Sleepers, Awake!

Easter Sermon: Sleepers, Awake!

2019 April 21 Easter Order of Worship

Ephesians 5:11-14
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, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

‘Sleeper, awake!
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.’

The language and artistry of faith is nuance. It is poetry, parable, and metaphor. This divine poetic communication is not designed to confuse as much as to evoke. Sometimes to redirect. At times the language and artistry of faith calls us to deep reflection, at other times lament, at other times action.

The language and artistry of faith is a vehicle, a means, a way to open our hearts, to raise our consciousness, to sharpen our minds, to awaken us from slumber. All of that is done by Spirit who, like the wind, blows where it will.

I offer that preamble because I want to speak today of resurrection in terms of both language and art or parable and icon. I am also wanting to say that what I am offering in interpretation of resurrection is not doctrine or dogma. It is not the only or even the best way to interpret resurrection. But it is a way that has been on my mind this year.

I am going to suggest that resurrection evokes the poetry and artistry of awakening. I didn’t realize until I was putting the bulletin together, the extent to which death is spoken of through the metaphor of sleep by both Jesus and Paul and other New Testament writers.

Jesus tells a parable about farming, growing stuff. What happens? Weeds. Sown by the enemy while we sleep. That is an odd way to put it, if we are to take the story at face value. We have weeds in our garden because an enemy snuck in and planted them!

But as parable, it makes its own sense and evokes reality. My imagination turns. How often does this happen? How do we become fooled? How do we lose our rights? How do things turn so sour? Often, too often, it happens because we are not awake. We are not aware. We are not alert. Enemies do bad things and take advantage while we are sleeping.

Jesus says, “Keep awake. You don’t know the hour.” Then at his own hour all of his disciples are asleep when the enemy comes and there is no one to hear them coming and Jesus is arrested.

It is dangerous being asleep. We cannot protect ourselves or the ones we love.

This is all parable. Is it about sleeping? Or is it about living in illusion? Is it having a view of how things are that are not how things are?

In the story of Jairus’ daughter, Jesus tells her parents that the young girl is not dead but sleeping. The crowd laughs because that of course is not true. She is dead. So why does Jesus say she is sleeping and why does he tell her to “get up” as if she is napping? Again, it is parable. She is dead but for Jesus, she is sleeping.

We will find sleeping as a metaphor for death again. Why is death like sleeping? Or why is sleeping like death? Is it a euphemism? We don’t like to speak of death so we say sleeping because it doesn’t sound so final? Perhaps. But there could be more to it.

Jesus visits Lazarus. “I am going to wake him up,” says Jesus. The disciples object. If he is sleeping, he will wake up on his own. But then Jesus tells them plainly, “He is dead.” In fact, Lazarus is four days dead and sealed in a tomb. Is this parable again? Asleep. Death. Waking. Rising. Can we be dead while still alive? Dead while yet breathing, walking, talking, thinking, shopping, driving, eating, making a living, yet not alive at all? Walking dead?

And then there is this.

Since 1970, forty percent of all the plants and animals on Earth are gone. That is individual plants and animals, not species. Since 1970, the first Earth Day, we have lost 40% of plants and animals. Was I sleeping when the enemy came and planted toxic weeds that killed half the plants and animals? When did this happen? How did it happen that nearly half of all the animals and plants on Earth vanished in my sleep?

I am not sure why this hit me so hard and why I didn’t realize this, and why isn’t this in the news every day, and we can talk about “the news” that so much of the time is a sleep-aid as opposed to a wake-up call.

When Kathleen Dean Moore, author of Great Tide Risingcame to Southminster this past fall and dropped the bombshell about the animals that have vanished since I was ten, and I am thinking what? Are we all asleep? Yeah, pretty much. She says in her book that by 2060 half the species of animals and plants will be gone. When the species is gone, that is gone forever. That is at current rates of extinction. No guarantee those rates won’t increase in a feedback loop. So we have x number of species of animals and plants in 1970. By 2060, 40 years from now, we have half that number. What should I do about that? Buy a new car? Get another iPhone?

(Hear my interview with Kathleen Dean Moore on Progressive Spirit)

Turn over. Go to sleep. Somebody will take care of it. Maybe the market. Maybe the next election.

Then when I hear that we spend a thousand billion dollars a year on militarism it doesn’t mean a whole lot, except when I learned what it really means. Every time a bomb drops on Yemen, or Syria, or Gaza, or Afghanistan, or Iraq, or Libya, or pick an African nation or maybe soon Iran or Venezuela, every time a bomb drops and blows up stuff like hospitals and people, someone makes three million dollars.

It isn’t the spending, it is the earning that drives the militarism. We have to keep bombing because those who run this business have to have their accounts balance. It is a matter of income and expenses. You have to keep those three-million-dollar bombs falling somewhere everyday in order to make money. Peace is not profitable in our military-intelligence-finance-media-industrial complex especially when you have to invent enemies as fast as you need to make bombs to kill them.

What about us? We are sleeping because people are paid a lot of money to keep us asleep so that the enemy can sow weeds and bombs in our field. Because if we are sleeping we cannot object and by the time we wake up, it will be too late.

Then there is Jesus. Jesus lived in his own time, his own matrix of Roman imperial dominance to which his own religion sold out. Jesus, a loud mouth with nothing to lose goes right to the heart of it, the capital city, Jerusalem, during Passover, and turns over the tables in the temple. You just have to wake people up sometimes. It woke up the authorities. The disciples were sleeping. But Empire got Jesus and executed him quickly. They neutralized him as they say in the Hollywood spy shows.

That is our guy. Our whole religion for 2000 years has been based on a radical. He stood in front of a tank and said, “Run me over.” So it did. We made a religion out of that guy!

Why don’t we know that? Why don’t we understand the truth about Jesus? Because it doesn’t take long to realize that churches don’t exist by having radicals run them. You have to turn church into a dogma factory and make people drowsy with infantile sermons that cause people to feel better about sleeping while Rome burns, not to mention the rest of Earth.

Then this past year I learned about (and experienced) Hussain, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammad. He saved Islam by getting himself killed rather than appease a tyrant. So now I got both Jesus and Hussain haunting me and I am sorry, friends, but you don’t have a prayer on Easter. It is just going to happen.

So what do we do? What do we do about half the animals vanishing while we were sleeping these past 50 years? What do we do about the maniacs who seem so rational with their charts and figures sneaking into our fields while we sleep, planting toxic weeds and sucking all the carbon out of the ground and using it to bomb the place? What do we do?

Well, we can cry. We can learn how to lament.

It was 2006 when I woke up at three in the morning, sobbing. It was a first awakening of sorts. A church member gave me a copy of the documentary film, “The End of Suburbia” that introduced me to James Howard KunstlerRichard HeinbergMichael RuppertMatthew Simmonsand others who were talking about Peak Oil. On a global scale it is the point in time when the rate of production of the world’s oil peaks and then begins to decline. Cheap, conventional oil peaked a decade ago. New destructive technologies enable us to get the harder to reach stuff and I guess we won’t stop destroying everything to get it, until we are stopped.

I started to research this and its connections to global militarism, because one of the things I learned is that the United States consumes 25% of the world’s oil even as it has 5% of the world’s population. You need a lot of guns and bombs all over the planet to maintain that imbalance. We have them. Our country’s 800 military bases are embedded in 177 countries.

I had decided consciously that I wasn’t going to stop researching Peak Oil, and the wars, and the deceptions, and so forth just because I couldn’t see a solution from the outset or because it was too depressing. And depressing it was. I woke up sobbing at 3 a.m. More than once. Then you dry your tears and do some things. In my case, I decided to communicate this unpopular materialin the hopes that maybe more and more people will awaken and together we might even change the inevitable. You decide to fight.

Awakening doesn’t just happen one time on say, Tuesday. It can take a long time, piece by piece. Like grief, it doesn’t follow a straight line. You go back and forth to denial and awareness and back again as you struggle with your cognitive dissonance of how the world is supposed to work on one hand that you have learned from the matrix of your society, and how it really is on the other hand when you start reading people who know stuff and who are no longer themselves afraid to tell what they know.

You cry. You feel alone. When you try to speak, the propaganda machine smashes you with name-calling, “conspiracy theorist,” “crazy” and whatever, and for a while you are afraid of the social isolation and you doubt yourself. But there are other heroes out there who have gone down the rabbit hole farther than you and you find a community. You start to realize that you have a moral compass. And you realize that you are not afraid to follow the evidence where ever it leads. You become confident in showing your work, because you keep learning the hard truths, and you learn to back it up.

You realize that you have a purpose. You have the truths you know and you are no longer afraid of saying what you have seen and heard. The people who are supposedly so authoritative and wise when you ask them about stuff that matters, they don’t have anything except name-calling and propaganda slogans and are no longer worth worrying over. They are like Hades, the keeper of the gate of the dead. Jesus steps on poor old Hades as he breaks open the prison.

Let’s go to Jesus again. I started the sermon talking about the language and artistry of faith. The language of faith is the interplay between sleeping and death and how faith language is about waking up from death .

I don’t think I ever used this text from Ephesians on Easter. I never noticed it. Yet it is a perfect Easter text:

Ephesians 5:11-14
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, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

‘Sleeper, awake!
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.’

The language of Easter is awakening from death before the grave. We are spiritually dead before we are physically dead. Easter awakens the spiritually dead.

The artistry of Easter is the icon of Jesus crushing Hades and yanking Adam and Eve, David and Solomon, John the Baptist and the prophets, in essence all of humanity out of the prison of sleep. Jesus, who got himself killed, did it to wake us up.

This is the icon of Easter: Jesus is waking up all of humanity, leading us out of the prison of illusion and sleep-walking to wakefulness about what is really happening in our world.

A few weeks ago, Historical Jesus scholar, Dominic Crossan, came here to talk about resurrection icons in the eastern church. Crossan made a convincing case that the eastern resurrection icon is an evocative parablefor us and for our time. One of those icons is on the bulletin cover. In the western tradition, resurrection is depicted as Jesus alone floating above the tomb. In the eastern tradition, Jesus is breaking open the prison of death/sleep and yanking all of humanity out. I see it as breaking people out of the prison of illusion.

This past fall I visited Karbala, Iraq for Arbaeen, a yearly visitation to the shrine of Hussain, the prophet Mohammad’s grandson. Hussain is a symbol of resistance to tyranny and oppression. Fifteen million people visited him over a two-week period, walking from Najaf to Karbala, a fifty-mile walk over two and half days. I experienced it also as a movement of awakening. Josh Townsley and I made a little documentary film about it. It is 30 minutes long and I will show it during worship as a sermon next week.

Here is an interesting convergence. In a fluke of the convergence of calendars, today, Easter, also happens to be the birthday of Imam Mahdi, the twelfth imam who is believed to be living, hiding (like the sun behind a cloud), but will appear along with, guess who? Yes, Jesus. Together they will establish justice. They don’t just do it by themselves, for us, but they awaken us to participate in this renewal and make it happen. What a beautiful parable! The central figures of Islam and Christianity inspiring us all together to work for a just, sustainable world, a world my two-year old granddaughter can inhabit. A world for every two-year old on Earth.

(Read a short biography of Imam Mahdi)

What I am trying to say this morning friends is this.

Most of the world is asleep.

However, one by one, we are slowly waking up.

We are waking up to the reality of what the world is and the possibility of what it can be.

Waking is not for the faint of heart and it is not without lament.

Lament is cleansing. Lament means we are human.

Waking is not without opposition.

There are powerful forces working night and day to keep us asleep. Hades the gate-keeper uses every trick he knows to keep us locked up. Ridicule. Name-calling. Smear. Diversion. Relentless propaganda. Censorship. Lies. Wishful thinking.

Empire does not want people to be awake. Empire tries to kill the awakened ones. But it can’t kill all of us. The one executed by empire doesn’t stay dead. That one lives and has come to awaken the rest of us.

So in whatever form awakening comes to you, be courageous. Embrace it. Rise up! Open your eyes. Follow truth wherever it leads. No matter the cost. Don’t be afraid of the gate-keeper. He’s got nothing.

Amen.

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