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Romans 13:8-14

Matthew 18: 15-20

September 7, 2014

Year A

What does it mean when Paul says love is fulfilling the law? What does he mean when he says wake up from sleep – the end is coming? The night is far gone – the day is near. I like the metaphor of night and day, of darkness and light. The idea of darkness being a positive metaphor and that darkness is available to us in our lives. The darkness being available so that we can experience lightness. Not just the light we see by, but the lightness of spirit that comes after a long inner darkness.

Paul is adamant that we have to wake up; in one translation that I looked at he says it twice, “Wake up! Wake up!” Now, I am not a morning person. I really don’t understand people who get up in the morning humming a happy tune and they are immediately on top of their game. I drag myself out of bed after about five hits on the snooze button; I shower and drink a couple of cups of strong coffee. Then and only then is it safe to address me in anyway.

You can’t legislate wakefulness. I will get out of bed, but you can’t make me be awake. That is what I hear in this reading. You can’t legislate love; you can’t force people into the darkness so that they can experience the light. You can’t turn this into something that everyone must do.

You can only invite people to wake up to the moment they are in and then leave them to discover what they may. For Paul that meant discovering the light and love of God. It meant becoming a follower of Christ. It meant trusting in the process of moving through the dark times to a time of lightness.

The Matthew passage is sort of a conflict resolution passage for people of faith. These people seek justice for one another no matter what. The best part of the policy is also the most personal – it allows us to let go of what needs letting go of and it also gives us permission to bind it close within if we need to do that.

There is nothing that makes me more tired than people who tell me to let it go – because maybe I can’t let it go – yet. Maybe I am not ready. This passage gives us permission to hold our feelings close within ourselves if that is what we need to do. Maybe we are not ready to let the lightness take over yet. Maybe we want to stay in the dark a little longer.

Mary Jo Leddy’s book, At the Boarders Called Hope, a book about refugees in Canada at Romero House in Toronto, a woman at Romero House tells her story about escaping from a prison camp in Rwanda. She had to leave her husband and her child behind and she says, “There is nothing that can be done about my suffering. This sorrow must be granted a space within my soul.” I believe the granting of space is often needed and we must accept that reality in our lives, and in the lives of others.

Most of us won’t experience the kind of darkness that the woman from Rwanda experienced, but we all have our dark places.

As I reflect on the darkness in my own life, my time in Tibet is still close to the top of my list as moments that still hover in the darkness. In 2005 I went to Tibet and climbed to 18,000 feet. It was a dark time. The trek through the Kardek Valley was hard, it was cold, it rained, it was unpredictable, and the trail was steep and covered in rocks, and every day in the distance I could hear avalanches. Once at the base camp of Everest on the Tibetan side at 18,000 feet a woman listened to me complain, and she said to me, “Well it’s not easy to be this close to the top of the world.” She was right about that, but I’m still not sure why it was so hard.

True, when you get that high there is not much air, and I had trouble breathing, but it was more than that. This darkness took over, and not until I got to Lhasa did it lift from my body. I am still not willing to give up this darkness because I think I still have something to learn from the experience. Like why couldn’t I accept what was happening? Why couldn’t I have gone easier into those dark places? I think I go easier now into the dark place that was created on that trek. But, I am not willing to let it go yet. I believe there is more to learn from that experience. It seems that as time passes the darkness integrates into bits of lightness and more and more pieces come together. Or perhaps I am not fully awake yet. A few more hits on the snooze alarm might do it.

Going into the dark and waking up are one in the same.

We all venture into the darkness and we need to go there. At the same time we are being asked to wake up. Paul’s call to wake up, wake up and go where you hesitate to go. Wake up and take that risk. We all know that some calls to wake up are far greater risks than others. Sometimes we go and sometimes we choose not to go. What we do know is that there will always be another wake up call. It’s like hitting the snooze alarm button and knowing it will ring again.

It is the same with God, whatever our relationship with God is, or how it is that we experience the living God. What is that force or Spirit that keeps calling us to enter the journey? God will call us, or nudge us, or we will hear a whisper from within to venture into the dark places with the promise of lightness at the end of the journey. It’s the uncertainty that is difficult, it is the unpredictable part of going forth that we don’t like. Or, knowing deep inside, that we will make mistakes; it is inevitable that we won’t always make the right decision. That is life.

There is much darkness in the world right now. People are dying from hunger, from the Ebola virus, from violence based on differences, from a resistance or a reluctance to enter into a process of reconciliation. We will see the snooze alarm hit many times before this darkness ends. As theologians reflecting on our world may we offer non-violent dialogue as a way to resolve our differences.

We are at a point in the history of our church where we have to rethink what we are doing. What might Paul’s call to wake up mean for this congregation? The Matthew passage offers us a conflict resolution process, “Keep talking to one another!” The Matthew passage closes on a positive note when the writer says, “Where two or three are gathered" we are gathered in the name of the Spirit and so we are never alone but are always accompanied by the living Christ and that is spirit that we embody.

As the church it is important that we are not only about numbers but that we are about forming a faith community that sustains and supports. If we become two or three gathered, we are still the body of the living Christ, we are the living spirit that comes together in community. As Christians it is this embodiment of Christ or Spirit that empowers us to do the work we need to do. Today we are being asked to think about entering a dark place where we can reflect on what it is we are about, or what work is it that is not completed on this good earth.

There will be others with us, maybe two or three or four gathered. Maybe more. The spirit of the living God is with us as we go. The piece that is difficult in the church is that we don’t know what our future will look like. We know it is going to look different than it does now, but we can’t be sure just what that will be.

I invite you this morning and this week to reflect on the dark places in your life and in the life of your congregation. Where would you go if you were to enter the darkness, and what light do you seek, and who is with you on the journey?

Sharon Ferguson-Hood