Awake!
Advent 1A          November 27, 2016
Isaiah 7:10-16;                             Matthew 1:18-25

I have a special talent, a best event that few people can lay claim to.  

My talent? Sleeping.  I can sleep anywhere, anytime, cramped up, stretched out, tucked in or rolled out.   Whether it is a 20 minute power nap, a two hour lazy afternoon snooze, or an irresponsible sleeping in instead of getting up to exercise,  I love a good sleep.  I can sleep through a rocking storm in a boat, in the middle seat on the airplane, and in a crowd of partying people.  

Seldom my sleep is troubled, but I wll say it has been lately.  I’ve had some haunting dreams that have given me pause to consider deeply what it means to be awakened, to be awake.  

I feel certain I am not the only one pondering this.  In face, on Thursday, my friend Jeanne wrote on Facebook, 

“My heart and my belly are full of goodness, thankful to be surrounded by a loving family, a warm home, and more food than we need…My heart is also with those who are defending the land and the water at Standing Rock. And with all those generations of Native Americans who have suffered untold indignity and hardship over these many years of european colonization. And they still do. And yet their dignity is unwavering. Gratitude on one side. Guilt on the other. How do we hold both honestly and move to a better way of being with each other in the world?”

How do we hold gratitude and guilt honestly, and move to a better way of being with each other in the world?  How do we stay awake to the tension?  

I have been thinking a lot about Standing Rock in the past months, and have been slow to jump on the justice bandwagon on the side of the water protectors, publicly.  For those of you who might not know, there has been a protest near the Standing Rock Reservation outside of Bismark, ND, where a oil pipeline is scheduled to be drilled 90 miles underneath the Missouri River, and near the reservation.  The protest has garnered the support of environmentalists, climate change activists,  the Black Lives Matter movement, clergy across denominations and religions, and over 200 Native American tribes from across the country, and numerous Hollywood stars like Mark Ruffalo, Jane Fonda and Shailene Woodley. The water protectors main concern is that the pipeline would disturb sacred lands and burial grounds and would likely harm the Missouri River, which provides the tribe’s drinking water. According to the Sierra Club, these pipelines can often seep or leak in small places that are not able to be detected, and these same concerns were part of the reason why the pipeline’s original route was scrapped~~because it passed near Bismark, the state’s capitol.  

Those who support the Dakota Access Pipeline, see it differently.   Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the pipeline secured all necessary permits and easements for the pipeline, as well as held numerous meetings with tribal leaders of the Standing Rock community.  None of the pipeline being laid is even going through the reservation.  Energy Transfer Partners has attempted to be a good neighbor by offering water testing and monitoring, as well as significant community support to the tribe, which the tribe rejected.  State archeologists found no bones that would warrant the area being a sacred burial site.  The protesters, most of them, not even from North Dakota, are trespassing and scaring and threatening the local farmers and ranchers,keeping them from their work.  Finally, transporting petroleum products by pipeline is much safer than by truck or railway. 

So, what is my tension, you might ask?  The guilt and gratitude?  Full disclosure:  

  1. I love the land of North Dakota.  My family farmed land that was homesteaded by my great, great grandparent’s who were immigrants, looking for that illusive American dream.  I love our farm. 
  2. But that free public land was only free because it was taken away from the indigineous peoples, the Sioux and Lakota nations. 

That’s enough right there.  But it goes on.  My family’s land is right smack dab in the middle of the Bakken Oil Formation, which is a huge source of rock oil, that only can be *harvested* through fracking and horizontal drilling.   Certainly we didn’t hit it big like the Clampet family of Beverly Hillbilly fame, but royalty checks have made life more comfortable for many in my family and my hometown. 

But the ideas that protestors deserved to be be hosed, pepper sprayed, hit with rubber bullet guns,and more simply chills me.   I hate what fracking has done to the land that I love.  I don’t believe for a minute that it is safe to put a pipeline only 90 feet underneath a river. However, as long as we are fossil fuel energy dependent, pipelines are the safest way to transport it, although nothing is fool proof. 

It’s such an ethical, moral, faith wrenching place to be, in this tension, being close to both sides. 

Frankly, I wish I could close my eyes to this.  Or take a long nap.  It’s easy for me to fall asleep, you know, in my fragility and guilt as an white person of privilege.  

How do we hold gratitude and guilt honestly, and move to a better way of being with each other in the world?  I think it is in staying awake, and listening to all sides. 

Especially, in a time such as this, a season of Advent, and a call to “Keep Awake Therefore” in our our gospel lesson for today.  The writer of Matthew was no stranger to tension, himself, living in an inbetween of “traditional Jewish and non-traditional Jewish values”, leading a Jewish congregation considering the possibility that Jesus was indeed divine.  This gospel, written possibly as much as 80 years after Jesus walked the earth, addressed a community of people who were beleaguered, who thought that God’s reign on earth would have taken over by then, and yet they still lived in a time of conflict, factions, oppression and questions.   Matthew’s plea to “stay awake” is a plea to the people to take heart, in spite of everything, because you never know when the unexpected reign of God will usher in, and to be prepared, just as their ancestor Noah bore the skepticism of his neighbors, but still built an ark to be ready.  

Brazilian theologian Ivone Gebara reflects on the flood story, and where we find ourselves, today (even though this was written in the year 2000):

We live in a whirlwind of ideas, of difficult situations, of tribulations and violence of all sorts. It seems that no one is being understood in this vast Babel! It seems as though we are in a collective war, trying to survive at all costs by eliminating others.

This situation makes me think of the biblical story of the Flood. The raging waters have swallowed everything, but in the midst of them floats an “ark” preserving all different species of life. There had to be hope, perhaps hope over a long time, before the dove could fly out from the ark and return with a fresh branch, a green shoot, the sign that new things were happening… I believe life is inviting us, for a time, …to a patient wait for what will come, to a voluntary silence or greater care with our words… I believe that this is the only possible way forward in a situation of flood and darkness. …History has shown that this time of waiting in solidarity has in fact existed before and is still in existence. In the near future it will be capable of proclaiming that some fragile “green shoots” can now be glimpsed. And life, all forms of life, will be able to flourish in the farthest corners of the earth.

(Ivone Gebara, “Feminist Spirituality: Risk and Resistance,” trans. Paul Burns, in María Pilar Aquino and Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, In the Power of Wisdom (London: SCM Press / Concilium, 2000), 41-42.)

Listening to NPR this week, an elder matriarch from the Lakota nation told the reporter that the Standing Rock protest was a fulfillment of a prophecy.  She said there was a prophecy that in the 7th generation that the people would become awake.   She said that this is the 7th generation, and the first time that the tribes of America have come to gether, and they have been awakened.  Awakened, and strong, and empowered.  

I don’t know what personal struggle you are living with this day, my friends.  I don’t know what worries you, what makes you sad, what makes you struggle with your own hypocrosy, your own guilt and gratifude.  But the fact that you are sitting in these pews today, makes me know that you, at some level, do. 

We find ourselves in Advent.  A time of waiting.  A time to hope.  A time to be awake.  A time to consider how to live ethically with guilt and gratitude, to listen, to be guided.

I love what Rev. Mary Luti said this week in her Still Speaking Devotional:

You’ve got even more to be thankful for than you thought, for it’s an immeasurable gift to say grace with one eye on your neighbor, to give thanks with joy complicated by concern, to count your blessings while repenting your sins, to know yourself in a muddle, trying to be good. It means you’re awake and not sleeping, alive and not dead. It means God is poking away at you, and you’ve let God in. (Rev. Dr. Mary Luti, http://www.ucc.org/daily_devotional_complicating_grace).

May we all rest in God’s hope, and stay awake to God’s poke. 

Amen.