Ordinary 23 / Proper 18 (Year A)

Today we are looking at the readings for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, aka Proper 18, aka the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost. September 6, 2020. The readings assigned for this Sunday are Exodus 12:1-14 or Ezekiel 33:7-11; Romans 13:8-14; and Matthew 18:15=20.

I want to look at the Romans text today, particularly one verse, one half of a verse.

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.

Romans 13:11a (NRSV)

Now is the moment for you to wake from sleep, says Paul. I’m reminded of when Jesus told the disciples in Gethsemane to keep awake. I used to keep a sign on my desk years ago, that said one word, one Greek word: gregoreite, the Greek word for “keep awake.” I needed to see this, and hear it over and over, because it was so easy for me to be distracted. Every time I saw it, it reminded me to come back, focus, be here. Keep awake.

I still have that problem. But that’s not the only way I experience waking from sleep. There is a very specific feeling I get sometimes, particularly if I’ve been in a depression for a while. I can be sitting down, reading, walking, anything, and suddenly I will get the sense that I am “waking up.” It feels as though a heavy cloth was just lifted off my head, a cloth I hadn’t even realized was there. It feels as though I have just gotten new prescription lenses in my glasses, and I can suddenly see the trees so much more clearly than before. It feels like great hunks of stone just breaking off of me, and I can stand and smile and think again.

It’s a wonderful feeling. Sometimes it lasts, and the feeling was indeed the end of a particular low episode. Sometimes it doesn’t, and it was just a fleeting glimpse of hope. People who live with various sorts of mental illnesses have a lot of these “awakenings,” I think. Moments when an episode passes, and all is clear. Sometimes there’s a feeling of physical exhaustion along with it, but it’s okay: my brain is finally waking up, and now my body needs a rest.

Medication can be connected to this. For some people, finding the right cocktail of brain meds can lead to an awakening, a feeling like “I’m finally back.” On the other hand, some meds can affect some people so poorly that it’s when they cease the medication that the awakening comes.

At a church I once served, I met Feryl, a man in a terrible depression, so bad he couldn’t leave his house. I was told by others that he used to be a happy, faithful, joyous man, but I couldn’t see that. To me, he was a shut-in, a very sad case. After trying many forms of treatment, Feryl finally tried ECT (electroconvulsive therapy). It worked. Feryl returned to church, returned to his old life, returned to smiling. He told me that it was like a resurrection. That’s a success story, and quite an awakening!

In the context of Romans, this isn’t quite what Paul is talking about. In verses 8-10, Paul writes of the importance of loving one another, how such love fulfills all the commandments. Then he says, “Besides that, now is the time to wake up!” Why? Because salvation is closer than it was before. “The night is gone, and it’s time to live like we’re in the day.” To Paul, “waking from sleep” here means focusing on doing the right thing, doing those things associated with day and daylight, not those associated with night and darkness.

Nonetheless, the experience of a mentally ill person “waking from sleep” can be connected to this. After Feryl’s “resurrection,” he was able to be a more active follower of Christ again. His inability beforehand was not an ethical choice, but a result of disease, but the return was just as magnificent.

Thanks for reading. Leave a comment below. If you like what you read here, please share it with others. You can like Biblia Luna on Facebook at @BibliaLuna, or follow on Twitter at @LunaBiblia. If you’d like to read other things I write, from sermons to poems to rants to mathematical nonsense, check out my primary blog at thescholtes.com. You can also support this project at Patreon.

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