*These numbers are very approximate. They are based on commentators' assertions that a talent was either 15 or more wages for a laborer, and a $19.50 current hourly average US manufacturing wage (googled and found here).
Sunday, November 9, 2014
Did you hear that story Jesus told?
Ten bridesmaids wait for the groom to come and get the party started. They’ve brought festive and necessary light for the celebration, but the groom is late.
Very late. Everyone falls asleep waiting.
And when the groom finally arrives, half of them have run out of lamp oil. If you’ve run out of phone battery at a critical moment, you know how they feel.
So only the “wise” or “clever” bridesmaids get to party. The ones who ran out of oil get shut out, rejected and ignored.
And the moral of the story is…..???
Yep. "Be prepared." You screw up, you lose heaven once and for all. (Not high stakes at all. I’m sure my blood pressure’s fine.)
That’s a useful warning in some ways. It is important to be ready for God, to be ready for heaven, and ready for Jesus to come at any moment – soon or long delayed. But I’m not sure Matthew actually gets the moral of the story right when he tells it to us.
Since Jesus has just been warning that God comes like a thief in the night, it’s natural that Matthew is still focused on the importance of “staying awake” to be ready. But everybody falls asleep in this parable, even the “wise” women, and that’s not what gets them in trouble, so that can’t be quite right.
And I’m not even sure that the traditional interpretation of "preparedness" is what Jesus is after. The way I usually hear the story, it sounds like when God finally comes, you’d better be not just ready, but over-prepared, and it’s every one of us for herself.
Something doesn’t feel right about that.
But I couldn’t put my finger on what until I read this parable with the Vestry recently. It didn’t take long for someone to ask the question that changes the story:
“Why didn’t the bridesmaids share?”
Honestly, isn’t that the entry-level lesson about what Jesus expects us to do? Share what we have with people in need? So why don’t the bridesmaids in this story share their oil?
Well, it’s a disruptive, chaotic, scene, and they’ve all been woken from a sound sleep without coffee. Few of us are generous and flexible under those circumstances.
Jesus is intentionally setting that up. He’s telling us a story about how it will be in the chaos before God’s final coming. We’re probably going to be afraid, and off balance. It’s very human to become self-protective and hang on to what you’ve got in those circumstances.
But I think that the question about sharing is one Jesus wants us to ask about this gospel story.
Think about this: What would have happened if they did share?
Think about this: What would have happened if they did share?
If they did share, there would be twice the number of festive, welcoming lights and ladies for the bridegroom’s arrival, for the start of the party. It would have been better hospitality.
If they’d shared, no one would be shut out of the party. The bridegroom wouldn’t have broken relationships with half the bridesmaids, and all the women would belong to the holy and festive community.
If they’d shared, it would have deepened the relationships between the women. Gratitude and generosity have a lot more staying power than selfishness and resentment.
If they’d shared, it would mean everyone let go of the fear of running out. There’d be more peace in the whole community.
Isn’t that what the
is supposed to be like? kingdom of God
Jesus is awfully big on caring for the outcast, welcoming the stranger, and healing the broken. So maybe that’s why he’s telling this parable. Maybe he’s telling it so we can see how scary it is not only if we are unprepared, but if we fail to share.
ANY time we worry that there’s not going to be enough for us – enough money, enough time, enough love, enough patience, enough anything – any time we believe that there is not enough, we get selfish.
We don’t usually mean to. But it happens. If it feels like there’s not enough for me it’s very hard to give away – or even share – whatever I may have.
And we live in a world that’s very good at telling us there’s not enough. That’s the subtext of every political ad. It’s the limited-time-offer, winner-take-all, work-smarter-and-harder water we swim in. It’s the fear of loss every time we face unexpected change.
So every day, there’s a way that you and I don’t share.
Every day, there’s a way many of us don’t share our money. Not just by turning down panhandlers and tossing out the charity appeals that show up in your mailbox – but perhaps by spending it on disposable things that don’t really satisfy; pouring away what you could have shared.
Every day one or another of us fails to share our time.
Not just by turning down a volunteer opportunity, but by not getting around to that phone call you’ve been meaning to make, or not making the effort to meet a new neighbor.
Every day many of us fail to share our faith, our dreams, our talents. We might fear rejection or ridicule. We might fear that we’re not good enough. We might just be tired or busy.
Those are all forms of the same fear of “not enough” that keeps the bridesmaids from sharing their oil.
So Jesus tells us about how bad it can get when we forget to share. This story tells us that the people we didn’t share with are left lonely and rejected in the dark, closed out of even a glimpse of the abundant feast at which they’d been expected.
I don’t think anyone in Jesus’ story today was really prepared for the coming of God. Not even the Boy Scout bridesmaids with their jugs of oil.
Because being prepared for the coming of God means being ready to let go of every fear and convention, ready to share what you don’t have enough of, prepared to light a lamp without oil or matches, ready to join the celebration and welcome strangers even if you’ve screwed up your part of the planning beyond recognition.
Jesus tells a story that isn’t finished – a story that’s still happening, because we’re still in that time of worry and waiting that precedes the coming of God. The end of the story is still up to us.
We can listen to Jesus’ story, and share pre-emptively. We don’t have to wait until we have enough, or until our friends and neighbors run out. We can listen to Jesus and get ready to celebrate in spite of every mistake and inadequacy and failure you can find in yourself when God shows up in front of you.
is like that: abundant, disruptive and
joyful, demanding and relational, and never
when or what you expected. kingdom of God
Sunday, October 19, 2014
Exodus 33:12-23, Matthew 22:15-22
How many of you brought a wallet to church today?
Why did you bring it?
Why did you bring it?
I carry my own wallet because it has my driver’s license. And cash. And credit cards. And insurance cards, receipts, and of course some
Calvary gift cards.
All that stuff provides a certain security when I leave my house – an ability to solve problems or take advantage of opportunities – that’s the cash and the credit cards and the gift cards. It’s also a symbol of a safety net (the insurance cards) and a guarantee of identity – that driver’s license stands between me and becoming “Jane Doe.”
I like my wallet, and I depend on it.
So, like the Pharisees and Herodians who set out to trap Jesus, I’d have had it with me in the
is actually sacrilegious, unlike bringing your wallet to church.
You see, when the Pharisees produced a Roman coin inside the
where Jesus is teaching, a coin with a picture of the emperor and an inscription
calling him “divine,” they’re violating their own interpretation of the
commandment against idolatry. There was a whole system of currency exchange in
the Temple Court
just to make sure that sacrilegious Roman money didn’t come in to the holy
spaces of God’s worship.
It just goes to show how dependent we can become on the things that are the emperor’s – the things like money, rules, and security that tie us to a secular system, a world run by self-interest and profit and certainty and personal power.
That’s what’s in your wallet.
It’s what’s in mine.
Jesus points out to the religious leaders – and to us – that it’s in the emperor’s interest to provide us with symbols of power and identity and security. If we feel confident and comfortable and like we belong, we don’t rock the boat.
And Jesus agrees that it’s fine to pay our taxes and stay out of trouble with the emperor. But it gets really, really easy to depend on those things that ultimately belong to the emperor – not to you, yourself, or to God.
And that’s dangerous. Deeply, insidiously dangerous to our hearts and souls. Because getting dependent on the emperor begins to make us belong to the emperor, and that is certain to divide us from God, whether we want it to or not.
It happened to
Israel in the
wilderness. They wanted something more manageable and stable and visible than
God to depend on, so they made a golden calf.
And though God was persuaded not
to wipe them out for the sin of idolatry, God does decide to get some distance
from the people. God tells Moses to take those people away to the promised land
without God. Their tendency to demand security from
someone or something other than God made it too likely God would have to destroy
them on the way, so God won’t hang out with them.
The Israelites didn’t much like getting kicked out by God. (Would you?) So Moses pleads with God to stay with the people – not just to take care of them at arm’s length, but to be present, as noticeably there as the person next to you. That’s the conversation we overheard today in our story from Exodus.
Don’t abandon us, Moses says, or we’ll lose everything that makes us special. The only thing that matters about us is that we belong to you, God. And God does agree to go with the people.
And then Moses asks for the wallet.
Moses asks for the kind of tangible assurance from God that the emperor – in the form of the finance industry and the state of
– is so fond of giving us. Concrete
tokens of relationship and power.
He doesn’t get it from God. Instead, God offers Moses a quick peek at God’s back.
That’s a profound experience of glory, but it’s also a profound experience of the way we can’t catch up to and hold on to God, of how we can’t control our relationship with God, or the way it affects us.
God tells Moses we can’t have God the way we have the empire. But we have the goodness of creation which surrounds us, the tradition and the personal experiences that describe God to us, and God’s unpredictable generosity.
All of them things we receive and cannot hold. Enjoy, but don’t control. Utterly present, but not dependable.
That’s what it means to belong to God. To live with love and gratitude, but not status and security. And that’s what Jesus is telling us to do.
Remember what belongs to the emperor: Rules and power and comfort and status and most of all, security.
Give that back to the emperor.
Because otherwise you become dependent on the emperor, and you belong to the emperor. But what Moses said is still true now: the thing that makes us special, the thing that gives us life, is when we belong to God.
So pay your taxes. Use your cash and your credit cards for gas and groceries and possessions and payments and treats. Buy your legally mandated car insurance, carry your driver’s license.
But don’t ever get to depend on that. Because that makes it way too easy to forget that you – every bit of you, heart and body and soul – belong to God. And God’s presence isn’t secure, it’s just glorious. It’s not comfortable, it’s just necessary. It’s not manageable, it’s just generous.
I could preach today that you should throw away your wallet. But I don’t really want to have to bail you out of jail for driving without a license. So instead, let’s try to teach ourselves to trust God the way the emperor needs us to depend on our wallets.
Try praying with your wallet in hand - before you leave the house for the day, or when you’re coming home at night. Hold your wallet and pray to God that using these tools of empire, these symbols of power and status and anxiety, will help you lean even more on the presence of God.
Or make a new habit. Every time you take out your wallet, or pay your taxes, or order something online, add a habit of stopping to notice a particular part of the goodness of God’s creation: tasty and healthful food, a person you love, the beauty of sunset, the scent of rain….
Measure the time you spend on bill paying and shopping and keeping your finances and insurance straight. Take an equal amount of time for prayer – by singing holy music, using your creative gifts, reading the Bible, or breathing meditation.
Keep the balance, then tilt it toward God.
Whatever it takes, DO it.
Practice your awareness of God’s presence, because the emperor will make himself felt without help. Practice your risky trust in God, because the empire makes it so easy to depend on idols.
Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. We’re going to anyway. But never, ever, give to the emperor what is God’s – your heart, your soul, your self.