#Stay Woke 11-27-16

Isaiah 2:1-5 This is what Isaiah ben-Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem: In the last days, the mountain of YHWH’s Temple will be established as the most important mountain and raised above all other hills—all nations will stream toward it. Many people will come and say:  “come, let us climb YHWH’s mountain to the Temple of the God of Jacob, that we may be instructed in God’s ways and walk in God’s paths.”  Instruction will be given from Zion and the word of YHWH from Jerusalem. God will judge between the nations and render decisions for countries.  They will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks, one nation will not raise the sword against another, and never again will they train for war. O house of Leah and Rachel and Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of YHWH!

I hope and assume you agree that I’m a pretty up-to-date, cool 63 year old, using such a pretty up-to-date, cool phrase like #StayWoke as my sermon title today. I am not, however, giving any lessons in how to use Twitter. I will just say that what many of us older folks know as a pound sign, our children call a hashtag and in social media, if you click on it, it makes connections to anybody commenting on the subject listed in that hashtag. This is the perfect Sunday to talk about this phrase of the moment, #StayWoke.

Romans 13:11-14 But make sure that you don’t get so absorbed and exhausted in taking care of all your day-by-day obligations that you lose track of the time and doze off, oblivious to God. The night is about over, dawn is about to break. Be up & awake to what God is doing! God is putting the finishing touches on the salvation work God began when we first believed. We can’t afford to waste a minute, must not squander these precious daylight hours in frivolity and indulgence, in sleeping around & dissipation, in bickering and grabbing everything in sight. Get out of bed & get dressed! Don’t loiter & linger, waiting until the very last minute. Dress yourselves in Christ, & be up & about!

November 27, 2016


I read articles in the paper that advised not talking politics at the family Thanksgiving table. I read them, but I was not in charge of the Thanksgiving table. When the hostess, Cathy’s sister-in-law, began to talk about her candidate in the election, I wondered if it was a good idea. Sure enough, pretty soon, her step-father took the bait and pretty soon they were raising their voices rather loud, and the dinner mood was going down-hill fast. Cathy and I retreated to another room – rather cowardly – but we told each other we were trying to find a solution to a deteriorating evening. We started looking on our phones for cat videos or something to change the subject.

We found a youtube of an aboriginal tribe doing a dance to a Zorba the Greek tune. That might have done the trick, but the fire had been raging for a while by that time and was already starting to burn out.


This morning, as we begin the new Christian year, as we sit in the darkness, as we prepare ourselves for a new time, I want to suggest another way to deal with the polarization and conflict in our society, a way which I hope might be more effective than Zorba the Greek aborigine videos. I hope it might also be more effective than deciding we can never talk with each other again about things that really matter.

On the first Sunday of Advent every year, there’s always a passage about staying awake, about paying attention and not going to sleep. #StayWoke as a phrase has been around for a number of years, popularized by a singer by the name of Erykah Badu around 2008, and is a call similarly to pay attention, to be aware of what’’s going on. She was talking particularly about the African American community. #StayWoke is used often in connection with the Black Lives Matter movement. The phrase implies staying awake when you are really tired, and tired of being tired. It implies being aware of systemic injustice. It implies engaging in critical thinking about our society.

In the church we sometimes call that staying awake in the darkness, or living in the world but not of the world. We sometimes call it being aware of sin or evil, in our world and in ourselves. Stay Woke.

Paul was talking about being ready. He believed that Jesus the Christ would be coming back soon to liberate all the people. Paul used this very natural example to call people to attention. He talked about what you do every morning – wake up, get dressed, and get ready for the day. He told them they need to be careful that they don’t fall asleep and miss what God is about to do. He told them to get up and dress themselves in Christ to be ready. Today he would have said “Stay woke. Be aware.”

He had an eschatological sense of a new world coming, and that in Christ our whole person, our deepest desires, the core of who we are is waking up. [Feasting on the Word, Patrick Howell, p. 16] It’s about anticipation of the future. But it’s not so much about circling a date on the calendar as it is about hope. This moment matters. Tomorrow is too late. The promise of Christ being born in our lives means that we have a future. It is God’s future and that future shines its light back into the present, showing us how to live in its light rather than in the darkness of the current age. [Paul Achtemeier, p. 19] We need to wake up to that deep wholeness, that pregnant possibility now – not wait for it as though we don’t have a part in it.


Dr. William Barber is a person who is alive to the present possibility, who is living as though this moment matter. I am inspired by his witness and his example. Dr. Barber is a pastor in North Carolina determined to bring people together to stay woke – to be aware of the need for the liberation of all God’s people and the ways we can work for that together. He brings together people of all races, Trump supporters and Clinton supporters, people of all religions, and backgrounds. He calls it a Fusion coalition.

He started in North Carolina what he calls Moral Mondays – bringing people to Raleigh, the capitol, to challenge extremist laws being passed there to cut off federal unemployment benefits for 170,000 unemployed people in North Carolina, and to block Medicaid benefits to a half million people in need of health care. Thousands of people started coming to the capitol every Monday.

Barber sees it as the Third Reconstruction. As I said last week, the first Reconstruction in our country happened just about the time that our church was being formed after the Civil War. The second Reconstruction happened through the Civil Rights movement. Barber thinks a third wave of freedom and liberation energy is being drawn together in our country. He also calls it the Third Great Awakening, because he sees it as a deeply spiritual movement that unites people across all kinds of boundaries, gay and straight, Black and white, Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and secular folks, liberal and conservative.

Dr. Barber says that we need a Great Awakening because our country has a heart problem. When he came to Philadelphia, he led a revival of moral values, valuing caring for people, valuing community and valuing listening to people’s needs. He preached, but there were also about a dozen people from all walks of life who spoke about their particular needs.

Today, I invite you with Dr. Barber not to go to sleep in this critical time in our country. Don’t give up on your deepest desires. Even if you are tired, stay woke, stay aware, be ready for God’s light coming into our dark times. I love this Sunday. It feels like of all Sundays in the Christian year, this is the Sunday when we most acknowledge the reality of our need for Jesus to come back among us, to awaken our community to God’s desire among us to make us whole, to care for all of God’s creation, to give us hope.

In facing that reality, we also live in deep awareness that the dawn is coming soon, that God’s love is right here with us in the darkness, and that love is among us. Get ready

Be up and awake to what God is doing!   Stay Woke!

Responsive Hymn 722  I Want to Be Ready