Prayer of the Day (From the Advent Project)
Eternal God, your Word of wisdom goes forth and does not return empty: Grant us such knowledge and love of you that we may perceive your presence in all creation and every creature; through Jesus Christ our oLd, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, now and forever. Amen.
Amos 5: 18-24
18Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord! Why do you want the day of the Lord?
It is darkness, not light; 19as if someone fled from a lion, and was met by a bear; or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall, and was bitten by a snake.
20Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?
21I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon.
23Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. 24But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
1Be pleased, O God, to deliver me; O Lord, make haste to help me.
2Let those who seek my life be put to shame and confounded; let those who take pleasure in my misfortune draw back and be disgraced.
3Let those who say to me “Aha!” and gloat over me turn back because of their shame.
4Let all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; let those who love your salvation say forever, “Great is the Lord!”
5But as for me, I am poor and needy; come to me quickly, O God. You are my helper and my deliverer; O Lord, do not tarry.
1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18
13We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. 15For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. 16For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. 18Therefore encourage one another with these words.
1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise replied, “No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11 Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ 13 Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove
On this first Sunday after the presidential election, I assume that some of us come elated, some chagrin, some ambivalent. We learned that as a country we seem as divided as the ten bridesmaids in our gospel text. I believe this is an urgent moment in time, but not because of either our elation or chagrin. It is urgent because the God we encounter through Jesus Christ is always calling us into something new and that is surely true in this moment. Jesus’ parable in Matthew’s gospel could not be timelier.
First, let’s be clear that this morning’s gospel text is in fact a parable. It is a story Jesus uses to teach something. So far in his ministry, all of his teaching is somehow about the Kingdom of Heaven, or reign of God. This parable carries that thread. Sometimes it is okay to allegorize a parable, but most often it is safer not to. In other words, we should not assign characters in the parable to people or members of the Holy Trinity.
The reign of God, God’s inbreaking, is something to stay awake for, to be prepared for. In previous parables it was like a pearl, a hidden treasure, yeast. It is surprising and often hidden and always valuable. Other agricultural parables also portray the reign of God as something that grows and has potential for abundance.
This morning’s parable seems to be about a particular kind of waiting and watchfulness. “The kingdom of heaven will be like…ten bridesmaids [who] took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.” The ten seem equal in their response and enthusiasm at first: ten lamps burning; ten bridesmaids sleeping; ten bridesmaids waking up, hearing the groom arrive; and ten bridesmaids excited to get the wedding started.
And then comes the “but.” But, only five have enough oil with them to keep their lamps lit. So, while the five who are running on empty go out looking for more oil, the others go into the party and the door is shut behind them. The groom refuses to open up even when they return well supplied with lamps burning, crying their confession of faith, “Lord, Lord.” But the door remained slammed in their face with an unexpectedly terse and emphatic, “I don’t know you!”
This is clearly not just any wedding party, nor is this regular lamp oil like a commodity to be traded, sold, gifted, loaned, or bartered. As much as the wise bridesmaids may want to share, they cannot do it. This seems like such a contrast to much of Jesus’ teachings about generosity and abundance. But that is not the point of this parable. This is about fuel and waiting.
As many who have studied this parable closely realize, this kind of spiritual fuel you just cannot get from someone else. 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 person cannot borrow a scalpel and suddenly embody all surgical knowledge. Just as a surgeon herself may successfully transplant a heart from one body to another but can never transfer its original recipient’s love for her children, or her passion for 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 is something we each have to receive, cherish, and deepen in our own souls for ourselves.
So, this parable impresses upon us the importance and the urgency of being fueled as we wait. As all ten bridesmaids awaken to realize, the time for acquiring oil and building reserves will run out suddenly and unexpectedly. Dark times come into every life, and it’s in the darkness that we most need the sustenance of the kind of oil Jesus is talking about–assurance of the abundant promises of God, peace that passes understanding, and a depth of hope that can sustain us through the darkness of disappointments and failures, devastating loss and grief–closed doors of all kinds.
I have been speaking about this parable in terms of individuals having enough oil, and I certainly believe that is important. But I actually believe the parable is encouraging communities of faith to remain fueled. I do not mean enough savings, enough resources, a big enough building, enough people. I mean the kind of reserves that can only be described relationally. What is our communal relationship with God? In turn, how are our relationships with one another and with our neighbors, even those who voted differently than we did? I would actually contend that Trinity Lutheran’s relationships are healthy and that is one reason why we are weathering the pandemic disruption as well as we are.
But, as the parable so starkly portrays, we have to stay awake. Complacency is not an option. We, this faith community in Nampa, need hope urgently as the world is experiencing this pandemic. We need peace urgently when we realize our nation is divided by visions of who we are. We will need love urgently when we are afraid. We will need joy urgently when the pain of loss and grief seems never-ending.
And, we never know when we are going to be called into something new. If the election has shown us one thing it is that we are divided as a country. I also think there is a lot of fear—about so many things. And we have a hard time talking across and through the fear and the divide. What is the call of the church in such a time?
Perhaps it is to ignore our different political views and keep doing the work of housing, feeding, and evangelism. Perhaps it is a call to deepen our relationships with one another and our larger community—to truly hear what our heart’s desires for our families and church and country are.
I give thanks today that this parable about having enough oil reserves and keeping awake is but one part of the gospel. When we look at Jesus life, death, and resurrection we are reminded of the story so foundational to the life of faith.
One renowned scholar [Brueggemann] put it this way, “It will be a story not grounded in fear, greed, and violence, but a story that pivots on the generosity, civility, and restorative justice that honors all neighbors, that provides for all the impoverished and neighbors in need. This alternative story is deeply grounded in the gospel. But it is not only a gift. It is an assignment. It is a task to be done in the intimate places where we tell our treasured stories, in the market places where we bargain and trade, and in public places where we make policies concerning debt and taxes. This is a time to get our story straight, to engage that narrative that we have nearly forfeited in our narcoticized indifference.”
The parable ends with an imperative to “keep alert” and be on notice. Why? Because the new world erupts here and there without warning. It is the work of the faithful to watch and to notice. It is the work of the faithful to identify and celebrate wherever it is that new, neighborly actions are committed that make all things new.
Today we begin our expanded Advent, a good time to keep awake and to return to disciplines which will keep our lamps full of oil—worship, prayer, reading scripture, acts of love and generosity. The last weeks of Advent have us look back on the incarnation, God coming to earth in the human person of Jesus. But the first few weeks of our seven-week Advent focus on future. That may sound scary, but it is not. It is perhaps one of our most hope-filled acts.
The death and resurrection of Jesus outside of Jerusalem 2,000 years ago calls on us to reimagine the future and to reconsider how we participate in the here and now. As we act out our parts in the unfolding plot of history, we already know how the play will end. Accordingly, we are free to dream what we otherwise might not dare to envision, and to work for a reign of peace and justice that the world seems incapable of imagining.
Despite the claims of the popular “left behind” genre of theology, God does not pluck a select group of people from the earth, abscond with them to another place and abandon the world. Instead, God comes and dwells with us, swallowing up death forever and bringing joy without end. In the meantime—a period in which we experience God’s promised future “already but not yet fully”—we are to live as if God’s reign were finally established.
In other words, if God’s promised future includes the dismantling of hunger, suffering, division, prejudice and shame, and the dawn of joy and life without end, then we, who are marked with the cross of Christ, boldly need to get on with it!
Prayers of Intercession (Sundays and Seasons)
Longing for Christ’s reign to come among us, we pray for the outpouring of God’s power on the church, the world, and all in need.
A brief silence.
Holy God, rouse us to deep praise as we gather for worship. Enliven our worship with sincere and heartfelt song. Sustain the work of all church musicians and artists who lead us in praise and prayer (especially). Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.
Holy Creator, surprise and delight us with the beauty of the world you have made. Bless the work of landscapers, architects, and artists whose work invites us into harmonious living with your creation. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.
Holy Judge, let justice roll down like waters over this world. Reign over the courtrooms of every land, in the hearts of those who guard the law and those who stand accused of crimes. Be present in cases where we long for both justice and mercy to prevail (especially). Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.
Holy Companion, console those who feel lonely or abandoned. Share the hours of those who live and eat alone. Comfort those who have few friends or who struggle with their identity and place in this world. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.
Holy Protector, be with all observing Veterans Day. Guard the lives of active duty and retired military personnel. Comfort all who mourn those who have died in the line of duty. Heal the wounds, both physical and mental, experienced by service members. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.
Holy and Immortal One, we pray in thanksgiving for the lives of all who have died. Remind us of the frailty and shortness of our own lives and inspire us to use them for the building up of your kingdom. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.
Receive our prayers in the name of Jesus Christ our Savior, until that day when you gather all creation around your throne where you will reign forever and ever.