Be prepared!

Nov. 16. 2008 \\ On Matthew 25:1-13

This text can seem a bit harsh. Five of the bridesmaids have to go off to find oil, and they’re locked out of the banquet? The bridegroom doesn’t know them?

Though there is a “Left Behind” sense to the text, it is not a threat for people who aren’t ready at the right time and in the right place. Instead, it is an invitation to live in a rhythm that connects with God so that we are always ready. And it is a warning that something is lost if we lost track of relationship with God — not our salvation, but the opportunity to live kingdom moments here and now.

There are many types of literature in the “book” called the Bible – It’s actually more like a library. There is a lot of prophetic literature, which essentially says: You’re suffering because you are sinful. Repent and your suffering will end. It’s tempting to read this as a prophetic story – turn from your foolishness and keep your lamp lit and you get the prize. But I don’t think that’s the point.

There is also a tradition of apocalyptic literature, into which Matthew 25 fits a little more easily. Apocalyptic literature offers hope to persecuted people – You are suffering in an evil world because you are faithful. Be patient, hang in there, you will be rewarded at the end.

Let’s face it, its hard for us as 21st Century Americans to get either of these kinds of literature. We don’t suffer much, and when we do we usually attribute it to acts of God or fate, not to our sinfulness or our faithfulness.

For us today the real thing this story is about is: What do we do while we are waiting for Jesus?

There are several key images here:

  • Light from the lamp. Light is often used to signify God’s/Jesus’ presence, and holiness.  God accompanied Israel in the desert, for example, as a pillar of fire.  And we are the light (of the world) that shines God’s love to others.
  • Oil to power the light. Some of us thought the light is faith (so did Martin Luther). Others thought it might be good deeds, or the Spirit.  It is the power that empowers us to act, to be aware of God’s presence and to live God’s justice and mercy in the world.  In simple terms, it is living in relationship with God and the Spirit.
  • The closed door.  Rather than an end times judgment about who is “in” and who is “out,” the door represents the reality that something may be missed.  Just as a parent tells a child that if they go out without their coat they will be cold, so Jesus says that we can miss the opportunity to be with and represent God.
  • Being known.  The bridesmaids left outside are not “known” by the bridegroom. The word translated “know” is not just recognition, or information about a person, but can imply a deep, intimate closeness. In other words, Jesus is saying that if we close out God and choose not to live in relationship, we may find ourselves closed out.

The story is about Jesus’ promise that if we accept his invitation to dwell in him, to learn from him, to live each moment with him, that he’ll always be with us, he will always “know” us…that we won’t have to worry about whether we will be ready when the bridegroom comes.

The people who worry about this are those who want relationship with God, but don’t do it well, are too scattered, who will get to it someday. In other words, Jesus is talking here to me, and to you.

This idea of being ready is at the heart of Jesus’ message, and through the Centuries the Church has taught that spirituality isn’t a leisure pursuit, something we dabble in to decorate our lives or keep us from being bored, but is a discipline (actually a range of disciplines) that actually transform our very lives from the inside out.

One way to look at the classic spiritual disciplines is to see that there are inward disciplines that seek to transform our inner lives, outward disciplines that serve to transform our communities (and change us in the doing), and corporate disciplines that we do together to encourage and equip us for our daily lives. This is how noted spirituality author Richard Foster divides them:

It’s also taught that there are six streams or traditions of spiritual formation:

  1. Contemplative: the prayer-filled life – blocking time for God in silence, noticing nature, thanking God for blessings
  2. Holiness: the virtue-filled life – fasting, limiting our speech, speaking and thinking positively, checking what treasures run our lives.
  3. Charismatic: the spirit-empowered life – trusting God’s promises, looking for the fruits of the spirit in our lives and others, know and use your spiritual gifts
  4. Social Justice: the compassionate life – encouraging notes and calls, helping those in need, writing to congressman, letting someone serve you.
  5. Evangelical: the word-centered life – reading the Bible, discussing it with others, be the word to others
  6. Incarnational: the sacramental life – invite God to be with you in all parts of life, mealtimes, family times, work, play. Look for and remove barriers that keep God “out there”

This early church life was called “the way,” because it was truly a way of life, one that stood out from the surrounding culture. It involved how you met as church and how you did business, how you treated family and friends and slaves and enemies.

One of the ways the modern church has gotten off track is that it has fostered a faith that is about ideas and propositions and doctrines and lost the emphasis on holistic practice. Jesus wasn’t recruiting disciples to agree to a bunch of ideas. He was building what Bhuddists call a community of practice, a community that is to be build around the practice of living life centered on the Kingdom of God.

What we’re trying to do here at C@L is not just become a different kind of corporate gathering but to reclaim that idea of being a community of practice. We’re digging around in the attic of the church and finding some of the resources our forebears put away.

So I started out by saying that Jesus is offering an invitation. Jesus is not saying that we have to get everything right away. The spiritual journey is a marathon, and if you’re not in shape you can’t run a marathon tomorrow…but you CAN start training.

So I want you to take a minute and determine which of these areas is the one you most want to take the next step in…. or perhaps which is your weakest. Just pick ONE.

Then find this area in the lists in this document (balanced_spiritual_life_posters), and pick ONE item that you want to work on this week, to start moving in the direction that you feel God is leading you.

God bless you on the journey!

Written by Bob Fisher in: gatherings,spirituality |

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