Monday, November 10, 2014

Sermon for November 9, 2014: "Failing to prepare!"

This sermon was preached at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Holliston, MA on November 9, 2014. 
Gospel: Matthew 25:1–13

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.

Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,

Over the last 4 weeks, we’ve been wrestling with the question, “what is a steward?” Well, the short summation of those last 4 weeks is that we are stewards. We are stewards of God’s creation, and are given this duty out of love, and though we aren’t perfect at it, God continues to call us to take care of what God has made, including ourselves and each other.

Indeed, we’ve all been made Stewards, and we’ve been wrestling with this question as we prepare for our Consecration Sunday next week, a time when we will make financial commitments, or pledges to be used by God, through our lives together at Christ the King.

As we lead up to the 16th, we’ve been making various other preparations, apart from simply asking the question, “What is a Steward?” The Stewardship Board has hosted an adult forum, which has raised some very good discussion about our call to Stewardship. In addition, pledge packets have been put together and mailed out, and I am sure that having read your November Newsletter, you’ve seen the pieces in it regarding Stewardship.

It is a good thing to undergo preparations such as this. And it’s not just the Boy Scouts that tell say so. As we read in our Gospel lesson for today, about the 10 Bridesmaids, 5 of whom are prepared and 5 who are not, Jesus tells us that preparation is truly a wise thing.

But, I will be forward with you, as I read this lesson, and prayed over it, it wasn’t Jesus’ image who came to mind. It was my good friend, Paul Darda, who often said to me the line “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”… But, if I’m going to give you the real image, it would be Paul’s way of saying it, which was usually a version of how he thought Tom Cruise might say it in a movie.

There is Paul trying to speak authoritatively, usually to a hypothetical group of High School students, (he’s a teacher.) “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”

Then there’s exasperated Paul, speaking usually to me after my lack of planning had led us into misadventure of some sort or another. “Failing to prepare, is preparing to fail.”

And so, this, is the point, I hear from Jesus today, coming through the person of Paul Darda, in the manner of Tom Cruise. “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”

This morning, as we hear Jesus tell this parable of the Bridesmaids, and we discern our own calling to be Stewards, we hear this parable tell us to prepare, by bringing our oil with us.

Now, this is not literal oil, as the church’s heat runs on gas…but one way to view the oil of this parable, is that it is God’s truth, it is the word of God that has been given to us in Jesus and the pages of scripture. To be prepared, we bring this truth to guide our thoughts, prayers, conversations, and decisions.

And, the truth that scripture tells us about giving is that the minimum is 10% of what we have, this is what is commonly called “tithing.” And, as we hear this truth, it is also important, to know the truth of where we are by that standard. The truth is, that as a congregation, according to our CAT survey, our giving equals 1.68% of our average household income.

Now, if we are like the foolish bridesmaids, we can speak our human truth, and come up with all the reasons about why 10% is an impossible number. In other words, we can leave the oil of God’s truth out of our preparations. And, if we do so, if we disregard God’s truth, like the foolish, we won’t have any oil, we won’t be quite as prepared when the bridegroom comes. And, instead of joyously awaiting Jesus’ presence among us, we will be filled with worry and anxiety, scurrying about, to raise more money, not for mission and growth, but just to keep the lights on. And, if we don’t prepare with God’s oil, if we don’t hear not only it’s call to tithe, but also hopeful truth about the abundance we have been given, we will simply never, ever have enough.

On the other hand, we can prepare simply by bringing the oil of God’s truth with us. We can wisely acknowledge that God has called us to grow in our generosity, and that tithing, or giving 10% is not for God’s good, or even for the good of the church, but for our own good. As we ponder our own call to generosity, we can seek to hold the oil of God’s truth up and ask God to light our lamps with it.

And the Good News, is that when we hold God’s truth up to our lives, when we allow it to light up our lives, it’s not about seeing where we are failures. If 10% is a seemingly overwhelming and impossible number, God’s truth isn’t here to shame or punish us, it is here to show us grace, love, and possibility. God’s truth is here to illumine our paths, and help us to grow and develop in our calling not only to be stewards, but to be baptized Children of God, and to be the body of Christ for the world, together.

We hold up God’s truth, so that we may receive God’s grace. We hold up God’s truth so that we may see even though “we fail to prepare” all the time, and thus “prepare to fail,” God continues to prepare a table in our presence, and gives to us the truth of Jesus Christ’s body and blood, given and shed for each of us.

As we seek to discern God’s work and presence, and our calling to be stewards, may we hold fast to the oil, the truth of God’s eternal love and life for us, so that we may bear Christ’s light for each other, and for all of creation.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,

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