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Are You Listening?

(a sermon for January 17, 2021, the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany, based on 1 Samuel 3:1-20)

The story goes that two men were at the local diner one day, talking over a cup of coffee.  And the first man says, “You know, I’m concerned about my wife.  She’s talking to herself a lot these days.” And the second man thought about this for a moment, and replies, “Ayuh, my wife does that too, but she doesn’t know it.  She thinks I’m listening!”

LISTENING, it can be said, is one of the most important tools for a marriage or any relationship, and conversely, the lack of listening can be its greatest detriment.  As a pastor, I can tell you that I talk to people all the time – couples, parents and children, family members and friends – for whom this holds very true.  And as a husband and father, I can vouch for the fact that the vast majority of any conflict in our home can be traced back to a lapse in listening skills (and I will leave to your imaginations as to who that involves!).  Listening, you see, does not always come naturally to us, nor does it come easily; in fact, our dilemma is wonderfully expressed by the title character in Marjorie Kellogg’s book (and subsequent 1970’s era movie), “Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon.”  In that book, she declares to one of her closest friends, Arthur, “The trouble with you, Arthur, is that you seldom listen to me, and when you do you don’t hear, and when you do hear, you hear wrong, and even when you hear right you change it so fast that it’s never the same.”

So does that sound at all familiar?   I’m guessing it probably does, because the sad truth is that this is precisely how a lot of us listen to each other; but what’s even worse, especially for us who are people of faith, is that this is also how a great many of us listen to God!  

I’ll say it again: listening is one of the most important tools for any relationship, and the lack of listening can be its greatest detriment; and this is especially true as regards our relationship with God.  Let me put this another way: if God calls our name, how will we know unless we’re listening?  How will we know what God is saying to us or where God might be leading? For that matter, how will we recognize that it’s actually us that God is talking to; or even if what we’re hearing is God at all, as opposed to, say, some other overpowering voice in this world that demands our attention?  How will we know any of this… unless we’re truly listening?

One thing is clear: listening – and this applies whether we’re talking about our relationships with one another or our relationship with God – involves more than merely hearing; listening, in truth, is all encompassing.  It’s no accident that in the Hebrew language of the Old Testament, the word for listen is also the word for obey, which means that to listen to God is to open one’s whole life and self to God; and to attend wholly to that to which God is calling.

We see this very clearly in our scripture reading for this morning, the story of God’s call to Samuel; who was to become, as a judge and a prophet, one of Israel’s great leaders. But at the point we pick up the story today Samuel is still just a 12-year-old boy; who’s been sent by his mother Hannah to live in the temple as a servant of God under the authority of an old and blind priest by the name of Eli.  Right from the outset, we’re told that “the word of the LORD was rare in those days,” and that “visions were not widespread;” but what’s also true about those days is that Israel’s leadership at the time was particular corrupt in nature.  For Israel, this was an era of moral ambiguity and societal degradation that happened from the top down; not unlike our own time, really, when a voice of true faith can easily be drowned out in the sheer cacophony of all the world’s noise.  So yes, you can kind of understand how under such circumstances one might miss God’s call; after all, when there’s a hundred different voices clamoring for your attention, it’s hard to discern the one voice you’re supposed to be listening for!  

Actually, Samuel did hear that one voice; it’s just that he mistakenly assumed it was Eli calling his name.  This happened three times; and each time Samuel arose from his bed to go to Eli, assuming that the old man was in need of something. Samuel had no idea at all that it this was the voice of God calling him; it was, in fact, old Eli who finally began to realize that it was the Lord calling the boy.  “Go back and lie down,” Eli says to Samuel, and “if the voice calls again, say, ‘Speak, God, I’m your servant, ready to listen.”

And sure enough; it’s when Samuel understands that it’s God who is speaking to him – and then, of course, when he starts to really listen – that’s when things start to happen.  Did you catch what’s the first thing that God says to Samuel:  God says, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle.”  Tingle!  Don’t you love that?!   That’s the perfect word for this; as author and UCC pastor Donna Shaper has written, it’s the experience of “hope kicking into high gear, forgiveness writ loud… [feeling] pins and needles all over your body because you [are] so excited” over what God is about to do!  In this case, what God is about to do essentially results in the fall of Eli’s house and the rise of Samuel’s; so what we’re seeing here is the beginning of a new life for Samuel as a messenger of God, and the thing is that it begins at the precise moment that Samuel stops to listen!

What this story reminds us is that ours is a God of intrusion; and by that I mean that just when we’ve assumed that, in times like these when the word of the Lord does seem to be rare; when we reluctantly decide that religion ought be something best kept silent and settled, here comes God… quite literally bursting forth into our lives and living, bringing change and disruption and newness of life!  Barbara Brown Taylor talks about this; she says that “God’s language is not limited… [and] God’s word is not chained.  We cannot capture it in church, in time, in culture.  We cannot even capture it between the covers of the Bible, because if [scripture] is God’s true and lively word, then [it’s going to be] inventing new words all the time – percolating with the same creative energy that made heaven and earth.”

Perhaps at the end of the day that’s why you and I are so often reluctant or even afraid to listen: for in truth if we were to really listen for the word of God – in the silence of our hearts; in the journey of our lives; and even in the work of the church – if we really did listen, we might feel that tingle, and that would change everything for us forever!

Some years ago now, I attended a training seminar in Florida as part of the Stephen Ministry program; which is, if you don’t know, a wonderful and very worthwhile ministry of Christian caregiving for laity. I was actually being trained as a Stephen Leader, so that I could go back to my own congregation and equip the people of our church for a ministry of caregiving.  Well, part of that training involved learning the mechanics of peer supervision, in which those trained as caregivers gather regularly to discuss their own experiences in a nurturing and confidential manner, so to assure that those people you’re trying to help get the best care possible.

In that regard, we’d been asked the day before to come up with a case study of sorts; to either make something up, or, if it was to be based on something out of real life, take it out of the distant past or at least change it in a significant fashion.  And then we would do these role plays as if we were actually meeting as “Stephen Ministers” dealing with a caregiving situation before us.  So we’re around this table – there’s eight of us from all over the country and from across the “denominational spectrum” – and through the process we decide to discuss in-depth the situation of this one woman at our table, whose “care receiver,” according to her case study was an 18 year-old boy battling severe depression and now rebounding from several unsuccessful attempts at suicide. 

In the course of that conversation, we talked a great deal about how difficult a thing it can be to be a caregiver to somebody in this situation; we spoke about how hard it is to have your heart not break when you see what they’re going through.  We talked about the necessity of boundaries, the need for faith and the power of prayer; and we talked about letting go emotionally, and letting God carry the burden.   I’ll tell you, friends, I’ve never been a big one for role play as a way of learning (it’s always seemed a little too much like theater to me) but I must confess that afterward I was struck by how very real this experience was and how much I had learned.

Well, then it was all done; we went on to something else, and in fact, I didn’t see that woman again until the last night of the seminar at our closing service of worship.  After we had sung a closing hymn, as part of our benediction we passed the peace of Christ to one another; and this is when this woman comes over to me, gives me this big hug, and says simply, “I just want to thank you.”  And of course, I’m just kind of looking at her with this clueless look on my face because I don’t know what she’s thanking me for; but then she says, “You know the 18-year-old that I spoke of the other day?  That was my son.  And I know he’s going to be alright now… but now for the first time in a long time, I know I’m going to be alright.  And I just wanted to thank you for that.”

I’ve never forgotten that, mostly because even all these years later I’m still not sure what I said to her that made that kind of difference.  But I think maybe it was just that I listened; that all of us around that table listened.  In that moment, you see, it didn’t matter that we were in all actuality this group of random strangers who were totally from different places and backgrounds; all that mattered is that when we started to really listen to what was being said in that place, we became kindred spirits in the Lord, and somehow, God’s remarkable, ear-tingling, life-changing word got through.  And when that happened, things immediately started to change… for the better.

This is something I’ve always believed very strongly, but it’s something I don’t think that I have said often enough, especially in these days when we’ve all been scattered as a congregation.  And that’s that we’re all ministers, you and me; though I might have the “Rev” in front of my name, in this tradition we believe in the priesthood of all believers, and what that means is that every one of us – every one of you – is called to the work of ministry, and invited to it challenges and its joy.  It also means that we’ve been equipped and empowered by God; so that we might do what God needs to have done. 

Who knows what form that will take in each of our lives… maybe it’ll be to speak the words of love and support that need to be said at a crucial moment; perhaps it’ll be the opportunity we have before us to “teach our children well,” and to nurture them in the Christian faith; maybe it’s to be caregiver of one sort or another; and maybe it’s to stand up and work boldly toward a strong vision of the kingdom of God in this place and in these strange and difficult days.  Or maybe it is simply to listen: where you are and to whom is with you at that moment; which trust me, beloved, is no small gift. 

But whatever your ministry happens to be, it starts… with listening.  There is no limit as to what God can do through you and through me; but it all begins as we tune out the noise and chaos of life and fear and violence and the politics of the world around us… and begin focusing our ears and hearts on the sound of God’s voice in the midst of it all; to listen to God’s call and God’s plan.  

God is calling us, beloved; I pray today that we will have the grace to answer, “Here I am, Lord… speak, for we, your servants are listening.” 

Thanks be to God!

AMEN and AMEN.

© 2021  Rev. Michael W. Lowry.  All Rights Reserved.

 

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The Lost Christ

(a sermon for January 3, 2021, the 2nd Sunday after Christmas, based on Luke 2:39-52)

“And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.”  That’s what Luke tells us in his gospel, but as far as I’m concerned it does absolutely nothing to satisfy my curiosity!

Actually, one of my great fascinations involving the gospel story has always been that of which we know very little: how Jesus, our Christ, grew from that tiny, helpless baby in the manger to a 30-year-old carpenter from Nazareth who came preaching salvation and the coming of God’s kingdom.

I wonder, for instance, if Jesus was ever a fussy baby.  Was he colicky?  What did he like to eat, and did he have a special toy or a “luvvy” (as our kids referred to it) that he clung to at night?  What made him smile and laugh (was he ticklish?), and did Jesus work and play well with other children?  Did Jesus go through “the terrible twos?”  And I wonder… how did Mary and Joseph react when he misbehaved?  Knowing what they did, could the two of them treat Jesus like any other child; would Joseph give him a “stern talking to,” or was there a little pat on the backside if he needed it?  I mean, how do you discipline the Son of God? And while we’re on the subject, was Jesus at all rebellious as a teenager?  Did Jesus really enjoy working alongside Joseph in the carpenter’s shop, or would he have rather been out with his friends?

Small questions, I know, and probably a bit impertinent; but I do wonder about such things, because in all honesty these are the questions that bring Jesus nearer to me and my life; for me, thinking about Jesus this way makes him human as well as divine, and I can wrap my mind and heart around that.  And I take solace in knowing I’m not alone in my wondering: biblical scholars, to say nothing of novelists, poets and artists throughout the centuries have long speculated on this subject.  In the end, however, all we have is speculation, because it turns out that we just don’t know all that much about Jesus’ childhood and youth.

In fact, one of the only stories we have about Jesus during this period is the one we just shared, regarding an incident that occurred when Jesus was about twelve years old, as he joined Mary and Joseph and a great caravan of other families from Nazareth on a trip to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 

Actually, that in and of itself tells us a great deal: that Jesus was raised in the rich Hebrew tradition of his family and community.  You see, not only was it Jewish law that every male Israelite living within fifteen miles of Jerusalem attend the festival of Passover there, it was also customary (and a privilege) for young, growing boys to make their appearance there as part of their passage into adulthood.  So, at age twelve, this was probably one of the first times that Jesus made the pilgrimage as required by law; and that’s significant for our understanding of who Jesus was, and the history and tradition of which he was a part.

But what’s even more significant about this story comes in what happened following the feast itself; for according to Luke, what we learn is that Mary and Joseph, in fact, lost Jesus!  Now, to be fair, it was nobody’s fault, and anyone, especially parents, can understand how such a thing could have happened.  You see, as regards these large caravans traveling to Jerusalem, the tradition of the time was for the women and children to start out on the journey earlier than the men; this was because the women and the children traveled more slowly.  The men would start out later in the day, moving at a faster pace, so that by the end of the day, the men and women would meet at the place of encampment at more or less the same time. 

This was also how, after the Passover celebration, they would make their way back to Nazareth.  But what happened was that Mary assumed that Jesus, having nearly reached the age of manhood, was with Joseph; and Joseph, on the other hand, assumed that since Jesus was not around, that the boy was surely with his mother.  It wasn’t until nightfall, when they’d set up camp for the night that Mary and Joseph realized, much to their horror, that Jesus was still back in Jerusalem!  And so what else could they do but then turn around, leave the caravan, and go back by themselves a day’s journey to Jerusalem to find Jesus!

See, it was an honest mistake! Mary and Joseph were not lax in their parental duties, nor were they neglectful of their son; but the fact remains that quite without their knowledge, they had lost Jesus and had gone on for quite some time without even realizing it! 

If you think about it, it’s actually quite a parable.  Here were Mary and Joseph, these two young people who’d brought this child into the world in a cold, dark stable; who’d willingly become refugees so to protect him from the murderous rage of King Herod; who’d let their lives become completely altered for the sake of God’s own son.  We look at Mary and Joseph and cannot help but marvel at their love and devotion to Jesus and yet, they still lost him!  And here’s where it becomes a parable; because, friends, if it’s possible for Mary and Joseph to lose Jesus, however unintentionally, then it’s also possible for you and me to lose him as well!

Truth is, it happens all too easily: we’re walking what we’re thinking is the sure and certain pace of the Christian walk; we’re moving along on what feels like a good and spiritual pathway for our lives, and suddenly we look up to notice that Jesus just doesn’t seem to be there!  That’s the irony of it, friends: we can be good, loving, faithful Christian people in just about every sense of the word; going to church regularly, involving ourselves in the church’s ministries, as well as doing good things out in the places where we dwell.  We’ll give of ourselves spiritually, physically, financially and otherwise, and do it all with love and as an act of praise and devotion… and yet we still somehow manage to have lost Christ somewhere along the way!

How it happens is hard to say – no doubt at one point Jesus had been there at the center of it – but now, even amidst all the so-called “religious” activity, there’s a palpable sense of emptiness.  Perhaps the meaning and purpose of what we were doing got overshadowed by the work of it, that is, our need to “get the job done,” so it had become less about our “faith response” than it was dealing with another obligation in our lives; or maybe it’s simply that we stopped paying attention to the movement of God’s Spirit in our lives, to the point where now, where a “Christian life” is concerned, we’re just going through the motions!

However it happens, the fact is that it can and does; and therein lay the question for each of us as we look around at our lives and living; and reflect on how this gift of divine love we’ve been given defines us, and how we live: Is Jesus there?  And if not, then where is he?  Can it be said of us that we, in fact, have lost Christ?

Of course, our story this morning has a happy ending: Mary and Joseph find Jesus in the temple, talking with and asking questions of the teachers there regarding matters of law, tradition and theology.  In fact, we’re told that “all who heard [Jesus] were amazed at his understanding and his answers.”   All very well and good – wonderful, in fact – but as you can imagine, his parents are still pretty upset, and understandably so!  Mary says to her son, “Child,” (notice that suddenly it’s “child!”) “why have you treated us like this?”  Didn’t you know that we’d be worried?  We’ve been looking for you all day, we had to come all the way back here to find you… what have you got to say for yourself, young man?

And to this, Jesus very calmly replies, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

Luke goes on to say that “they did not understand what he said to them,” but Biblical scholars and theologians make the case that Jesus, even then, knew who he was.  But even more than this, I think that Jesus knew where to go.  Even at the age of twelve, Jesus understood that a life of faith is a life of seeking; always seeking, always asking questions, always wanting to know bit more than you knew before.  It’s about growing, in wisdom as well as in years… but growing ever and always in the company of God, there before you and beside you.

Friends, I ask you this morning, how can we really know God if we don’t take the time to be with God?

How can we live for Christ, if, in fact, we don’t seek to bring Christ near?

How can we know which way to walk on this Christian pilgrimage we’re on, if we don’t take the time to ask for directions in prayer? Or to pause along the journey to reflect both on where we’ve been, and where we’re going?

How can we call ourselves faithful when we won’t seek a deeper understanding of what that faith means?  Or to put it another way, how can we know the answers if we don’t first ask the questions?

I think that even as a child, our Lord understood that though God actively seeks us out where we are, we need to seek God… and seeking God begins with an incredible life-long walk with Jesus!  And if, along the way, we find that we’ve lost Jesus (or perhaps, more accurately, that we’ve misplaced him), the good news is that he can be found.

It oftentimes takes some rather intentional searching on our parts; it certainly requires getting out of our own way for a while, and by that I mean rearranging some of the priorities that may well have taken a stranglehold on our lives!  It means asking questions: sometimes very hard questions, not only of ourselves but also of God; and then prayerfully, deliberately and intently listening to God for answers. 

What we’re talking about here is spiritual discipline; but in such a discipline comes the remarkable discovery that not only have we found Jesus, but that all along Jesus has been waiting for us to find him!  All along the journey, no matter in what direction we’ve veered off the pathway, the good news is that Christ has been waiting – patiently, lovingly and relentlessly – waiting for us to find him.  Truly, this is the gift of every Christmas and the blessing of each and every New Year – most especially in this new year of 2021 – that even when we somehow manage to lose him, Jesus is ever and always there to be found!

It’s like that little phrase you’ll see printed on cards and signs and even t-shirts this time of year, usually with a picture of a manger, a star and perhaps a camel or two: Wise Men still seek him.  Wise men, wise women, wise children: we would all do well to live our lives searching diligently for the child in the places where we dwell.  Because I’ll guarantee you one thing:  if we look, we’ll surely find the child who’s been waiting for us all along!

Dear friends, may you have a blessed and happy new year in the presence and blessing of Jesus Christ.

Thanks be to God!  

AMEN and AMEN!

© 2020 Rev. Michael W. Lowry.  All Rights Reserved.

 
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Posted by on January 3, 2021 in Christmas, Jesus, Life, Sermon, Spiritual Truths

 

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The Time to Be Ready

“The Parable of the Ten Virgins,” by Ain Vares

 

(a sermon for November 8, 2020, the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost, based on Matthew 25:1-13)

OK… let’s do the math here…

In our text for this morning, Jesus tells this story of ten bridesmaids waiting together on one particular night for the arrival of the bridegroom, at which point, as was custom at the time, the wedding festivities would begin. We are told, however, at the outset that “five of them were foolish and five were wise;” which is interesting because for all practical purposes all ten of the bridesmaids are pretty much identical: all ten of them were invited to the wedding, obviously, and given that they were all waiting there, it’s also clear they all wanted to be there to meet the bridegroom and join the party. Moreover, “since the bridegroom was delayed,” all ten had waited long into the night; and yes, though as that night wore on they’d actually fallen asleep on the watch, that doesn’t account for “the foolishness of the five,” either; because, again, they’d all done that; so none of them come off in this story as particularly steadfast or heroic.

No, what separates the foolish from the wise in this parable seems to come down to lamp oil; or more specifically, the lack thereof! Understand, it’s not like these five “foolish ones” didn’t have the oil to begin with, because they did; it’s just that when the big moment finally arrived, they’d realized they were running out and had to go looking for more oil to keep their lamps burning. Never mind that the five “wise ones” likely had more than enough to share because they’d brought extra; no, these others have to go off looking for whatever dealer might be willing to sell them some oil at that hour of the night. And as a result, these five bridesmaids end up missing the bridegroom’s arrival and worst of all, with the party now in full swing they are uninvited to the wedding and quite literally locked out of the festivities; the bridegroom, we’re told, actually hears their pleas to be let in, but claims to not even know them!

Which quite honestly, at least as I hear this story, comes off as rather harsh and unyielding; downright rude, and even kind of mean! I mean, all this for just forgetting an extra flask of oil? Come on! Let me tell you, I’ve officiated at a great many weddings over the years – not to mention the fact that I played music at countless wedding receptions when I was younger (!) – and trust me here, where the bridal party is concerned (or the groom’s party for that matter!) there are a whole lot worse offenses than not having enough oil!   Nonetheless, as Jesus’ parable comes to a close we are left with this image of five bridesmaids left outside alone in the cold, forgotten and excluded from the celebration inside. And to this, Jesus says, “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

Which is where things really get troubling: because if we’re to understand that “the kingdom of God will be like this;” that its coming is to be likened to that of the bridegroom to his wedding; and if that ultimately, there may well be some who are excluded from that celebration, then what does that say about Jesus? This gets complicated by the fact that most biblical scholars consider this parable as Jesus’ way of saying (and by extension, Matthew’s reminder to the early church who were actively waiting for the kingdom of heaven to arrive) that while the kingdom might not come immediately, it will come; and that there will be dire consequences for those who are not prepared when it does; hence what is literally and spiritually a very dark ending for what begins as a celebrative story!

That Jesus would even tell a story like this is troubling; after all, this isn’t exactly the kind, forgiving and welcoming Savior we’ve come to know and love! We’d expect this story to end with the doors of the wedding hall bursting open and the five remaining bridesmaids, despite their foolishness, to be welcomed in with open arms.  But that’s not how it goes; in fact, to quote Matthew Skinner, if the question asked by this parable is “what does the Christian life consist of,” and “what does God expect from us” in anticipation of the kingdom’s coming, then “Jesus’ answer, according to Matthew’s Gospel [is] ‘Wait faithfully. Together. Or else.‘” Or as another commentator has noted, “this passage doesn’t feel at all like the good news of the gospel;” but there it is.

So what do we do with this? Clearly this is a story about our own spiritual readiness, and how where the kingdom of God is concerned the time to be ready is now; it’s a parable in which Jesus is calling his disciples to vigilance: it’s “a call to wrap our lives more securely in the faith we profess,” and to be constantly aware and open to God’s dramatic future as it unfolds. But the problem is that just like what happened to those five foolish bridemaids, “stuff happens” to us as well; life and its concerns intervene, we find ourselves pulled in other directions and before long, and all too easily we find ourselves distracted and unprepared for what God is doing. I love what M. Eugene Boring of Bright Divinity School has written about this; he says that “living the life of the kingdom” can be done relatively easily for the short term. But “when the kingdom is delayed, the problems arise… being a peacemaker for a day is not as demanding as being a peacemaker year after hostile year; being merciful for an evening can be a pleasant experience, but being merciful for a lifetime requires [true] spiritual preparedness.”

In other words, to be vigilant can be hard: for us to truly live the Christian life “for the long haul;” to be faithful day in and day out, imitating Christ and keeping his values until his promised return is at best a challenge for us; but as Jesus reminds us, it’s a crucial one. Ultimately, it ends up being less about whether or not we have that extra flask of oil on hand than it does being about how that oil is burned; remember, when we’re singing “Give me oil in my lamp,” the point is to “keep me burning till the break of day.” It’s about the light that is created in the burning!

Actually, you know, that’s the failure of those five bridesmaids; remember that the whole reason that those ten bridesmaids were there in the first place was so that when the bridegroom finally did arrive, they could welcome the bride and the groom with joy befitting the celebration! Their job was to truly be the heralds of unbelievably good news: this was their first job and their primary task; however, when the critical moment arrived, they’d abandoned their post and failed in their task, all because they’d run off to look for more lamp oil! It turns out that the oil was only a means to an end; one tool, one way for the bridesmaids to stay ready and to keep on task. So at the end of the day (or the end of the night, in this case) the foolishness of the five was revealed not by the lack of extra oil but by their failure to be ready to embrace and communicate the joy of the bridegroom’s coming!

This is the kind of failure that Jesus was warning against; and friends, make no mistake, it’s a concern for us as well.  For you see, we are the people of this generation who continue to keep vigil for the coming of God’s kingdom in all its fullness and glory; we are the ones that Jesus has called to be waiting, and watching… and ready; we are the ones who need to be ready to embrace and to communicate the joy of our faith. After all, it’s one thing for you and I to “be religious,” but it’s another to be the kind of person who truly radiates the joy of what we believe: the joy of knowing Jesus Christ; the joy of his victory over sin and death; the joy of his presence and his peace and his counsel with us in every situation of life; the joy of knowing in our heart of hearts not only that “God is still speaking,” but that in Christ, he is coming again. The question for each one of us, friends, is whether or not our lives radiate that kind of joy; for this truly is the joy of the kingdom’s coming.

So, yes, this parable is a good reminder to keep plenty of lamp oil on hand as we’re waiting for the kingdom to come; but the point is how we keep those lamps burning, and the importance of our keeping our hearts full of expectation so that we may hear the call of Christ and be able to respond whenever it comes. It’s about letting things like justice and mercy and compassion regularly flow from our lives to the lives of others; it’s about being ready to bear the burdens and carry the grief of those around us, so that they can be open to receiving the unending hope and strength of God in their darkest hours. It’s about love, honestly and truly, being the answer to the multitude of questions and conflicts we face in this world.  And it’s about being prepared for every opportunity to do God’s work in the places where we dwell and among the people with whom we share this life. It’s carpe diem — “seize the day!” –– on a massive, life-long scale for the sake of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, and of his kingdom; and it’s our first and primary job, yours and mine, as his disciples.

We don’t generally do catechisms in our Congregational/UCC tradition; it is, however, very much a part of some Christian traditions, and a worthy one, in which a summary of the principles of Christian religion are presented in the form of questions and answers. The idea is that by knowing all the answers to the questions, you’ve been properly instructed as to what it means to be a Christian. I mention it because there is something called the “Winchester Shorter Catechism,” which is used in the Presbyterian Church, and the very first question, slightly translated (!), is as follows: what is the chief goal of humanity; what is our chief purpose? And the answer is, “to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”

You know, I like that: “To glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” It’s a wonderful reminder to each one of us we wait and watch for God’s grand celebration to finally come to fruition that our purpose is ultimately not to go out and find joy; but to indeed embrace and share the joy we’ve already been given! Christ has come, and he will come again; our job, beloved is to share it: today, tomorrow and in everyday and every way that comes, so that when the time comes when that joy is wholly fulfilled, we’ll be found right where we should be doing exactly what we should be doing in anticipation of his coming.

Because remember the time to be ready is now, and we would not want to be caught unprepared… “keep awake therefore, for [we] know not the day nor the hour.”

Stay ready, beloved… and as we do may our thanks be unto God.

Amen and AMEN.

© 2020  Rev. Michael W. Lowry.  All Rights Reserved.

 
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Posted by on November 8, 2020 in Faith, Jesus, Life, Sermon

 

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