Rev. Dr. Merritt's Sermon for November 6, 2011
Give Me Oil in my Lamp
Rev. Dr. Jim Merritt
November 6, 2011
Setting the Scene:
It is always good to look at our lectionary readings in context, so let’s set the scene for this morning’s Gospel reading. As Sophia in the Golden Girls would say, “Picture it.” A wedding: in the culture of the day, village weddings would look something like this. The groom and his family would gather their whole family together. Note that married couples usually lived with the groom’s parents as long as the parents lived. The bride and her family would gather at their own household. Then the groom and his family would travel to the bride’s family to, and I really dislike this phrase, to collect the bride. When the groom and his family arrive, the groom takes the bride inside and they “consummate the marriage.” In that culture, the act of sexual intercourse was what made them married. Then, the blood on the sheets (seen as proof that the bride was a virgin) would be shown to the crowd outside as proof that the couple was married and then a grand party would begin. I can only imagine the humiliation a bride might feel during moments when she is being collected and penetrated and then having the evidence put on display for the entire world to see. How do we know he was a virgin? We don’t. However, this is not a big feminist theology sermon, so I will avoid the strong urge to explore that further this morning.
In the parable we read this morning, there are ten young women who are guests of the bride. Five of them don't have enough oil, so they rush out to buy some before the groom arrives. The groom arrives while they're still out, so the party starts without them and they miss out completely. They missed the lesson about being ready. I’m reminded of the song, “People Get Ready,” because that is the primary lesson of this parable. Get ready, be ready and stay ready, and so I say to you this morning, let’s fill our lamps with oil, let’s get ready, let’s be ready and let’s stay ready. Why, you might ask. Well, here’s some good news for you. God’s party has already started. God is alive and well in the world today and God is preparing for that day when the New Jerusalem, the new Gainesville, descends from heaven and is established right here among us with God and the Lamb seated on the throne, with a the river of life running through it from which all people can drink their fill. And with the tree of live growing beside it with many varieties of luscious fruit growing on it and this time God says, “Eat your fill.” Indeed, God’s party has already begun and that leads me to three questions this morning. Are you ready? Are you willing to do the work necessary to get ready? And, Will you BE ready when the kin-dom of God descends and is established right here among us. I remember another song this morning that repeats over and over again, “I want to be ready.” I want to be ready, don’t you?
I want you to know something this morning, sisters and brothers. Our God is an awesome God. God reigns over heaven and earth even now. And our God is coming to establish a kin-dom right here on earth where there is no pain and there is no sorrow and there is no weeping or mourning or gnashing of teeth. God is coming to establish a kin-dom where the 99% are the most important; where every hungry mouth is fed and ever cold body is clothed because of what? Because of LAMB POWER. For me, my friends that makes my heart sing and it makes me happy and it makes me want to shout GLORY, HALLELUJAH and it makes me determined to be ready, whatever it takes for me. Say it with me, I want to be ready. I WANT TO BE READY. I WANT TO BE READY. Do you really?
You know as well as I do, this whole second coming theme is very popular these days. If sales of the Left Behind books (and movies, and board games, and who knows what else) are any indication it is extremely popular. The message of Left Behind is that Jesus is coming back soon, so we should be ready. Unfortunately, the fictional series' idea of just what that means and how we should prepare is just that, fiction. It departs radically and in very disturbing ways from what the vast majority of texts in our scriptures have to say.
First of all, fictional works like Left Behind demonstrate a fascination with trying to line up current events with biblical prophesies. They have charts and graphs and maps all of which they use in an attempt to make their fictional model look scientific. They think they have it all figured out based on a young girl’s dream in the 1800’s, embellished by James Darby, a man of questionable character, and propagated in the Scofield Reference Bible, which mixed Darby’s notes in with scripture so that one in almost impossible to distinguish from the other. They conveniently forget Jesus’ statement in Matthew 24: 36, which says NO ONE knows the day or the hour…
Second, and even more disturbing, the genre that includes Left Behind appears confuse about whose coming it is and about what we are they expect. My friend Dylan Bruer says, “They seem to have Jesus confused with a creature I call “the Christ-inator” – after the robot assassin Arnold Schwarzenegger played in the first Terminator movie – an unstoppable force, absolutely determined to kill-kill-kill, empty of human feeling or compassion for its victims.” Does that sound like the second coming of our God to you? Of course NOT!
The person we are expecting is Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth, the Lamb of God, not the Christ-in-ator. We are looking for the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of God. The Lamb, who sits with God on the great throne. We expect the one who taught, healed, and broke bread with anyone who would join him in a meal. He was known for love and compassion toward the poor, the outcast and the underdog. This is the one we expect and this is the bridegroom for whom we want to have our lamps trimmed and ready. We want to have our lamps full of the oil of mercy and compassion. The oil of justice and equality. The oil of love as demonstrated by that soon-coming Lamb of God. This is the one for whom we want to be ready.
This is not scary stuff meant to terrify us into compliance. This is LAMB POWER, meant to inspire us for the days ahead and to give us confidence in who we are and in whose we are. This is meant to inspire us to oil up our lamps and be ready every moment of every day, for the moment we join in God’s grand party that has already started. I want to be ready, don’t you?
People get ready, there's a train a comin' You don't need no baggage, you just get on board. All you need is faith to hear the diesels hummin' Don't need no ticket, you just thank the Lord. People get ready for the train to Jordan It's picking up passengers from coast to coast.
Faith is the key, open the doors and board 'em There's hope for all among those loved the most.
There ain't no room for the hopeless sinner Who would hurt all mankind just to save his own
Have pity on those whose chances grow thinner For there's no hiding place against the Kingdom's throne. So people get ready, there's a train a comin' You don't need no baggage, you just get on board. All you need is faith to hear the diesels hummin' . Don't need no ticket, you just thank the Lord.
Give me oil in my Lamp, keep it burning! God bless you this morning.
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 everflowing stream.
Matthew 25 1: - 13
25“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. 8The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9But 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.’ 10And 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. 11Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ 13Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour