Waking Up to Good News

My friends, as Timber our dog will tell you (and I think he is pretty much in agreement with all other dogs and cats and many other pets), sleeping is good (except when visitors come). If you are like me, then you know that sometimes sleep is very elusive. You know what it is like to toss and turn, tired but unable to slow your thoughts or calm your spirit enough to drop off to sleep. Study after study has shown that getting a good night’s sleep is critical. It’s healing. It’s refreshing. It’s empowering.

More than a good nights sleep, now health professionals are saying that (Halleluia!) naps are good too. A good nap will boost alertness, creativity, mood, and productivity.

An hour and a half takes us through a full sleep cycle, and we need enough full cycles of sleep, including REM sleep, that slow wave, deep dreaming kind of sleep, to be healthy. In a nation and culture that values overworking, in a time when sleep deprivation is a condition that effects millions of us, and knowing that this condition negatively effects our health and well-being, getting enough sleep is an important word.

It’s a word, however, that runs counter to the word that Paul offers us in 1 Thessalonians: to stay awake, alert, and enthusiastic, not just some of the time, but all of the time. “So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober;” he says. (1 Thess. 5:6).

That’s hard to do that when we are sleep deprived, and would rather be napping. It’s hard to follow Paul’s word (and Jesus says it too) to stay awake because we can so often get tired; not just physically tired, but profoundly tired in the deeper parts of our being. There are too many ways in which the world saps us of energy and life.

We can get tired of wrestling with our own inner demons (those demons that never seem to rest). We can get tired of wrestling with that addictive behavior (the one that time and again proves that we are not strong enough alone). We can get tired by the seemingly inexhaustible darkness of depression that reaches out to grab us from inside, never seeming to let go. We can get tired of facing illness and aging that trudge onward while our strength lags further and further behind. We can feel exhausted when we look in the mirror and the person staring back at us is not the person we want to be physically, emotionally, spiritually.

We can get tired of wrestling in relationships, in relationships that are supposed to be nothing but affirming, supportive, & loving; but instead test our patience, and ability forgive and let go. We can get tired of having the same arguments over and over and over again, tired of not living up to the expectations and standards of the ones close to us, and tired of their not living up to ours.

Oh those kids, why can’t they slow down for a minute! Why can’t they just do what I tell them to do, just once, for crying out loud? Why can’t they be and do what I think they should be and do? It’s not that hard. I just want what’s best for them.

Oh those parents, I’m so tired of them ragging on me. Don’t worry about it. (This was the phrase that drove my parents nuts). I just want to hang with my friends for a little bit. I just want to do something fun instead of something boring. Relax, would ya? You look tired.

We can get tired of never having enough, of always having to scrimp and save, scratch and claw; tired of never having enough money to eat and keep a roof overhead, or enough time to spend a few minutes with the kids, or a few moments not thinking about the next 16 things that we have to do.

We can get tired of being different; of living, thinking, believing against the grain of our culture, tired of existing outside of some traditional ideal, tired of others valuing us as less, or broken, or hell-bound because of our difference. We just want to comfortably fit in for a little while, not having to explain, or defend, or keep secret. We can get tired of the world denying the beauty that God created in us to shine.

We can get tired of fighting for causes, for truth, and for good with scant result, while others skate easily through life. We can get tired of holding up our signs while the rest of the world drives right past, barely casting a glance at their neighbor, and seemingly happy and rewarded for their disregard.

We can tire of a faith tradition that for good reason always compels us to think, discern, and decide for ourselves rather than just making it simple, clear, unambiguous, tired of a faith that requires us to listen and make decisions together, that makes us wait for committees and dialogues, and makes us wait for the Spirit to move a majority on that which is so clearly right.

There, I’ve gone on way too long about being tired, and now we’re tired.

We see the bags under our eyes in the mirror and the apostle wants us to keep awake? I can barely keep my eyes open for this sermon(!), and the apostle wants us to be alert at five in the morning right when the alarm goes off, and at one in the afternoon right after lunch, and at five thirty when we get home from work, and at ten (or nine or eight thirty) when the pillow is calling to us. Isn’t that unhealthy? Don’t we need rest? Can’t we have that nap? I’m tired. Sorry Apostle. We’d prefer to just have a drink and go to sleep; escape what we don’t want to see in the light.

Maybe I’ll open my eyes if you brew some coffee (leaded of course) or hand me some pill (any of you remember No Doz?) or a can of red bull at least. While I love my morning cup of joe to wake me up in the morning, I suspect the apostle is thinking of something a little deeper, a little more profound than recommending a Mountain Dew Code Red or a Pepsi Max to stay awake.

Yes, the apostle is speaking us all of us who are tired, profoundly tired, and he is reminding us that God has created us to live, to live awake, alert, and enthusiastic.

Now Paul is writing to a church that was eagerly waiting for the coming of Jesus Christ. They were awaiting that day of the Lord when Jesus would come on the clouds just as he said, when all things would be set right. They were awaiting the time when the inner demon would torture no more, when the trying relationship would test no more, the time when they didn’t have to scrimp and save anymore, the time when joy would flood their souls, and peace would calm the storms of their spirits, and love would embrace them (and I mean embrace them). They were hoping and expecting, imminently (like about 3 o’clock, that kind of imminent). But now, decades after Jesus death, they were getting tired of waiting. They were getting profoundly tired.

Paul offers them these words of encouragement. “You are children of the light.” I know that you feel like the horizon is dark. I know it is tempting for you to try and escape that dark night like the world does, with shallow pleasures and numbing substances, with materialism and self-centered living, but you belong to the day. You don’t need a Red Bull, God has blessed you with faith, a faith that reveals, a faith that brightens. God has blessed you with love, the kind of love in community that emboldens and empowers. God has blessed you with hope, the kind of hope that keeps you focused and alert, looking for signs of God’s presence.

Someone in the inquirers class asked about our vision for this church. There are different ways of expressing this, but this morning our vision can be summarized in this way: to wake people up to this Good News. All of us get tired at times, but the Spirit wakes us up and empowers us to work together to bring light to all the dark places of the world.

This is what we celebrate together. This is a place and time when we encourage one another, and build each other up with the things that God has already given us in Jesus

Christ. Right now, my friends, God offers these things to you. The Spirit is here, encouraging you to come, to open your mind and heart to faith. Feel the loving embrace of the Spirit. Look for signs of God’s presence. It doesn’t matter how dark your night may seem, you belong to the day.

In our house the first one to wake up is my wife, who wakes up at some ungodly hour that I will not mention here. She gets up early to walk the dog. Later she walks with Sally, but first, it’s Timber’s turn. Now Timber as I mentioned before, has no trouble sleeping (In fact he models healthy sleeping all the time, all the night through. No tossing and turning for him). But when Carrie’s alarm goes off, he knows it’s time to wake up. Instantly he goes from dead to the world to alive to the new day. His ears perk up. His eyes get wide. His tail beats the bed in anticipation. He is ready to head out the door.

Well, my friends, God has gotten up early this morning, and it is time for us to wake up and go for a walk. God is waiting to show us a new day. God is waiting for us to invite our neighbor to discover the new day too.

For those of you who are tired this morning, I invite you to wake up to this good news: that God has destined you for wholeness. God has destined us all for wholeness and salvation, and she will not be denied.

Knowing this good news, we can rest easy…and get a good night’s sleep. Amen.

November 16, 2008

Rev. Paul Heins

First Presbyterian Church

Logan, Utah

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  • Affirmations of Faith

    On the last Sunday of October, ‘Mission Sunday,’ many of you helped us pack more than two hundred bags for a local school food distribution program.  Those bags of food went out to local schoolchildren, who live in food insecure settings, to keep their bellies full. The food we provided has the potential to ensure the schoolchildren are more successful in life and in their education.  In worship we sometimes use the phrase ‘Affirmation of Faith’ and then repeat a longstanding confession of the church, such as the Apostles’ Creed or the Brief Statement of Faith. I value reciting these affirmations, because they remind us of the core values we hold as Christians. But as I was thinking about this over the last few months, I believe that such mission work to the community around us is an even deeper affirmation of our faith by acknowledging Jesus’ call upon our lives, and then living out that ministry.

    I want to share information with you this month about another ministry which I believe is an affirmation of our faith. You have heard us talk about it quite a bit but may not know the details. For years now the Deacon’s Fund at First Presbyterian Church has provided financial assistance to those in our community facing immediate financial need that impacts their ability to live a healthy and productive life.

    There are social services around town, which provide supportive and meaningful resources, but there can be qualifications and restrictions associated with the access of those services. The Deacon’s Fund strives to offer judgment-free ministry to those who are facing financial challenges in life and helps people access these services.

    Barbara Troisi and Beth MacDonald are currently our two Deacon’s Fund facilitators.  They spend time each month looking at applications for assistance, and then distribute funds, which may involve multiple phone calls, trips to the store for Smith’s gift cards (useful for food or fuel), and various other tasks.  Prior to Beth and Barbara, other wonderful people contributed their efforts to this ministry: Linda Roberts, Tina Purintun, Kelly Rhea, Terry Brennand, Barbara Lutz (I am sure I have left a name or two off, please forgive me). Pam Riffe also makes contributions and supports people applying for these funds in her role as our office administrator.

    These are some of the ‘saints’ of the church. These are angels among us – superheroes, one might say – who make time in their lives to help others.

    The Deacon’s Fund recently received a large contribution from a couple in our community.  They are not part of our church, but they learned of our efforts to help local people through some friends who are church members.  They made this contribution to help those who are struggling to find sustainable and affordable housing. They wanted to make a significant contribution to help with housing issues and knew that First Presbyterian Church would be a wonderful avenue for those efforts. I am thankful for everyone who makes contributions to the Deacon’s Fund, small or large (most offerings to this ministry come in $10, $20, or $100 increments). Over the decades these dollars have helped hundreds of people in our community in moments of great need. This is truly part of the mission of the church, and one of the callings Jesus has placed upon us.

    Beth MacDonald is transitioning out of her role as a Deacon’s Fund facilitator at the end of the year (she will be plenty busy helping to organize and lead the Westminster Bell Choir). Thank you, Beth, for your efforts. This means we are looking for a new Deacon’s Fund coordinator to work alongside Barbara Troisi. If any of you would like to help, please let me know. If you have questions about this ministry, please talk to Beth, Barbara, or me. Beth has set up a nice spreadsheet to help keep track of funds received and funds dispersed. You don’t need to be a financial expert or math whiz to fill this role, only to have a caring heart.

    The ministry efforts of Mission Sunday and through the Deacon’s Fund are two of the wonderful aspects of First Presbyterian Church. Our calling as a faith community is certainly to worship and praise the Lord, but also to share the good news and make helpful, life-affirming contributions to the community and world around us. I pray that our ministry together continues to be vigorous.

    May the grace and peace of Christ be with you all,

    Pastor Derek

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