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Falling to Sleep in your Sleep

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Falling to Sleep in your Sleep

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

There are some phrases that are so charged with a particular meaning that it is hard for someone to hear something different upon hearing them. One such phrase is the phrase “pro-choice.” When some people hear that phrase the image that comes to their mind is so strong that they cannot think of anything else. This human tendency makes it difficult to hear the gospel because of the strength of the images that have been imprinted in our minds. What makes matters worse is that the bible uses some words and phrases to mean different things depending on the context and the biblical writer. One of those phrases is the phrase to fall sleep.

            Many of the biblical writers used the phrase to sleep to mean to die. For example Daniel, describes the day of resurrection with the words: “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.”  (Daniel 12:2) Jesus himself referred to his dead friend Lazarus as having fallen asleep and told the crowd grieving over Jairus’ daughter that she wasn’t dead, but sleeping. The apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18, describes the day of Christ’s return and the general resurrection as a wakeup call.

And even in the text that we read this morning in a reference to Jesus in verse 10 Paul refers to death by saying: “He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.” Yet, even though Paul used the phrase “to sleep” to refer to death, in the text that we are considering this morning, he used it mainly to mean regular, normal, everyday sleep. Paul writes: “You are all sons and daughters of the light and daughters and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night.”

            We know that Paul is talking about what is normal for most people; because many of us know some people that sleep all day and spend the night working or watching television. In today’s society we have all kinds of problems with sleep. There are an increasing amount of people that are sleep deprived. Legislators and law enforcement personnel are beginning to realize that drowsy driving is as dangerous as driving drunk. In fact New Jersey is the only state that currently has a law on the books listing drowsy driving as recklessness under our vehicular homicide statutes.

Many of us have heard of power nap; they are supposed to re-energize you to continue to work in those long afternoons. Some experts even claim that they lower the risk of heart related death by 37%. Some people claim that twenty or even ten minutes do wonders for their alertness and productivity. I remember as a child in the Dominican Republic that people took a two hour lunch and part of the time was for people to have a siesta, a long power nap. I have never been able to sleep in the afternoon, or be able to wake up and fall back to sleep even though many times I feel drowsy. I wished that I was able to take a nap; I just can’t.

I have been in meetings in which someone had taken a power nap in front of everyone. They just closed their eyes and felt to sleep in the middle of the meeting. This is one thing that pastors joke about all the time; mainly because it is one of our job related fears that members of the congregation would fall to sleep in the middle of the sermon. Paul may have had more than a preoccupation with churches falling to sleep; I think that it reminded him about the time it happened to him. According to the book of Acts Paul was preaching in an upper room in Troas.

It was Sunday evening and because Paul intended to leave the next day, he kept on talking until midnight. Luke tells us that: “Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead. Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “He’s alive!” Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left. The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted.” (Acts 20:8-12)

            I will never forget the wedding of my sister-in-law. I was a pastor in Buffalo and we decided to drive Thursday evening to New York City. We pack our three children, wedding gifts and our luggage and began our drive. I decided to take route 17 that borders Pennsylvania rather than the New York thruway because route 17 is shorter. That evening there was little traffic and we were making good time. When all of a sudden I was awakened by the cry of my children; I saw that the minivan was upside down in a little valley in the middle of the highway. It was a miracle that we all survive my falling asleep at the driver’s seat. Sleep can be dangerous depending upon where you are at the time.

            The apostle Paul was sure that the church of the Thessalonians would not be caught by surprise by the second coming of the Lord. They were ready, they knew better; the real danger for this church as well as all the other churches was to fall asleep while waiting. To sleep is both good and necessary for our well being. Whether we sleep during the night or during the day, our bodies need sleep. But being asleep at the wheel of our spiritual lives is neither good nor necessary.

Spiritual sleepiness is a condition of utter cluelessness that overtakes us when we believe there’s nothing wrong with our current condition or with the world around us. It is becoming unconscious to God’s action in the world. Spiritual sleepers can view sin in their lives as being a mere character fault rather than a willful act of disobedience to God. They can look at the problems of injustice and violence in the world around them and turn the newspaper page with a yawn. Spiritual sleepiness can characterize believers as well as unbelievers, making us comfortable with the status quo and content to leave our inner lives unexamined and unimproved.

George Barna wrote a book in 1990 entitled “The frog in the kettle” it contains a story about how a frog that is placed in hot water would immediately jump out of the water, but if you place the same from in cold water and raise the temperature slowly enough it will cook to death. That is a great parable of someone who is sleep spiritually. The world is changing around them and they are adjusting to the changes so that at the end rather than bringing the kingdom of God to the world the world conquers their soul by cooking their spiritual life to death.

This kind of sleepiness ultimately leads to a crash of character and crumbling under crisis.  Paul calls the Thessalonians to snap out of it, to keep awake to the most important purpose of our lives: a transformational relationship with God through Christ. A church that is spiritually sleep is known because the disciples turn into members. The people in church begin to ask what is in it for me, how can this church fill my needs rather than asking how can I serve the people around this building. Spiritual sleepiness lead us to become consumers of religious commodities, we stop being disciples and followers of Christ to become spectators of ministry as if we were in a dream.

To keep awake we need to protect our heart and our minds. The apostle Paul writes: “But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.” Paul moves to using military images as the solution to falling asleep. The breastplate that is faith and love protect our hearts from becoming hard and refusing to serve those who live in darkness and without hope. Someone who loves and live by faith is not concerned about themselves but about the God whom they love. They know that it is not about them, but about God. We use the helmet that is the hope of salvation to protect our minds and way of thinking. We pray and work to have the mind of Christ in us.

In his letter to the Philippians Paul show us the kind of thinking, the attitude that a wide awake person lives by: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!”  (Philippians 2:5-8)

            When someone dies in their sleep we say that they die peacefully in their sleep, in a sense we believe that falling to sleep in your sleep is great; is the way that many would like to go. But that can only be said of natural sleep and natural death. To die while spiritually dead, to falling to sleep while spiritually sleeping is the worst kind of death, because it is eternal. Wake up church; let us turn all of this area upside down.

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