Moving Forward Together
As a church you’re all about to embark on a journey with many unknowns. Listen for the parallels we could draw in this parable. Listen for how they speak to what your'e about to embark on as a congregation.
Jesus describes the coming of the kingdom like a party in this parable. That’s a goodthing to look forward to, and if there’s any congregation in the world that loves a good party, it’s the people of St Luke, and I will miss those gatherings with all my heart. But in this parable, it’s not just any party at the Lensers or the Bischoffs – but a wedding banquet. And weddings are meaningful to say the least, not just because of the party, but because of the sacred union. Most young brides, including myself back in the day, focus on the party, the dress, the flowers, the cake. the meaning of it all tends to take a back seat, but over time, much later in life, when looked back upon, the event takes on a deeper meaning.
Church and the experience of church community are not much different. We get so caught up in the details of things, the doing of the tasks, we sometimes lose the big picture, like whywe do what we do.
In the parable Jesus tells, there’s a lot of waiting for the groom to show up, which is often interpreted as the return of Christ as foretold by Jesus himself. Let's be clear, this is where my metaphor of this parable and your situation as a congregation breaks down. You are not waiting for the Messiah. You’re waiting for your next pastor.
In our tradition we believe that Christ will come again, but we also believe that Christ has never really left – is living among us, within us, above us, beside us. So what if we look at the parable from that angle: a group of people waiting, waiting on someone who will, when he or she arrives, be a cause for a celebration. Because it will also become a meaningful spiritual union, between a pastor and God’s people, both blessed by God as they work together to deepen their faith as a spiritual community.
As I said in my weekly email, today is designated Stewardship Sunday. Stewardship Sunday is too often thought of as the Sunday that “they” (“they” being the church or the committee) ask for money. Whether you are a member or not, youare the church. There is no “they” or “them” in this equation. Whether you are one of those who show up every Sunday or just once in a while, you are a living part of this living body of Christ. And like it or not, just by showing up, you assume a responsibility. But unlike many other responsibilities in your lives, this is one that is nota chore. It is a spiritual gift, because the more you invest in the spiritual care of this body the more you receive.
Many of us have already witnessed how this works. In my five years here I witnessed it most last year as we prepared in September for a long string of events. We prepared together for World Communion Sunday, for All Saints Sunday, and for our annual banquet, which was, for those who weren’t with us, a big banquet in the Bayview Room and on the lawn, and so many people had a hand in contributing to the preparations. Then the same thing happened in preparation for the first Christmas musical concert in December. And while both events were lively and fun and financially successful, the true success came during the preparations, when people worked alongside one another, some who knew one another well, others newer to the church. Relationships grew and deepened…you lifted one another up, recognized one another's spiritual gifts and you created these meaningful events for the extended community who showed up, contributed, and participated.
The bridesmaids showed up, some foolish, some wise Jesus says.
How very odd for Jesus to be dividing up the foolish and wise. The same Jesus who last week reminded us that the wisest and most exalted of all would be in service to the others. Have you ever asked yourself why the ones who were deemed wise wouldn’t share? Sharing seems to me to be at the top of list of generous expression of wisdom in the eyes of Jesus. So maybe they’re not that wise after all, but only thought to be so in the eyes of a culture that all too often attaches wisdom to things like merit, or wealth and other false ideas of wisdom. Wisdom, biblical wisdom if you recall, is rooted in devotion to God, who calls on us to look out for our neighbors.
So maybe the first thing to learn from this parable, is that those of you with energy in this congregation are called upon to serve and share your energy with those who don’t have as much. Those who have been there and done that, who have built this church back in the day when they too had more oil for their own lamps but now later in their years, need youto light the way.
Yes, you, who don’t want to get involved in committee meetings, want to avoid any potential mishaps among personalities, don’t want to risk becoming annoyed at church, because maybe you’ve had negative experiences in the past. Or maybe you’ve decided that your money is enough. Don’t get me wrong, your money is needed and appreciated, and at the end of the day no church can survive without the financial generosity of its attenders. So keep it coming.
But this parable teaches us more than the importance of having enough oil, it teaches us how to dig deeper in our faith in the unknown: how to stay engaged, how to be faithful in the dark without oil, and not run away to go get more.
The foolish weren’t foolish for falling asleep, they were foolish for leaving to go get more oil. Once the others decided not to share, once they were rejected, and the waiting meant waiting in the dark, in the unknown, without a clear path, they left. And while they were gone they missed what was their most important moment, which was to usher in this groom.
You are all of you called right now to wait again. There will be an interim period – it will at times feel like it’s taking longer than you like. It may feel like you’re in a kind of dark, with no clear path, lots of unknowns. But unlike the bridesmaids who walked away, now is not the time to walk away in search of something else. It's a time to stay engaged, to dig deeper, to remember that each of you have a very important role in the next however many months it takes.
It’s a time to dig deep into your faith and ask why you show up at all Sunday after Sunday. It’s not to hear me, even if you think it is. It’s because you have a desire to grow in your faith, you have a desire to grow in your trust of something greater than self. It’s because you have a desire to share that desire with others who want the same.
And like all spiritual paths, there is something required, something to be given, and it is in that giving that we receive so much more.
And just like the bridesmaids who chose to go back to get more oil, maybe the lesson here is to trust that there would have been plenty of light illumined from those who had light. There’s no one bridesmaid here who is carrying all the oil for the lamps for everyone else. There are some who have lots, and other who have less, and others who have none. But all of you have the ability to show up and stay engaged, stay alert, which is the true meaning of “stay awake.”
To “stay awake” in scripture, and this parable, is to stay engaged. There's a banquet to be had, that is, there’s great celebration by God and by you in relationship. God delights in your ability to give, and you will delight in the rewards that come from building relationship with one another and deepening your own faith by trusting that what you build together during this time of unknowns will pay off, in ways that only you and God will celebrate together.
The real spiritual union that happens, the real growth that takes place, comes in the doing, not the task itself, but in how you approach what you do as a gift to God, and gift to yourself when understood that way.
If you’ve been in meetings with me these past five years you’ve heard me end many prayers by asking that we remember that all we do, we do in the name of Jesus Christ. This Christ we believe is both here and coming again is to be experienced here and now and re-experienced in new and deeper ways, as we grow in faith. The return of Christ canbe understood as new experience of him that comes when we choose to take new steps towards working for him, in community, as the body of Christ. A deepening of your experience of Christ comes, when nothing you do is separate from him. Commitment takes courage, when you’re not sure of the payoff. But scripture tells us, Jesus tells us, the payoff is like a wedding banquet, a celebration filled with joy and filled with the deep meaning of a sacred union.
And if you desire that, then stay engaged, show up, do something small, do something big, and deepen your experience of Christ as you give of yourself in faith.