1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
We don’t need to write to you about the timing and dates, brothers and sisters. 2 You know very well that the day of the Lord is going to come like a thief in the night. 3 When they are saying, “There is peace and security,” at that time sudden destruction will attack them, like labor pains start with a pregnant woman, and they definitely won’t escape. 4 But you aren’t in darkness, brothers and sisters, so the day won’t catch you by surprise like a thief. 5 All of you are children of light and children of the day. We don’t belong to night or darkness. 6 So then, let’s not sleep like the others, but let’s stay awake and stay sober. 7 People who sleep sleep at night, and people who get drunk get drunk at night. 8 Since we belong to the day, let’s stay sober, wearing faithfulness and love as a piece of armor that protects our body and the hope of salvation as a helmet.9 God didn’t intend for us to suffer his wrath but rather to possess salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 Jesus died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with him. 11 So continue encouraging each other and building each other up, just like you are doing already.
I am usually a very light sleeper. I have to sleep with a white noise machine and I wake up at the smallest sound around me. But get me to a Colts game after preaching a on Sunday morning, and I can easily fall asleep during the third quarter, just about every time! One of my favorite things in life is a good nap. Any other nappers in here? Multiple studies have shown that napping is good for you, especially short ones in the middle of the day. They are shown to increase your energy and have a positive effect on your health. Not that I’m telling you it’s ok to take a nap during my sermon! For a person who loves naps and can get so tired during a Colts game that I fall asleep, today’s text is difficult to hear: that we are not to fall asleep, but to keep awake. We keep awake so that we are prepared for the day of the Lord’s coming. It will be unexpected, like a thief in the night. So we are to live as people of the light so that we are not overcome with the darkness of night.
In the ancient world, and still today, night time was feared. The darkness represented mystery, sin, confusion, and sometimes violence. When I was in South Africa, we walked through one of the townships that had no running water, it was covered in trash and sewage, and people had to walk sometimes fifteen minutes to the bathroom, which was usually a run down old porto-potty. As we walked through, the group we were with told us that women and children were rarely seen at night there because they feared being raped or abducted while walking to the toilet. There were no street lights. Someone could come at you from any direction and it was so dark that no one could see them coming. People literally fear the dark. And for good reason! Light represents clarity and hope. In cases such as the township, light meant more safety and knowing what was around the corner. Paul tells his audience that they are children of the light and do not walk in the dark. In this case, he means that we have been given the good news and truth of Jesus Christ, who is our light. We need not fear the darkness because we have been given the one true light. Yet we stumble around in the darkness because we do not know what to do when the light comes. And some of us are just asleep, refusing to wake up. We are desperately in need of wake up call.
My freshman year roommate at Butler had the most annoying alarm clock. It made barnyard noises. One morning it mooed like a cow, and the next morning a rooster. And she wasn’t very good at getting up to turn it off. It drove me insane! And even after all that, she sometimes never made it out of bed to go to class. And I’m convinced that the snooze button is probably one of the worst inventions ever! But Paul isn’t talking about hitting the snooze button or the fact that it takes annoying alarm clocks to get us out of bed in the morning. We hear in this message that we need a spiritual alarm clock. We need to step out of our complacency, our routine, our not caring, our lack of deep spiritual reflection. We are in need of a wake-up call because we are falling asleep at the wheel.
I have never fallen asleep at the wheel before, but there have been some close calls. One of them was when I was in Florida traveling with some friends, and it was my turn to drive. All the sudden I found myself so sleepy that I was afraid I couldn’t stay awake. Everyone else in the car was asleep. Corey likes to tell the story of the time he and his fraternity brothers all piled into a car without air conditioning to drive all night from Kentucky to Texas for a convention. Corey got stuck driving the night shift and to this day is not sure how he possible stayed awake to get everyone there safely! The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that drowsy driving causes 100,000 police-reported crashes every year, and about 1,550 fatalities. New Jersey is currently the only state that has a law that lists drowsy driving as recklessness and under vehicular homicide status (Homiletics). Many people believe that drowsy driving is about the same or even worse than drunk driving.
One company tried to fix this problem with a device called “No Nap” (pic).
This device fits over your ear and detects the movement of your head. So if you happen to nod off while driving, it sends a piercing beep in your ear that’s loud enough to hopefully wake you up and alert any passengers in the car to your struggling to stay awake. I wonder how accurate and trustworthy it is! Perhaps we all need a No Nap device for our spiritual lives so that we do not fall asleep at the wheel. Just as falling asleep at the wheel is hazardous to our health, so is falling asleep with our spiritual lives hazardous to our souls.
So the question I want for us to consider this morning is: are we asleep at the wheel of our spiritual lives? There are some ways to tell. The first sign of spiritual sleepiness is when we become comfortable with the status quo. We like the way things are with our faith. We are comfortable with the way things are at church and feel that nothing needs to change. We are complacent in our roles or lack thereof. We don’t want to step up and lead or volunteer because we think someone else will. When we become too comfortable in our role within the Body of Christ, we have become sleepy and need a wake-up call or No Nap device. Does this sound like you?
Another way to tell if we suffer from spiritual sleepiness is that we are not concerned with our own sin or the sin of brokenness in this world. We look around and see brokenness and think that it is someone else’s problem. We see the sin present in our own lives and think that we don’t need to repent and begin to change. We hear someone tell us that we need help breaking the cycle of addiction or abuse or stepping away from someone doing us harm, but we don’t listen or reach out for help. We suffer from spiritual sleepiness when we refuse to acknowledge sin and brokenness at all. We need a wake-up call. We need to be brought out of darkness and into the light. And as Paul says, this is the time to put on the armor of peace and love, and the helmet of hope and salvation. God does not intend for us to suffer, but to be brought into the light of grace and truth. Sometimes all it takes is that we wake-up out of our sleep to see what is right in front of us.
We also become aware of falling asleep at the wheel of our spiritual lives when we do not spend time deepening our relationship with God. When we find ourselves too busy to pray or read scripture or study the many questions of faith with others in community. We are falling asleep at the wheel when worship becomes simply a routine occurrence or devoid of any meaning, when we do not come to worship fully prepared to worship the living God. We are falling asleep when we don’t step up at church because we wait for someone else to do it. So are we asleep at the wheel of our spiritual lives? Are we in need of a wake-up call? We know that the deep sleep of physical death is unavoidable, but the good news is that being asleep at the wheel of our spiritual lives is not. Paul calls the Thessalonians, just as we are called today, to snap out of it! To “keep awake” to the most important purpose of our lives: a transformational relationship with God through Christ” (Homiletics).
The amazing thing about the church is that we have the power to show signs of the kingdom of God to those around us who are falling asleep. So often, the church is referred to as a “sleeping giant” who is sleeping peacefully while the world around it wanders further into the darkness. We need a wake-up call. We need to be awake and alert for the signs of the kingdom coming among us and be a part of making that happen. If we choose to stay asleep, we are not doing our job as Christians and Christ followers. There are plenty of mornings when I just want to stay in bed and not do anything. It’s comfortable, it’s warm, and it’s safe.
The problem with not getting out of bed is that there is a whole world out there with people to see, things to do, and problems that need solving. There are hurting people, broken people, people that need comfort, a kind word, who need to see glimpses of God and know that the world is not so bad of a place after all. So in the end, I choose to get out of bed, to listen to that wake-up call and go out into the world. Because if we don’t wake up from our sleep, then we have zero chance of making life meaningful. If we don’t wake up from our spiritual slumber, then we have zero chance of having a transformational relationship with Jesus Christ. If we don’t have that, then we have zero chance of sharing that transformational love with someone else.
Waking up from our sleep can be risky, but it is worth the risk. It is worth taking the chance to see what can happen and what God will do through you. Take a look and see what it takes to get these people out of bed:
So whether you need a rolling alarm clock, a kick from your spouse, a wake up call, strong coffee, or a No Nap device, the message is clear: wake up from our spiritual sleepiness and go out into the world as children not of the dark, but of the light. And when we are afraid to take the risk, we are to put on the armor of peace, hope, and love. We are not meant to be lost and stumbling in the dark. We are to guided by the grace and truth of the light of the world.
And finally, as Paul tells us, we are to encourage one another along the way. We are to build each other up so that we do not fall asleep at the wheel. We are to give each other nudges every now and then to make sure no one falls behind. Perhaps the wake-up call we need is to get more involved in the life and leadership of the church, to step up as spiritual leaders, to educate ourselves through study, to pray for one another, to lend a hand. The choice is yours. Will you choose to remain asleep at the wheel? Or will you allow God to reach into your life and send that wake-up call? And how will you respond? Amen.