Keep Awake

The Rev. John D. Lane. This sermon is based on Mark 13:35-37.

“Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

My favorite hymn, which we sung here last week, is “King of glory, king of peace,” The words are by George Herbert and the music by David Walker, a friend of mine from seminary. It is included in my funeral instructions. The final stanza begins “Seven whole days, not one in seven, I will praise Thee….” # 382. I believe an effective sermon speaks beyond Sunday to the “Seven whole days” of Herbert’s poem. Sunday worship should be relevant to the other 167 hours of the week.

Today’s gospel reading is about the End of the World, a cheery topic indeed. In the time of Jesus, the End of the World was basically God’s business. God had the power to create the world and God had the power to destroy it. The Bible is replete with passages holding out this possibility, particularly if human beings make God mad enough. “That’s it! I’ve had it with these people! Kaboom!”

But things have changed. Since the Day of Trinity—and what better place than Trinity Church to mention that term—July 16, 1945, the first atomic explosion in the Jornada del Muerto desert in New Mexico, God is no longer the only one with the power to destroy the world. (Jornada del Muerto, by the way, means “journey of death,” a forbidding desert and an appropriate place for exploding a nuclear weapon.)

“According to a recent (1/16) report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), nine nations — the United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea — possess approximately 16,300 nuclear weapons.”

I have at least three friends whose careers involved developing nuclear weapons. One told us recently he considers Pakistan, not North Korea, to be the most currently dangerous of the nine nuclear nations. He’s not surprised that Osama Bin Laden thought Pakistan the safest place to hide. Have we got our eye on the wrong ball? Perhaps I digress; perhaps not.

The Book of Genesis (1:26) says the following:

Then God said, “Let us make humankind* in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

Dominion includes both Power and Responsibility. It is now clear we have power over both good and bad, the power to preserve and improve, and the power to neglect and destroy, and not just with nuclear weapons.

Right here in Staunton in 1971, after the destruction of a number of historic and semi-historic buildings and their replacement with a number of plain vanilla, make that non-fat vanilla yogurt buildings, a group of citizens, appropriately appalled by what had happened, got together and formed the Historic Staunton Foundation. Rather than allowing short-sighted economics alone to destroy parts of the city willy-nilly, an organization was created to “preserve and revitalize our community.” Today Staunton has the best collection of Victorian buildings in the Commonwealth, drawing tourists here. Power and Responsibility: Dominion. “Seven whole days; not one in seven….”

The Valley Conservation Council, begun in 1990, has done similar work to preserve and revitalize the natural environment. The Augusta Free Clinic, founded in 1993, meets the medical and dental needs of the working poor. Habitat for Humanity began its Staunton life in 1991. McCracken Hall hosts Noon Lunch 5 days per week. In the early 90’s we planned well for the future of our area. All these efforts take the Dominion God has entrusted to us very seriously, using our Power Responsibly. There is a common thread among these organizations: the early leadership of each was heavy with Trinity members. Power and Responsibility: Dominion. “Seven whole days…”

“Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

Advent is about planning and preparation, but it is also about being ready for anything, for vigilance, discerning and reacting to opportunities and threats as they suddenly and unexpectedly appear. The organizations and efforts I listed all began as the idea of a couple or three people, who quickly described the need to others, expanded the circle, and found creative ways to help. Power and Responsibility: Dominion. “Seven whole days…”

We need to take our God-given job, Dominion, seriously. How can we follow Jesus? What can we do to make things better? What can we do to keep things from getting worse? We may not have much power over what Congress does. According to Gallup, approval of Congress is the lowest it’s been since 1974, a time of lying, impeachment, and the Vietnam War: 10%. With that number, I’m pleased to report I don’t have any influence with Congress. But each of us has potential influence in more local matters.

Even if Climate Change is a Chinese plot, a view bought and paid for and promulgated by the American Petroleum Institute and their colleagues, there is nothing wrong with being conservative in the best sense. We can conserve our environment, preserve our buildings, and continue to increase the purity of our air and water. Why is climate change a political, rather than scientific issue? Maybe because Detroit is moving towards all-electric cars, making gasoline soon obsolete, and threatening the oil industry. “Drill, Baby, drill—and hurry as fast as you can! We won’t be able to give it away in 20-30 years!”

My first parish after I was ordained 45 years ago was the Church of the Holy Comforter in Charlotte. The property chairman and junior warden, Earl Barker, was retired and spent a lot of time at working at the church. He was a proud member of the Republican Party. (I’ve never been a member of a political party. I’m naturally independent.) Frequently, Earl would get on his soapbox and I’d listen for a while, finally telling him, “Earl, there are two things we don’t talk about at the church: politics and religion.”

Maybe we should, rather than huddling strictly with our own species. God has given us Dominion over the earth. To exercise it properly, we may need to talk. “Seven whole days, not one in seven….”

“Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”


  1. Dolores Curry says:

    You brought so many ideas to my mind with your bold sermon. As one of the older generation, I’ve lived and remember WWII, and the shameful atrocities committed by political adherents on both sides of the aisle, and the non-committed “middle of the roaders.”
    I had a baby daughter in Utah when they were testing the Atomic bomb in the desert not far away ” We were told by radio announcers to keep our children in the house (as if that would protect them from fallout.) She has had thyroid problems all her life. That disorder is one of the effects of nuclear fallout. I had a son nearing Military Age during the Vietnam war. Fortunately the war ended just as he was turning 18, thereby sparing me of the a agony of sacrificing one of my children. However that does not lesson the pain of knowing about the sacrifice tens of thousands of our young people dying for a “cause.”
    The closest we have come, as a world comprised of these appointed Dominioneers, to acknowledging our “Dominion” over the earth, was the creation of the United Nations. As a country we have not come far from the Religious wars of the ancient past…we just have different names for the warring factions.