Sunday, November 9, 2008

Sermon: November 9

These words we heard on Tuesday Night…

“I call on all Americans, as I have often in this campaign, to not despair of our present difficulties but to believe always in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here. Americans never quit. ” ~ John McCain

“So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism; of service and responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other. Let us remember that if this financial crisis taught us anything, it's that we cannot have a thriving Wall Street while Main Street suffers. In this country, we rise or fall as one nation — as one people.” ~ Barack Obama

These words from the speeches by John McCain and Barack Obama on that historic Tuesday night are all about hope and working together in the midst of these difficult days. We have entered a new era with an African-American as President elect at the same time we live in the midst of the worst unemployment in 14 years, too many mortgages in foreclosure, an October that retailers would like to forget, the auto industry on the ropes and we watch Congo descend into chaos and warfare with a world in financial trouble. We have our work cut out for us to live into that hope and to pray and work for better days ahead.

There will be the naysayers and there will be people who say the end is at hand. Many of these are same types who also say that while everything is going to hell in a handbasket, so is everybody else, going to hell that is… [2 pictures shown – the end is at hand]

In the midst of all of this, we have the parable of the ten maidens that Jesus gives us today. And at first glance, this parable of judgment might seem to give us little reason to hope and more to fear, but it really is a story about living that hope in our lives right now and in every moment we have breath in us.

As Jesus tells it, 10 bridesmaids were given the honor to meet the bridegroom 5 were wise and prepared (extra oil) 5 were foolish and had only oil in their lamp The Bridegroom was delayed and all 10 slept When he finally arrived the foolish ran to get more oil because their lamps grew dim but were not welcomed back when they returned…

It would be as if you had cleared security and gotten in the crowd to see John McCain or Barack Obama on Tuesday night, waiting all day with your camera and when the candidate arrives you realize your battery is dead and you did not bring a spare, you run out to get a battery but by the time you return, you cannot get back in…

Now Jesus tells us that this parable is how the Kingdom of Heaven will be like, so Keep awake says Jesus, be prepared, for you know neither the day nor the hour when the kingdom will come, for the bridegroom in the story is Jesus. And he is looking at our lives, and seeing how unprepared we are to live, how we don’t have that hope oozing through us, we don’t have that extra oil to be ready for what may come.

In the Jewish tradition having oil was often connected to good deeds or the torah. To live a life prepared is, as I said last week, to live according to the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes.

“Readiness in the Gospel of Matthew is all about living the quality of life described in the Sermon on the Mount. Many can do this for a short while; but when the kingdom is delayed, the problems arise. Being a peacemaker for a day is not as demanding as being a peacemaker year after year when the hostility breaks out again and again, and the bridegroom is delayed…” (New Interpreters Bible)

Let me illustrate this with a story from the new comedy Ghost Town, Bertram Pincus is a curmudgeon of a dentist. He is unmarried, friendless, a loner, meticulous even obtuse at times. After a failed romance, Bertram has shut himself off from others. “I don’t mind crowds,” Bertram says, “only the people in them.” Then, during a routine colonoscopy, something goes wrong with the anesthesia. Bertram is clinically dead for seven minutes. He recovers to find himself a medium between the living and the dead.

On leaving the hospital, Bertram is besieged by anxious ghosts only he can see and hear. The ghosts trail him around Manhattan, pleading with Bertram to take care of the unfinished business they have left behind; only when these unresolved things are settled will they be able to rest in peace for eternity. Now Bertram is really annoyed. He wants nothing to do with these spirits and their problems. The ghosts make Bertram confront the incompleteness of his own life. So Bertram begins to help the ghosts, one by one: for one ghost, he heals the breach between her two warring daughters and so on.

Bertram discovers that generosity can be more fulfilling than cruelty; that being mean and cold is not all the fun its cracked up to be. In helping these souls find peace, Bertram Pincus fills the emptiness of his own soul with a new tenderness and sense of compassion and empathy toward others and himself.

“Ghost Town is an offbeat take on today’s parable of the ten bridesmaids and the gift of time in our lives. There is so much we want to do with our lives — but the many demands on our time to make a living derail us from making a life, a life that is centered in the love of family and friends, in an awareness of God’s living presence and a yearning for contributing to the greater good of all.” (Connections by Jay Cormier)

It is Jesus who warns us not to fall into the trap of the five foolish bridesmaids or Bertram Pincus or those souls who left unfinished business, all who squander their time before the Bridegroom’s arrival, but to embrace the wisdom of the five “wise” bridesmaids, trimming our “lamps” with the “oil” – which is the stuff of our relationships, the love, compassion, generosity and forgiveness, to live out those Beatitudes in our lives until his coming again. Then we will be ready.

As was said on Tuesday night, “This is our moment. This is our time — to reaffirm that fundamental truth that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope…” (Barack Obama)

And in that hope is our life and what we will do with it each and every moment that we have, as a former US treasury secretary put it: “Infinitely more important than sharing one's material wealth is sharing the wealth of ourselves—our time and energy, our passion and commitment, and, above all, our love.” ~ William E. Simon


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