A Meditation on Mark 13: 24 – 37
December 3, 2017 1st Sunday of Advent
Rev. Cathy C. Hoop Grace Presbyterian Church
I heard Lou chuckling over the news yesterday morning, and since there hasn’t been much to laugh about in the news, I was curious. This was the story:
Alex Bowen, of South Carolina, stumbled into a Waffle House for a late night repast. He looked around, and didn’t see any employees. No one at the register. No one behind the grill. He waited. He waited some more. Finally, his hunger won out over his patience. In his own words, he “Got hot on the grill with a double Texas bacon cheesesteak melt with extra pickles.”[i] He took a few selfies, cleaned the grill, wrapped up his sandwich, and rolled on out. Later in the week he stopped back by and gave one of the employees $5.00. Waffle House management wasn’t particularly amused. An employee received a one week suspension for sleeping on the job. But, Waffle House also invited Bowen to become a “secret shopper,” hoping to enlist him to help them improve their services.
Those employees were too weary to be awake and alert.
I can only imagine how difficult it would be to stay awake night after night, working the graveyard shift at a Waffle House, especially on a slow night with no customers. My closest association would be pulling “all nighters” in school – much easier to do down to the common room or the library – where there were others suffering alongside you. There was also coffee or sodas or junk food. Not much fun when you are the only one awake and the only sound is the snoring of your contented family members – of both the human and the furry variety.
But staying awake, whether alone or with others, is difficult, and Jesus reminds us of this in the parable of the journeying homeowner.
It is as if someone took a trip, left the household behind, and put the servants in charge, giving each one a job to do, and told the doorkeeper to stay alert. Therefore, stay alert! You don’t know when the head of the household will come, whether in the evening or at midnight, or when the rooster crows in the early morning or at daybreak. Don’t let him show up when you weren’t expecting and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: Stay alert!”
Staying awake, staying fully conscious requires imagination and courage and faith. “Wakefulness,”[ii] writes Hal Taussig in Feasting on the Gospels: Mark, “consciousness, instead of denial or flight of fancy – is the mark of faith.”
Consciousness instead of denial.
Consciousness instead of flights of fancy.
The mark of faith is consciousness.
In verse 33 of this parable, Mark writes, “Stay alert!” In the Greek, “agrupneite,” or “field sleeping.” It is the weary watching of soldiers on the battle field, who rest with one eye open.
It is the semi-consciousness of one who has an early morning flight, who tosses and turns from the fear of oversleeping.
It is the light sleep of one who anticipates surgery the next day, and tries to drift off despite the worries and anxieties.
It is the restless sleep on the eve of a critical exam or work deadline, when your mind will not shut off.
It is the half-hearted sleep of a parent whose “child” has returned home for college for the first time and expectations are renegotiated.
It is the exhilarated sleep of a child on Christmas Eve, half dreaming, half waking, ever hoping. One eye open. One ear listening.
A watchful sleeping, sprinkled with fear, anxiety, and restlessness, but also hope, exhilaration and expectation. The emotions that night may bring.
Stay alert,” says Jesus, because you don’t know the hour when the journeying homeowner will return. Today, Jesus might say, “Stay Woke.” “Woke” is a slang term that has found solid footing in our culture. To “stay woke” means to be socially aware, to have a social conscience. If you follow social media, you probably have seen #staywoke in reference to a variety of injustices. It was first introduced into the mainstream by singer Erykah Badu.
Stay woke became a watch word in parts of the black community for those who were self-aware, questioning the dominant paradigm and striving for something better. But stay woke and woke became part of a wider discussion in 2014, immediately following the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The word woke became entwined with the Black Lives Matter movement; instead of just being a word that signaled awareness of injustice or racial tension, it became a word of action. Activists were woke and called on others to stay woke. [iii] (www.merriam-webster.com)
Political and cultural commentator David Brooks, writing for the New York Times, has noted the cultural importance of the woke movement in 2017: “To be woke is to be radically aware and justifiably paranoid. It is to be cognizant of the rot pervading the power structures. The woke manner shares cool’s rebel posture, but it is the opposite of cool in certain respects. Cool was politically detached, but being a social activist is required for being woke. Cool was individualistic, but woke is nationalistic and collectivist. Cool was emotionally reserved; woke is angry, passionate and indignant. Cool was morally ambiguous; woke seeks to establish a clear marker for what is unacceptable. [iv]
“Woke seeks to establish a clear marker for what is unacceptable.” Isn’t that what Jesus was about? Opening our eyes to what is unacceptable.
Preaching forgiveness, he condemned the harboring of hatred. Stay woke.
Preaching inclusion, he condemned discrimination over gender or race or economic status or mental or physical capabilities. Stay woke.
Preaching compassion, he condemned structures which create economic, spiritual, mental or physical oppression in any form. Stay woke.
Preaching humility, he condemned those who put their own importance above the rights of others. Stay woke.
Preaching an embodied love, he acted out his truth as much as, if not more than, he spoke about it. Stay woke.
A friend of this community, Michael Adee, wrote a post on Facebook this past Thursday, in recognition of the twelve Christian faith leaders who were arrested in the US Senate Office Building for reading the 2,000+ Scriptures on God’s preferential treatment of the poor. This was their “stay woke” moment. They could not remain silent in the face of the GOP Tax Bill, but instead chose to call out Senators to act with compassion, conscience and care for the common good to defeat the bill.
How will you, how will each of us “stay woke” in Jesus’ name?
Consider the hours that Jesus recalls in the parable. He refers to evening, midnight, sunrise and morning. Each of these specific times relates to a particular moment in Jesus’ last hours. He handed himself over in the evening at the Last Supper with his disciples. He was betrayed by Judas at midnight in the olive grove of Gethsemane. Peter denied ever knowing him for the third time as the rooster crowed at dawn. In the morning he was handed over to be tried by the Romans. Betrayed, denied, tried.
Jesus did not experience these things only once. He experiences them wherever and whenever injustice flourishes, and so he calls on us to watch, to be alert, to become proficient at “field sleeping,” to “stay woke.”
In Jesus’ parable there are jobs for everyone. Each one has a job, and watching the door was just one of those jobs. Others were busy feeding, tending, caring, cleaning, teaching, repairing. All the things that must take place around the house. What is the work you are called to do? Living “woke,” living your faith with consciousness and conviction takes many forms. It is easier to “stay woke” together than on our own.
I used to love to watch for my dad to come home in the evenings. I had two watching styles. In the summer, I would go down to the corner – three doors down – and watch for his car. As soon as he turned the corner, I would start to flag him down! He’d pull over, and I would climb in his car, which was not the family station wagon, and ride, three doors down, to our driveway. I then got to be the one to announce to our house, “Dad’s home!” Which also meant that it was that wonderful moment called “dinnertime.” Time to gather at the table.
In the winter, I would hide in his closet. His closet was very small, with an accordion fold door. I would hide behind the bottom rack of shirts. They smelled of cotton and starch and pipe tobacco. It was lovely and mysterious. I’m sure mom tipped him off when he came in, so that he would know to talk loudly enough to make me aware he was there, but he always acted surprised when he slid back the door and I leapt out to welcome him.
There are many ways to wait, many ways to watch. But I pray we “stay woke” during this waiting time. And I pray we never disappoint God. I hope that every day, somewhere on this planet, God will find someone watching and waiting to hop in the car with God for the short ride home. Or leaping out to surprise God in welcome, even if God always knew we were there…So, thanks be to our watching, waiting God. May we learn to watch and wait like God, and may we give thanks to God who returns to us each day. Amen.
[ii] Jarvis, Cynthia A., and E. Elizabeth Johnson. Feasting on the Gospels. Westminster John Knox Press, 2014.