is my prayer for us on this Tuesday of Holy Week. Amen!