Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Awake and Sober

Tuesday, March 4, 2014
For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night….So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober;   1 Thessalonians 5:2, 6 (NRSV)
In 1983 The First (and only) Baptist Church of McIntosh, Florida had invited me to preach a sermon in view of a call as pastor.  I was a newly graduated seminarian.  At the appointed hour the brethren gathered, all 42 of them.  Mrs. Bateman, a charter member of this congregation (since 1903), was in her seat, second row, one seat in from the center aisle on the piano side. 

Somewhere between the Doxology and the choir special, this dear saint nodded-off into personal meditation.  Her hair, like a covering of newly fallen snow, tightly-wrapped in a perfect bun, was resting gently against the back of the wood pew; her eyes were prayerfully closed, and her mouth was wide open.  The sounds of Mrs. Bateman’s meditation punctuated the sentences of my sermon like Amens.  Some of those sounds would have awakened the dead, but Mrs. Bateman hadn't heard anything for years. 

After the service I stood at the front door with Tommy Mack, chairman of the pastor-search committee.  As we greeted each worshipper leaving the sanctuary, Tommy was conducting an informal exit poll.  He (loudly) asked dear Mrs. Bateman on the way out:  G'mornin' Mrs. Bateman; what did you think of the man's preaching?"  Thoughtfully stroking her chin (pulling on those two pesky chin hairs), Mrs. Bateman responded, Well, truthfully, I believe I'd have to hear another one of the young man's sermons.

Every preacher has had the experience of preaching amid the snoring.  In churches long ago the stewards (ushers) would be equipped with feathers attached to long sticks, with which to reach across the pew and tickle a snoring member back to proper attentiveness.
Are sermons THAT boring?  Sometimes!  Is it the Gospel?  Never!
Well…what then?  Why yawns in the church?
Sometimes it may be simply age (like Mrs. Bateman) or medication, or third-shift hangover. 
But sometimes it’s a lack of “sober fire”.  Paul warned believers to be awake and sober.  I believe many people today have lost the edge of why we’re there in the first place. 
Today…for you

Set My Soul Afire[1] is an old song that expresses a great prayer, which, when prayed from a sincere heart, will keep you awake in church and on-track in faithful discipleship:
Set my soul afire, Lord, for Thy holy Word,
Burn it deep within me, let your voice be heard;
Millions grope in darkness, in this day and hour,
I will be Your witness, fill me with Thy pow'r.
Set my soul afire, Lord, set my soul afire,
Make my life a witness of Thy saving pow'r.
Millions grope in darkness, waiting for Thy Word,
Set my soul afire, Lord, Set my soul afire.
Keeping awake isn’t difficult when you’re on fire!  
Ready to pray?

Title Photo:  First Baptist Church, McIntosh, Florida

[1] Words and Music by Gene Bartlett © 1965 by Albert E. Brumley and Sons

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