Sunday, November 30, 2014

Sleepwalking through Life

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
November 30, 2014

Year B: The First Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 64:1-9
Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:24-37

Sleepwalking through Life
            It’s Advent! Happy New Year!
            Over the past few weeks we’ve been anticipating this day – this start of the new church year - as we’ve begun looking ahead to the Last Day when we will be judged on how we’ve lived our lives, how we have used the many gifts that we’ve been given.
            Ideally – and we’ll try our best here at St. Paul’s – Advent is a time to slow down a little, to pray a little bit more, to prepare for the birth of Christ and to take stock of our lives – to reflect on the ways that we have and have not loved God and our neighbors.
            I say ideally because, of course, for many of us this is the craziest time of year as we make a mad dash to shop and do all the other stuff that goes into making a nice holiday for the people we love.
            And, in fact, the crazy busy time has already begun, including for me.
            This past week has been incredibly full with all sorts of wonderful things happening from the interfaith Thanksgiving service on Monday evening to our Thanksgiving community dinner on Thursday.
            And for me there was another major event, wedged right in the middle of the week.
            A few weeks back I was invited to speak at St. Peter’s Prep’s interfaith Thanksgiving service. I was asked to represent the “Christian tradition,” which certainly sounded like a tall order indeed.
            To be honest, I really hesitated to say yes to this invitation.
            Prep played a vey important role in my life – in both my intellectual and spiritual development. As many of you know, I both attended St. Peter’s as a student and later was a history teacher there until I left to go to seminary and pursue ordination.
            It seemed weird and uncomfortable to go back to that place now as a priest.
            But, I’ve been trying lately to really face what scares me, so after hemming and hawing for a few days I said yes, I’d do it.
            Preparing for my talk and then finally being there in the Prep gym with 900 or so boys, plus teachers, administration and staff was a little disorienting.
            I sat there waiting my turn to speak, thinking how it has been almost thirty years – thirty years! – since my graduation.
            And, it’s already been more than ten years since I had left the faculty.
            That seems like a whole lot of time to me.
            And, I wondered, how much of that time was I really paying attention to what was going on in my life?
            How much of that time was I really mindful of what was going on in the lives of people around me?
            How much of that time was I really awake to how God was at work in my world?
            How much of that time was I really alert to the opportunities to serve other people?
            Or, have I been mostly just sleepwalking through life – going mindlessly through the motions, one day after another until the years start to really pile up?
            That’s what I was wondering in the Prep gym on Wednesday.
             Maybe you’ve had a similar experience, maybe at a milestone birthday, or when it’s time for retirement or during the illness or death of a loved one.
            Have we really been paying attention or have we been sleepwalking through life?
            I’m afraid the answer for me – and probably for many of us – is that I’ve been doing a lot of sleepwalking.
            Well, the Church sets aside Advent – these four Sundays before Christmas as a time of waiting and a time of paying close attention.
            And we hear the wake up call very clearly in today’s gospel lesson.
            The passage I just read comes from a part of the Gospel of Mark called the “Little Apocalypse” – the little revelation.
            And in this passage Jesus is revealing the signs of the last days – and they are very vivid signs, “the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light and the stars will be falling from heaven and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”
            And then the Son of Man will appear with great power and glory.
            Jesus warns his disciples that no one – not even Jesus himself – knows the day or the hour so they – we – need to “beware,” “keep alert,” and “keep awake.”
            I find it hard to believe that Jesus’ first followers had trouble keeping alert and keeping awake – Jesus is right here! – but, we know from the gospels that they sometimes literally dozed off at important moments.
            And I find it hard to believe that the first readers and hearers of Mark’s gospel had trouble bewaring, keeping alert and keeping awake – after all, they lived during tumultuous times as the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple in the year 70. Yet, even those early Christians needed to be reminded to beware, keep alert and keep awake.
            And, if those early Christians needed to be reminded, then we 21st Century American Christians really need the reminder to pay attention, to be mindful, to stay awake.
            Our whole world is filled with all sorts of distractions – all our electronic devices especially our smart phones are designed to distract us – check email, text, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter - plus there’s our old favorites radio and TV, and all the rest.
            All these distractions keep us from focusing on what’s most important.
            They fool us into thinking we have all the time in the world.
            And sometimes those distractions can be downright dangerous.
            As you know, I try to stand outside church before our services, greeting parishioners, neighbors, and strangers.
            Very often people will come walking along so engrossed in looking at their phones or listening through their earbuds that they do not see or hear me when I say hello (unless they’re ignoring me, which is possible, but I don’t think so).
            But, it’s worse than that because when I’m standing outside I also see people driving down Duncan Avenue – often at speeds much higher than 25 miles per hour – as they text away or stare intently at their phones, risking their own safety and the safety of others.
            Just as texting while driving is dangerous, so, as Advent begins, Jesus warns us that failing to pay attention, failing to keep awake, is spiritually dangerous.
            It’s Advent. Happy New Year!
            It’s Advent – it’s time to prepare and be ready – it’s time to pay attention – it’s time to wake up and stop sleepwalking through our lives.