Saturday, December 31, 2011

Reflections on the “Name that is above every name…”

Read the text here: Philippians 2:1-13
This weekend we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus.  This is a festival that does not land on Sunday very often and it provides us with a wonderful opportunity to consider the Holy Name of God and the Holy Name of Jesus – in whom we are baptized and in whom we have our calling, our purpose and our very lives as Christians.  Therefore I would like us to consider two of our lessons and lay them side by side – Psalm 8 and Philippians 2:1-13.

O LORD, our lord, how majestic is thy name in all the earth. (Psalm 8:1, 9)  Actually the first two words of this Psalm are “O Yahweh, our lord” which immediately reminds us that God has a name and that name is Yahweh.  Out of respect, however, this name is never spoken – especially among the ancient Israelites.  The word “LORD” (spelled with capital letters) is spoken instead, even though the name Yahweh appears in the Hebrew.  Now what does the name itself mean, and what does it tell us about God? In Exodus 3, after encountering the burning bush and receiving a very clear call to return to Egypt to lead the people of Israel out of captivity, Moses asks God a question: “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me’ and they ask me, ‘what is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” (Ex. 3:13-14 – pew bibles p. 39).  God’s response: “I AM who I AM.”  In Hebrew this is haYah haYah.  Notice anything familiar?  Yes, the first three letters of the name Yahweh appear after (what we would consider to be) an article.  So, who is God?  God is “I AM” – being itself, being personified.  The name Yahweh is a special word that is a form of the Hebrew verb “to be.”  Psalm 8 then goes on to describe a creator God of great power and might; a God who is powerful enough to create the heavens and the earth and who has created humanity “a little less than divine.”  A God who is worthy to be worshipped and glorified and who gives us our lives and our purpose.  It is this God of which that humanity is a reflection (Genesis 1:27 – p. 1). 

And here is where we run into trouble.  It is so tempting for us to think of God only in these terms – power, glory, might.  The problem with this is that 1st, this is not the whole story and 2nd, there is a great temptation for us to see ourselves only in the reflected glory of God.  So when, in Psalm 8:6, we read that God has given over to humanity “dominion” over the creation – we tend to interpret this line that well, we are in charge now and can do whatever we want.  So we see the creation as ours to exploit and use as we see fit, and we see ourselves reflected in the glory and power of God.  So power, might, wealth, glory all become for us a part of what we believe we are called to pursue and acquire.  This attitude has been a sad part of Christian history since the beginning and is, unfortunately, as much a problem today as it was 2000 years ago.  Everything from the “Prosperity Gospel” to the temptation to see ourselves as God’s crusaders – standing up for God, defending God in the various ways, seeing ourselves and our group or even our nation as God’s special, unique group – these are all manifestations of this misreading and misunderstanding of the Bible.

Remember, Luther said, we are to always – ALWAYS – read the bible through the eyes of Christ, through the lens of the Gospel.  So let us turn to St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  Of course, people in Jesus’ time struggled with the same problem.  Jesus being proclaimed “Messiah” or “Christ” led those folks to the exact same problem: “The Messiah is supposed to be the great and powerful and mighty liberator who will free us militarily and with violence from the Roman oppressors” was the general belief. Unfortunately, that is not what the Messiah does.  Paul is addressing this issue when he quotes this ancient hymn which is found in 2:6-11.  Who is the Christ? Paul answers – Christ is the one who refused to bask in the reflected glory of God, but who instead emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness… humbled himself… obedient unto death…  What a different way of understanding who God is, who Jesus is and what our calling is as Christian disciples!  The name “Jesus” means “God saves;” in Hebrew the name is “Yahowsua” (or in English – “Joshua” – “Jesus” is the Greek form of Yahowsua/Joshua).  Did you notice the first three letters of the Hebrew: Yah?  Yahweh – God – being itself saves and constantly saves – how? Through Jesus the Messiah – how?  By emptying himself, taking the form of a servant/slave…?  Why – love – amazing, incredible and incomprehensible love (John 3:16 – pp. 71-72).

When we are baptized into Christ we take the name of Christ it is becomes a part of who we are and how we are defined as Christians; it becomes a definition of our calling.  When we are baptized into Christ we are emptied and then filled with the love and grace of God and sent forth to be servants of God, humble and obedient.  As much as we humans would prefer to stand in the reflection of God’s glory and power, the Gospel deflects this and we stand, by virtue of our baptism, in the light of God’s love, as reflected in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Son of God; God incarnate; the one through whom God is offering salvation!
Yahweh - יהוה 

I Am that I Am – haYah haYah   היה היה
Jesus = Yahowshuwa = Joshua  יהושוע 

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Reflections on the Christmas Gospel – Luke 2:1-20

Read the Christmas Gospel here: Luke 2:1-20

Fear Not!
And there were shepherds abiding in the field keeping watch over their flock by night; and lo the angel of the Lord came upon them and the glory of the Lord shown round about them and they were sore afraid.  And the angel said until them, fear not, but behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people!  For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord!
Fear not!?!  Are they kidding?  These poor shepherds on night shift have the job of watching and protecting their sheep during the night.  They have to be alert. Being a 1st century shepherd could be described as hours of boredom, interspersed with moments of terror.  For in the darkness it would be very easy for a predator to sneak up undetected and attack the flock and do significant damage before the shepherd could do anything about it.  And we need to remember that these flocks represented someone’s wealth, though probably not the shepherds, as they were most likely hired hands.  But in the days before banks people would often put their wealth into livestock.  So the life of a shepherd was tough.  There was the risk of watching over someone else’s sheep, but not only that, but shepherds were considered to be the scum of the earth.  Shepherds were looked upon as dirty and disgusting men who were outcasts from society.  But yet it is to these men that the angel appears with an announcement.  Fear not!” says the Angel! What a thing to say. Fear and anxiety were part and parcel of the life of a shepherd.  The life of a shepherd was a life lived on the edge.
Throughout the Gospel Jesus is constantly saying the same thing to his disciples and others whom he encounters: Do not be afraid!  As Jesus is walking out towards the disciple’s boat on the water he tells them, Do not be afraid; before some of the healing miracles, Do not be afraid; at the empty tomb, Do not be afraid!  I do not hear these words of Jesus as a suggestion – but rather as a command!  “The Kingdom has come into your midst – do not be afraid – follow me… to the cross!”  Perhaps one of the most important times Jesus uses this phrase can be found in Luke 12:32: Do not be afraid little flock, for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom…  The context for this is Jesus’ teaching during the Sermon on the Plain and he is addressing a variety of issues – eating, drinking, clothing, striving after possessions, wealth, power and status – all of the things that tend to be right at the root of human fears.  All of this is like chasing the wind, Jesus suggests.  And as we strive after the wind and we struggle and fall short fear begins to grow.  The fear that we will not measure up, or the fear that we will fall short and not succeed in acquiring these things that we think leads to a fulfilling life all of this leads us to fear.  And , as “Star Wars” Master Yoda reminds us, “fear is the path to the dark side.  Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.”  For fear shuts us down and closes us off from others.  Fear clouds our minds and controls our actions.  Fear enables us to be manipulated by those who would exploit our fears to turn our backs on others or to do horrific things to others – especially others who are different from us in some way, or who we see as a threat.
Fear not! Says the angel to the shepherds.  For God has entered into this world by being born as a human baby.  Fear not! Says Jesus to his disciples of every age.  For Jesus has brought the Kingdom of God into our midst and we now have nothing to fear.  God provides for us and calls on us to reach out to others, especially those (like the shepherds) who are different, rejected and despised; and to recognize the image of God in all whom we meet.  Fear not!  Jesus is risen!  The powers of this world – the powers of greed, power-mongering, injustice, oppression, selfishness, hate and death have been defeated.  In the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus the powers of God’s love, grace, kindness and forgiveness have emerged victorious.  There are times when it might not seem so and times when we are overwhelmed with fear and doubt and darkness.  But Christmas reminds us that it is into just such darkness that God is born among us in Jesus.  God enters into this darkness and defeats these powers of darkness – chief among them being fear.
On this Holy Night/Day, the Gospel story we have all heard so often calls on us to consider our own fears.  To peer into the darkness in order to see what it is that oppresses us; what it is that holds us back; that keeps us from reaching out to others and moving forward.  What are your deepest fears and how do they affect how you live your life?  And then, hear the words of the Angel: Fear not!  For behold I bring you good tidings of great joy – for unto you is born this day… a Savior who is Christ the Lord.  Thanks be to God! 
Have a blessed Christmas!
To listen to Pastor Duncan's Christmas Eve Sermon - click here: "Fear Not!"

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Reflections on the texts for Advent IV - "Bread"

Read the Gospel - St. Mark 2:23-28

And Mary said... "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."  (Mary's Song - The Magnificat - Luke 1:46-55)

We begin our reflection on this Gospel passage back in Genesis – Genesis 41.  The Pharaoh of Egypt has been having dreams – something about cows and corn – and these are troubling to him.  Now, the Pharaoh was a powerful man.  He had control over the lives of all of his subjects.  So, Joseph – the favorite son of Jacob – is brought before him in chains and told to interpret.  Famine is on the way, Joseph tells them.  And he adds further that you – the King - can ignore this warning or you can act on it in order to prepare.  Pharaoh knows that to ignore such a warning would be foolish.  Controlling food is one way of controlling the people, but if the food runs out and people begin to starve then power and control is in jeopardy.  Joseph is put in charge of preparing for the famine and it is averted – in Egypt.  But back in Canaan, where Jacob and his brothers are still living, things are not going so well.  Hunger is rampant.  When they finally come looking for food it is Joseph who is able to use access to bread as a tool to trick and trap the brothers.
Bread is central to the story of God’s involvement with human history.  From this story of Joseph to the story of God providing Manna in the wilderness and on beyond that, hunger and the access to bread is central.  And the point that the bible makes over and over and over again is this: the use of bread as a tool for maintaining power and control is condemned and is not God’s will.  Those who engage in this stand outside of the Kingdom of God and are roundly condemned.  See the holiness code of Leviticus (listed at the end of this article) or the prophecies of prophets such as Amos (5:6-15 for one instance).  Hunger is not God’s will and the use of hunger as a tool of power is contrary to the will of God.
Jump ahead now to 1st century Palestine, around the time of the birth of Jesus.  Herod the Great is the ruler and serves as the Roman puppet.  But Herod is brutal and rules with an iron hand.  And he knows how to maintain his power – keep people hungry!  This way they will be dependent.  Herod, also a great architect, builds massive grain storehouses that he maintains and keeps under careful guard.  His own private storehouses are filled to overflowing.  In fact 70 years later when his fortress-palace of Masada was taken over by the Zealots as a last stand against the Romans, there was enough grain left over to support the Zealots for years.  In other words, there was no way for the Romans to starve them out, they had to come up with another plan. (See below for a picture of the ruins of these grain storehouses).
Contrast that then with the text for today.  Jesus’ disciples are hungry and pick grain and eat it on the Sabbath, thus breaking the rules for the observance of the Sabbath day.  Jesus is confronted and defends his disciples pointing out that the needs of people – that is, feeding hungry people – is more important than strict observance of the rules of Sabbath observance.  “The Sabbath was created for humanity, not humanity for the Sabbath.”  It is the same issue that comes up over and over again, which I have outlined above.  Using access to bread and hunger as a tool for power is against the will of God and is condemned.  And it doesn’t matter if it is religious or political power.  Hunger is against the will of the creator.
So. what does this have to do with Christmas?  A lot!  Christmas is the time when we celebrate the Incarnation: that God is born into this world in Jesus of Nazareth; and that in Jesus, the Realm of God is now made present.  That grain or bread is provided to the hungry and that they eat and are filled is a sign of the Realm of God come into our midst (see the Feeding miracles); but continuing and pervasive hunger is against God’s will and a sign that the Realm of God has not yet come in its fullness.  Hear the words of Mary’s song from Luke 1 – God cast the mighty down from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly; God has filled the hungry with good things and the rich he has sent away empty.  We may not like to think that God has preferences, but the Bible and the Gospel make it pretty clear that God is on the side of the victim and is against those who inflict suffering – and hunger is suffering!
The celebration of the Incarnation at Christmas is also a sign that those of us who are called to be Jesus’ disciples have some responsibility to provide bread and to do what we can to alleviate hunger. As Christians, as followers of Christ, we simply cannot pretend that hunger does not exist.  It does – in our world, our nation, our state and our community.  And we cannot ignore it.  As a part of our collective Christmas observance perhaps we need to include the hungry and those in need.  I realize that many people are very generous around Christmas time and that is wonderful.  But let us also remember that in a month there will still be children who are hungry; there will still be those who are in need.  I believe this text today is lifting up for us the importance of keeping this issue always in sight.     
There is a reason we use bread for Holy Communion.  The Body of Christ given for you – is not represented to us as fruit or cheese or anything else.  It is bread!  Bread is a sign of the Realm of God come into our midst; a sign that God is at work through us – God’s people – working against the reality of hungry; that God is at work opposing those who would use hunger as a tool for control and power.  As we take the bread, we are filled with God’s grace and sent forth from the table to love and serve and to work against the power of hunger.
Above are the ruins of the storehouses at Herod's fortress/palace of Masada.  Herod also built a palace called the Herodium outside of Bethlehem.  It had similar storehouses of grain.  When Mary and Joseph neared Bethlehem this structure would have been the first thing they saw.  It is hard to miss.  The contrast between the conditions in which Jesus was born and the Herodium are extreme. Jesus is born in a dark, dirty, smelly cave.  A place where there was probably little bread or any other things that would have made the birth easier.  Mary and Joseph were probably hungry and cold.  They were accompanied there only by a couple low-life shepherds.  But there within view of the cave stood the Herodium with its full storehouses of grain and its full cistern of water.  It seems to me that to look at contrast kind of puts Mary's words in a new light: that is, when Mary sings about casting down the mighty from their thrones and sending the rich away empty.  (BTW - I took this picture).
Another note: We have been using Pr. Adam Hamilton's Christmas study video this year called "The Journey."  In part 3 he talks about this issue and about hunger and points out, as I did above, that hunger and poverty is part of the story of the birth of Jesus.  His congregation in Leawood, KS does something really unique which I think is worth sharing.  Each year they designate their Christmas offering - the entire offering - to be given to alleviate hunger.  The offering is split between local agencies and those who work against famine in Africa.  Not only that but they encourage their members to consider giving to this offering an amount equal to whatever they spend on themselves for Christmas.  So if you are going to spend $500 buying presents, then he encourages you to give $500 to this offering towards alleviating hunger.  Perhaps it might cause some to reconsider the amount they spend on Christmas in the first place - which would be a good thing too.  As Pr. Hamilton notes in the video: "Christmas is not your birthday!"  Amen. 
The Link to this congregation's website: Christmas Offering at Resurrection

Scripture texts for meditation:
David eats the Bread of the Presence – I Samuel 21:1-6
Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dream – Genesis 41
Amos 5:6-15
Holiness Code – Leviticus 23:22, 25:35, 37
The Feeding of the 5000 (and the 4000) – Mark 6:30-44, 8:1-10
One last thought.  Every year there is always hoopla and airtime taken up with denouncing the supposed "war on Christmas."  This "war" (which is sort of akin to the "Keep Christ in Christmas" movement) seems to focus on things like greeting folks with "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas."  This is nonsense.  There is no "war on Christmas" - it is just media babble.  But there is a "war" (though I do not like to use that word) on the poor.  The latest statistics suggest that 1 in 2 Americans are now living below the poverty line.  The gap between the poor and the rich is widening more and more.  The very rich have enriched themselves at the expense of workers, farmers and hard-working Americans - and yet they pay less tax than the rest of us.  It is despicable.  One presidential candidate suggested that the Occupy Wall Street protesters need to get a job and a bath - except, there are no jobs to be had.  That is the point, which he doesn't seem to get.  Another candidate seems to think that since we have such a problem with obesity among the poor this means they have plenty to eat.  Which simply goes to show how terribly out of touch and misinformed he is. We have a responsibility.  Hunger is not acceptable.  Hunger in America is not acceptable.  As Christians we are called to work in every way we can against the powers that create hunger, that victimize the poor and that ravish our economy for their own benefit.  This Christmas, may all of us make reaching out to the poor and the hungry a part of our Christmas journey.

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Reflections on the Gospel – Mark 1:4-15 - Walking Through the Wilderness of this World

Read the text here: Mark 1:4-15

Walking Through the Wilderness of this World

Have you ever noticed that a lot of the stories in the bible are set in the wilderness?  Now to be clear, we are talking about wilderness, Middle East style. Not the American wilderness.  As rustic as the American wilderness might be, for the most part the American wilderness is still a fertile place.  The American wilderness is a place of woods and game, vegetation and a myriad of animals; a place, while not without risk, where nevertheless one could survive for a time (if you know how). The wilderness of the bible, to the contrary, is the wilderness of the Middle East and is not such an inviting place.  The wilderness of the bible is a place of complete desolation; a place with little to no vegetation or water, few animals; it is a desert environment with extreme temperatures.  This is a place where one would be hard pressed to survive for any length of time.  But yet, this place figures importantly into the stories of the Bible.
Beginning right away in Genesis, Adam and Eve are banished from the Garden.  Where do they go? Into the wilderness of the creation, and there they have to settle and live.  This place is different from the Garden, in this wilderness of the world life is hard and one must struggle to survive.  The wilderness then becomes a place of stark reality; a place of abandonment, of loss, of conviction, of consequences; it becomes a place of testing and endurance.  But that is not all, the wilderness also becomes a place where God is found and where God is profoundly present.  When Adam and Eve are banished from the garden, God does not remain behind alone. God goes with them into the wilderness.  When Cain is banished for murdering his brother Abel, God goes with him.  Perhaps one of the first important stories where the wilderness is featured is found in Genesis 22.  Abraham takes his only son – Isaac, the son of promise – into the wilderness for sacrifice. And there, Abraham is prepared to sacrifice his beloved son.  But there, caught in the thicket is a Ram. God provides a Ram for the sacrifice, Isaac is spared and the entire experience is one of testing and refining of the faith of Abraham.
         In Exodus, Moses leads the people of Israel out of Egypt, through the Red Sea and into the wilderness, where they then wander lost for 40 years.  This wilderness experience then becomes for Israel a time of loss, anger, unfaithfulness, struggle and confusion.  But at the same time, this wilderness experience molds and shapes Israel into the people of God.  For it is there in the wilderness that the people of Israel encounter God in a most profound way.  The testing of the people in the wilderness leads to a life-changing and life-affirming experience of the presence of God.  Like in the story of Adam and Eve and Cain, God is with the people every step of the way; like in the story of Abraham, God provides Manna and water for their absolute needs and the experience shapes them all and puts them on the path to the promised land.
It should not be surprising then that Mark begins his account of the Good News of Jesus Christ in the wilderness.  John the Baptizer is there, in the wilderness – like Elijah – calling the people to come out to him.  Remember it was believed that the God of Israel resided in the Temple (Holy of Holies) in Jerusalem, but here we learn that all of the people of Jerusalem were coming out into the wilderness to be baptized by John!  They were going in the opposite direction from where God is supposed to be!  They enter the God-forsaken wilderness and there they find God reaching out to them, inviting them to repent, to turn around and go in the opposite direction; there they find God promising them forgiveness and grace and assuring them of God’s commitment to the Covenant.  And not only that there in the midst of the scene God provides.  Like the Ram caught in the thicket which God provides for Abraham; like the Manna from heaven provided to the starving people of Israel who are wandering lost in the wilderness, God provides none other than God’s only Son, the ultimate Lamb of God, who is also there in the wilderness and comes to be baptized with the people whom God loves.
            We too live in the wilderness of this world, wandering lost, feeling forsaken at times.  The symbol of the wilderness is very real to us and to our experience of life. It is our place of testing and struggle and it molds and shapes us even as it threatens to overwhelm us.  “The wilderness can be the despair that denies hope, the cynicism that goads us to believe that our doubts are truer than our insights, the grief that binds us to our losses, the hostility that will not let us enjoy friends or family, or the addictions that degrade us, forcing us to give away all we have. Our spirits often drive us to wildernesses of our own making: desolate, lonely, god-forsaken places populated with all sorts of wild beasts.” (1)  But there we find God, reaching out to us, providing for us.  It is there that we find Jesus, who comes into the wilderness to confront the evil and overcome the powers that dwell there, and to restore a garden-like, Eden-like, quality to our lives.  No matter how desolate the wilderness of our lives appears to be, God is there, in Christ.  God is there, loving and caring and offering forgiveness and grace and providing for our needs.  If we only might look up we might see the Manna showering upon us, or the Ram stuck in the thicket or Jesus standing there besides us.  And like Abraham and the people of Israel, we are shaped and molded by our experience of God in the wilderness and we are set on the road of the discipleship, where we are led, like Isael, towards the promised land.

(1) The quotation is taken from the Smyth & Helwys Commentary on the Gospel of Mark - page 93

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Reflections on the Gospel - Mark 1:1-8

Read the text here: Mark 1:1-18
Beginnings and Endings
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. (Mark 1:1)
As beginnings go, there is really not much here.  In the Greek there are exactly 5 words that are followed by words of the prophet that introduces John the Baptist and there we are: immersed in the story.  No extended introduction with a genealogy (Matthew), no birth or childhood stories (Matthew & Luke), no extended philosophical musings on the incarnation (John).  Nope, Mark is short and sweet and to the point.  Mark is in a hurry to tell this story; Mark is in a hurry to get to the climax = the Passion.  From this non-beginning beginning Mark jumps from event to event in Jesus’ life and ministry at a fast pace.  There are no extended sermons and there is really no time to catch your breath.  After all, Mark is proclaiming the “Gospel,” the “Good News,” the “Glad Tidings” of Jesus Christ, the Son of God!
But that one word – “Gospel” – brings with it the power of dynamite.  Mark doesn’t have to use many words to get this story started.  This one word packs the power of a rocket booster to propel us into the story.  In our time, this word – “Gospel” – really means only one thing.  It is used to describe the proclamation of Jesus as Lord, crucified and risen!  But for Mark’s community and those who received this telling of the story that word had other meanings.  The Greek word – evangelion – was the word that was used to describe official Roman proclamations.  If the empire had triumphed in battle somewhere and thus, brought Roman Peace (pax Romana) to a region; or if a new divine emperor had taken power; or if there was some great news of the glorious empire then the “Gospel” of Roman divine mandate was proclaimed throughout the empire.  For Mark’s audience, this word was then associated with the powers of oppression, the powers of peace through violence, the powers of death and darkness.  So that word packs a punch for here, Mark is proclaiming a “Gospel” of the true power of God; the “Gospel” of freedom, grace and forgiveness, the “Gospel” of true peace (Shalom), the “Gospel” of life and light, the “Gospel” of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  Jesus Christ! Not the emperor!  God’s son is this peasant from Nazareth, which is a no-where place!  What a proclamation! No wonder Mark can’t wait to tell the story!
So after those first 5 words we are introduced to the voice of the one who is called to prepare the way.  Who is this?  Mark tells us his name is John.  But he is dressed like Elijah, he is preaching repentance like Elijah and he is located in the wilderness around the Jordan river (not Jerusalem!) like Elijah!  Is this not Elijah?  The very last two verses of the last book of the Old Testament make this promise:
Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.  He will turn the hearts of the parents to the children and the hearts of the children to their parents….. (Malachi 4:5-6)
You see – it is Elijah!  Come at the end of all time. But wait, Mark used the word “beginning.”  Is this the end or the beginning?  Elijah is in the wilderness calling the people to repentance, but this Elijah is John and his end of time proclamation also is preparation for a new beginning.  Ending? Beginning?  Both – and!  God has involved himself in the human experience from the beginning of time. God has always been at work.  But John represents an end of one way of God’s being in the world and the beginning of a new way.  John represents the end of the centrality of Jerusalem and the Temple; John represents the end of the time of the prophets and kings.  On the other hand, John represents a new beginning where God recommits to the covenant; John represents a new beginning where God himself is born into this human world; John represents a new beginning of a time when God will shower his beloved creation with forgiveness and love and grace.  Endings and beginnings – all bound up together in these opening verses of this Good News of Jesus Christ.
            We will again be confronted with this very issue at the end of the Gospel of Mark when we hear how the women went to the tomb on the first day of the week to anoint the body, but the body was gone and instead there was an angel who proclaimed that Jesus was risen! “And the women fled from the tomb and said nothing to no one, they were afraid for….”  The end!  An end that isn’t an end, that leaves us hanging – just like the beginning that doesn’t ease us into the story.  Mark apparently doesn’t do beginnings and endings.  Or does he? 
Perhaps Mark is trying to tell us something else.  Maybe Mark is making the point in the first part of chapter 1 that this beginning is also an ending!  This isn’t Elijah, because then it wouldn’t be a beginning – but at the same time it is the new Elijah – John who is preparing the way for the new beginning of the story of God’s love and grace as shown forth in Jesus!  Maybe Mark is making the point that the conclusion of chapter 16:8 is not really the end of the story – but that this ending is also the beginning of the new age, the Kingdom come into our midst and made possible only through the death and resurrection of Christ; a beginning of a story that is still ongoing and includes us – here – now in 2011/2012.  This is not accidental.  This is not incidental.  This is an essential part of the entire Gospel: the beginning is the end and the end is the beginning!  Ultimately it is the cross of Christ which represents the ultimate ending which turns into a beginning.  The cross is an instrument of torture and death, an instrument of the power of the world to bring God's work to an end.  But it is not the end, because of the resurrection it is the beginning - a new beginning.  A beginning of a new part of the story of God's amazing love ad grace and forgiveness.
Below is one of my favorite works of Renaissance art - it is the "Crucifixion" by Matthais Grünewald.  In the center is Jesus on the cross.  To the left (as we look at the painting) is Mary and John and Mary Magdalene in mourning.  But on the right side is John the Baptist pointing a boney finger towards the cross.  From the beginning to the end and beyond it is the cross which is central and which gives our lives meaning; it is the cross which continues to give us new beginnings.  Luther said each day we should begin the day by crossing ourselves and each evening we should end the day by crossing ourselves to remind us that we are claimed by Christ and that through the cross God continues to give us new beginnings.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Reflections on the Gospel – Mark 13:24-37

Read the text here: Mark 13:24-37

Keep Awake! Be Prepared! The Lord is coming! These themes of the season of Advent are also themes of this passage in the Gospel of Mark.  Last week we finished our experience of the Gospel of Matthew with the prophecy of the Sheep and the Goats from Matthew 25; this week we begin our year of Mark with a passage from the heart of what is called the “Little Apocalypse” in Mark.  Last week Matthew gives us a rather unambiguous teaching on the Last Judgment and the centrality of Faith in Action; this week Mark gives us a very ambiguous look into the future to the Day of the Lord and what our response is to be.  What in the world is this all about?
First, a definition is in order - the word: Apocalypse.  The word itself comes from a Greek word which literally means “lifting the veil” or “revelation.”  The first of these definitions is especially important and relevant for Mark because the climactic event in Mark’s telling of the story of Jesus is the crucifixion account in chapter 15 that ends with the tearing of the veil or the curtain in the temple (15:38).  This is the veil that separates the holy of holies from the world.  And the God of Israel resides in the Holy of Holies, but once the veil is torn God abandons the Holy of Holies and God abandons the Temple and takes up residence in and among God’s people.  So Apocalyptic is first and foremost about this question: Where is God Found?  And the answer Mark provides: In the Cross of Jesus!
Apocalyptic musings are, of course, all the rage and have been through the 20th century (beginning in the late 19th century) in particular.  Predictions of the end of the world in fiery, bloody and graphic detail have been the subject of films, books and (sorry to say) preaching and (bad) theology.  This viewpoint has even invaded our foreign policy as a nation, as some support of Israel, among one particular powerful group, is based on this (mis)-reading of the apocalyptic texts of the New Testament.  Recently a California pastor announced that the world would end in terror and that the “rapture” would occur on May 21 (oops, I mean October 21).  Lots of folks took this prediction seriously. Folks quit jobs, gave away possessions in order to prepare.  One cynical group on the internet created a business where they would promise to care for your pets in the event you were “raptured.”  They actually made money on this and folks signed up for the service.  Tragically one mother even went so far as to murder her children in order to “save” them from the terror to come.
Is this what apocalyptic is all about? In a word – NO!  How can all of this predicted terror be squared with the Gospel proclamation that God loves us madly and passionately – so much in fact that he gave us the Son?  It can’t.  There is not room here for a detailed critique of contemporary apocalyptic.  I will simply say that for the most part what has taken hold is a fiction that is completely unbiblical and actually contrary to the Gospel.  The doctrine of the “rapture” is both a figment of a warped imagination and an example of really bad bible interpretation.  The “Left Behind” books are fiction – and destructive fiction at that, since so many assume they represent the New Testament.  The other major problem with contemporary popular apocalyptic is that it is very self-focused.  It appeals to the selfish and self-centered parts of our human nature that are mostly concerned with - What's in it for me?  How do I make sure that I am covered?  If that is really the focus of apocalyptic then how do we square that with a Savior who calls us to care for others and reach out to others in ways that address their real, physical needs?  We can't.  All of the Gospels and Paul believed that Jesus was coming back right away.  But at the same time they also believed that in the meantime Christians were called to work for justice and to care for people and to busy themselves with the work of love.  NOT to sit in caves alone, or on rooftops waiting for the Jesus to arrive.  In other words - it's not about me - it's about community! The most destructive part of the popular apocalyptic/rapture nonsense is the destruction of community and the resultant turn inwards.  The Gospel, the teachings and life of Jesus and the letters of Paul all have a completely different perspective: love through community!
So what does Mark in particular say about Apocalyptic?  And how does Mark understand Apocalyptic?  First, for Mark there is a two-fold focus: Yes, Mark (and Paul and others in the 1st century) did believe that Jesus would return right away.  They were wrong and also misunderstood Jesus’ teaching. But the word “apocalyptic” itself gives us a hint of the second, and more important focus which Mark lifts up – that is: the crucifixion of Jesus. Jesus is enthroned in power when he is on the cross.  Not only that, but Jesus’ death on the cross also results in the tearing of the veil of the temple.  God now is not cooped up in the Holy of Holies.  God is now to be found in and among God’s people.  And not just in the good, happy or glorious, but rather, more profoundly, in hunger, in loss, in terror and fear, and in death itself.  God is present – because of the Cross of Jesus!
Consequently, the call of apocalyptic is NOT to turn inward and focus on our selves and our own selfish needs.  But rather it is to turn outward.  To see through the eyes of the Gospel that there is need – hunger, unemployment, homelessness, grief, loss, death in our midst and that God is present in those situation THROUGH US.  Jesus says – Be Prepared – Keep Awake!  How do we do that – through Faith in Action.  Through reaching out and caring and loving in Jesus’ name!
“Once asked what he would do if he believed the world would end tomorrow, Martin Luther is said to have responded, "I would plant a tree today." We also, confident of God's love and sure of God's promises about the future, can also invest in the present, in the everyday and the ordinary, in the people and causes all around us. For we have God's promise in the cross and resurrection of Christ that in time God will indeed draw all of God's creation not just to an end, but to a good end.”  David Lose, Working Preacher

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Reflections on the Gospel of Mark

…and just as he was coming up out of the water, her saw the heavens torn apart(Mk. 1:10)
…and the curtain of the Temple was torn in two… (Mk. 15:38)

Advent is here and begins this coming weekend, and with Advent comes a shift in the lectionary readings on Sunday morning from the Gospel of Matthew to the Gospel of Mark.  So for Advent 2011 and all of 2012 (to the end of November) our Gospel readings will come primarily from the Gospel of Mark (with a little John thrown in here and there).  Mark is unique in a variety of ways and this year of Mark provides us with important opportunities for growth and understanding.  Mark is considered to be the earliest Gospel of the three synoptic Gospels and was probably written around the time of the Jewish War that eventually culminated in the annihilation of Jerusalem and the complete destruction of the Temple.  This was a very difficult time for Jews and Christians alike living in Israel.  When the dust finally settled the Jewish people have been driven into exile and the center of the fledgling Christian church moved from Jerusalem to the competing centers of Rome, Antioch and Alexandria.
This background helps us to understand Mark and also, I believe, gives us a point of contact.  These were hard times and one issue that is central in the Gospel of Mark is the issue of hunger and bread.  Starvation was a constant issue at this time and this is not so different from our own time.  There is an amazing amount of hunger which surrounds us.  Around the world we see literally millions of people starving to death in places like Somalia, but even in our own country unemployment and raising food prices have brought more and more hunger right to our very doorstep.  For the first time in a long time the Peace Food Pantry is struggling to keep up with the demand.  The Boy Scout food drive only provided about half of the food that was donated last year even though the need is so much greater now.  Hunger is in our midst, just as it was a very real presence for Mark’s own community. 
So in the midst of all of this struggle and difficulty and hunger the question that Mark raises is a simple one: Where is God?  Where is God to be found?  And the answer is pointed to in the passages quoted above – note the bold-face on the word torn.  The heavens are torn apart at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and at the conclusion of Jesus’ ministry the curtain in the Temple is also torn in two.  The belief was that God resided in the Temple Holy of Holies which was divided from the outside world by a special curtain or veil.  Only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies and stand in the presence of God.  The violent ripping of the heavens first and then the temple veil signifies that God will no longer be contained.  God is now present with God’s people in the midst of their struggles and misery and hunger.  Through Jesus, God enters into the human experience and is especially present with those in need.  Through Jesus, God feeds and heals and comforts and loves.
And everything moves us towards the Passion in Mark – so that the Passion of Jesus IS the culmination and the answer to every question.  When will the Messiah come? The Messiah has come in Jesus and his coming culminates in the crucifixion.  The cross is absolutely central to understanding Mark.  In fact, throughout the entire Gospel there is a breathless haste that pervades the telling of the story – until we arrive at the Passion.  “Immediately” this and “immediately” that.  Jesus is on the move and we literally jump from one thing to the next at a fast pace because we are careening towards the cross!
Also, in Mark, Jesus is fully human in a very unique way, and in a way that is not shared in the other Gospels.  In Mark, Jesus has strong emotions, he gets angry, he despairs, he gets tired physically, he even makes mistakes and takes correction; Jesus is not just described as being fully human; Jesus is fully human in a remarkable way that might actually make some uncomfortable.  But of course, this is what we confess every week in the creed, even though I suspect few of us have ever thought through the implications of our belief that Jesus was fully human.  Well, we get to this year as we explore the Gospel of Mark.
At this time of the year when we are focused on Christmas preparations the introduction of the Gospel of Mark provides us Christians with an important reminder that we, like the disciples have been called to follow the master to the cross.  We have been called to not ignore or avert our eyes when we see hunger, unemployment, senseless violence and other examples of human misery and brokenness.  Instead we are called to “immediately” recognize that we are defined by the cross of Jesus, that we have responsibility as followers and disciples and God has not abandoned us, but is here, profoundly present with us – especially when we struggle.
To give credit to where credit is due - I spent a day at a seminar on Mark conducted by Eden Seminary New Testament Professor Dr. Deborah Krause. It was a magnificent conference and Mark was opened to me in a way it never had been before.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Reflections on the Gospel – “The Sheep and the Goats” Matthew 25:31-46

Read the Text Here: Matthew 25:31-46

We have come to the last Sunday of the church year and the last Sunday of our year of Matthew.  This Sunday is also celebrated as the Feast of Christ the King or the Feast of the Reign of Christ.  The text is the prophecy of the sheep and the goats and is a judgment prophecy.  The context of this passage is important in that it is contained in the very last teaching discourse that is contained in Matthew.  Immediately following this – in chapter 26 – we move into the passion narrative. This is important to recognize this on a day in which we are celebrating the “Kingship” of Jesus for Kingship looms large in the Gospel of Matthew.  The kings of this world (like Herod in Chapter 2) are enthroned in glory and splendor and have power and authority concentrated in them.  Some of them were considered to be gods.  But Jesus, our King, is enthroned on a cross, wearing a crown of thorns.  Jesus does hold the authority and power of God, but gives it up out of love.  The resurrection enthrones Christ at the right hand of God, but not before the Passion.  This context is very important for understanding this judgment prophecy.
Judgment is a part of our faith and certainly influences our understanding of God.  Some of us have come to understand the Gospel only in terms of judgment.  For these people the Gospel is a series of rules and regulations that MUST be followed or else.  For others of us we downplay judgment to the point that it becomes little more than a slap on the wrist. The prophecy of the Sheep and the Goats makes clear that judgment is real and that both of those understandings are incomplete.  This teaching along with the parables that we have been studying since July helps us to understand a couple important things about judgment.
1st – Judgment is the consequence of Sin.  Judgment is the consequence of our actions, our behaviors and our decisions.  This image of God giving out earned but basically unjust punishments that seem out of proportion to the infraction itself is simply a incorrect understanding of the Gospel.  Sin is our putting ourselves in the place of God and pushing God out of our lives; the results of Sin are the sins of hurting others as we push our selfish agendas.  The consequence is that we will destroy ourselves and others.  We bring judgment on ourselves.  Thus, earthquakes and hurricanes are NOT a sign of God’s judgment.  The goats here are not destroyed by a tornado.  We will learn that the goats are separated out and judged because they have consistently put themselves in the center of their own universe pushing God and others out in the process.  They have brought this judgment upon themselves.
2. We are thus completely dependent on Christ’s love and grace.  As Paul states in Romans – we are all guilty and deserving of judgment.  The Gospel is about to move into the Passion during which Jesus suffers the ultimate consequence in our place so that we might be forgiven and be free to live lives as disciples which reflect this grace and love.  Think, for example, of the “Parable of the Prodigal Son” (yes it’s from Luke).  The younger son deserves punishment and judgment and actually fully expects it.  What he receives instead is unexpected and abundant grace and love and forgiveness.  In fact it is so abundant that it is offensive to his older brother.  We deserve judgment, but because of Christ we are saved from it and forgiven and showered with abundant and undeserved grace and love.
3. And, it all comes as a big surprise!  The part of this prophecy I love the most is when both the sheep and the goats respond to the judgment with surprise: “When was it that we….?”  This brings it right down to the level of our everyday lives and relationships.  Our discipleship is to become 2nd nature – we do those acts of mercy and grace, we live in ways that reflect God’s love not because we are trying to be good so God will love us.  But rather this behavior comes naturally to us – so naturally in fact that we are surprised when Christ tells us that it was He, Himself that we served and cared for in love – or not!
What then can we do?  If there is not a list of things to do; if God doesn’t base our acceptance on the good and wonderful things we do and if Christian discipleship is to become 2nd nature how do we accomplish that?  The Gospel and St. Paul have answers for this question too: We pray – we study the bible – we attend worship – we partake of the Sacrament – we remember our Baptism – we practice acts of mercy – we give of ourselves in small or large ways to the work of ministry – we contribute our time, talents and money to the work of the church - we celebrate and participate in community. 
This prophecy is one of judgment and is a call for us to look and evaluate ourselves and our lives and priorities.  It is also a call to community – to be in a community to rests on the love and mercy and grace and love of Christ, who is the King of Glory.

Notice in the picture above how the sheep are clustered together working together to protect each other from the hot sun.  Notice how the goats are pretty much the rugged individualist.  Dr. Bruce Shein (my NT professor in seminary) used to say he never saw a dead sheep in the field, but often saw lots of dead goats!
Also - note: The judgment is based on caring for others - feeding, providing water, visiting, reaching out to those who are excluded and so forth.  Funny, Jesus never says anything about having right doctrine, or believing the right things, or understanding, or being morally pure or being a part of the right denomination or associating with the right people - it's all about Faith in Action reaching out and caring for others - those who are excluded, those who are hungry, those who are suffering.  Funny how this text never seems to come up in the rather self-congratulatory and vacuous political dialog that we are currently enduring.  I wonder why that is?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Reflections on the Parables – Matthew 25:14-30 – The Parable of the Talents

Read the text here: Matthew 25:14-30

End of the Road - Beginning of the Journey
Well, we have come to the very last parable of the year! The text for next week is more of a prophecy (the sheep and the goats) than a parable.  But we finish our 6-month look at Jesus’ parables with this Parable of the Talents.  So before we look more closely at this particular parable I want to make a couple observations about parables in general.  1st – All of the parables are parables of the Kingdom of God, which through Jesus has come into our midst.  The Kingdom of God (or in Matthew the Kingdom of Heaven) is not off in the future – it is now! 2nd – All of the parables give us a glimpse of who God is and how God chooses to relate to us.  And the words that describe this would include – overflowing love and abundant grace; 3rd – the parables all call on us to respond to God’s overflowing and sometimes crazy and illogical love and grace by living lives that reflect the Kingdom.  And response is called forth – one way or another.  By refusing to respond, that is a response.  So what kind of response is appropriate for such amazing gifts that God bestows upon us.  Keep these in mind as you consider this parable.
We are now close to the conclusion of the Gospel of Matthew and Jesus is preparing his disciples for his arrest, crucifixion and resurrection.  So Jesus is talking about end times and also about how it is we are to live in the time between Jesus’ ascension and his 2nd coming.  This particular parable is actually the 2nd of a set – the first being last week’s Parable of the Wise and Foolish Bridesmaids (Matthew 25:1-13).  Matthew 25:1 includes an introduction that would include both parables: The Kingdom of Heaven is like this….  10 bridesmaids waiting to process into the Wedding Banquet of the Lord.  But 5 were unprepared in that they ran out of the oil of faith and their lamps went out.  The lamps that reflected the love and grace and forgiveness of the Groom stopped burning.  Consequently they exclude themselves from the Great Banquet.
Jesus goes on immediately to tell another parable of a master who is going away for a long, long time and in preparation for this he entrusts his property to 3 servants.  This is given to them – according to their ability and potential – in the form of “talents.”  Now a talent is a financial commodity, roughly equal to 20 years wages for a common laborer at the time.  Five talents would equal 100 years of common wages.  The point is that it is an overflowing amount that has been entrusted to the servants (us).  What do the servants do with what is entrusted to them?  What do the servants have to present to the master when he returns from his journey?  Well two of the servants invest, cultivate, give it away and otherwise manage the trust in a way that gives them a 100% return.   But the 3rd servant – well – he has nothing to show.  He had taken what was entrusted to him and hidden it away, protecting it so that he could simply return to the master all that had been entrusted to him.  There is no procrastination or busyness here.  This servant did this on purpose. And the consequence is that he is throw into the “outer darkness” (like the 5 foolish maidens) and (also like them) excluded from the Great Banquet!
It is very interesting to look at what the servant says to explain why he chose to bury the talent.  The master is a harsh man, he says, one who has high expectations and it is clear that this servant was afraid of the master.  Now, we don’t know how the other servants felt about the master, but they do not seem to be paralyzed with fear like this 3rd servant.  This fear has led the servant to focus on one thing – self-preservation!  He cannot get beyond this and the treasure entrusted to him benefits no one – because it is buried.  If we see the talent as faith (which is not passive but active) then we can see the relation with the 5 foolish bridesmaids.  For them it was busyness and procrastination – for the 3rd servant it was fear.  But the result was a self-focus and selfishness which resulted in the extinguishing and burying of their faith – which means no action; no reflection of God’s grace; just a focus on the unholy trinity of me, myself and I.
So what about you? What are you going to do with the overflowing and abundant gifts that God has entrusted to you?  Are you like the girls in the 1st parable – too busy to worry about faith?  Or are you like the 3rd servant in the 2nd parable – either so fearful of God, or so self-focused that all you want to do is bury the gifts and keep them hidden?  In what ways is God calling you to invest your talent / treasure?
This morning we will include a commitment time during our worship.  This will be a time for us to consider how we use the gifts that God has given to us – in what ways we are letting the light of our faith shine forth.  The commitment slip we are asking you to bring to the altar includes a financial commitment to the ministry of the Gospel for the coming year.  But that is not all.  It also includes other things – a commitment to regular prayer and Bible study, a commitment to being in worship and partaking regularly of the Sacrament, etc.  All of this is important as it provides us with a way of both investing the talent/treasures God has given us and replenishing the oil of our faith.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Relfections on the Parables - Matthew 25:1-13 - The Parable of the Wise & Foolish Maidens

Read the Parable here: Matthew 25:1-13
Be Prepared!

Watch and wait! Be prepared for delay – a long delay! Don’t be caught unprepared! These appear to be the central themes of our Gospel parable for today. The parable of the 10 Bridesmaids is perhaps one of the best known, but also one of the most difficult of all of Jesus’ parables. Perhaps this is because it really takes aim at us modern Christians – right where we are most vulnerable: the pace of life! On the one hand we live in a very fast-paced and impatient world.  We hate waiting; we are uncomfortable with silence. We need to have something going on all of the time. We get impatient with waiting at the doctor’s office or standing in long lines or with an internet connection that isn’t as fast as we would like.  We can hardly wait – we can hardly stand to wait!  But then on the other hand we are procrastinators. I don’t feel like it.  I’ll do it tomorrow. I’ll finish that model with my son tomorrow, I’ll visit my mom in the nursing home tomorrow, I’ll start reading the bible and praying tomorrow, I’ll give a little more of my time and money to the church tomorrow, I’ll…. (You can fill in the blanks.)  So, to us busy, faced-paced procrastinators, Jesus has a parable – one that really focuses on the issue of time and raises some important questions about how faith is reflected in our lives.

The setting is a wedding.  We had a parable about a wedding celebration last week. The settings of two of Jesus’ most challenging and difficult parables are weddings. Why? Well, weddings were very important in the ancient world. In many ways the future health and well-being of a community was dependent on weddings.  And so these were major events.  In a smaller village everyone would be invited and everyone would be involved.  The wedding events would begin with the groom and his party calling on the bride’s father and concluding the arrangements – dowry, wedding gifts, and so on.  Following that the bride would be presented to the groom, who would escort her to his home, then they would enter the bridal chamber alone for a while.  After all of that was concluded they would go in procession to the wedding banquet/party, which could last for the better part of a week.  So the 10 young women in our parable for today have been chosen to be a part of this final procession to the feast.

Now, apparently these young women are assuming that the procession will begin sometime around dusk.  Perhaps from previous experience they figure that all that other stuff will be concluded by then.  But for whatever reason it is not.  And they have to wait, and wait, and wait and wait.  So far in the story there is nothing to distinguish these girls one from another.  Each has been chosen to participate, each is prepared for the procession, each is waiting and each one of them ultimately falls asleep waiting.  It is only when the cry arises announcing the advent of the bridegroom that we realize there IS something that distinguishes these girls from one another.  Five of them had anticipated that the wait might be longer than anticipated and had brought extra oil, just in case.  The other five, well, they didn’t.  They thought perhaps that surely it can’t take that long and they were too excited and in too big a hurry to bother with extra oil.  But now, at midnight, the groom is coming, the procession is beginning and they are out of oil.  “Can we borrow some of yours?” They ask their sisters? “No, there isn’t enough,” comes the reply.  And so the five “foolish” girls rush out to search for oil in the middle of the night, trying I suppose to get it and get back in time.  But they fail, and they are then locked out of the party!

Please note – just like in the Parable of the Wedding Banquet from last week, these 5 “foolish” girls have brought “judgment” upon themselves, and it is administered by no less a person than the groom himself (not the servants!).  The foolish girls have excluded themselves from the party because they were not prepared to wait; because they ran out of oil and so their light went out. And without a burning lamp they cannot participate in the procession and they cannot enter the feast!  This parable should by this time be easy to interpret: Jesus is the delayed Bridegroom; the Maidens are the disciples/believers of every age and the oil is faith active in the lamps of lives so that it burns brightly.  Just like the parable from last week there is a baptism connection.  In baptism we always conclude the baptismal liturgy by lighting a candle and handing it to the newly baptized (or his/her parent) with these words: Let your light so shine before others, that they may see your good works and glorify your father, who is in heaven.  This line is based on a teaching of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:16). The light is the light of faith in Jesus Christ.  Faith in our Lord whom we expect at any moment, but faith that calls for us to expect and prepare for delay; faith in the crucified and risen Messiah whose light shines forth in the gift of faith that is bestowed upon us at baptism.

And remember faith in the bible is not just mental assent; faith is not passive. Faith is not a personal private thing; faith is not being religious.  Faith is always active; faith is public and visible to all – like a burning lamp; faith is always reflected in one’s life and priorities; faith is the light of Christ shining forth brilliantly through the lives of Jesus’ disciples of every time and place.

So are you prepared for the wait? Are you prepared to let the light of your faith, the light bestowed on you at baptism, are you prepared to allow it to shine forth in your life? How does your faith manifest itself in the way you live and the choices you make? How is the light of Christ shining forth in your life?  Are you in touch with the bridegroom though constant prayer? Are you participating actively in the life and ministry of your community of faith – through your giving of your time and talents and money? Are you ready to join in the procession and join the saints of every age at the wedding banquet of our Lord?  For ultimately this parable is not really about oil or lamps it is about being ready to meet the groom; it is about being ready to meet Jesus and join Him at the feast!