Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Spiritual Wedgies and feasts

     This was one of those weeks when I was unsure which sermon to use, so I found myself using both. If 8 o'clocker's and 10:15er's compare notes, they might discover that the sermons were a good bit different. At 8 o'clock, I challenged those present with the question of what oil is in their lamps. If they were trying to fan their own flame with their own oil, they were like the foolish maidens in our story from Matthew this week. At the second service, I looked more at the theme that history has a point. We often act like apes on a treadmill. We sometimes fall into the trap that our daily lives are ordinary. Yet God reminds us that He created and that there will be an end. None of our lives are ordinary! Probably, I will try to reconstitute both on my blog this week, as the e-mails and calls have already begun on both sermons, and some from each service saying the other seemed more like what they needed to hear. As we are preparing to enter Advent and are looking at Matthew's teachings on the return of Jesus, it might be a good thing for us to look at what Jesus is saying about His return.

     In our reading from Matthew 25 this week, Jesus tells us the parable of the Ten Virgins. Most of us see the meaning behind the parable. The virgins are the Christians, the bridegroom is Christ, the lamp is the light of Christ in us, and the feast is the great wedding banquet to which God has called all of us. What might not be apparent are the spiritual wedgies which are doled out in the readings. Among them are the ten virgins, the problem of the oil, and the fact that the door to the feast is eventually closed. How are they spiritual wedgies?

     Consider the virgins. What distinguishes them from one another? Jesus does not describe some as pretty and others as ugly. He does not say she was wealthy and she was poor. All are deemed to look alike, at least with respect to appearances. All seem to be pure, at least from appearance. What separates them is their wisdom or foolishness. What should shock us is when we apply this to our lives. We in the church may look alike. We may come to church once or twice a week. We may tell people we are members of a church. We may even participate in some of the ministry and outreach of the church. Yet, some among us are wise and some are foolish, and the foolish ones will be excluded from the feast! Some among us, maybe even some reading this message will be excluded from His feast. Going to church and appearing to be a Christian does not mean that we get into the feast. What does?

     Our oil is the simple answer to that question. In whom or in what are we trusting? If our oil of provision is the god of money, we are foolish. If our oil is the god of pleasure or what feels good, we will not get in. Even if oil is our own efforts and labor to be "good people," Jesus is warning us that we will be excluded from His great banquet. What separates the wise from the foolish? The wise realizes Who it is that provides the oil. Jesus has died and been raised from the dead so that each of us can die to self and be raised to new life in Him. In other places, Jesus will remind us not to place our light under a bushel basket; He will remind us that we cannot have life apart from Him. So, the second wedgie of our parable should have us thinking about who or what provides our oil. If we think that we are getting an invitation because we are "good people" because we try to earn our invitation by serving at Angel Food Ministries, or at Community Meal, or by giving copious amounts of money to St. Alban's, or in any way other than through our faith in Christ Jesus, we are likely to be as disappointed as those virgins who were not admitted after the feast had begun in Jesus' story.

     The final spiritual wedgie ought to be the fact that the time eventually runs out. So often, we think of God as a merciful God, and rightly so. We sometimes plead with God like St. Augustine and ask Him to save, just not to do it until we are done having fun. We tend to think that we can put off telling a friend, a loved one, a co-worker, or someone else about Jesus because we have plenty of time. "There is always tomorrow." Yet, we forget that God's mercy, just like life, has an end. At some point in the future, there will be no "tomorrow." Eventually, at some point which may well surprise us, our lives will come to an end. We may be fortunate to see our death approach and to be able to make our decision. At other times, however, death may come suddenly. Jesus' return will be like that. Eventually, at some unknown time in the future, He will come again to judge the living and the dead. Those judged as wise will be called to the feast; those judged as foolish will be left outside the feast. All will have had the same invitation. All will have had access to the same oil. Some will have accepted; some will have rejected the invitation and the oil. And, there will be consequences to that decision to accept His invitation or to reject or put off His invitation, eternal consequences.

     I have remarked a number of times over the past few years how spiritual wedgies are God's way of making us uncomfortable. Just when we think we can afford to be complacent and near the end of our race, He grabs us by the back of our spiritual underwear and gives us a tug or a pull. We find ourselves squirming at what we have discovered about ourselves. The wonderful thing about God's wedgies is that they are corrective, not humiliating. Unlike our school friends who may have given us wedgies to tease us, God tugs on us that we might remember our real focus, our real calling. And the Gospel news is that He is there to tug over and over until this world ends. What if, in considering this reading or yesterday's sermons you find yourself more allied with the foolish virgins? Is it too late? If you are reading this or Matthew's story, mercifully there is still time. All He asks is that you repent, die to self, and let His oil light your lamp and so draw others to Him. It really is that easy.

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