Awake, O Sleeper

8 Nov

Homily delivered on November 8, 2020 at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Princess Anne, Maryland.

1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18; Psalm 123; Matthew 25: 1-18

This may not make you feel any better, but our readings today and liturgical calendar intersect quite nicely with the current affairs of the world: we’re waiting, with anticipation. We’re waiting for the return of Christ. Liturgically we are approaching another Advent, where in anticipation of the birth of the Christ child, we (hopefully) will push pause and wait, reminding ourselves about the eternal hope we have in Christ. And the entire world waited with us to see how the election would resolve. No doubt, we’ll continue to wait to see how the transition will unfold.

I do lament the heightened consternation that swirls around us right now.  Perhaps we mirror how the initial hearers of Matthew’s Gospel were feeling. The earliest readers of the Gospel had already experienced the dark, painful days after the crucifixion followed by the joyous bright days after the resurrection, and had begun waiting for Christ’s return. This parable then is a challenge to be vigilant and to live in anticipation of the Lord’s coming.

The Second Coming: Will Our Lord Return in the 2020s? — Charisma Magazine

The young women were waiting for the bridegroom. They belonged to the same community, the same group of friends. They fall asleep waiting for the bridegroom to come. We’re not told who has enough oil in their lamps, who has been more faithful. And this really is not for us to know or to judge. No surprise that today the church remains this type of a mixed community. But focusing on who is the foolish or wise would miss the point. The so-called foolish young women also knew the bridegroom, calling out to him “Lord, Lord, open to us!” (verse 11).

That they remain unrecognized by the bridegroom though raises the question of knowledge. What is it to know the bridegroom? What is it to recognize the one called “Lord?” And in turn, what is it to be recognized by the one called “Lord?” The cry “Lord, Lord,” should sound familiar; it takes us back to the earlier chapters of Matthew’s Gospel. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). And the lamps (or torches) are also a familiar image previously used in the Sermon on the Mount: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (5:16).

Let Your Light Shine: The Power of Jesus by Lonnie Ollivierre | The Black  Art Depot

Living and waiting (or maybe even sleeping) with enough oil in our lamps, when set in the context of Matthew’s earlier chapters, suggests that it is this spirit of the beatitudes that, above all else, distinguishes those who the bridegroom recognizes. This beatitude spirit is the spirit of the cross, which disrupts and confounds all of our categories, divisions, and all of our judgmental predispositions. The life into which the beatitudes invite us is a life not centered on our works, not even on our faith per se, but on the cross, and how God is glorified through us, through our very lives. 

To live in vigilance then means that as disciples we do the tasks we have been appointed to do in preparation for the Master’s coming. Looking again at Matthew’s Gospel for guidance, those tasks include bearing witness to God’s kingdom by welcoming the stranger, feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and imprisoned (25:31-46), and making disciples in all the world (28:19-20).

Rushing to judge is not supposed to be a part of the spirit of the cross. Judgment is purely reserved for God who alone knows or recognizes each individual; we’ll focus more on that next week. For now, grace is in the cross that shines forth a light, a light so unique that people do not praise our good works but rather praise God who is acting and giving life in the midst of suffering, life in the midst of death, opening the door to those who have engaged the way of the cross, who have engaged the way of death. The world simply cannot understand this way. It does not recognize the Lord though it continually cries out, “Lord, Lord!”

But Christ’s return is actually not a one-time event at some “end point” but rather a continuous event that involves us, the community of Christ, the body of Christ, in our baptismal vocation, our Baptismal covenant: we are to live in the light of the cross, which is walking humbly, in mercy, not in judgment. Our Lord’s return is not just simply about a far-off event but includes Christ’s continual presence with us, now, through our living (even sleeping) and all of our waiting.

Walking Humbly with God | Oblates of St. Benedict

However, too many for me have become caught up in trying to determine the day and the hour of Christ’s return, while others have indeed let their lamps run out.  I thought of St. Francis, Assisi while pondering the readings.  He courageously and humbly walked in a holy wisdom, of being alert.  He often struggled with the sense that the people he encountered daily had become drowsy, sleepy, unaware of the presence of God within them and around them. He desired to help them come awake, alert and to see and to encounter the living and loving presence of God in their midst.

Francis himself went through many conversion experiences throughout his life. Once awakened, Francis no longer saw Jesus the Christ simply as a historical figure, written about in scripture and preached in homilies. Through Francis’ ongoing conversion he experienced Christ alive, who spoke to him and became exceptionally vibrant for him through all of creation. Reading about Francis’ experiences would definitely be worth your time.  Francis’ desire was for everyone to also have this experience of the living Christ.

I ask can we (myself included) be awakened from our slumbering drowsy souls to the brilliance of this Divine Love and Light, the presence of Christ, who shines even in these dark times of the Covid pandemic and the pandemics of violence on our streets, increasing economic disparities, as well as intense political polarization?

With that I invite you to join me this Advent for a facilitated weekly adult gathering to study and discuss this booklet: Living Well through Advent 2020- Practicing Hope with all of Your Heart, Soul, Strength and Mind.

This invite is for everyone.  We can figure out logistics later but know I am open to perhaps meeting in person with folks, for example immediately after service on Sundays since we are able to appropriately space ourselves.  I am also willing to host a virtual gathering in addition to an in-person discussion, which I can set up via Zoom. There is no charge for the booklets and if we run out of copies, I can provide a PDF link which can be assessed free of charge.

This comes from the Living Compass Program. The booklet is a resource that provides a foundation for seeking a deeper experience of Advent, an experience that will help prepare us for the true meaning of Christmas.  Underlining the program as a whole is the concept of wellness: having a sense of balance by nurturing and tending to all areas of wellness, including spiritual, physical, emotional, relational, and vocational.  Grounded in Scripture and the tradition of the Church, the Living Compass program provides resources, education, training, and support to individuals, families, and congregations who seek to enhance vitality and to live into the abundant life that God intends.

Let us – together – desire to walk in the way of holy wisdom like St. Francis, so that our slumbering and drowsy souls may be awakened in Christ. May this awakening give us the strength and the courage to speak out and to proclaim our faith boldly.

Awake, O sleeper,

rise from death,

and Christ shall give you light,

so learn his love—

its length and breadth,

its fullness, depth, and height.

To us on earth he came to bring

from sin and fear release,

to give the Spirit’s unity,

the very bond of peace.

There is one Body and one hope,

one Spirit and one call,

one Lord, one Faith, and one Baptism,

one Father of us all.

Then walk in love as

Christ has loved,

who died that he might save;

with kind and gentle hearts forgive

as God in Christ forgave.

For us Christ lived,

for us he died

and conquered in the strife.

Awake, arise, go forth in faith,

and Christ shall give you life.


4 Ways Jesus Gives You Abundant Life

One Response to “Awake, O Sleeper”

  1. Pat Layton November 10, 2020 at 11:22 am #

    Great sermon to read– wish I had heard you on Sunday!

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