Woke


Exodus 12:1-154     Romans 13:8-14     Matthew 18:15-20
Wake up! So, says Paul to the church in Rome. It’s not that they were particularly drowsy, but he wanted them to be aware; to be alerted to the fact that salvation was so very near. He didn’t just want them to be physically awake. He wanted them to be “woke”.

People say that often today in social media about a new-found awareness they may have about what is right and wrong in the world. It means they have experienced transformative “wake up call”, and they want others to share in that same transformation and knowledge.

Maybe it’s about the injustice of systematic racism or unequal pay by gender or climate change. Whatever it is, the idea is that know that you have been “woke” you have to share that knowledge. You have to see who else you can wake up.

Sometimes that’s easier said than done. Sometimes the new reality is rejected like an annoying alarm in the morning. I’m reminded here of my brother, who has always been a very deep sleeper. When we were kids I always woke up first, and occasionally I would be called on to wake him up in the method I chose. Generally, this involved pouncing on him. One particular morning, he woke up as I was in mid-air and stuck out a foot which caught me in the chest and left me rejected on the floor. No one was hurt, and we had a good laugh.

Sometimes it can be like that when we think we have some grand awakening and we force it on someone too quickly. The question that will remain is whether or not we have encouraged wakefulness or just harassed someone into compliance.

The real issue is whether the harassed compliance translates to a new reality or not. Right now, we are seeing harassed compliance on the most massive scale that we have seen in generations during the recent and ongoing storms. Not only are people evacuating in the path of the storm, but people are coming together across every social barrier that we can construct (race, gender, sexual orientation, religion) to offer assistance to those in need.

The real question of “wakefulness” is still to be answered by what happens after the storm. People are social creatures, and we seek equilibrium. We seek a consistent environment that we can depend on. We are not interested in transformation, unless it is forced upon us.
I have to think that there was a fair amount of that going on for the Israelites, even as the plagues were taking place all around them. So far there was nothing to say that the other plagues had not affected them. No wonder that when Moses told them to kill a lamb and put blood on their door posts they were more than happy to try it!

I can’t help but replay the classic Cecil B. DeMille film version of this event when I think of it, and the young man who put blood on the doorpost of his beloved’s house to save her family. While that’s not in the scripture, I think it illustrates the idea that this was not an event that was completely about individual choice. It was certainly God’s choice, and individuals could either accept the invitation or pay the price.

But more than that, it was an invitation into community that included those that might not have the resources to join. And it wasn’t just an invitation to a BBQ, this was an invitation into life giving and life sustaining community. It was this event that truly began their identity as a people of God. It was an identity that anticipated the celebration of freedom even in the midst of suffering.

I must say that it’s tempting to claim that these were the first Cajuns – as they were planning festivals even while they were enslaved – but I think it’s more accurate to say that this is the root of it all. This was the beginning of what would become (as our Muslim brothers and sisters say) the people of the book, of the law of grace and mercy and justice and righteousness.

These are the same people through whom God would reach out to the world in love through the law and the prophets and yes, even Jesus. This is the wakeup call that Paul wanted the Romans to hear and that God wants us to hear, even here, even now.

Maybe you feel that you know the whole “Jesus loves me” thing and that you’re fine with God and with the snooze bar on your alarm clock. Maybe you feel that you owe no one anything, because everyone has equal opportunities. Yet I say that Paul’s alarm clock is ringing for each of us in this room.

This weekend I heard it through the voice of Rev. Alison, our delegate from Cuba that we hosted for a day. His congregation is partnered with the Lakeview church in New Orleans, but he came to us to encourage our relationships across the Presbytery. While there are many examples of the wakeup call he offered, most of them were gentle and conversational.
The thing that spoke most powerfully for me is the fact that he is willing to say that the church is engaged in social issues. They aren’t arguing over climate change. They are living it. In their courtyard, there are a lovely set of benches made from pallets, because they responded to a seminar on our stewardship of the earth and found a design on Pinterest.

There are many other examples of outreach programs to the elderly, clean water for the community, and hospitality suites for those who come to partner in mission, but what I found most encouraging is the way that he recognized many of the things that we do as “social programs.”

That’s probably the least common way that Presbyterians like to describe what we do as a church, and it’s probably the quickest path to conflict. Yet it is exactly the wakeup call that we need. We need to remember that we do owe something to others. We have a debt of love to pay.

When Paul says, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another,” he does not mean that we have to pay love back. He means that for love to be love we have to pay it forward. And when he says that “love is the fulfillment of the law” he means that it fulfills everything that the ten commandments and every other law intends to do.

Loving one another for the sake of loving, especially those we would rather not love, does two things. It demonstrates that God is God and we are not, and it turns our value system into one that puts a priority on our relationships – all of them – as a reflection of our belief in God.

Of course, that’s the kind of wakefulness that is going to lead us into conflict, and fortunately Jesus is ahead of the curve on that as usual. He gets it. He’s woke. If a believer offends, talk it out. If that doesn’t work, invite a friend. If that doesn’t work, involve the church in a solution. If there’s still a conflict, then treat that one as a gentile or a tax collector. Oh, and don’t forget that your actions have eternal consequences. Simple, right?

Except that Jesus came to include the excluded. This sneaky little passage sits right in between the parable of the lost sheep and the command to forgive someone 70 x 7 times. So, what do we do with that? Could it be that Jesus wants us to be willing to include even those who reject us? Could it be that in our wakefulness to the salvation that is at hand we are being called to see even the one who offends us as valuable to God? Simple answer – yes.

The harder question and the more difficult response is the part that comes after that. That question is, “Now what?” Now that we know that hurricanes are getting stronger what do we do about our relationship with the earth as stewards? Now that we know that we can dismantle fences to rescue others and knock out walls that have mold, what will we do about the issues that corrupt our society from the inside?

How “socially active” are we willing to get as a congregation? As followers of Jesus? Are we willing to put blood on the doorposts of our beloved? Of our enemy? Or will we hit the snooze button, again?

These are questions that we must continue to wrestle with, for they are the bedrock of our faith. The answers cannot come from me. They can be found, and they will, when at least a few of us align our hearts and minds with what God wants. And of course, we know what God wants. God wants us to recognize that God is God and we are not, and that every relationship and every chance encounter is a space to demonstrate our faith. It’s just that simple. It’s just that hard. And to God be the glory for completing what we cannot – every single time – even when it happens in ways we cannot see or imagine. For that I say Hallelujah! Amen.
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