Sleepwalking Souls

Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
December 1, 2019●Advent 1 (Year A)
Gospel: Matthew 24:36-44

Sleepwalking Souls

Mother Hymes’ sermon, “Sleepwalking Souls” (Advent I, Year A). Gospel: Matthew 24:36-44

Posted by Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church on Sunday, December 1, 2019

Anyone who has ever given a presentation at a conference or even a classroom knows one major truth. Turning the lights in the room low or off in order to better view the projected images on the screen can divide an audience into two camps—those who stay awake and alert, and those who, despite their best efforts, succumb to the heavy eyelids and the nodding head.

As some people continue to engage the presentation, others are oblivious to the ongoing activity in the room while they slumber.  In the midst of the ordinary activity of watching a presentation, those who stay awake will be taken on a journey toward greater knowledge, and those who fall asleep will be left in the dark, wondering what they missed when the presentation is over and the lights are suddenly turned back on.

In our gospel passage in Matthew, Jesus warned his disciples to “keep awake” for his coming again at an unexpected hour. Not even Jesus knew when that would be—only God knew—which makes adopting a state of readiness all the more urgent.

Using the example of Noah, Jesus emphasized how Noah’s alertness and obedience to God’s holy leading was a matter of life and death.  For in those days before the flood, people were doing ordinary things like eating, drinking and getting married, oblivious to the reality of destruction that God would soon bring upon them. The people in Noah’s days moved about their lives oblivious as spiritual sleepwalkers—unaware and unprepared for God’s action in the world.

We see the same thing with the two in the field and the two women grinding meal together—none of them were doing anything that would warrant being alert beyond that which was apparent right in front of them. Yet, in the ordinariness of day-to-day activities, God would act in an extraordinary way—in both cases, taking one person and leaving one.

What are we to make of Jesus’ urgent call-to-action to keep awake? My opening image of the darkened room, and its sleep-inducing effect on those in the room, lends itself to a broader image of the temporal world in which we have been gathered to share this human experience. This temporal world is a darkened room of sorts.

And, in this darkened room, there are those who remain alert and awake in the darkness, fully alert, and those who are vulnerable to the danger of spiritual sleepwalking.

Two chapters from now in Matthew 26, Jesus will command his disciples to “stay awake” with him in the Garden of Gethsemane before Judas’ betrayal.[1]  On more than once occasion, Jesus returned to the disciples from prayer only to find them asleep each time. At one point Jesus said to Peter, “could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray…”[2] At another point Jesus questioned the disciples, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest?”[3]

What are we to make of the disciples’ inability to stay awake? If the disciples, in the physical presence of Jesus, were unable to stay physically awake to keep watch for Jesus at the critical turning point—a point which would set in motion his journey to the cross—how much more vigilant must his 21st century-disciples be to stay spiritually awake with Jesus, present to us in the sacraments?

Believers and non-believers are not immune to the intoxicating sleep that indifference and complacency induce. Spiritual slumber in a darkened world guarantees a spiritually unprepared soul which Jesus urgently warned against.

By virtue of their baptism, children of light, have a strengthened immunity guarding them against the danger of falling asleep in the darkness of this world. Children of the light at once emanate Christ’s light within as a means of hope for themselves while bearing Christ’s light outwardly, lighting the paths for those who walk in darkness.  Powered by the Holy Spirit, children of the light awaken souls from their slumber with the hopeful expectation of the coming Son of Man.

This is why proclaiming the good news of God in Christ, by word and deed, is a matter of life and death. The gospel message is light-giving and life-saving so that those who spiritually slumber will not be left in the dark when Jesus returns.

Allow me to stretch the analogy of the darkened room one step further to the end of the presentation. For an extended amount of time, the projected images on the screen were best viewed with the lights off. When the presentation ends, the lights are suddenly turned on and everyone in the room—whether or not they were awake or asleep—will have a reaction to the stark contrast from darkness to light. Those who were awake, will need time for their eyes to adjust and those who were asleep will suddenly awaken when the light switch is turned on.

I imagine that the inbreaking of God’s heavenly kingdom into this world, when the light of the world returns, will be like that—all will be suddenly and fully awake. In this dark and broken world, we are compelled to stay awake in Christ, and to resist the danger of spiritual sleep walking. We are compelled to help awaken sleeping souls in the myriad darkened rooms of this world by flipping the switch with light of the Gospel message. It is the message that liberates souls dying in darkness and awakens them to the hope of life everlasting in Christ. As it was for Noah, so it is for us; alertness and obedience to God’s holy leading is a matter of life and death.

On this first Sunday in Advent, let us strengthen our immunity against the deadly consequences of spiritual sleepwalking by coming to God in prayer with a repentant heart; by engaging Holy scripture, patterning our lives after Jesus’ life; and by regularly engaging in corporate worship in which we are reminded of God with us in the person of Jesus Christ.

Paul told the church in Rome, in our epistle today, “Now is the moment for you to wake from sleep.” Walking in the footsteps of the apostles, we must also boldly say to all with ears to hear and hearts to receive, “Now is the moment for you to wake from sleep.” Let us, with prayerful hearts, stay awake with Jesus and do the work that we are called to do as light bringers and hope bearers in this dark and broken world.

May it be so.


[1] Matthew 26:38

[2] Matthew 26:40-41

[3] Matthew 26:45