Reflection: "WAKE UP!"
Wake up! Don’t fall asleep on me.
This phrase, “wake up”, has different moods and meanings when used in different situations and settings.
Let me give you a few examples.
It’s November, 1941, in the city of London and there’s a group of men sitting in a darkened room, their eyes glued to their radar scopes and they’re nervous and tense.
Suddenly there appear blips on the radar screens, 200, 300 aeroplanes coming from seemingly every direction.
The men are frightened, and they press the alarm. The air raid alert siren goes off: Whhhha. Whhhha. Whhha.
It’s saying, “Wake up. Wake up. Disaster is coming. The planes are coming. The bombs are coming. Get up. Be awake. Be alert. This is not the time to sleep, but the time to run and find protection in a bomb shelter.
Here, the phrase “wake up”, is about wartime and air raid sirens, warning that an evil force is soon to attack you.
Another story. Let’s imagine you’re living in an apartment building and a fire has broken out on the sixth floor.
A person comes running down the hallway, knocking frantically on each door and shouting, “Wake up. Wake up in there. It’s no time to sleep. There’s a fire down the end of the hall. Get up. Get out. You’re about to get burnt.”
This time, the words “wake up” are referring to an incident that requires your attention and imminent action.
However, the words “wake up” can have an entirely different - even a positive flavour.
For example, at the imminent birth of a baby, the mother to be calls to her husband “Wake up, the baby is coming.”
Something stirs inside his brain, and he wakes up in a flash, out of bed, puts on his pants and his shirt, ready to go.
If he’s lucky, he’ll remember to take his wife with him in that mad rush to get to the hospital.
In that situation, we have an entirely different mood than the previous stories.
The mood and message are now positive.
Last story. The children are waiting for Santa to come with their Christmas presents.
They wait and wait but finally they fall asleep, only to wake in the early morning with presents on their beds.
They rush to their parent’s room, throw open the door and shout “Wake up, Mum. Wake up, Dad. Santa’s been and he’s left us some presents.”
And everybody is excited because the celebrations can begin.
We can look at this week’s gospel lesson in two ways: one where we hear the theme, “Don’t fall asleep. Are you still awake? Are you listening? Wake up to the evil that is all around you and in you. Wake up to the evil peril that’s coming towards you and is ready to enter into the door of your life.”
Or: “Wake up to the good news, to the power and glory of God’s miraculous world that’s all around you, to the grandeur of God’s glorious presence for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.”
The watchman was very common in Old Testament days, when people would build a tall tower called a watchtower, where a watchman would be on duty all night long, watching for thieves who might come in and steal the crop.
What was the greatest sin of a night watchman? To fall asleep.
The second place we find a watchman in the Bible was on top of the city walls, where they would watch for any enemy forces coming to raid the city, or for a friendly king and his armies, so they could be welcomed into the city.
And the greatest sin of the watchman is to fall asleep to the evil lurking in the shadows, or to miss the grand entrance of the king who would march into the city triumphantly.
The third place in the Old Testament where we find stories about watchmen are the stories of the prophets.
The Old Testament prophets were also called watchmen, especially in the book of Ezekiel.
They had to be keenly aware of the evil powers around them; but also of the promised Messiah, who was to come.
And the worst sin of the prophet was to lose concentration - becoming lethargic to the surrounding evil or becoming lethargic to the future possibility of the coming Messiah.
Then we move to the New Testament, where Jesus is clearly calling out to us “to watch, be alert, don’t fall asleep,” don’t drift into spiritual lethargy about the evil around you”.
The evil peril is around us and in us, but also, we’re not to fall asleep to the grand possibilities of God’s wonderful miracles which will unfold before our eyes. Stay awake. Don’t fall asleep.
Jesus then tells several stories to illustrate his desire for us to be alert, alert with our eyes, alert with our ears, alert with our minds, alert with our hearts.
He tells us that the end of the world will be like a thief in the night, whose entry into the house will be a total surprise - we don’t know when the break-in is going to occur.
Also, the end of the world will be like the master who went on a trip and left his estate to the care of his servants.
They didn’t know when the owner was to come back – maybe at midnight, tomorrow, or next week.
It will be a surprise when the owner comes back – and we understand that to mean “When God calls our name”.
We should always be prepared to meet God face to face, as we never know when this party is going to begin.
There’s always a surprise and, guess what, suddenly the Lord is here.
How do we apply all of this at the end of the year 2022?
What does God have to say to us through these words, “Watch. Be alert. Don’t fall sleep on me, you back there in the corner. Be alert. Be a Christian watchman.”
Jesus needed to tell us that, because our greatest sin, as current watchmen (Christians), is to fall asleep, become apathetic or become complacent, when there’s so much evil around us.
Like falling asleep at the radar screen when the bombers are coming.
Or, like sleeping through a person knocking loudly at your door and shouting “wake up, the building is on fire.”
To fall asleep in evil times is a deadly thing to do.
The evil peril is all around us, and we can become insensitive to the vastness of that evil around us and within us.
Especially during times of affluence and wealth, when we live so much better than the rest of the world.
It’s so easy to become complacent about the tragedy of starvation, hunger and brutality, when our world is relatively wealthy, comfortable and affluent.
We can become apathetic to the elderly, apathetic to the hungry, apathetic towards widows and widowers, to the handicapped, the homeless, those in the bush – living through drought, flood, or bushfire.
The enemy can be easy to identify in war time, or when there’s pornography or domestic violence.
But it’s much harder to identify the enemy around us when the enemy is comfort, materialism, or being selfish.
In Australia, we can say to ourselves “It’s ok, we can relax. There are no big problems around us and the church. There are no thieves out there trying to destroy the lives of our people. We can relax, slump back and fall asleep.”
The number one sin of a watchman has always been to fall asleep and not be alert to the enemy around us; that was a problem two thousand years ago and it’s a problem today.
There’s a whole other theme in the gospel lesson for today, based on the words, “wake up” and this theme is, “Wake up, the baby is coming. Wake up, the baby is coming tonight.”
Or it is in the story of the children waking their parents on Christmas morning.
Or the watchman, who would get up into the watchtower and shout triumphantly, “The King is coming.”
The early Christians shouted, like watchmen, “Christ is coming. Christ is coming to save!”
Wake up! You never know when God will be coming. There’s always that element of surprise.
How many times do we hear of people who are perfectly healthy one minute and gone the next?
I implore you to wake up and be alert - don’t fall asleep.
There’s so much evil surrounding us – so many miracles all around us that we’re not seeing.
Wake up your eyes your ears, your minds, your hearts.
Wake up and see the world around you - see the blessings of God surrounding your life.
And wake up to see the beauty of the Christmas story.
Reflection: "All Hail the King"
This Sunday marks the end of “Liturgical Year C” in the church’s rolling, three-year calendar.
Next week we’ll commence “Year A” with the season of Advent, the lead up to our celebration of the birth of Jesus, our Lord, our Saviour and King, at Christmas.
On this Sunday we’re invited to look back and remember all that we’ve learned about Jesus, and our faith, over the past year.
We’re invited to come to him in worship and praise - kneeling before his throne.
We’re challenged once again to claim Jesus as our Saviour and our Lord.
This Sunday is usually called “The Feast of Christ the King”, but just what does that mean?
For instance, what do you think of when you hear the word “King”?
In the British monarchy, the successor to Queen Elizabeth was her eldest son, Charles, who became King Charles III.
Next in line of succession is his eldest son William and then young George, eldest son to William and Kate.
And so the list goes on, but I won’t bore you anymore.
There are lots of Kings in waiting in Great Britain.
But in some countries, like America, their experience doesn’t include kings – at least not of the regal sort.
If you talk of “The King” in America, or to someone living in Parkes, NSW and they’ll probably think of Elvis, the King of Rock ’n’ Roll.
Or maybe Michael Jackson, who was crowned the King of Pop.
We also have people like Martin Luther King, or, if you’re a petrol-head, Peter Brock, who was known as the King of the Mountain (that’s Mt Panorama at Bathurst, for those who don’t follow motor racing in Australia).
So, it seems that “King” is no longer the most effective, most evocative, most exclusive of titles, in fact it is now the 510th most popular baby name in America – more popular even than Jonathan – and its use has risen exponentially in the last 10 years.
If we go back to the Old Testament, God, speaking through the prophet Jeremiah, tells his people that he will gather together the remnant (those who have been defeated in battle and scattered in exile) and from these people he will raise up a King from the lineage of the great King David and he will be called “the Lord Our Salvation.”
And in the New Testament, the Apostle Luke, throughout his first chapter, tells us more about the birth of this King, this man we now know as Jesus, son of Mary & Joseph, who was himself a descendant of David.
Now Jesus wasn’t born a King, in the sense that the Jewish people would have understood.
Instead, the kingdom which Jesus preached about, was the kingdom of his Father in heaven, a kingdom of grace, servanthood and forgiving love, with no royal trappings at all.
A kingdom which had always been there, but which now (through Jesus) the people of the day were beginning to recognize for the first time.
This kingdom that Jesus spoke of, is summarized in the words of the Lord’s Prayer – “forgive us as we forgive others”.
But, you know, it doesn’t seem to matter how many times we say that prayer, the meaning of these words apparently escape us.
Yes, we expect to be forgiven, but we often don’t seem able to forgive others.
In God’s kingdom, we need to pull our socks up and perform to a higher standard.
In his day, Christ might have been hailed as King by people who thought they understood kingship, but Christ’s kingship over them was not of a militaristic nature, but of one based on love and care for others.
When we read the scriptures, especially of the time around Easter, we don’t see an exalted and powerful King, but a Christ who’s been crucified.
Throughout the story there are symbols of royal power, but each of them seems to mock the idea that Jesus has any power at all.
On the cross, above the head of Jesus, Pilate posted a sign, “King of the Jews.”
It wasn’t a title, but a reminder of the charge brought against him by the Jewish religious authorities.
Jesus is lifted up, not on a throne, but on a cross - and the crown he wears is made of thorns.
The places on the right and left of Jesus are not occupied by his royal advisors, but by criminals being executed.
The royal court is made up of those who offer vinegar and wine to Jesus, mocking him, gambling for his royal robe.
What kind of a King is this?
And maybe more to the point: what are we to do with this crucified King?
One who refused to save himself from the cross and one who doesn’t seem to save us from our own crosses?
What kind of King is this, who allows such suffering to exist in our world?
Probably, knowing what we know, we’d probably prefer to be our own rulers, taking charge of our own lives.
It’s easier to read self-help books than to study the Gospels.
But when the self-help books and seminars fall short, and we’re confronted by our need for one who is more powerful than ourselves, we cry out to God:
“Remember us, remake us, reclaim us, Lord.”
At least then we’ll have a little hope that through our own efforts we can come through the pain, knowing the love of God and the strength and comfort it can give during our time of suffering.
Jesus refused to save himself because he came to save us instead.
In the moments when we realize we can’t fix, or repair, or help ourselves, when we find ourselves completely unable to do anything more than cry out, we give thanks for a God who does not abandon us or leave us alone.
“Jesus, remember me,” the criminal at his side begged, “when you come into your kingdom.”
The point of the Feast of Christ the King Sunday (to give this Sunday its full title) is to remind us that surprise, surprise, we are not the centre of the universe – Christ the King is.
He urges us to gird ourselves for whatever will come.
Over our time in his kingdom, we’ll be challenged by many things, be they droughts and flooding rains in NSW, bushfires last summer, wars in Ukraine, other man-made disasters, mental illnesses, breakdowns of relationships, job losses, etc, etc.
But through these trials, we should always stay focussed on the end game and give praise, thanks and glory to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
We can talk a lot about Kings and name many things with this title, but in the end, there is only one King who matters for our life together - in this world and the next: and he is Christ the King.
Let us remember this, every day, as we live out our lives in his Kingdom.
Go in the truth that God holds the world in his hand.
Go in the light of God, which illuminates even our bleakest moments.
Go in the faith that we are invited into communion with God and each other.
Go in the knowledge that God is reconciling and recreating the world in every moment.
Go in love, because everything that exists - exists in love.
Go in the name of the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Reflection: "Watch Out For Tomorrow"
The bright sun stunned the disciples as they strolled out from the majestic temple onto the bleached limestone terrace. Hand-chiselled, these giant stone blocks measured more than 2 metre on each side.
A grown person could walk two or three paces per stone.
They watched hundreds of people milling in these courtyards and patios outside the temple.
Rising far above the streets, these massive boulders were hewn from limestone cliffs. They were….. BIG.
The stones were there to stay, and the delicate, gorgeous temple would have made you gasp.
As this was the holiest place in all Israel, the disciples were surely in a state of awe.
Someone said, “Look, what large stones and what large buildings” and everyone marvelled at the grandeur.
Therefore, you can just imagine the disciple’s dismay when Jesus asked, “Do you see these great buildings?
Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
The disciples were probably wondering “Who does he think he is, talking about the temple’s demise when he’s actually at the temple?”
We can surely relate to the disciples’ frustration.
Most of us love our possessions, our houses, cars and clothes, wealth, health.
We like the occasional shiny building, the thriving city, a powerful military presence protecting us.
These things make us feel safe and we’d rather not hear that moths destroy and rust consumes, that our possessions are short-lived, temporary like mist, because we don’t want to lose our material status.
This economic system works – for some – and we move mountains to prevent its crumble.
But, deep down, I guess we all know that eventually we’ll die and go back to God - with nothing.
Everything we’ve built on earth will stay here, and we’ll be gone.
Mortality is a scary thing and talk of the end makes most people fidget uncomfortably.
In the gospels we read of messianic and apocalyptic Jews, who spent their days actually waiting for the end of time.
That’s why our upcoming Advent season bible readings are full of end-times predictions.
Our spiritual ancestors expected the end within months, and they were anxious to know when it would happen.
For example, the Essene community, that followed John’s gospel and wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls, moved as far away from civilization as possible.
They were camped in desert caves by the Dead Sea, literally training for a cosmic battle.
And like it or not, these people are part of our spiritual story.
They asked with pained anxiety: How do we live in the present, when we don’t know the future?
As Jesus is forecasting the temple’s destruction, the disciples also wonder:
What should we be doing today when we don’t know what tomorrow will bring?
The gospel writers must have agreed on the importance of the temple story, because Luke tells it in today’s gospel, Mark tells a similar tale in Chapter 13 of his gospel, Matthew in Chapter 24, and John alludes to the temple destruction in Chapter 2.
Peter, Andrew, James and John ask Jesus, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?”
The response Jesus gives is less than helpful, as he tells them, “When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, don’t be alarmed; this must take place.”
Not helpful, Jesus. They were asking when, but your response is that really bad stuff is going to happen.
How should they live today when they don’t know what tomorrow will bring?
They were probably thinking “Come on, Jesus, we really want to know. We’ve got plans to make!”
This can be a disturbing reading for some, and perhaps it’s unwise to release the tension.
Easy answers make for good bumper stickers, but real life is a bit more complex.
In place of an easy answer, consider what Jesus offers.
Something to all of us: the profound truth that God is still in charge.
God calls us to love with radical abandon.
This is less of a dream, more of a solid movement.
We don’t know what comes tomorrow, but we know that God calls us to love neighbour as ourselves and to work tirelessly toward a just society and a loving community.
So how do we live in the present when we don’t know the future?
We should partner with God, giving it all that we have, because God has work for us to do - today!
Jesus talked about a revolution in which the last are first, the proud get scattered, the lowly are lifted up.
God fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty.
The sick are healed, the poor are blessed and, in this revolution, we’re all the beloved children of God.
He started the revolution, but it depends, in part, on us to keep it going.
I’m up for it, are you on board?
When we read today’s story in the context of Luke’s full gospel, Jesus drops the temple bomb right before setting his face toward Jerusalem. “All will be thrown down,” he says, perhaps referencing his own death.
And history shows that it was so.
The Roman army plundered Jerusalem in the year 70, with soldiers pillaging the temple, murdering people and destroying everything that Israel held dear.
Yet death never gets the last word, as Jerusalem rose from the Roman ashes.
Jesus died a brutal death at the hands of the military state, but that’s just Friday’s news.
When Sunday rolled around and took the stone with it and resurrection strolled out of the empty tomb.
God was still in charge.
Remember though, that Jesus doesn’t promise easy living.
Jesus doesn’t say that the temple remains, that we avoid death, or that pain goes away.
But Jesus does promise that God is with us - even to the end of the age.
God is still in charge and we can trust in God when we can no longer trust anything else.
Have you ever prayed in a time of uncertainty, in a time of waiting?
Consider the poetic beauty of today’s reading from Isaiah 65.
To the people who knew exactly what it meant to lose a temple, God said, “See, I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. So be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating.”
How do we live today when we don’t know tomorrow?
We draw strength from God, who invites our participation and endures long after the cities and buildings and stones have crumbled.
We adopt an attitude that asks not what God can do for us, but what we can do to bring the Kingdom of God just a bit closer.
We love our neighbours as we love ourselves and we strive for just societies and a stable planet- new heavens and a new earth.
We pray without ceasing, and we trust in a mighty God from whom all blessings flow.
This is the revolutionary Gospel - the good news of Jesus Christ.
It’s here for us today, so don’t wait for tomorrow – it may not be what you’re expecting.
Reflection: "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff"
In today’s gospel story, as is fairly typical of Jesus, he replies to a conundrum with another conundrum.
He’s presented with a sort of riddle about a woman who marries seven times – and not just seven times, but to seven brothers - in succession.
And each brother dies, leaving her a widow – time after time.
The Sadducees, who are critics of Jesus, want to know: “In the resurrection, whose wife will the woman be?”
They didn’t believe in the resurrection and so they’re trying to mock Jesus, to show how silly and unworkable the idea of eternal life is.
They’re trying to demonstrate that the things we hold dear in this life, including the bond and covenant of marriage, will make no sense in the next life.
And they are trying to depict Jesus as a kind of oddball faith healer and snake charmer, whose fundamental claims just don’t make any sense.
And, I guess, in one way, they’re right, because to the average man in the street, Jesus can be very easy to mock.
Eternal life is a strange and seemingly unworkable idea.
And the fundamental claims of Christianity don’t make sense when compared with the values of the secular world.
This was true in Jesus’ time, and it’s still very true today.
The first assertion made by the Sadducees is that the fundamental claims of Christianity just don’t make any sense.
The greatest commandment is: love God and love your neighbour. That’s fundamental, right?
But most of our world is obsessed with power, prestige, wealth and control.
If we admit to the existence of God, then we must acknowledge that all the possessions we have are not ours, but are simply “lent” to us - ie. we’re stewards of our possessions, including our earthly bodies.
All we have is a gift from God and they’re only of value while we’re alive on this earth.
But the culture we live in says “this is my home, my money, my whatever, and I can do with it whatever I want.”
It’s very much a “me” society.
However, when we acknowledge the existence of God, we also acknowledge that we’re not in control, not the ultimate judge, not the great power of the universe – or even of our family.
Of course, the secular world would say otherwise.
Our society is full of people who insist on doing it “their” way, on their own individual authority.
It happens at the simplest levels of human interaction, and at the highest levels of government and industry.
And what about the concept of loving our neighbour?
Our society doesn’t always uphold this principle, does it?
Loving God and loving your neighbour as yourself – these two great imperatives - to those of us who profess and call ourselves Christians - are not always the values of our country, of our society, or of our world at large.
Then there’s the idea of eternal life – is it a silly and unworkable idea?
As for multiple partners in the afterlife - the Sadducees have shown us that it sounds silly – or have they?
When we think of eternity like this, we’re failing to use our imagination.
We’re promised great joys, never-failing care, the strength of God’s presence, rejoicing in eternal glory, being received into the arms of mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and being reunited with those who have gone before to the paradise of God.
When you talk about those things, on that kind of scale, then we’re wasting a lot of energy discussing whether we’ll live forever, or to whom we may be married and it just seems to me another manifestation of that power and control thing.
I call it “sweating the small stuff” - spending too much time worrying about little things.
The fullness of God’s love and truth is not known to any of us – not yet.
And that’s exactly why Jesus can be so easy to mock.
We don’t know everything, or as Paul puts it, “Now we see in a mirror, dimly.”
Remember, that in the first century, a mirror was probably not like one of today’s manufactured, perfectly smooth and clear glasses. Looking into a mirror was more like looking into a brook or stream, or into a highly polished rock.
Now we see in a mirror, dimly, but when the end comes, Paul says that “we will see face to face. Now, I know only in part- then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
The Christian dispensation acknowledges that we don’t know, we don’t have control, we’re not in charge.
So, how is it we’ve come to believe?
Think of an empty jar on a table and fill the jar to the brim with large rocks. Is the jar full?
What if we then pour in very small pebbles until they filter down between the larger rocks. Is the jar full now?
What about if we tip a box of sand into the jar. Is the jar full yet? Most would answer “Yes.”
Think of this jar as representative of your life.
The big rocks are the most important things, your family, your friends, and your health.
The pebbles are the things that matter but to a lesser degree, things such as your job, your house, or your car.
And the sand, well, the sand is everything else, all the small stuff.”
If you put the sand into the jar first, there’s no room for the pebbles or the rocks - and the same is true for your life.
If you spend all your energy and time on the small stuff, you’ll never have room for the things that are the most important to you.
So, take care of your big rocks first, the things that matter above everything else.
But illustration is a worldly one, because it makes no allowance for Jesus Christ.
How can we get Jesus into our jar of life along with everything else?
Think of him as water.
We could take this jar analogy one step further by pouring water into the jar, pausing every now and then to shake the jar, allow the water to weave its way down through the rocks and sand. Now it IS full!
Establishing priorities in your life is a wonderful thing, but they must be touched by the “living water” of Christ.
The way to make your life count the most for eternity is to surrender it completely, every last corner of it, to him.
Let him permeate everything you think, say, and do.
Let him lead you into his perfect will and plan for your time here on earth.
Let him guide you into all truth.
Let him mould and shape you into the absolute best version of you there can be and let him take everything about your life, all the rocks, all the pebbles, all the sand, and use it to bring glory to God.
The journey of faith isn’t a life lived without doubt or questions, the life of a Christian isn’t one without trial or hard work, and the earthly pilgrimage isn’t about control and power.
It’s about truth, hope, and above all, love.
So, I encourage you to look at the big picture and work on the big rocks in your life.
Don’t sweat the small stuff.
There’ll still be room for the small rocks, sand and especially the water of Christ, to carry you through on your journey in God’s Kingdom.