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Got Oil?

Proper 27 2014: Got oil?

Matthew 25:1-13

In the Parable of the 10 bridesmaids, five were wise and took extra oil and five were foolish, unprepared for a delay in the coming of the groom.

In Palestinian villages weddings took place at night and it was common for the bridegroom to show up unexpectedly. He would send his runner ahead to shout, “Behold the bridegroom is coming” and the wedding party participants were expected to be ready. In this story, it is midnight and here he comes, ready or not.

Matthew is dealing with the discouragement of early Christians who expected Christ to return and bring in the kingdom in their lifetime. God’s time is not our time. Prepare, anticipate what his coming will mean and wait with expectation.

In the parable, 5 are prepared, wise, carrying extra oil; five are only prepared for a short wait. The parable does not say some of them are good and some are bad.  The oil represents inner resources, how we serve and share with our neighbors as a demonstration, active sign of our inner love of God. You cannot pretend to love. If your oil is low, when the lamp goes out, darkness falls and doors shut. Sadly there are times in our lives when we know the reality of depletion. We use language such as stressed out or burned out to mean we are drained, empty, depressed, exhausted. Depleted stores of love and hope and purpose flicker and sometimes die in work or family.

When you reach down to get the strength to do something demanding, hard, emotionally taxing as we have had to do this week, to be present with one of our family who has been dealt a very difficult blow, the death of their infant son, we need to know that there is reserve oil available to us.  Sometimes all we have to give is our very presence and that gift matters. It is not the words we say that comforts, it is our presence.

In many ways we are used up as Christians: we are sent to be spent. We wear thin, the pressures and disappointments burn our oil of hope. We begin to doubt whether we are really loved as we are or if we have to be different to deserve grace. Intellectually we know that God’s grace is the oil we need and how to renew our source of it: through prayer and meditation and silent contemplation. Doing those things renews our supply of oil and equips us to continue when the road is rocky and our emotions are raw. If your flame is burning low, take time to renew, rest, and replenish.

I was encouraged to take this Sunday off since I had arranged supply for today for a conference at which I was to present a paper.  The death of a child is the hardest thing anyone can experience (in my view) and I could not leave either the family nor could I not be here with you today as your pastor. I am not your only pastor as we are blessed with prayer partners (DOKs), Steven Ministers, and many who cook and provide comforting presence. I am not your chief pastor as Christ has that roll. I, as one of your pastors, need to be with you in this time of sorrow. I believe that when something this tragic happens in a community – we need to be together, to pray together, to break bread together, to sing together, to draw strength from God’s unchanging love.

There is a collection of left items on the back shelf, a pair of sun glasses, a pair of gloves, a tie. But today, I want you to leave some other things: leave the deep grief that this tragic event has triggered in your own life of love and loss, leave a piece of the disappointment you feel when things don’t go as you think they should in this parish, leave some of the frustration you feel about limited funds for program, service, or salaries; leave the hurt left over from a heated argument, leave your bruised ego, and let it be swept up in the wave of grace that renews us to love as we are loved.

Jesus Christ not only gave himself for us but gives himself to us at every step of the journey!

In the Hebrew tradition oil represents righteousness (Ps 119, Pro 6, Job 18). Don’t run out of oil: do not cease to do good deeds for these are the proof of our love of Christ. By our love of Christ we inherit the kingdom prepared by the Father. No doctrinal or creedal correctness displaces the one essential requirement: love for Jesus shown in the love we have for others.

How much love is there?

Is there enough love in you to volunteer to be on a commission, to help with hospitality, stewardship, keeping the buildings beautiful and functional, participate in education, be part of the service and outreach team? Is there enough love to ask a neighbor to come to church with you? Is there enough love to slow down and not rush through your days in order to take a few more minutes with those you love?

I think there is a lot of love here…enough to prepare back packs for children who would not have enough to eat on weekends…enough to feed our neighbors on the fourth Saturday when the safety net of funds runs out….enough to take food to the home of a person who just had surgery…enough to fund the programs of this part of Christ’s body.  In a recent adult class, we talked about the importance of food and how much food we consume and offer to others…how central it is in the hospitality after our Sunday service, in a reception after a music event, in a reception after a wedding or funeral…we stay around talking while we snack…food keeps us together long enough to bond into a community that cares not only for its own but for all who come here for solace, strength, and renewal, to fill their lamps with the oil of grace.

The oil of grace will give us the strength to hope, to weep with those who weep and grieve with those who grieve. It will help us keep our eyes trained to see the Lord at work in the world about us. We will recognize Christ in the child, the homeless, the addict, the stranger.

Let us keep our lamps and hearts full of expectation so that when we hear the call of Christ we are ready to respond. May justice and good deeds flow from our lives into the lives of those around us? Paul is right to encourage the church in Thessalonica to prepare by being informed about the tenants of the faith. Encourage one another in faith and hope and love.

Pay attention to the oil gauge and keep your lamps filled so that the light of Christ shines bright through you.


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