Word of the Week

It’s Time to Wake Up . . my first sermon preached at The Palisades Community Church on

Romans 13:11-14

There’s something about the pace of the summer that gives us all an excuse to slow down.

We disappear at our favorite vacation spot for as long as our budge allows.

We don’t answer emails right away. Nor do we get as panicked when others follow suit.

We don’t expect as much out of our colleagues at work. We give ourselves permission to give attention to projects that we really want to accomplish. Or maybe clean out that closet.

But of course, come the Tuesday after Labor Day—all the relaxed vibes of summer come to a crashing halt for so many of us.

Traffic, especially in a city like DC, gets ten times worse, as if out of nowhere.

Neighborhoods that felt dead in terms of activity just weeks ago are bustling with life, like our street was this week as the preschool was back in session.

We have to start thinking more strategically about our routes home around 3 pm as school buses full of kids are stopping at every block.

I don’t know about you, but even though I know fall is coming, the week after Labor Day always feels harsh. As exciting as it to look forward to bonfires, pumpkin spice lattes, and Halloween costumes, there’s always a desire in me to savor the slowness of summer . . . to make one last trip to the pool even if the water is freezing cold, as I did on Monday.

Post Labor Day weeks signal one huge wake-up call to us all.

And for us, specifically, change is certainly right here at our doorstep. For today, it’s not only Rally Day—the tradition a part of the Palisades Community where we celebrate the start of a new church year and invite the kids back to Sunday School but on this particular Sunday, you and I begin our ministry with one another for whatever season God gives us to be together.

And with all of this true, our New Testament lectionary reading has a lot to offer us about how this day is not just a seasonal wake-up call, but a spiritual one as well.

As we open our Bibles again to Romans chapter 13 what we find is that Paul is on the homestretch of his action-packed letter to the church at Rome. It’s time to get serious about how he wants the church to receive his message. And he’s ready to be very direct and very clear about his thoughts.

Who’s first receiving these words?

Well, we know this: the church at Rome finds itself in a city where power, status and discrimination was had everything to do with who was in and who was out. But is a place where being a Christian simply wasn’t the “thing to do.”

Remember this was long before the days of Constantine declaring the Roman world to be under the directives of Christian teachings. Signing up for a Christian journey in Rome meant a life of ridicule, second-class citizenship and exile from family members. It was a very brave choice.

And for the many who had clearly made this choice, they’d been walking with a life led by the teachings of Jesus for a while now. Paul knows of the regularity of their worship and gathering together. But Paul fears many of them are going through the motions of worship. He fears they no longer have their eyes or ears open to the power of what God can continue to do in the midst. He fears they’ve lost their spiritual excitement.

So, in response, Paul has one clear message to share with them. It was time to wake-up.

It was time to wake-up.

Look with me at verse 11. “Besides this [CHURCH, he says] you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.”

Commentators help us understand that it’s not a literal sleep but a spiritual sleep he’s referring to. Paul is speaking against the type of spiritual slumber that hangs the word “Christian” on the front door of your house or even your Facebook page but then proceeds in the world forgetting how life is different because Jesus is a part of it.

I can just imagine Paul penning these words with all the strength and conviction he could muster--- thinking about how the church at Rome had everything they needed to be the people of God their neighbors in Rome needed:  they’d previously been baptized, they knew the teachings of Jesus and they had the Holy Spirit to be their constant guide. But they had no urgency. They lacked courage. They lacked bravery. They’d forgotten how to articulate why they were doing what they were doing in the first place.

And it was as if Paul was looking them directly in the face and saying, “Church: See! Believe and Do! The time is now."

. . Be who I’ve called you to be! Feed the hungry. Take care of the sick. Do good to those who hate you. Always make room at your tables for one more, even if they’re here one week and gone the next.”

This waking up business was something that Paul deeply longed for them to do.

What I find most fascinating for what comes next is how Paul seeks to motivate the church. It would have been so easy to use guilt in effort to stir them from their sleep. Any parent or teacher, knows that guilt is a powerful motivator (no matter if we want to admit to it or not).

I’ll be so disappointed in you if you don’t make it home by your curfew at 9.

 I’ll ask only the girls with gold stars by their name to line up to go to recess.

 I’ll cry myself to sleep every night if you don’t plan to come visit me over the holidays.

But Paul does none of this. Rather they’re positive words about the gift that awaits the church if they DO wake up.  He writes that “salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers.”

The race wasn’t finished. They were almost there. New life was waiting to crack out of every seam! This great gift, he called it salvation.

Salvation, you see, wasn’t a one and done experience it was lifetime work!

In fact, all of this “waking up” business came with instructions for how to prepare.

So, by time we get to verse 14, we read specific instructions for this kind of preparation. The church was told to “put on the Lord Jesus.” The Greek verb used here is the same one that would be inserted into a conversation about putting on clothes. Which helps us to consider this: when you and I select what type of clothes we are going to wear each day, we’re essentially making a choice about what our public image of ourselves to the world will be. Questions like:

Is it a I really need to impress my 2 o’clock meeting kind of Wednesday suit day?

Is it a dress down Friday meaning flip-flops are ok?

Or it is a I don’t get out of my sweatpants Saturday?

And likewise, Paul was asking the church to spiritually wake-up to the public witness they were putting forth with their actions. They needed to put on the Lord Jesus because

Did anyone know they were a person of faith?

Did they live their lives with hope for the future?

Did they use the moments of their days to bring more of God’s love to their neighbors?

Waking up, you see had everything to do with their next steps forward into the future. A future that was bright and came with freedom, with joy with relief from all the temporary pleasures of this life.

Because in the end, Paul was hoping for the church to see that they only way they could truly “love their neighbor has themselves”  was if they woke up to the reality of God being WITH them. God was with them. And so, they had good news. I mean, really good news to share with others.

A couple of times a week, I make it to a Zumba class at a gym near my house. I enjoy the group exercise experience because it’s one hour of peer pressure to not abandon ship if the routines get too hard or I don’t feel like it.

There’s a couple that always attends the 10 am class. I imagine that they are a husband and wife or at least life partners because they always stand together and are wearing matching jump suits. It’s really cute, I might add. And though I haven’t asked, it’s very clear that the woman of the couple is dragging the man there. While the woman gleefully gets into some of the salsa routines with the rest of us, the man does not.

Some days I wonder why he’s even there for as we’re raising our hands as high as we can get them, he simply keeps his very close to his chest. Often the peer pressure does not even keep him in the room for the whole hour. I walk out the door when class is over and see him with a coffee cup in his hand reading the newspaper.

Nothing about the salsa beats seem to wake him up.

During Friday’s class as the man was doing his small movements and rest of us were doing our larger ones yet again, I couldn’t help but think this is how so many of us approach our spiritual lives.

We show up. We wear church clothes when we’re at church. We might even write the church a check or two. But when it comes to being awake spirituality, weren’t not. We’re simply going through the motions.

There’s a popular slang term these days that you’ll find all over social media or often used in communities of color and it’s “stay woke.”

The urban dictionary defines stay woke as a call to action, or living with intentional mindfulness of issues that are important.

And I can think of no better guiding statement on this day of new beginnings. Stay woke, church. Stay woke.

We, my new friends at Palisades Community Church, are also living in times where we can’t afford being asleep at the wheel when it comes to our faith or our public witness. 

We can’t just keep what we’re doing for the sake of doing it.

We can’t burn our energy out on traditions that no longer shine the hope of our good news as Christian people into those around us that need it the most.

We must wake-up.

We must wake up to the powerful good news of the gospel that God loves us. I mean really loves us. Because I believe if we believe this, then it truly changes everything.

We must wake up to the wonder that is authentic community—given enough of ourselves to our church so that we can be known and cared for when we need it the most and lend a hand to others in this same way.

We must wake up to the amazing calling that God calling that God gave this church over 94 years ago to be a place where all people were welcomed in this neighborhood. Though we’ve been worshipping here for so long the need for the calling to be the church remains the same.

We must wake up.

Good things are in store for us, church good things as people on a journey to be woke.