Once upon a time the egg of an eagle fell out of its nest and landed in a turkey barnyard. The turkey hen thinking it was one of her eggs placed it in her nest and sat on the eagle egg and soon enough it hatched. The turkeys raised the eaglet as one of their own. So it scratched in the yard, ate worms and tried to gobble, gobble as best as it could. This went on for several years until the eaglet was fully grown. One day far up in the sky he saw a beautiful bird floating effortlessly on the wind. “What is that,” the eaglet asked in awe. “Oh, that’s an eagle,” answered one of the elders, “the most magnificent of all birds.” The eaglet who grew up a turkey could only sigh as he continued to scratch around in the barnyard. The end. A sad tale. The moral of the story: it’s hard to soar like an eagle when you think you’re a turkey. In the gospel of St. Matthew Jesus says, “Stay awake.” The Bible says something similar many times. “Be on the watch.” “Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear.” “Be prepared.” The idea behind sayings like these is that we can miss what is really happening. We can think that we’re turkeys when actually we are meant to soar. We get so caught up in the human struggle of work and school and family and friends, scratching around in our barnyard, that we miss what God is really doing in our lives. Stay awake. Be on the watch. Discover that the world is charged with the presence of God.
Let’s first imagine what it is like to be awake and alert to God’s presence. It might be helpful to think of some of those people whom we recognize as those who were alert to the presence of God – people like Dr. King, Mother Teresa, Pope John XXIII. You doubtless have your own list of the spiritually awakened. The first and most important thing noticeable about those who are truly awake is that they know this is God’s world and not theirs. We have our ideas about how things should go. For example, we might envision a way of being that doesn’t involve trouble and pain and difficulty. That might be a nice world, but it isn’t God’s world. Those who are awake don’t pine after some far-off dream but live the divine reality. And, not only do the enlightened live in God’s world but they seek always to do God’s will. All the awakened souls have made a similar choice to do always and only the will of God. One final characteristic of the awakened that enables them to live in God’s world and do God’s will: they trust that all is well. Though everything is a mess, all is well. Though there are hurricanes and earthquakes and wars and cancer, all manner of things are well. What a strange paradox – that things would be a mess but that all is well. When you are spiritually awake you can sing with Louis Armstrong: “Then I think to myself, what a wonderful world.”
What lulls us into sleep so we miss the divine activity? The parable of the wise and the foolish virgins provides a hint. According to the story as Jesus told it, the foolish virgins missed the coming of the bridegroom because they had gone to the merchants in order to buy themselves some oil, theirs having run out. What isn’t clear from the story is whether the bridegroom wanted them to have oil. They thought they needed the oil but did the bridegroom think so? Maybe he would have preferred their presence even if they were oil-less. The problem this story describes is that we have in our minds a set of conditions that we expect to be fulfilled in order to feel good about ourselves. For the foolish virgins, it was oil. For us, it might be any number of things. I need to have a person to love me. I need to have my health. I need to have people honor me and appreciate me. I need to have all the latest stuff. So we imagine that we’ll finally be living in the happiness that comes from God once we’ve gotten what we wanted. The awakened heroes demonstrate that is not how it works. We don’t need anything other than what we already have. There aren’t any conditions on our living in God’s peace and joy except the ones that we impose ourselves. Maybe this is what Jesus had in mind when he told us “unless you become like little children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Even though children ask for all sorts of things, they don’t wait to get those things in order to be happy. They play with a cardboard box if they don’t get the x-box. All of those things we think we have to have are lulling us into a stupor so we miss that we already have the presence of God if we but wake up to it.
In the scriptures we find some spiritual no-doz, some divine caffeine that will help us wake up to God. We find it hard to wake up to God since we have grown accustomed to trying to create our own happiness instead of letting God give us happiness. You heard the story of the mother who knocks on her son’s door. “Pookey, get up. You have to go to school.” “I don’t want to get up. I don’t want to go to school.” “Why not?” “Three reasons,” Pookey said, “first, school is boring. Second, the kids make fun of me. Third, I hate school.” His mother answered, “I’ll give you three reasons why you must go to school. First, you’re supposed to. Second, because I’m your mother and I say so. And third, because you’re the principal and need to unlock the doors.” So given that it’s hard to heard the Lord’s command and stay awake what should we do? The Old Testament lesson suggests one remedy. “Be free from care.” The epistle suggests another: “Console one another” that “we shall always be with the Lord.” The gospel suggests a third. “Go out to meet him.” Go out of your familiar comfort zone and meet the Lord. By spending time in your sacred space you will learn to find God in every place. For when Jesus says, “stay awake;” when the Bible says, “watch” what they are really telling us is that in order to find God all we need do is open our eyes.