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.


A Sermon about Exodus 17:1-7 preached at The Federated Church, Weatherford, OK

Do you remember the last time you were really thirsty? Parched mouth? Dry tongue? Dreaming of water flowing from a faucet?

In our water bottle, water fountain and Sonic on every corner culture, it’s unheard of that any of us would ever "die of thirst” as we are all known to dramatically say from time to time.

Water is something we have enough of, almost always in this part of the world. Unless, of course, a tornado threatens to come through or an ice storm hits and our neighbors hoard the bottles of water off the shelves at Wal-Mart leaving nothing for the rest of us . . .

In Old Testament reading for this morning, Israelites found themselves with one very big problem and it had everything to do with water.

Two weeks ago, we left the Israelites on the their journey out of Egypt as the miracle of the crossing of the Red Sea just happened. With joyous celebration they exclaimed the amazing provisions of their LORD leading them on their way into the Promise Land!

Just three days after crossing the Red Sea-- the big and dramatic-- experience of faith, the group was short on water. Scripture tells us that God led them to a spring where their thirst could be quenched. All was well. God was mightily at work among them, providing for their every need.

But, of course we know that their water jugs did not stay filled for long.

In chapter 17 verse 2 they said to Moses again: "Give us water to drink."

And, such was a good, normal, everyday, essential need, right? Of course they had a right to ask this request of God.

H2O, we know, is critical to our very existence: the definition of a need. Most medical professionals will say that a human being, in reasonable to good health can only live between 3-5 days without water before suffering from extreme dehydration and shock leading to death.

So, while, we might read Exodus 17 with thoughts in our head like "here they go again complaining,” simply the Israelites sought to express a deep need. They needed to say to Moses, their spiritual and administrative leader, "We must have water now!"

In the meantime, however, what were they to do? How were they to wait?

How were they to respond to an unmet need that they were powerless to fix?

Did it mean that their need was not really a need?

Did it mean that God had abandoned them and truly wanted them to die, as they feared? It sure felt that way . . .

It's easy to kick the dog when you are down right? And, so, went the days of the lives of the Israelites and their relationship to Moses.

As they perceived God not giving them the life they wanted, they took out their pain on the easiest next best thing: Moses.

Voicing their frustration to the point that we hear Moses fearing for his life in verse 4-- believing that in their extreme thirst the crowd might stone him if they didn't get a drink and fast.

Moses' natural response to the crisis as a leader was fearful of the crowd's response, but tempered. We hear in the words of this text, Moses saying to the crowds: simmer down stop bothering me and simply trust in God’s provisions-- as this was God's job to meet their needs.

I can imagine, if I were a member of the crowd, I would have found Moses' calm as a cucumber leadership style really annoying. Wouldn’t you?

Trust that God would provide?

"Oh, Moses," I would have said. "It's so much harder than that. When, tell me, when God is going to get God's act together and find us some water!”

For, secretly they hoped that in Moses' bag of superpower, bring on the 10 plagues kind of tricks, he could lead them by another spring and they'd worry about water no more. But, such was just not going to happen.

They needed to wait. They needed to wait to see what could become.

A friend of mine shared with me this week a similar frustration with the world and with God.

After being out of work for the past nine months due to a company downsizing in these difficult economic times, she is currently at the end of her rope.

After sending out over 500 resumes, doing everything she can to do what experts say to do when you are looking for work: networking, staying on a schedule everyday and trying not to get down on herself even as the funds in the bank account slowly begin to run down, she says the best parts of her life are dying more every day.

After interview after interview, rejection letter after rejection letter, and sleepless nights and pleas for prayer to any religiously minded person she knows, my friend shared she was beginning to think that God had forgotten her.

No one in her life seemed to care that she was out of work and without a job coming her way soon; she might lose everything she's worked so hard for including her modest home. She hears her pastor say often at church that “God is going to work things out” but to her God is a distant figure that doesn’t seem to care about her pain.

But in the spirit of these same frustrations, the Israelites were asked to have ACTIVE faith in their waiting.

They were asked to believe that God was still at work, even if they couldn’t recognize it in the moment.

And so, these were Moses' instructions from God: "Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile and go. . . . Strike the rock,” God said, "and water will come out of it."

It was a simple as that. Strike the rock with your staff.

I can imagine that laughter erupted from the crowd AND anxiety of what might be next (if this didn't work) from Moses. This God they were serving was just getting crazier and crazier all the time . . .

But, Moses did as instructed by the LORD. And to the amazement of all, it worked. Sweet God Almighty brought them water from a big ole rock!

Let’s stop here and note that this provision was nothing like they expected. NOTHING. But yet it was water nonetheless and EXACTLY what they needed.

The water came not from a spring (as it did before) nor from going back to Egypt (as they had suggested), rather, it came from something that was dead.

Though it would have not been a word they used at the time, the best way I know how to describe the scene is by calling it resurrection! That out of something that seemed life-less and certainly not life-giving, out flowed streaming of living water.

Professor Amy Erickson sums up what happens in this way: "It strikes me (pun intended!) that God choose to bring water-- and the life it symbolizes and will impart-- out of something that appears to be lifeless . . ."

But, this my friends is exactly how God works.

Dead is never dead in the kingdom of God.

Lost causes are never really lost.

And the broken down and washed out are really never without hope.

When I was serving as an associate pastor at Untied Methodist congregation while in seminary at Duke Divinity in North Carolina, I told it was my job to make most of the pastoral visits.

On a Monday afternoon only a couple of months into my second year at the church, I found myself sitting in a rocking chair on the back porch of Mrs. Melba’s house. She offered me some iced tea—as good southern women do. We began chatting about life. She wanted to know how my classes were going.

Mrs. Melba, a spunky woman in her early 70s, tried to keep a brave face for this young pastor student. But soon she was fighting back tears as she began to recount to me details about her husband’s recent death. He’d died of cancer recently.

She misses him more than she could even say.

She had trouble, she said, finding the energy to get out of bed in the mornings, many days still.

She couldn’t seem to find her purpose for living life anymore, she told me.

I remember this afternoon so well because in the moments that followed, I broke what I had learned only a few days earlier in class, some of the “rules” of pastoral care. My classmates and I were told to not show too much of our own emotions when we made visits. But, I cried too. Melba and I sat and rocked on that porch and cried. Her feelings of this great “dead end” sign life had handed her felt just as overwhelming to me. Sadness felt thick in the air.

Because most of all Melba felt like God had forgotten her. Everything around her felt dead. She felt dead without her beloved, even though her pulse told her she was still living.

A few years later, a man in mid 30s sat in my office. We were chatting about life. How crazy the amount of snow that winter had been.

But soon, Tom began telling me about how he felt his life had hit a dead-end too.

Tom was the father of three kids, but none of them were living with him at the time. His ex-wife had sued him for full custody of the kids, and had won because of the hot-shot lawyer she’d hired.

Lies had been told about him court.

Though Tom had made some mistakes in life—been a big fan of drinking too much in his younger years—he’d cleaned up his act and there was no good reason why he couldn’t even see his kids on the weekends.

To make matters worse, at a church Tom had previously attended, he was told by an associate pastor that he was no longer welcome to worship at the Sunday services. The pastor, it seemed was the reason his marriage broke up in the first place. His wife and the pastor had a long-term relationship on the side that he was just now finding out about.

Tom felt let God was as far away as possible. Everything around him felt dead too. No wife, no kids, and no church family to help him through this hard time in life.

But—and there is always a BUT in the kingdom of GOD—these feelings of deep despair was not the end for Melba and Tom.

Though in these moments they faced some of their darkest hours, God was still at work.

New water was about to come out of rocks in their lives.

As Melba continued to put one foot in front of the other, getting out of bed every morning, slowly she began to see that life wasn’t finished with her.

Through the loving embrace and watchful care of her church family, she started moving toward service of others once again. Melba started singing in the choir. She involved herself in the mission projects of United Methodist Women and she took her turn leading the lessons in her Sunday School class—using the lessons she learned about finding God in this hard place with other widows like herself.

And Tom, as he took the risk of being a part of a new church community, putting aside the hurt of his previous church in the past, began to see new life spring up around him too.

Tom’s secret passion for writing became a real gift to the church’s communication ministry.

And with encouragement from some new friends and the recommendation of a new lawyer, he was able after 5 long years of separation to spend weekends with his kids again.

Both Melba and Tom learned through their pain that this exactly how God works. Dead is never dead in the kingdom of God. Lost causes are never really lost. And the broken down and washed out are really never without hope.

So, my friends, I tell you today, the God of Israel, the God of Moses who struck that rock that day to watch water flow from such a dead place is alive and wanting to be at work in your life too.

Let us be active in our waiting.

Let us not grow weary in doing good.

And let us surround ourselves with loving community to remind us of the Lord’s goodness if we forget.

And in fact, this is what we are about to celebrate in a few minutes as we come to the table of God—we’ll taste and see that what was once dead has come to new life. We’ll taste and see the sweetness of resurrection called the body and blood of our Lord. And we’ll celebrate together that anything, yes, anything is possible in the kingdom of God. God is always at work!