Getting ‘Woke’: Sermon for March 26, 2017

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Ephesians 5:8-14
5:8 For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light-

5:9 for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.

5:10 Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.

5:11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.

5:12 For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly;

5:13 but everything exposed by the light becomes visible,

5:14 for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

Last night I was sitting in the living room at 8:30, trying to read something, and suddenly Heidi proclaimed “it’s Earth hour!” And she then went around the house shutting off all of our lights.

Things like this happen sometimes, and I’ve learned to just roll with it, but I of course asked, “Honey, what’s Earth Hour?” The subtext of that was, “honey, when can I get back to reading my book?” And Heidi explained that Earth Hour was a designated time when those who care about the environment were being asked to turn off all their lights and electronics for one hour to conserve electricity.

Okay, fair. I could do it for one hour. (And, honestly, it provided me with a much-needed intro to this sermon.) It also reminded me that in the course of human existence, this whole luxury of having light all through the night, and at the flip of a switch, is really quite new. A lot of us have great-grandparents or even grandparents who were born into a world lit solely by candles and lanterns.

So, sitting there in the dark last night, and thinking of all those dark nights of centuries past, I started to think about the Ephesians, and about what this text that we just read might have meant for them.

Paul, or one of his surrogates, writes to the church in Ephesus and says to them “live as children of light”. He says, “once you were in darkness, but now you are light”. And he wasn’t talking about flipping a lights witch there, at least not literally. The letter was talking about what had happened spiritually within them.

We don’t live in the literal dark often, but the Ephesians did. The night was something that was often feared because you literally couldn’t know what was around you in the dark. And so when Paul was talking to them about darkness and light, they got it in a way that you and I might not understand quite so dramatically today. They had been living in a metaphorical darkness, and now the light of Christ was shining all around them.

When Paul had come to Ephesus, in what is modern-day Turkey, he started this new church, and then others took over and helped it to grow. And Paul had come back at one point and lived with the Ephesians for three years before going back out again. There’s some question, though, about whether Paul really did write this letter. It might have been Paul, but it may have been someone writing it for Paul.

At any rate, the letter is written by someone who knows that the Ephesians were once people who didn’t know God, but who now did. And these are instructions on faith to this church, and to other churches, telling them how to live with one another, and how to live in the world.

And the big message here, in today’s text, is that the Ephesians had been changed. They had moved from spiritual darkness to light, because they now knew the love and grace of Christ. And so now they are “children of light” whose job is to live in the light, and shine the light for others. And, like I said, that metaphor would have resonated with them, because light could be truly life-saving back then. They didn’t take it for granted.

Nearly two thousand years later, we do. Last night, when I wanted to keep reading my book but couldn’t, it made me appreciate light more than I normally do. But 99.9% of the time, I don’t have to worry that there will be light when I flip the switch in my house. So, this light and darkness stuff, it’s not earth-shattering to me. I don’t often live in darkness.

But here’s the catch: sometimes I do. Sometimes we all do.

I’m talking here about metaphorical darkness. I’m talking about the ways in which I don’t really understand what’s going around me, and I am complicit with systems of injustice or inequity. I’m talking about the ways in which I have grown too comfortable with what should not be.

The author of this letter writes, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible…”

SpotlightLast Sunday some of us gathered here in the sanctuary after worship and we watched the movie Spotlight. Many of us are aware of the sexual abuse of children that took place at the hands of clergy in the Boston Archdiocese. And it’s easy to blame the priests who committed these horrible acts and to stop there.

But Spotlight tells the story of the Boston Globe reporters who unveiled a deeper, and even more troubling, truth. As the reporters were investigating these priests they learned that their superiors had knowledge of what was going on. And they learned that instead of removing these men from the priesthood, they instead moved them from parish to parish, giving them access to new victims. And that betrayal of the people by those in power became the even bigger story.

It’s not lost on me that the name of the team of reporters who investigated these acts was “Spotlight”. They were shining a light on what was hidden, and bringing it out of the darkness, even though the pressure on them not to reveal this, from the church and others, and even from inside themselves, was sometimes crushing.

Because they shined that light, though, literally thousands of survivors were finally heard. Old practices that allowed abusers to thrive were ended. And the whole institution was forced to face what had happened, and figure out how to never let it happen again.

Now it’s important for me to say here that this isn’t something that just happens in Catholic Churches. Protestant churches have had their fair share. So have schools. So have other institutions. And we are in a time of reckoning where we are shining the light and telling the truth about what happened, and in the end we will be better for it.

There’s an old adage: “Sunlight is the best disinfectant”. That’s true. And there’s another one I love as well: “We’re as sick as our secrets.”

Both remind us that sometimes truth is painful. Sometimes doing the work of shining a light in the dark places is deeply uncomfortable. But if we want to live as children of light, we cannot live in fear of what lurks in the darkness. We cannot be afraid of the truth.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately. I’ve been thinking about it as we live in a world where “fake news” and “alt-truth” have somehow made it into the lexicon. We seem to have entered a period of darkness in so many ways. Truth and light are not en vogue.

And so, that’s why it matters more than ever that we are children of light. And it matters more than ever that we tell the truth. And the first truth, for those of us who would follow Christ, is this: this world belongs to God above all, and so do we. Christ alone is Lord, and Christ alone deserves our ultimate allegiance.

And if that’s true, Christ alone can show us how to live as children of light.

George Orwell, the author of 1984 and Animal Farm, once wrote that “in a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

That’s an amazingly true statement in and of itself. But long before Orwell said it, Jesus said this, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”

That is also true. But, as President James Garfield once observed, “The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.”

He was right. Because sometimes knowing the truth, and seeing things as they are, is a lot like waking up really early in the morning, and having to get to work, when you’d much rather still be sleeping in your comfortable bed. It is inconvenient, and it is uncomfortable. And yet, sometimes it is necessary.

The author of the letter writes, “Sleeper awake.” They write, “everything that becomes visible is light. Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

numbers-time-watch-whiteIn other words, “Wake up.” Or, to put it in 2017 terms, “get woke”. Be aware of what is happening around you and in the world. Be aware of the places where the darkness lies heavy. Do not shy away from learning about injustice. Don’t pretend that inequity doesn’t exist. Resist the urge to choose the easier path of ignorance.

Instead, refuse to hit the snooze button just one more time. Turn off the alarm, put your feet on the floor, and turn on the light. Because the world needs your light now more than ever.

And after we “get woke”, it’s our job to “stay woke”. It’s the work of our faith to not move through the world unaware. It’s our job to know what is going on around us, and to shine a light on that which is in darkness. It’s our job to stand up and tell the truth, even when it is frightening and no one else is ready to do it.

That’s what it means to follow Christ. That’s what it means when we read on Christmas that “the light shines in darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it”.

Last year a few of our middle schoolers taught me about a new concept. We were talking about bullying, and they were saying that at their school they are encouraged to not be “bystanders”, but to be “upstanders”. In other words, when they saw something wrong happening, it was there job to stand up and say something.

In this world, we are called to be children of light. And that means we are called to be upstanders. But the only way to remain on your feet, is to stay woke. That is our work together. And that is the work of faith.

And when you think about it, that’s not a bad job to have. Amen?

One thought on “Getting ‘Woke’: Sermon for March 26, 2017

  1. thanks for yet another terrific message….how badly we do need spotlighters! may I have the courage stand up and be one!

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