Many a preacher will talk about the season of Lent as going on a “journey”—a long trip that in order to do well, and be successful, will require certain things to be done and maintained.
In recent years I have tried to avoid using this over used analogy of a Lenten journey. It just seemed too cheap and easy to go to that language every year—especially when many of us don’t go anywhere except to the same church we always go to. It hardly seems like a journey. But I get it—we are walking with Jesus, we are journeying with Jesus, all the way to Jerusalem, and to the cross, and even to the empty tomb.
There are going to be difficult stretches where things are not easy, nor are them comfortable. We are journeying from being one person, to, hopefully, a new creation in Christ Jesus.
So if the idea of “journey” works for you, then great. For me, this year, however, a story of a real-life, literal journey I went on is what is going to be my focus, and it’s that story I want to share with you.
I have been part of five Ohio Delegations to Chile and the Shalom Center—or what I like to call “Camp Christian South America.” Each of them unique, but all incredibly powerful and spiritual. And each of them difficult, uncomfortable, and exhausting.
On each of these trips we spent several days at the Shalom Center with students and adults from a particular Pentecostal Church in Chile. Then after these several days at the Shalom Center, we spent a couple of days in the home town of the students and adults who we had been with. They became our host families, with a couple of us delegates and Shalom Center Staff staying in various homes of the people from the church.
In 2005, we were partnered with a church that was located in a town called San Clemente, which was four hours away from the city of Talca. Talca is the city where the Shalom Center Gathering Spot is, which is about an hour and half from the Shalom Center.
So after a week of camp at the Shalom Center—of sleeping outdoors, in tents, on Saturday we left the Shalom Center and returned to the Gathering Spot, exhausted.
The next morning, Sunday, we were to wake early, and travel to San Clemente to join with our camp partners, be hosted by them, and to attend church with them that evening. I was slated to preach.
So at 6 a.m. on Sunday, we rose, packed up and began the long trip to San Clemente. We arrived in just before lunch, and were quickly taken on a tour of the church, and then off to a robust lunch that last a couple of hours. After lunch, instead of taking a rest, we took a tour of the city.
After that it was time for street preaching, which consists of walking around the city singing and preaching, and inviting people to come to church—all of which lasts a little better than an hour. After that we returned to the church and had “once’” which was a light dinner.
After that, around 6 p.m., we began church, that would last for three hours. During that time I would preach for nearly an hour with a translator.
At 9 p.m. church was over, but for the next hour the church folk swarmed us North Americans with heart felt greetings, hugs, and posing for countless pictures. Finally, around 10 p.m. the pastor of the church took us all to his home for dinner. Another robust meal that would last for two hours.
Finally at midnight, we all dispersed to our host homes. I would go with a Shalom Center staffers named Ricardo. However, Ricardo didn’t speak any English, and I didn’t speak any Spanish.
Elena, the Global Ministries Missionary who was our host, told Ricardo to explain to the family that I, the pastor, was very tired, and that small talk and visiting should be kept brief and that I should be permitted to go to bed as soon as possible. By around 12:15, we arrived at our host families home, and I could barely stand up. I was exhausted. There was nothing left in me.
Ricardo and I visited briefly with the family, doing the best we could to communicate. Mercifully, by about 12:45, I was shown to a bed room, and was left to finally go to sleep.
The next morning we rose, had breakfast, again making small talk as best as we could. Then, after taking some more pictures, Ricardo and I returned to the church to meet up with the rest of the Ohio Delegation and Shalom Center staff. Now, reunited with Elena, I was treated to an interpreted account of all that had happened the night before.
As it turned out, when my host family found out months earlier that they were the ones who were being given the honor of hosting the North American Pastor, the woman of the house, in her excitement and elation, told all her friends and neighbors.
But not only did she tell them, she invited them over to meet me. They were all planning to come over to the house after we arrived from our post church dinner. But upon our arrival to the home, Ricardo, as he was instructed to do, told our hosts that I, the pastor, was very tired, and needed to go to bed. So she called off the robust meet and greet that she had planned for weeks.
She and her family missed out on this chance to celebrate and honor me because I was asleep.
The memory of all this still haunts me to this day. I still blame myself for stealing from this family the joy, excitement, and opportunity that they will likely never get again.
I have used this though as a reminder, as motivation to the future delegations that I would lead and coordinate. I would encourage future delegates, that as they went on and through this journey, to stay awake.
To stay awake to all that was happening around them, to them, and in them.
To stay awake to how God was showing up to them, challenging them, speaking to them.
To stay awake to the beauty of each moment, and to soak it in for it is likely it will never happen again, and you don’t dare miss any of it.
But I don’t stop using this story and its painful lesson on just trips to Chile. I use it every day.
I want to stay awake, to what is happening in life—particularly the lives of my young children, and my aging parents.
I want to stay awake to all that is around me in my ministry, my relationships, and my world.
I want to stay awake to how God is showing up, challenging me, and speaking to me.
Now, understandably, we can’t possibly stay awake 24/7. But that is not what I mean when I say “stay awake” or “wake-up and stay awake.” But whether its staying awake, or waking up, it all becomes critical to having the success and experience we want.
In our text for this evening, we encounter Jesus on the night before his crucifixion, in the Garden of Gethsemane, praying.
It is evening time, late in a long, long day for everyone.
Jesus, knowing what is coming, wants and needs to pray, but he understandably doesn’t want to be too far away from people who love him.
But more than once, he finds his disciples asleep in his hour of need.
Even after waking them up, imploring them to be fully present in even the simplest way, they can’t do it. They can’t stay awake. Not even for Jesus.
Now admittedly, I sometimes first have to wake-up, before I can stay awake, because I have drifted off, because I have fallen asleep. Sometimes I first have to wake-up, because I have become complacent, I have become reticent about what is happening, where I am, what I am doing.
So let’s all be honest. How often have we been like the Disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane? How often have we fallen asleep in the presence of Jesus, when he was calling us to be fully present?
Have we done such a thing? If we have, then it is time to wake up. This season of Lent is a time for us to stay awake to all that God in Christ Jesus has planned and wants to do in us and through us.
Once again the worship team has come up with a theme for this year’s season of Lent. It is, “Stay Awake”. Or maybe for some of us, its theme will need to be, “Wake Up! And stay awake.” Often times, when we want to wake up, we set an alarm on our clocks, watches, or nowadays, our phones.
Typically when we want to stay awake, we turn to our coffee pots, and hope the sweet dark hot nectar will do its job.
So throughout this season these clocks and coffee makers and coffee pots will serve as a visual reminder for us to “Stay Awake” or maybe even “Wake Up! And stay awake.”
May they serve as visual reminders of this Lenten journey we embark upon tonight.
It is a time for us to be awake to the life giving, transformative power of Jesus Christ, who wants to share with us an extraordinary experience.
One we will not want to sleep through. Amen.