Wake-Up Call

Proclaim Sermons
Homily: Lent 4
March 19, 2023
Reproduced with Permission
Proclaim Sermons

Summary: A salesman staying at a hotel gets an unwanted wake-up call on his first morning in town. Unable to get back to sleep, he browses through the room's Bible. A verse in Ephesians about waking up and arising in the light of Christ catches his attention. His experiences over the next days help him begin to see how to live in the light and expose the works of darkness.

He got into the city late in the middle of a boring and rather discouraging business trip on which he had not had very much success. The city looked kind of grimy. The downtown seemed dead and the hotel was, to be generous, average. Perhaps the best that could be said for it was that he could see no roaches. Life was not looking particularly good but at least he thought he would be able to get some sleep in the morning. His first appointment was late and maybe he could get enough rest to help him get through the day and the rest of the week. He got ready for bed, turned out the light and quickly fell asleep.

And in the middle of a deep sleep there came a loud and persistent ringing from the old-fashioned phone beside the bed. At first he tried to ignore it, praying that it was part of a dream. But again it came - "Rrring, rrring!" Rolling over, he groggily picked up the receiver. "Good morning, sir," came a cheerful voice. "This is your wake-up call. It's five a.m." "Whaaa?" he muttered in confusion. And then, awake, he yelled, "You're crazy. I didn't ask for a wake-up call!" And he slammed down the phone. "Idiot!" he growled, and tried to get back to sleep. But the adrenaline rush had him awake and there was no going back.

Nothing was to be gained by lying there stewing about bungling hotel employees and missed sales chances, he finally decided. "I might as well get up," he thought. And when he sat up on the edge of the bed, surprisingly, he did not feel as bad as he'd expected. He turned on the room's little coffee machine, went to the window and pulled back the curtains.

Soon the sun was coming up and the city seemed to come alive, even though there were traces of smog in the air. In the midst of all of the buildings there was a touch of the natural world in a little park that he could see across the street.

Then he noticed the Gideon Bible on the bedside table, picked it up and began to leaf through it. He had gone to church off and on but wasn't really familiar with the book. Browsing through the Psalms, he stopped at the verse which said, "I rise before the dawning of the morning, And cry for help; I hope in your word."1 And then he came across another verse in Ephesians: "Awake, you who sleep, Arise from the dead, And Christ will give you light." Okay, that wasn't a bad way to start the day.

And it did turn out to be a pretty good day. Breakfast was fine and he had some success with his sales calls. But more important than that, the people he called on really were people, not just recalcitrant machines that he tried to coax into a response. There was time to talk with them, to find out what their needs were and why they were buying the product, and to make some useful suggestions that would help their businesses. There was time to smile at the people he saw on the street. Feeling more adventuresome than usual, he tried an Indian restaurant at lunch. It was all right. That evening he read a book at the library around the corner from the hotel instead of sitting in a bar or watching a mediocre program on TV. When he went to bed he was tired but also a bit sorry that the day had to end.

Day two

He'd forgotten about the wake-up call and the next morning it came again at five a.m. He hadn't asked for it but decided that maybe it was a good pattern to get into. It seemed kind of like an adventure to be up before dawn and be able to read a few chapters from the Bible in an unhurried way. Maybe today would be as good as the previous one.

Well, it wasn't. The waitress in the hotel's coffee shop where he stopped for breakfast was red-eyed and acted sullen. There were bruises on her arms that long sleeves didn't completely hide. The local paper was filled with stories about political corruption, letters to the editor complaining about homeless people, crime and attempts to raise taxes, and there were ads for sleazy strip clubs. The places where he had to go on business were in bad parts of town where people were making drug deals on the streets and hardly bothered to try to hide what they were doing.

The people he had to do business with didn't make the experience any more positive. Some of them had complaints about service and one of them launched into a long and unfunny joke about illegal immigrants. He made a few sales but the day as a whole was long and depressing. When he got back to his hotel in the evening he made a point of telling the man at the desk, "No wake-up call in the morning. I want to sleep in."

Day three

But early the next morning the phone was ringing again and there was the cheerful voice at the other end. "Good morning, sir. This is your wake-up call. It's five a.m." Again he muttered and slammed the phone down, but again he wasn't able get back to sleep. It was getting to be a habit to stand up, yawn, stretch, turn on the coffee - and reach for the book on the table.

"Okay, God," he thought. "Any suggestions?" And he turned to the place in Ephesians where a couple of days before he had read about rising from the dead and receiving light from Christ. A few verses before that one he found, "And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them." "A good suggestion, but how am I supposed to do that?" he wondered. He got himself ready for the day and went down to the restaurant.

He was there so early that he had to wait a couple of minutes for the door to open, and again the sad-faced waitress with the poorly concealed bruises was there. This time he asked her how she was instead of just ordering breakfast, and since he was the only customer in the place, she sat down and told him. "My husband gets nasty when he's been drinking," she said, "And sometimes he grabs me and pushes me around. I talked to my pastor about it and he said that it was my cross to bear. He told me that the Bible says 'Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.'"2

"Yes," he said, remembering that he'd seen that in the same chapter of Ephesians he'd read that morning. "And it also says, 'Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her.'3 Marriage is a two-way thing." Then he told her about a battered women's shelter that he'd seen on a nearby street.

At his second appointment the customer started off with a racist joke. "I don't need to hear that kind of thing," he objected. When the storyteller bristled and said, "Haven't you heard that the customer is always right?" he said, "Not this time" and started to pack up his sample case. "Walk as children of light," he said before he left.

On the way to his next stop he was accosted by a wino with a paper cup who was asking for money for food. He didn't give him any but instead walked with him to the nearest restaurant and bought the man lunch. His commissions wouldn't net him very much for that day but he felt that it had been worthwhile. That evening in his hotel room he wrote a letter to the paper responding to some of the other writers, pointing out that doing something about crime might require tax increases.

Day four

The next morning, as he checked out at the desk, the clerk asked him, "Did you enjoy your stay in our city, sir?"

"I wouldn't exactly say 'enjoy' but it was - instructive," he answered. "Eye-opening, you might say. I was glad to get the wake-up call."

"Certainly, sir. That's a service we're always glad to provide for our guests."

"Yes, that, too. But what I meant was the one in the Bible: "Awake, you who sleep, Arise from the dead, And Christ will give you light."


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