MARY LEE TALBOT – STAFF WRITER
“Spoiler alert: I detest the word ‘woke.’ Yet it is so ubiquitous that it made it into my sermon title today,” said the Rt. Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows. She preached at the 9 a.m. Thursday worship service in the Amphitheater. Her sermon title was “Stay Woke.” The Scripture text was Mark 13:32-37.
Baskerville-Burrows grew up in the Bronx. “I was present at the birth of hip-hop. Like many Black people, I learned to straddle two worlds. One week I was writing hip-hop lyrics for my classmates, and the next week I was testifying at the New York State Assembly about the benefits of vocational education,” she said.
“The meaning of ‘woke’ changed from its first use in the 1970s. Its early definition was: ‘Don’t let someone take advantage of you,’ ” she said. “Like words that originate in marginalized spaces, the meaning changed. Now it means to stay alert to injustice, but it got weaponized to be used against anyone doing the work.”
She asked the congregation, “What is the work? It is lifelong learning to bring the world closer to God’s dream. Jesus never used the word ‘woke,’ but he did say stay awake lest you miss the moment. For Mark, the gospel writer, this is everything because things are getting real. Jesus — in the parables and in real terms — is describing what will happen, and the disciples are asleep.”
New Testament scholar and Anglican priest Robert Lightfoot wrote that in Mark 13:32-37, the times to be watchful correspond to real-time events. In the gospel, Jesus tells the disciples to be watchful. He uses a story of a man going on a journey who puts his slaves to work and the doorkeeper to guard everything. Jesus tells them that the master could come back in the evening, at midnight, when the cock crows, or at dawn.
“Lightfoot said these times correspond to the time of the Last Supper in the evening, Peter’s first denial of Jesus at midnight, Peter’s third denial at cockcrow, and Jesus handed over to death at dawn,” Baskerville-Burrows said. “Jesus again told the disciples, ‘Do not be found asleep.’ In Gethsemane, he found them asleep.”
In Mark’s gospel, Jesus made it clear that the kingdom of God had come near. It was time to repent and believe in the good news. “We are not so different from the disciples,” Baskerville-Burrows said. “Jesus tells us to stay awake to the powers around us; stay awake, because the tomb is empty. If they had stayed awake, the empty tomb would not have been a surprise.”
She continued, “It was never about being woke, it was about staying awake to the realities around us and turning to God to do the work of conquering evil so everyone has a chance to flourish, so the powers and principalities will not win.”
When George Floyd was murdered, people did not suddenly become woke. For a moment everyone understood that the myth — that we did not know how bad things were — had to die.
Baskerville-Burrows told the congregation, “We lived with one eye open, and did not see our siblings. We have to stay awake, truly awake, to the unchecked greed and authoritarianism around us. The world does not have to be this way. If we sleepwalk through life, we will miss the moments to be the reign of God for someone.”
She continued, “It will cost us something. … God knows it will cost us everything, but what does that matter if we gain salvation? Jesus said it was never too late to stay awake, always be ready, because God is always on time. We have to repent, turn and believe in God’s victory over all that tries to destroy us. God has the victory — so show up. And if you don’t want to miss anything, stay awake.”
The Rev. Natalie Hanson presided. Jim Johnson, a member of the Motet Choir for over 50 years, read the Scripture. The prelude was “Des Abends,” from Fantasiestücke, Op. 12, by Robert Schumann, arranged by Adrian Fuentes Flores and played by the Motet Consort (Barbara Hois, flute, Debbie Grohman, clarinet and Willie La Favor, piano). Members of the Motet Choir sang “E’en So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come,” with music by Paul Manz and words from Revelation 22, adapted by Ruth Manz. Joshua Stafford, Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist and director of sacred music, played “Nun komm; der Heiden Heiland,” BWV 661, by Johann Sebastian Bach, for the postlude. The J. Everett Hall Memorial Chaplaincy and the Harold F. Reed Sr. Chaplaincy provide support for this week’s services and chaplain.