Last week I invited you to close your eyes during the message… to be still and know that God is God and you don’t have to be. It was a gamble. Some of you doze regularly without me having to give any permission at all. And, hey, my thought has long been that if you need to catch some Zzz’s during my sermon than that is probably exactly what your spirit needs that given morning so offense? None taken. We all know the challenge of staying awake when we’re just dog tired – or should I say meerkat tired. There was a great video going around the last several months of a meerkat doing its best to stay awake. Why exactly? I have no clue. You’re a meerkat – what social cues must you follow? If you’re tired, sleep. Anyway — people put audio to the video that included boring lectures, sermons, and even poorly performed folk music. Check this out and see if you know the feeling. Isn’t that great? (That’s what you look like!)
But that was last week. Today we hear Jesus say, “Keep awake!” and I’m wondering if we’re up for the challenge. I share it as we launch a new series today, perhaps strangely entitled, “Un-Series”. Let me explain. We typically rally around the concept of preaching sermon series for our methodology of infusing our worshipping community with the Gospel message. It’s not the best way or the better way or the only way necessarily – just the way we typically approach the opportunity to proclaim our faith at HACC. A sermon series is a collection of several sermons that are connected by a common theme. Small Victories, for example, was our last series. It held a collection of four sermons. Each sermon in the series guides the community down a new tributary of discovery while remaining connected and returning to the river that first started the adventure. We are flipping the script with this collection of sermons that will show up in the UN-Series. While they will be offered consecutively and under the same series name, the “UN” component is the rebellion of having no other intentional connection between the four messages. So if you’re a rebel at heart, or always wanted to be, relish in the rebellion this month as we share this UN-series together – a series for renegades who take road trips without a destination in mind or love a movie that ends in an unpredictable way.
Today – Keep Awake! Jesus offers these words as go-time was close at hand. The Gospel of Mark just gets right after the message anyway so this word from Jesus fits right in here. Mark wastes no time getting down to business. He’s not your poetic friend who spins delicately every story weaved into conversation with a prose that delights your soul. Mark’s more like your friend who bluntly speaks her mind or who tells you that your new haircut looks like a startled cat awoke from a nap on your head and circled in a panic a dozen times before bailing. You know those friends? Mark’s just excited really and he can’t wait to tell us about an event that has taken place, radically changing the way we look at and experience the world. The sooner we get the message, in his estimation, the better. God is here. God is on our side. And that’s good news.
Jesus has dropped a number of helpful tools for living the God-life and just before our passage for today, he’s telling his people how tough things are going to be. “It’s going to be brother killing brother,” he says, “father killing child, children killing parents. There’s no telling who will hate you because of me…” Sounds awful. Then this: “Be ready to run for it when you see the monster of desecration set up where it should never be.” What a word then. What a word now. It’s a hard time isn’t it? My kids are asking me why clowns are out to harm people and why presidential candidates say the things they do. People are on edge. We’ve got race issues and gender issues and issues with issues. But Jesus says further, “When the time comes, say what’s on your heart – the Holy Spirit will make his witness in and through you. Stay with it – that’s what is required. Stay with [me] to the end. You won’t be sorry; you’ll be saved.”
This is all lead-in to what is nearing the last lecture of Jesus before the events Mark has been dying to get to. It’s coming. And Jesus’ lecture says so. “Take a lesson from the fig tree,” he says. “From the moment you notice its buds form, the merest hint of green, you know summer’s just around the corner. And so it is with you. When you see all of what’s going on, you know he’s at the door.” Jesus goes on to say that nobody knows exactly when all of this will happen – when God will do something big, something new, something transformative, some grand return. Jesus says, “Heck, even I don’t know.” God only knows. “So then,” and this is the crux of the whole thing, “Keep awake.” This isn’t a plug for stronger coffee. This is a call for a spiritual awakening. Have you ever just got something; totally understood it in an instant – it just clicked and you could see what you were to do like never before – total clarity. Jesus is saying, “You’ve got to get some spiritual clarity.” You need to be spirit-focused. If this isn’t your first rodeo as a person of faith… which by the way… where did that phrase come from? Most people who say that have never competed in any rodeo so whatever they were referring to, theoretically, would actually be rodeo number one. Anyway – if you’ve got a little life experience, you can recall the “wake up” calls in your life: the moment your child was born; the car accident that changed your texting habits; the arrest; the incident; the break-up, the miracle… you fill in the blank.
Randy Pausch was a professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. His wake up call? Forty-six years old — doc says, “Your cancer is terminal.” Pausch wasn’t a household name – just a husband, father, and computer science professor. He kept teaching and delivered his final lecture in September of 2007. Pausch expected 150 people that day – it was a nice September day after all and he assumed most would rather be outside than listen to his last lecture. It was standing room only in that 400-seat auditorium and as he stood to teach, he was given a standing ovation. “Make me earn it,” he says as he motions for them to sit down.
According to columnist Jeffrey Zaslow of The Wall Street Journal, Pausch hardly mentioned his cancer in the course of his 70-minute lecture. Instead, he took everyone on a riveting journey through the lessons of his life. He talked about the importance of childhood dreams, and the stamina needed to overcome obstacles. “Brick walls are there for a reason,” he insisted, showing slides of the rejection letters he had received over the years. “They let us prove how badly we want things.” He pushed his audience to show patience toward others, saying, “Wait long enough, and people will surprise and impress you.” He celebrated his mentors and his students with an open heart, and revealed the depth of his love for his family. Giving a nod to his techie background, he showed good humor. “I’ve experienced a deathbed conversion,” he said with a smile. “I just bought a Macintosh.” And wanting to show the crowd that he wasn’t ready to kick the bucket just yet, he dropped to the floor and did one-handed push-ups. Keep awake. That’s what Randy seemed to be saying as he invited his audience to rethink their ambitions and find new ways to look at other people’s flaws and abilities. Keep awake to what is truly important in life. After showing pictures of his childhood bedroom, marked up with mathematical notations he had drawn on the walls, he said, “If your kids want to paint their bedrooms, as a favor to me, let ’em do it.” Keep awake to what really matters. The video of his final lecture went viral, Oprah had him on her show, a book was made and translated into 48 languages, selling more than five million copies in the United States alone. Keep awake. Are you awake?
It’s a tough question, truly. Do you actually feel your life or are you on auto-pilot? You don’t want God showing up to your life unannounced with you having a numb spirit. Keep awake is not a works based request like the bumper stickers that say, “Jesus is coming, look busy.” No. Nonetheless, it seems that works do result from a spirit that’s in touch with the moment. Are you calling the marginalized people of society names or are you serving them? Are you seeing a need and thinking, “I’ll get to that someday” or are you offering yourself to God in the moment and giving what you uniquely can give to that situation? Jesus says, “Keep awake.” Accountability in community is key to staying awake. We miss you when you’re not here. I hope being here for worship and study is beneficial for your personal spirit but I want you to know just as much that you being here week after week matters to the rest of us too. You never know who you’ll encourage when you’re here. You never know what adding your voice to the singing in worship or adding your insight as your class works through the Grow, Pray, Study guide together might mean to the faith walk of one of someone else in this place. Showing up for fellowship matters too. There are people in this place that have walked through the tough times together and laughed through the best of times and each time deepens and enhances the gift of the next time. In our over-scheduled lives, it’s tempting to skip worship, or Sunday School or serving at the Ronald McDonald house together but staying awake, spirit sensitive to the presence of Christ, is never better than when we’re together. “You don’t know when the Master will come,” Jesus predicts, “in the evening, at midnight or dawn.” Regardless, remaining connected in community is the best position to be in if you want to meet Jesus Christ.
All of this “keep awake” business, admittedly, has been on my mind, in part, for personal reasons. I leave for China this week. I’ll be gone two weeks and I covet your prayers for our team that is going and for my home team and church team who keep life moving here. I’m traveling with the Week of Compassion Advisory Committee. I serve on that committee on behalf of our congregation who has long been a leading supporter of that ministry of our denomination. Week of Compassion was launched through the inspiration of Disciples of Christ Christians who saved some 10,000 lives in China in 1939 during that worn-torn era and area. The DoC response to human need on the ground in China sparked the desire for our movement to have a unified way of responding to disasters all over the world of both natural and human-made origins. Week of Compassion has been responding ever since – responding as I speak to the needs in Haiti, Florida, and the east coast dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. We’ll visit many of our partners in China and people benefiting from the sustainable development programs Week of Compassion supports. I know I will be awakened to Christ in a way like never before.
I admit some anxiety, especially when the leader of our trip sent our team a spreadsheet of everyone’s travel itinerary to get to China and back home a couple of weeks ago. I was the only one listed that didn’t include a airline ticket back home from China. It was then I thought, “HACC, do you really have to send me on a one-way trip to China to get rid of me?” I can take a hint. Honestly, things like this make you think about things differently. A seventeen-hour plane ride – makes me think differently about “For God so loved the world,” as I will soon walk in a land totally foreign to me but totally loved by God. I’m sure the orphanage we’ll visit will bring new perspective to “Visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and keep oneself unstained from the world.” Seeing the Nanjing Massacre Museum and the names of our Disciples ancestors who saved lives of women and children will open my eyes afresh to “When you do it to the least of these, you do it to me.” When we meet with the Religious Affairs of the State Administration of China I’ll wonder about “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s…” and when I stand atop the Great Wall of China I’ll think of Ephesians 2 that says, “Christ is our peace, making us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.” Being a world away from home, from my family… going to bed when you all are rising each day… a foreign land and language and culture makes it easy for you to think about staying awake to your faith and what matters most. But you can’t count on China or the diagnosis or the presidential election to be the daily impetus for making your faith count. Every day should be seen through the lens of your faith. When you rise – your faith. When you drive – your faith. When you greet your co-workers – your faith. When you write that TPS report – your faith. When you go to lunch with a colleague – your faith. When you take a chance to see another point of view – your faith. When you reach out to understand how your race or gender affects your view of the world – your faith. When you toss your toddler in the air to the delight of their giggle – your faith. When you vote – your faith. When you speak before a group – your faith. When you think it’s just a conversation with the guys – your faith. When you love, when you lose, when you miss, when you hurt and when you heal – your faith, your faith, your faith.
With little time before his execution, Jesus says to his followers, “Keep awake.” My friends, none of us knows the day or hour when life is upended, spun sideways, cracked in all the wrong places – such is often out of our control. What is ours to do? Keep awake. Not fearfully on alert but confidently active in the pursuit of God and sharing the love of Christ wherever we go. Maybe you’ve been in a spiritual funk or struggling with a case of a foggy soul. How might you awaken your spirit again? You are worth it. God is worth it. Live with no spiritual regrets as if this day embodied your last lecture to the world. Keep your spirit awake. It’s the only way to live free…
 May 3, 2008, and September 20, 2007. The Last Lecture video can be viewed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ji5_MqicxSo. The synopsis of Pausch’s story was aided significantly by Bob Kaylor’s telling as utilized in his message, “The Last Lecture of Jesus Christ.” Bob is the Senior Writer for homileticsonline.com and Senior Minister of the Park City United Methodist Church in Park City, Utah.