Preached by Terrell Carter on 4/21/13
My father was a sergeant in the army. He entered the army when he was 17 years old. He did it because my mother was pregnant with me and my twin brother. As teenagers, we would ask him how he liked being in the military. He would tell us that he hated it. There were several things about the military that he didn’t like. One of the main things was reveille. How many of us know what reveille is? Reveille is the general term that most military branches use for waking up, or getting up, in the morning. It comes from the French word that means “to wake up” or “to rise.”
In the military, reveille is usually not a fun experience. The point of reveille is to get soldiers to wake up and come to attention in the quickest manner possible. Apparently, it can be hard to get young military cadets out of bed and up and at em’ in the morning. So, the personnel responsible for reveille would have to be very creative in the ways that they tried to wake up my father and other soldiers.
The wake-up call could come by someone playing a bugle, or banging on drums outside the barracks or near the flag posts. If a certain group of cadets was extremely hard to wake up, commanders would bang on the barrack walls, or walk into the actual barracks and bang pots together. This usually included someone yelling “get up, get up! You lousy explicative’s!,” in their loudest tone. They would also yell other things that are not fit for repeating before Christian ears. But, you get the point.
Apparently, someone created a song in response to their hatred for reveille.
The song says, “Rev-eil-lee! Rev-eil-lee is sounding, the bugle calls you from your sleep; it is the break of day. You’ve got to do your duty or you will get no pay.
Come, wake yourself, rouse yourself out of your sleep, And throw off the blankets and take a good peek at all
The bright signs of day are here, so get up and do not delay. Get Up!
Orderly officer is on his round!
And if you’re still in bed he will send you to the guard
and then you’ll get a drill and that will be a bitter pill:
So be up when he comes, be up when he comes,
like a soldier at his post, a soldier at his post, all serene.
The chorus says, I can’t get ’em up,
I can’t get ’em up,
I can’t get ’em up this morning;
I can’t get ’em up at all!
The corporal’s worse than the privates,
The sergeant’s worse than the corporals,
Lieutenant’s worse than the sergeants,
And the warrant’s worst of all!
And tho’ the sun starts peeping,
And dawn has started creeping,
Those lazy bums keep sleeping,
They never hear my call!
This song sounds like it was written by my father. He hated his experiences in the military. But, there was something funny about my father. He kept some of those unfortunate practices from his military life. He kept some of those old military practices and used them on me and my twin brother while we were in high school.
As much as he hated reveille as the way to wake him up, he seemed to love using it to wake us up in the morning. If we stayed in bed one minute after our alarm clock went off, our father would slap our bedroom door, and throw it open so the door hit the wall. He scared us awake every single morning. Sometimes he would change it up and add some variety. Some days he would slap the door loudly, run into our room, and yell “get up.” Sometimes he would bang things together. If I didn’t know better, I would think that he got up early every morning and stood outside our bedroom door just to see if we would oversleep so he could scare us. For someone who hated having it done to him, he sure seemed to get a lot of joy out of doing it to us. Derrell and I couldn’t wait for the day that we moved out so we could wake up like normal human beings.
But, there’s something else that’s funny about all of this. I have a teenage son, and I now understand why my dad did it to us. There’s something about being a teenager that requires you to sleep through most alarms and the sweet soft voice of your parents urging you to awake and see the beauty of God’s blessing on a daily basis. When Malik sleeps through his alarm, or is having a hard time getting up in the morning, I bang on the hallway door and yell “get up, boy.” If he’s having an extra difficult morning, I throw something up the stairs into his room so it hits a wall and wakes him up.
Why do I do this? Because it jars him awake, and he knows that he needs to get up right now. We all know how teenage boys are? If you let them, they will sleep all day. I know that I could, and would, if my father would have let me.
As an adult, I understand my father’s intentions now. There was work to do. The sooner we got to doing it, the sooner we would be done. We couldn’t sleep all day and miss school, or work, or whatever responsibilities we had that day. There were important things that needed to be done.
Sometimes, I think that my relationship with God is a little like my relationship with my father. Sometimes, I have the tendency to try to sleep my way through life. Sometimes, I want to take it easy, and remain in bed where I am comfortable and warm. Inevitably, God, like my father, has to use creative means to get my attention by banging on the wall or door, and yells “It’s time to get up! There’s work to do!”
I come to this conclusion from reading this week’s texts that are printed in our bulletins. There are three passages that seem unrelated. One passage from Jonah that tells us the story of how God’s prophet preached repentance to the inhabitants of Nineveh, and in response, those people actually did repent, offering themselves to God. In the I Corinthians passage, Paul delivers a word of challenge to the Corinthian church for them to reconsider their personal values in light of future expectations. And in Mark, we see a strange case of call and response between Jesus and a group of menial laborers.
These seemingly unrelated passages do have a common theme, or better yet, a common question that must be answered. The question underlying all of these passages is how do the characters in the stories respond when God calls them into action for the kingdom? When the calling of God, or the plan of God, interrupts their lives, when it wakes them from their sleep, how would they respond? Would they willingly participate in the work of the Kingdom of God, or would they try to remain sleep?
I realize that I have just used a big theological word, and have been using it since the first time I preached here. The Kingdom of God is a phrase that we sometimes shy away from. We prefer to leave it up to our Sunday School teacher, or someone with seminary training to deal with it. But I would like for us to take a look at it briefly.
The Kingdom of God, sometimes called the Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew’s gospel, is spoken of in many places in the Bible. Christ talks about it in multiple parables. He said, “The kingdom of God is like…” He compares it to farmers planting a garden. In other places, He compares it to a camel trying to go through the eye of a needle. He also compares its growth to that of a mustard seed.
In simple terms, the Kingdom of God refers to a time that is both present and future, where the world, and all that is in it, will be changed for the glory of God. It’s presently occurring and will occur in the future in the sense that God is working through people to change and transform that which had been fallen and turn into something not intended. Paul Borden, pastor and denominational leader, says, “The Church of Jesus Christ was designed by its founder to bring about the kingdom of God, which means to effectively challenge the work, intention, and kingdom of the evil one. Therefore, the very nature and essence of the Church is to be involved in the effort of turning lost people into fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.”
This was the pronouncement that Jesus gave to the world when He said that the Kingdom of God had come. He was announcing His intention to change the world. The question that his hearers had to answer was would anyone be ready to follow Him?
This idea of responding to the opportunity to participate in the coming Kingdom of God plays out in different ways in both the Old and New Testament passages.
In the book of I Corinthians, Paul is writing to a group of believers who are asleep walking through life. They are experiencing several issues within their home church. One of their problems was keeping life, personal relationships, and personal possessions in perspective as it relates to experiencing the Kingdom of God. In multiple places, Paul tells them who and what will not make it into the Kingdom. In particular, in chapter 7, he tells them that, in order to participate in the Kingdom. They should make a habit of practicing purity in their desires and actions.
But, overall, he’s trying to get them to understand that what’s most important is to remember that there will come a time when physical pleasures, making money, family and friends, and all the other things that we hold dear to our hearts will hold no long term value. Why? Because this world is passing away and the Kingdom of God would be coming. With the Kingdom, priorities would have to be changed. They would not see the world, or possessions, or family and friends the same. Life would not solely consist of the number of friends on Facebook, or how many pairs of shoes we have, or cars, or books, or degrees. It would consist of faithful service to God.
For the Corinthian church, the Kingdom of God was understood as something that was still yet to come. It was just over the horizon, but it was definitely on the way. And its’ coming would require that the church at Corinth have a new mindset. All that life offered was a blessing from God, but God’ blessings were to take a back seat to God’s overall plan. God’s plans were not to be eclipsed by God’s gifts to men.
The story of Jonah is familiar to most of us, isn’t it? God gives the prophet a sharp wake-up call that the prophet refuses to answer. Instead, he goes in the opposite direction of where God wants him to go. After an ill-fated boat ride, a big fish swallows him, spits him out, and he runs on for the Lord. Badda bing, badda boom. But I think that the book of Jonah is less about a big fish and more about how Jonah responds to the idea that God’s kingdom may include people that he may not necessarily like.
What God commanded Jonah to do, which was to preach repentance to Nineveh, was more than a shock to him. Beth Tanner says, “To an Israelite like Jonah, this would be equivalent to announcing today, “Go to Osama Bin Laden’s compound.” Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, the nation that destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel and held the southern kingdom of Judah as a vassal (slave nation) for almost one hundred years. Assyria was more than an enemy; it was a brutal occupying force that forever changed Israel’s fortunes. Jonah is called out by God to go and prophesy to the enemy…..Jonah is told to go into the enemy city and announce God’s judgment.”
But, instead of going, he runs in the opposite direction. He may have run because he was afraid. Or he may have run because he didn’t think that his enemies deserved God’s mercy. Either way, he ran away from God’s kingdom action. He avoided the opportunity to bring about godly change in the world. And God dealt with him through the big fish. After the fish spit him out, we are told that the prophet ran to do what God had commanded. He preached repentance and the coming Kingdom of God.
For the city of Nineveh, the Kingdom was something that was imminent. It could possibly appear before the end of the week. The Kingdom of God would look like their enemies marching up a hill, preparing to kick in the city gates and destroy the city walls. Or the Kingdom of God would look like sackcloth, and dust, and penance. Nineveh chose the latter.
Again, I think the story is less about Nineveh and more about the prophet. For Jonah, the Kingdom didn’t look like he expected. After God’s pronouncement of coming judgment, the kingdom looked like Jonah’s enemies. And those enemies were technically no longer his enemies. They had now taken the first steps to become his kindred. Before God, they were going to be treated like him. They would experience love, compassion, and forgiveness.
This Kingdom experience would require Jonah to adopt a new mindset. He no longer had enemies, but friends. He had the opportunity to be reconciled to his former masters. Years of hatred, strife, and turmoil could give way to God’s overall plan of loving one another. The love of God had a new face and it would be one that was familiar, yet unwanted.
The story of Christ calling the disciples is also a familiar story. It seems pretty simple and straight forward. Jesus, after His baptism and temptations in the wilderness, begins preaching that the Kingdom of God had come near. One day, as he walks along the sea shore, he sees four men and tells them to follow Him. They all stop what they are doing and follow Him. Two of them even leave their father to fend for himself in their boat. John 1 tells us that one of the new followers went to his brother and proclaimed that he had found the person that Moses and the prophets spoke about as being Messiah. He would be the one who would eventually come to set Israel free.
For these new disciples, the Kingdom of God had been a historic promise that was still far off in the distance. But, after meeting Jesus, and witnessing His miracles and teaching, they realized that the Kingdom was present. “Come and see this man” became a regular refrain from people who came into contact with Jesus. The disciples, the woman at the well, the blind who were made to see, the lame that were made to walk, they all encouraged others to come and experience the Kingdom as found in Christ.
They understood their part in the Kingdom to revolve around introducing others to Christ. The disciples in the gospels understood this to mean that they were to leave their mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, livelihood, and comfort in order to follow Him. For the disciples, the Kingdom looked like sacrifice and service.
In all of these passages, God breaks into, or is about to break into, someone’s life. God is preparing to give the reveille call to wake someone up out of their spiritual slumber and put them to work. God gives the command to get ready and to get involved in what God is already doing. The question for the characters in our texts is will they be ready to get involved? The same question rings true for us. When God says “get up,” will we be ready to get involved? When God says that it is our turn to help in the kingdom building process, what will we do?
Let’s be truthful. When God breaks into our lives, it is inconvenient. It happens when we least expect it. God’s call to service for the Kingdom is never given at a convenient time. God calling us from our spiritual slumber is never fun. When God interrupts our lives, we sometimes see it as a disruption, or a hassle, or an inconvenience.
When God sends someone into our lives as a mode of service for us, we sometimes see the opportunity to serve them as us versus them, or you versus me. How dare they expect me to do that! How dare they think that I would be willing to do this! I’ve got other things that I need to do with my time.
But, here’s an idea. What if we saw service for the Kingdom less of a hassle and more as providence? Or an opportunity? Or a blessing? Or simply as God’s kingdom building action?
But, Terrell, I already come to church. And I volunteer my time in multiple ways. I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but God’s kingdom is much bigger than this building. God doesn’t call us to stay comfortable and protected where we are. His command to Jonah and the disciples was to get up and leave. Leave your comfort zones. Leave the place you are familiar with and trust me to move you to a new place that glorifies me. He called them to leave home and go where they would have to depend on God’s grace. Similarly, God calls us to drop our security blankets, go to unfamiliar places, and serve.
The story of God’s kingdom is not about you and your comfort, or me and my comfort. God’s calling is actually not even about us. The going is not about us. It’s about what God is doing in this world, in this city, in this community, in the lives of people, and how we can all participate in it. The focus is not on us but one where, to whom, and for what purpose God is sending us. That place doesn’t have to be overseas, or to another state. It can be to needy people in our own spiritually-contested neighborhoods.
The author of a Christian blog says it this way, “When I say “spiritually-contested neighborhood”, I don’t necessarily mean just the alleys in the ‘hood. I mean your own neighborhood. Inside every home in even the most affluent neighborhoods, God’s reign is very much contested. Hell visits high-end homes as often as it does tumble-downs. The booze just has a finer label. The abuse is just better-hidden. The hopelessness and despair of Gehenna are just veiled behind designer curtains. Desperation lurks in the crevices of every life.” Nineveh is closer than many of us think.
To be involved in the coming Kingdom will likely require a new mindset for all of us, as it was required by the characters in our texts. Jonah missed out on the redeeming power of the Kingdom because He resented God’s love for others. The Corinthian church had to learn to put the kingdom before possessions and personal relationships. The disciples had to be fully committed to the kingdom. It would be all or nothing.
The kingdom requires action. Jim Taylor says that these passages “point to the great life changes that commitment to Jesus, and to the Father require; not because change is required for that commitment to be acceptable, but because making that commitment will of necessity produce great changes in one’s life. Some of the changes may be expected and desired, others may not. But they will come nevertheless, and we will accept them, or our commitment will falter.”
Jonah, get up and go. Corinthian church, get your perspective right. Fishermen, stop, drop, and follow me.
The kingdom of God may seem far off, but it is actually very near. God is already at work forming a people, forming a community for God’s glory. The kingdom and kingdom work may include people and things of which we are unfamiliar. Kingdom work may require us to sacrifice and stretch our faith in order to enter into it. But within it, we are surely going to experience the presence of God and the beauty of community.
I leave us all with a question today. As God is sounding the trumpet to awake us, are we ready to move forward into God’s kingdom work in this community and city?