"How Can We Stock-Pile Spiritual Fuel?"

Date Sunday November 12, 2017
Service 23rd Sunday after Pentecost
Text Text: Matthew 25:1-13
Author Pastor Jean M. Hansen
Previous Sermon "Reversing Damage with a New Look"

     If we used today’s Gospel lesson to determine who is wise, and who is foolish, what would be revealed?

     Before we address that question, let’s review context. Remember that the gospel of Matthew was written for a new Christian community that is trying to survive in a hostile world. Followers of Jesus have been kicked out of the synagogue and abandoned by their families. They are struggling in dark times, and decades have passed since Jesus ascended to heaven, promising to return. Where is he, they wonder. Why this long delay?

     In the face of their discouragement, the Gospel writer reminds them at the end of chapter 24 to: “Keep awake, therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” Then, four parables of Jesus are shared, and today’s reading is one of them.

     Now, let’s go back to my original question: who is wise, according to this parable, and who is foolish? Commentator Greg Carey points out that all of bridesmaids in the story act the same. They arrive on time. They wait. The tire and fall asleep. When they wake up they all trim their lamps. BUT, when the bridegroom (Jesus) arrives, the ones who are called foolish find their lamps going out because they did not bring enough oil, and the five wise bridesmaids, who did bring extra oil, will not share. So, the foolish five go out to find more oil, and the door is shut when they return, so they miss out on the celebration.

     Preparation is the only distinction between the wise and the foolish. They are ready both for the delay, and for the arrival of the bridegroom. So, that begs the question, are we ready for the bridegroom’s – that is, Jesus’ – arrival. Or, another way to think of it, are we ready to meet Jesus?

     I’ve been thinking about this in light of the horrible events a week ago today at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. None of the 26 people who died in that mass shooting, or the 20 who were wounded, or their loved ones, or that small community, or any of us who are far removed from them, for that matter, would have imagined such a tragedy as that Sunday morning began.

     Our hearts are heavy on their behalf. We are angry that such attacks have become commonplace. And, we feel powerless in the face of such violence. Life holds enough unknowns – severe weather, illness, accidents – without having to deal with situations perpetuated by human choice.

     Because of those realities, some might emphasize the importance of being ready to meet Jesus; they usually are referring to death, but also could be thinking of his return. Are we ready? The answer would be different for people of various faith traditions.

     For some, being prepared requires a confession of faith, or living a particular life-style, or receiving and offering forgiveness. In other words, the focus is on what a person must do to be ready. But, for us Lutherans – and many others – being ready does not have to do with what we do. We are ready always because God has claimed us; we are loved and forgiven through Jesus. It’s a done deal; we are prepared to meet Jesus one way or the other.

     What, then, does this parable convey to we who are ready? Remember what I said earlier, the wise bridesmaids were the ones who are ready for both the delay, and the arrival, of the bridegroom.  So, the wise thing for us to do is to be prepared for the wait – that is, the delay in the arrival of God’s kingdom.

     Think of the oil in the parable as faith, or as spiritual fuel. One of the things that bothers people about this parable is that the bridesmaids who have extra oil do not share it. What if the point is that, as much as the wise bridesmaids may want to share, they cannot do it. Faith or spiritual fuel is not something you can get from someone else (other than the Holy Spirit).

     The Rev. Beth Sanders explains it this way: “Just as you can copy a friend’s math homework, but not the hours of studying he put in understanding all the steps in the process; just as a surgeon may successfully transplant a heart from one body to another, but can never transfer its original recipient’s love for children, or her passion for crossword puzzles or gardening; there are some kinds of preparation we can only do for ourselves, spiritual reserves that no one else can build up for us. It’s something we each have to receive, cherish and deepen in our own souls for ourselves.” (2)

     While we wait, we “fuel up” to face the darkness. That’s what the people of Sutherland Springs need now; the depth of soul that can sustain them. You might ask, then, “How do we ‘fuel up’”? I can’t tell you how you should do so. My experience is that it is easier to be consistent when we seek spiritual fuel together, whether that’s in worship, or in small groups that support one another even as their focus is on a particular purpose, or one-on-one in prayer and friendship. It is in these relationships that the love of God appears in surprising ways.

     That’s all good, but I must confess to you that, for me at least, it’s not enough. Since the recent shootings – in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs – I’ve noticed the prevalence of comments on social media that keeping people in our “thoughts and prayers” is not enough. Of course, those postings are often sarcastic, so I do not fully agree with them. Thoughts and prayers are important, but, for me the “it’s not enough” is true. I need to “fuel up” to face that particular darkness by doing something.

     I’m not sure what that will be yet; I know it will involve striving to eliminate the availability of the type of weapons that were used in those two shootings. Obviously, my first step is to research exactly what they are, and how they differ from weapons that are less threatening.

     You may not agree with me; that’s up to you. We each must find our own way to “fuel up” spiritually as we deal with the challenges of living in an imperfect world while waiting from Jesus to return. Do we do so through hearing God’s word and sharing Holy Communion? Is it through prayer? Is it through Bible study, music, serving? Is it through reaching out or speaking out?

     Here’s the question of the day. How can we be wise while we wait? How can we stock-pile spiritual fuel? How can we each create the depth of soul that will sustain us … and impact others? Keep awake, Jesus tells, us, the wait may be long. Be prepared. AMEN

 

(1)   “Commentary on Matthew 25:1-13” by Greg Carey, www.workingpreacher.com

(2)   “Soul-Filling Community of Faith” by the Rev. Beth Sanders, Matthew 25:1-13, Nov. 9, 2014, www.day1.org